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Time to ordain female bishops in the Church of Uganda

Time to ordain female bishops in the Church of Uganda

 We give glory to God for Dr. Stephen Samuel Kaziimba Mugalu, the new Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, and for the former archbishop, Stanley Ntagali, whom we hope to see continuing his work of evangelism. 


Archbishop Kaziimba’s to-do-list must be a very long one. What with the spiritual coldness and moral rot that have the country in their grip! Human rights abuses; grand corruption that has become the country’s tradition; commercialisation of Jesus Christ’s name; State capture of the Church; and the urgency of cross-generational communication to attract the youth to the Church. These are some of the challenges that will keep Kaziimba awake at night.


To this list, I would like to add election of women bishops, an equally important item that should be central to his legacy when he retires in 2027. I am aware of the passions that inform the worldwide debate on this subject. Many leading clergy in the Anglican Communion are strongly opposed to ordination of women to the priesthood. Among these opponents is Dr. Foley Beach, the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, who was the main preacher at Dr. Kaziimba’s enthronement at Namirembe Cathedral two days ago. 


For the most part, these opponents base their arguments on a slanted interpretation of the scriptures. This is understandable. The Bible has some passages that seem to dictate absolute prohibition of female leadership of the Church. 


For example, the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2: 11-12: “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” Of course, among the qualifications of a bishop (overseer) that Paul lays down in 1 Timothy 3: 1-7 is that a he must be “the husband of one wife.” 


On the other hand, it is the same Apostle Paul who writes some 40 to 50 years earlier about the equality of all. In his Letter to the Galatians 3:27-28, Paul writes: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”


Now, Paul is not saying that we cease to be male or female because we are in Christ. It is simply that the Old Testament barriers that treated people differently were broken by Christ’s triumph. We retain our genders, but the distinction is only biological, not spiritual and has nothing to do with our abilities.  


In Galatians 3:29, Paul proclaims the most powerful summation of his argument in favour of full equality of the different groupings: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”  


I do not know Archbishop Kaziimba’s own position on the matter. My prayer is that he will have the courage and boldness to bring to fruition the seed that was planted by earlier leaders of the Anglican Church in East Africa, specifically, Bishop Festo Kivengere of Kigyezi, Uganda and Bishop John Henry Okullu of Maseno South, Kenya. 


Notwithstanding opposition from many quarters, Kivengere ordained four women as deacons in Kigyezi in 1972. Three years later, he argued against the prevailing opinion of most bishops that the Church of Uganda should wait to ordain women as priests until the Church of England pronounced itself on the matter.


“If you wait for the Church of England you wait until doomsday,” Kivengere said. To a bishop’s suggestion that the Church of Uganda should first write a paper on the subject, Kivengere responded: “If you write a paper on it, you produce something for the archives which will gather dust forever.”  


The conservatives defeated Kivengere’s motion and bought time by referring the matter to the church provincial assembly and diocesan synods. The matter went into abeyance as a result of the political chaos and insecurity, top among which was the 1977 murder of Archbishop Janani Luwum and Kivengere’s exile. 


However, following his return in 1979, Kivengere resumed the struggle and, still without the support of most bishops, he ordained Uganda’s first three women priests at St. Peter’s Cathedral, Rugarama, Kabaare in 1983.


Okullu’s advocacy for the ordination of women priests in Kenya faced equally strong opposition from his own archbishop and fellow bishops. The archbishop wanted Kenya to wait for the Church of England to lead the way. Some bishops wanted Okullu to be disciplined or even expelled from the House of Bishops. 


Undeterred, Okullu continued his campaign. By the late 1980s, the Anglican Church of Kenya had its first women priests. 


Kivengere and Okullu, driven by a desire to break the chains that had imprisoned the message of equality before the Cross, successfully pushed the agenda for ordination of women priests. 


Happily, Kaziimba takes charge at a time when he is unlikely to face much opposition from Uganda’s Anglican bishops. He has an opportunity to prepare women, not only for the priesthood, but for episcopal leadership as bishops with equal responsibility as their male counterparts. 


This should be on the agenda of the Anglican community in Uganda, led by the Mothers’ Union and all Christians – male and female- who truly believe that all of us are Christ’s children, and therefore equal heirs according to His promise.  


After all, the majority of the congregations in nearly every diocese are women. Their voices must no longer be relegated to backrooms of the Church but given opportunities to do what the Lord has ordained. 


Opponents of this should recall that at the time of Christ’s death and resurrection, women were steadfastly loyal to Him even as men fled and denied Him. During Paul’s ministry, there were women like Phoebe, a servant of the Church in Cenchrea, whom Paul sent as his messenger to the Romans, commending her to be received “in a manner worthy of the saints”; and Priscilla, wife of Aquilla, who explained the Way of God to the great Apollos “more accurately.” 


In the end, the elevation of women to the priesthood and episcopal ministry must be part of society’s larger agenda to promote and uplift women of all ages and social stations to full citizenship and equality. How wonderful it would be to have a woman as the next archbishop of the Church of Uganda!



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