by Fredrick Nzwili
[ACNS source: Ecumenical News International] The controversy in the worldwide Anglican Communion over homosexuality has led to a call for Kenya's Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican churches to merge to better resist "Western" influences.
The call came from retired Kenyan Anglican bishop, John Mahiaini, who said that by joining forces, churches in his country could resist the influence of what he called Western lifestyles, such as the election of gay bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions.
"The idea is important following the election of the gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in the USA," Bishop Mahiaini told journalists on 10 August.
The Anglican Communion is deeply divided after the election of Canon Robinson as a bishop in the US state of New Hampshire and the appointment of Canon Jeffrey John, an openly gay priest, as bishop of Reading in England.
Canon John withdrew from his appointment for the sake of "the unity of the Church" but Canon Robinson's election was confirmed on 5 August by the General Convention of the US Episcopal Church.
Anglican leaders in Kenya and elsewhere have condemned Gene Robinson's election and also a church blessing for a same-sex union in an Anglican diocese in western Canada, whose bishop had approved a liturgy for such a blessing. Kenyan Methodists and Presbyterians have supported the stance of the country's Anglican leadership.
Still, former South African Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, visiting Kenya last week for an international conference, said being gay cannot bar one from being ordained as a bishop.
"Our position in South Africa is that sexual orientation is not a significant bar for anyone to be a priest or a Christian, provided the ordained gay person remains celibate," Archbishop Tutu told journalists on his arrival in Nairobi. The Federation of Churches in Kenya, an umbrella for independent churches, however, said Archbishop Tutu's remarks in Nairobi "flout biblical principles".
Support for attempts to unite the three Kenyan denominations came from the Revd Zablon Nthamburi, former presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Kenya.
"We had been talking for some time, but this time we have resumed seriously to unite the three to become one," he said.
Kenya's Anglicans, Presbyterians and Methodists have cooperated since 1955 in training ministers at St Paul's United Theological College in Limuru, near Nairobi.
"We are only separated by ideological and historical reasons, but we use the same Bible and hymn books," said the Revd Gerishon Kirika of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.
But attempts to promote church union in East Africa in the early part of the 20th century and again in the late 1950s floundered over issues such as the role of bishops, ordination, and the sacraments.