General Synod staff cultivates Canadian-African conversations

The Rev. Dr. Kawuki (Isaac) Mukasa straddles two worlds. Born in Uganda, but a long-time Canadian resident, Dr. Mukasa’s knowledge of both cultures is essential as he pairs up African and Canadian dioceses to talk about sexuality. Dr. Mukasa began this work while he was congregational development consultant at the Diocese of Toronto, and  has continued it as coordinator for dialogue at General Synod. He recently returned from a trip to Tanzania and Uganda.

“We’re trying to create a structure where this conversation can happen,” said Dr. Mukasa, “Because communication, when it works, creates understanding, and understanding leads to better relations.”

Currently the Anglican Communion is divided, particularly over the place of gays and lesbians in the church. Broadly, the conflict is occurring between  western churches, which have moved towards approving same-sex blessings, and churches that hold more traditional beliefs, such as in Africa, where most Anglicans now live.

At the recent primates’ meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, it was clear that many issues relating to sexuality, for example,  how the Communion should deal with breakaway traditionalist groups, are still unresolved.

Clashing paradigms

Dr. Mukasa, who is interested in Canadian-African dialogue, believes that many discussions about sexuality have been misled. “The belief is that if we could only agree on [issues of sexuality] even if it is to agree to disagree, then perhaps we could move on to other things,” he said. “I think this is kind of a simplistic approach to the problem, and it does not go to the core, which is the attempt to reconcile two configurations of doing religion-one secularized, the other mythological.”

This secular-mythological divide plays out in how different cultures perceive evil. Dr. Mukasa explained that many African Anglicans believe that homosexuality is a symptom of how the western church has been persuaded by the devil, a conscious evil being. In contrast, North American Anglicans talk about evil symbolically, for example in referring to “evil institutions” and “demonic forces.”

Another paradigm clash happens when North Americans believe they must liberate gays and lesbians from their oppressive African cultures. Dr. Mukasa said that although he is a strong advocate of gay rights in Africa, it is not helpful to use a western model of sexual liberation in Africa. “Repression of homosexuality is part of a larger repression in general,” he said. “There has been no sexual revolution in Africa. Even heterosexuals are not entirely free to exercise their sexuality any way they want.”

Hope for dialogue

Despite these huge cultural differences, Dr. Mukasa still thinks there’s hope and purpose in setting up conversations between African and Canadian dioceses. Although “People  feel that we’ve talked and talked and both sides are saying the same thing, but we haven’t actually addressed each other’s values as they are,” he said.

So over the past several years, Dr. Mukasa has slowly and steadily been developing relationships between dioceses in Canada and dioceses in Tanzania and Uganda (with hopes to expand to the rest of Africa). He is starting with Canadian dioceses that have asked their bishops for rites to bless same-sex unions (New Westminster, Ottawa, Montreal, Niagara, Huron and Toronto), and he hopes to have six Canadian dioceses and eight African dioceses talking to each other by the end of 2009.

How do these conversations work? First, the Canadian diocese drafts their position on same-sex blessings and explains why they feel led to move in this direction. This is sent to an African diocese, where a group of theologians studies, reflects on, and responds to the document. Part of Dr. Mukasa’s work in Africa was to set up and support these discussion groups.

This has been a long, patient process of building relationships, but Dr. Mukasa said he’s starting to see some results. One encouraging moment came when the Archbishop of Dar es Salaam, the Most Rev. Dr. Valentino Mokiwa, appointed Dr. Mukasa as canon of the cathedral there.

He expects that these conversations will “trigger other dynamics.” Already the Diocese of Ottawa and the Diocese of Rift Valley (Tanzania) are widening their conversation to discuss other subjects.

The tipping point, Dr. Mukasa believes, will be when ten Canadian dioceses are in conversation with 30 African dioceses.  “All sorts of things can happen,” he said. “There may be areas where people begin to agree. Or we can see each other’s blind spots.”

Dr. Mukasa was ordained a priest in the Church of Uganda in 1985 and has been in Canadian ministry since 1988, when he served in the ecumenical shared ministry parishes of Lynn Lake and Snow Lake, Man. (Diocese of Brandon). He has also taught at the Centre for Christian Studies, and was a consultant for ethnic ministries for the United Church of Canada. He has a PhD from the Toronto School of Theology and an MDiv from the Nairobi School of Theology.

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