13 December 2012

Uganda: Interview - Archbishop Ntagali - We Reject Homosexuality, but We Won't Shy Away From Matters Political


On Sunday, Stanley Ntagali, 57, will be enthroned as the 8th archbishop of the Church of Uganda, replacing Henry Luke Orombi, who took early retirement. Michael Mubangizi talked to Ntagali about his vision for the church, among other issues.

What should we expect from the Church under you?

The work of the Church of Uganda is to follow the mission of Christ, to preach the gospel of love, unity and reconciliation and give people hope... to the rich and the poor. My main task and the whole mission of the Church would be to preach God's love to the people of Uganda without discrimination.

What do you see as the key strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of yourself and the Church?

Of course I'm called by God to serve in a rapidly changing world. But the strength is that God's love doesn't change at all. The thinking of our people and way of life is changing; the world is also becoming a global village, which is a big challenge.

But as a Church, we have a strong network in the villages. That means we are all over the place and that's a big strength. We only need to have a message that's relevant and that gives people hope.

Other things that come to everybody come to the church as well, like the issue of poverty, social injustice, and other people having to get richer as others are getting poorer.

Pentecostalism seems to be taking away members of your congregation because of their liveliness and the rigid way of doing things in the Anglican Church.

We are now 11 million members of the Church of Uganda and that's not a small number. There is freedom of worship in this country, so there is no one who is limited to one church.

You also need to know that as a church, we are not in competition; churches aren't political parties. So, whereas people are saying we want more members, we need to have more members recruited for the kingdom and that's fundamental for me whether it's done by a Pentecostal pastor or not.

We actually need to network because we are preaching the same gospel. The things that divide us aren't very important. The Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the Church including all those churches.

You also need to know that the concentration of most Pentecostal churches is in urban centres and that the urban churches of the Anglican church of Uganda are also attracting youth.

Come to Namirembe cathedral, All Saints, Bugolobi church, Bukoto the services there are full. That means that vibrancy is also available in the Church of Uganda. We should avoid the spirit of competition, that's not God's way.

Your predecessor Orombi stood firm on issues of homosexuality to the detriment of relations with the Church of England. Will you continue with his rebellious approach?

It's not being rebellious. It is being obedient to the holy scriptures in the Holy Bible which is our constitution as a church. It's being obedient to the Bible, the teaching of Jesus Christ, the apostolic faith which is our Christian heritage we inherited from the Apostles, the people who worked and lived with Jesus Christ.

I will not do anything different from what my predecessor, the retiring Archbishop Orombi, did. Firstly, I have been a member of the House of Bishops of the Church of Uganda and we resolved not to associate with anybody, any church, any province in the world which condones homosexuality or promotes it.

That wasn't an Orombi position. It was the position of the church of Uganda. The Biblical way and God's way is one man, one wife. That will remain my position and the position of the Church of Uganda.

So, do you support the anti-homosexuality bill now in Parliament?

Is that the most important part in the bill? What the bill is after is to protect children, family not only today and but the future. Our Constitution says that homosexuality is illegal; so, Parliament is trying to put in place a mechanism to ensure that [some] people will not misuse the people of Uganda and bring them whatever they want. We want to have the law that will protect Ugandans.

The Church, however, preaches grace and forgiveness. That's where we may not go very far as the bill says. All of us are capable of getting God's saving grace and forgiveness including the homosexuals but there should be a law so that people don't do anything as if there is no law.

Uganda as a country respects culture and from that culture, we can't allow anything evil to come and destroy our culture and our position as people who agreed to heterosexual marriage.

Recently South Africa ordained a woman bishop? Will the Church of Uganda follow suit?

Do you have a problem with women bishops yourself?

Actually the question is: why haven't we had women bishops in Uganda?

Are you a student of the Bible? The women were the first people to see the risen Lord. That means they were the first evangelists. It was Mary Magdalena who broke the news that the Lord had risen from the dead.

That means women are fellow ministers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. For us in Uganda, as early as 1980s we ordained women; so we don't have a problem with the ordination of women. We have women priests, archdeacons and women workers all over the province.

We have highly qualified women in the Church of Uganda, so the issue is not qualification. Since it hasn't been tabled for debate in the House of Bishops and provincial assemblies, I will stop at that but we don't have [any] problem with the women ministry in the church of Uganda. They are our fellow ministers, servants of the Lord but we haven't brought that motion in the House of Bishops.

Does it have to be debated? Isn't subjecting it to debate a way of failing it?

So, we have no problem with it. So, why are you yourself bringing it up? The question of South Africa and England to me (doesn't apply to us) because I have told you we have no problem with the ministry of women. We have them ordained, they are serving alongside us and I will personally continue to support the ministry of women because they are fellow workers in the ministry.

Will you support their ordination as bishops?

Since we have said there is no problem, I don't want to debate it beyond that. If they are priests, then there is no problem. The ordination of women isn't a problem to the Church of Uganda but we have as a province to agree on how we move, that's why I say since it hasn't come up, it's not a big issue; so don't make it an issue for Uganda.

Your grace, I have talked to serving women priests: they are frustrated because the church system keeps them in lowly positions ...

Let me tell you: it's a cultural thing. And we thank God that our country has brought out the emancipation of women. It is the Christians who will have some resistance to women priests at higher levels. But the church has no problem.

The women clergy I have talked to say, the lay/ ordinary people want them in higher offices. It's the male priests, you the bishops and the system of electing bishops, that are excluding them.

But I think you agree that we have women priests, [and] church workers at every level. They aren't yet bishops but we hope we shall get there. There is public concern about the cars that President Museveni gives you bishops compromises you to turn a blind eye to the ills under his government.

I don't agree with that. The gifts given to the bishops by the president are not personal gifts. They are cars given for God's work in dioceses. They aren't personal vehicles. It is a mistake that the public personalizes those gifts.

When I retire, I leave that vehicle to the diocese for the next bishop. So that's not a gift to me, it's to the diocese because the church is serving God's people, the people of Uganda.

It's a gift to support the church in working in the diocese because the church also complements government work. We have continued to preach, so, there is nothing like compromising us.

President Museveni says you clergy should concentrate on the preaching and leave politics to career politicians. Do you agree?

No. The church cannot, because it handles the same people as politicians. And we cannot stop preaching the gospel and to challenge evil. We cannot condone evil. Jesus himself did not condone evil. He loved sinners but hated sin.

So, the church or church leaders preach against sin which includes other social evils; so we shall always preach the gospel. It depends on the way you look at it. I think the church will continue to talk because the church is the voice of the voiceless and we are like prophets of our time. We have to give prophetic ministry and messages to the people of Uganda; so, we don't have to keep quiet about issues. But it depends on how we approach it.

Won't that put you on a collision path with politicians and the president himself?

No, for my case as a leader, I will seek dialogue. I don't want to bombard or hit any leader because I am a leader myself and I have the platform to seek forum and dialogue with the leaders, including the head of state. You also need to know that when I speak about evil, I am not attacking any leader because I am a leader myself.

So, what is the place of religion in politics? Is there any connection between the two?

They [church and government] complement each other. We are handling the same people and the same people are affected by the same problems. When the roads are bad, when there is no medicine in hospitals, the same people who come to church are the same citizens of Uganda who need to be listened to; so , you can't separate them.

We have lately witnessed grand theft of public resources. Isn't that an indictment on you religious leaders, since most culprits are confessed church-goers?

That's a good question and observation. On Friday and Sunday people fill mosques and churches. What has happened is, corruption is a system of what has gone wrong. People have become self-centred and greedy. We need, as a church, to continue to preach and tell people to put God and people in the centre.

Historically it hasn't been possible for a non-Muganda archbishop to sit at Namirembe, forcing them to be headquartered at All Saints Nakasero. Doesn't that scare you?

We can't live in the past, things are changing. On Sunday I will be consecrated at Namirembe, my brother Bishop Luwalira is a good brother and so we are going to keep fellowship together and people will see us together. So, what you remember as history is not what is there now, things are getting better.

Last word.

I am delighted to be given the opportunity by God to take over from Archbishop Orombi. I thank all Ugandans for their prayers and support. I look forward to working with everyone in Uganda as a leader of the church. I love the press; so, I will be working closer with you. I wish Ugandans a happy Christmas and a prosperous new year.

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