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Kenyan court orders mediation to solve Anglican homosexuality dispute

Bishop Joseph Kagunda, center front, and clergy of the Mount Kenya West diocese during a news conference that announced the suspension of priests. RNS file photo by Fredrick Nzwili

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — A long-running dispute over three Anglican clergymen accused of homosexuality will be resolved through mediation, a court here ordered last week.

The three had sued Bishop Joseph Kagunda of the Mount Kenya West diocese in the High Court in Nyeri, challenging their 2015 suspensions over allegations that they were engaging in homosexual relationships and encouraging homosexuality among the church’s youth. They have denied all charges.

But last month, after a nearly three-year court battle, Justice Abigail Mshila of the Nyeri High Court ordered the parties to settle their disagreement by meeting with a mutually agreed-upon mediator. It is the first time mediation has been used to resolve a case of this kind.

“This is what we have been looking for,” the bishop told Religion News Service in a telephone interview on Oct. 26. “When we are in the courts, we cannot respect each other, but when we sit at the table, we come up with a way of working together. We are one people. When we sit at the table, we can start a new journey together.”

Kenya, in red, located in eastern Africa. Map courtesy of Creative Commons

Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya, as it is in many other African countries, though a lawsuit seeking to lift the ban on gay sex is currently awaiting a ruling by Kenya’s Supreme Court. For now, convictions can draw up to 14 years in prison.

A majority of Kenyans also frown at homosexuality, and LGBT people are frequently threatened. Anglican church leaders here hold that same-sex relationships contradict God’s teachings.

The trouble in the Mount Kenya West diocese began in 2015, when a young churchgoer came forward seeking prayers because, he alleged, he had been lured into an affair with one of the priests. An investigation ordered by the bishop eventually implicated five clergymen.

Three of them — the Rev. Paul Warui, the Rev. James Maina and Archdeacon John Gachau, a priest who oversaw one of Mount Kenya West’s diocesan precincts — challenged their suspensions in court. The other two settled the dispute out of court and were readmitted as priests.

In October 2017, the court, citing a lack of evidence against the three, ordered their reinstatement and redeployment. The diocese was also ordered to pay the priests — who had not been receiving their pay since the suspension — a total of 6.8 million Kenya shillings, or about $68,000, for damage to their reputations.

But when the priests and the archdeacon were deployed to new parishes in July after the court orders, the congregations blocked the priests’ entry into the churches and forced them to flee.

At the peak of the disturbance, Kenya’s Anglican Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit called a special gathering at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Nyeri, where he called for unity but stressed that the bishop could not force the priests on the congregations.

“A bishop cannot force a priest to minister to a certain congregation if he is rejected. The church followers have the right to work with a church minister they relate with accordingly,” Kenyan local press quoted Ole Sapit as saying in July.

Anglican Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit speaks in Nairobi on May 19, 2016. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

The priests say they welcome the latest attempt to resolve the impasse through mediation, convinced that their concerns will be addressed and their names cleared.

“These were false allegations, but we have to look at the bigger picture in relation to the church fellowship,” said Warui. “It was not our intention to drag the church into court, but attempts to reach the church administration had proved impossible.”

Maina said, “It has cost the church in a big way. Its dignity has been lowered, but I think when we sit with the bishop, justice will be served. I think we will also come to an agreement.”

According to Kagunda, if the issues had been handled in the church and not the secular courts, the people would have listened.

“It would be my joy to get back my people,” Kagunda said, referring to the priests. “We have no interest in fighting anyone. It is my joy to see them come back to the flock.”

About the author

Fredrick Nzwili

9 Comments

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  • I’m sure glad to not be in a church where this is the main preoccupation of laity and clergy leaders.

  • Interesting attempt to find a solution. We come from such a different place on “religious liberty” that it seems strange. But I would like to know if it actually helps find a solution.

  • The situation described in this report illustrates why Africa still lags behind the USA and other Western countries in educational attainment. One can only hope that Africa comes increasingly to embrace Christian (or even non-sectarian) humanism. It will take time, not to mention better understanding of God=Love in the sacred scriptures.

  • Unfortunately, the disdain for gays drives a lot of other issues negatively. When we stand back and realize how utterly unimportant sexual preference is to the trajectory of earth and humanity, we should only shake our heads at how energized the religions get over this issue. It has probably put both Putin and Trump in office, possibly influenced Brexit via Putin, and makes the world of Islam, the world of sub-Saharan Africa and the world of Latin America crazier than they should be. It’s hard to understand why the greater “we” in so many places cannot just understand that a certain number of people will be different in this regard—–always were, always will be, perfectly normal, perfectly acceptable.

    As for churches, if THAT is their big social issue, I want to be far away from them. The entire gospel energy can be wasted in this pit of ignorance.

  • Given what we have been hearing in the US about the number of sexual predators – preying on youth- among the RC clergy, one can hardly blame the members of the congregations mentioned in this article for blocking and chasing away those Anglican priests – suspected of pedophilia and homosexuality – that were being sent to their parishes.

  • The world is in the tribulation. The world court will soon outlaw Christianity. It was a Kenyan that brought your tribulation home, but it was God that sent him. The Scripture cannot be broken, the temperature will keep going up. “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Who shall stand in his holy place?”

  • “When we stand back and realize how utterly unimportant sexual preference is to the trajectory of earth and humanity….”

    Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11English Standard Version (ESV)

  • ““It was not our intention to drag the church into court…”
    So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 1 Corinthians 6:4

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