Climate and Church in Malawi

by Jonathan Clatworthy

from Signs of the Times, No. 28 - Jan 2008

Regular readers of Signs of the Times will be familiar with the story. The Revd Nicholas Henderson, a parish priest in Ealing and until 2002 General Secretary of the MCU, was democratically elected Bishop of Lake Malawi in July 2005. His appointment was blocked by the Archbishop of Central Africa, Bernard Malango. The reason which Malango formally gave for rejecting the appointment was that Mr Henderson's work for the MCU showed that he was 'not of sound faith'. This did not go down too well in some quarters! What were the real reasons? It depends who you ask, but there are close connections with conservative Anglicans in the USA and Robert Mugabe whose country, Zimbabwe, lies within the Province of Central Africa. The common theme is that both Mugabe and the American conservatives are passionate opponents of homosexuality.

The clergy and laity of the diocese continue to campaign for Mr Henderson's appointment, and have successfully ensured that no other bishop has been imposed upon them. They are supported by Anglican-Information, an organization which sends emails around the world highlighting the situation. This is an edited version of the release they published on 28th November.

According to the United Nations Development Programme ( 27 Nov 07),

Climate change models paint a bleak picture for Malawi. Global warming is projected to increase temperatures by 2-3ºC by 2050, with a decline in rainfall and reduced water availability. This will translate into a marked reduction in soil moisture, affecting the 90 percent of smallholder farmers who depend on rain-fed production. Climate change impacts will be superimposed on a country marked by high levels of vulnerability, including poor nutrition and among the world's most intense HIV/AIDS crisis: almost one million people are living with the disease.

Poverty is endemic. Two in every three Malawians live below the national poverty line. The country ranks 164 out of the 177 countries measured in the Human Development Index (HDI). Life expectancy has fallen to about 46 years. Successive droughts and floods in recent years have demonstrated the added pressures that climate change could generate. In 2001/2002, the country suffered one of the worst famines in recent living memory as localized floods cut maize output by one-third.

What is a mild inconvenience in many first world western nations, perhaps a summer hosepipe ban, is a matter of life and death for parts of Africa dependent on subsistence farming and the annual monsoon rainy season that becomes more unpredictable by the year, as global warming intensifies. How unfortunate/fortuitous that Malawi has given this year, 400,000 tonnes of maize, the local staple food, to Zimbabwe. Unfortunate, in that it will prop up the tyrannical Mugabe regime and produce a shortage in Malawi in a year of plenty - fortuitous in that it will go to a starving country - or will this 'gift' - there is no sign of payment - more likely be sold on at astronomically inflated prices to the starving, with the profit going towards the Mercedes and Hummer cars of the ruling elite?

In any case the Anglican Church which is one of the principal agents for good in that part of the world is busy, thanks to its leaders, not addressing these issues but wasting time fighting proxy wars for conservative schismatic factions in the United States. The mess that is the Province of Central Africa is directly attributable to the naïve willingness of the former Archbishop Bernard Malango to be seduced into pointless American-led battles over homosexuality, a subject that as Bishop Trevor Mwamba of Botswana has correctly pointed out is "not a priority when starvation, HIV, Aids and poverty rear their heads." Bishop Sebastian Bakare, former bishop of the Zimbabwean Diocese of Manicaland and now charged with the invidious task of wresting the Diocese of Harare from Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, has also written: "the fact that homosexuality, currently a non-issue in Zimbabwe, has been brought up demonstrates the total irrelevance of the Church leadership. People are certainly not sleeping with empty stomachs because of homosexuality... I am deeply concerned about the direction that the Church leadership is taking at such a crucial time in our nation."

Even the arch - conservative Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, has said of the issue of homosexuality with perhaps a touch of schadenfreude : "I'm trying to avoid dragging us into unnecessary controversy when there are more profitable things to talk about, this is Africa, and we would rather focus on those important things that affect us Africans."

The problem is that interfering, ultra-conservative American schismatic Episcopalians value, above all else, the one commodity that the Africans can give them - apostolic succession and consequent 'Anglican identity' - and once they've got it they'll dump Africa, as signs are already evident in the pell-mell rush by some American dioceses and parishes to join the numerically tiny Anglican Province of the Southern Cone of America under Presiding Bishop Gregory Venables.

What's all this got to do with Malawi and the Province of Central Africa? A great deal as it happens, for just as the whole world is caught up in global warming and far off events in the Pacific influence the Indian Ocean (from whence the African monsoon comes) so in-fighting in the United States will battle on till the last African is left standing. It is a disgraceful state of affairs that the end result of the parochialism of dissident American factions actually results in the neglect of those in need, as priorities are deflected.

Readers in their comeback to us are amazed that the bishops of Central Africa have managed to allow themselves be led by the nose into the present state of affairs. Their inherent conservatism has been exploited to allow hotheads to rule over common sense and the end result is the current chaos. In the meantime the real temperature as registered on the thermometer continues to rise.

Jonathan Clatworthy lives in Liverpool and is MCU General Secretary. He has worked as a parish priest, university chaplain and lecturer in Ethics.