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Global Anglican Discourse and Women’s Ordination in Kenya: The Controversy in Kirinyaga, 1979–1992, and its Legacy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 January 2021

Stephen Asol Kapinde
Affiliation:
PhD in Theology from the University of Basel, Switzerland
Eleanor Tiplady Higgs*
Affiliation:
fellow of the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence, University of Bayreuth, Germany

Abstract

In the 1980s, the question of women’s ordination in the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) caused a controversy in Kirinyaga diocese, in which Archbishop David Gitari (1937–2013) played a critical role as an advocate for women. This controversy is just one example of how African Christian women have faced multiple material and theological obstacles to ordination, both in the Anglican Church and in other churches. Through an analysis of institutional texts we show how the issue of women’s ordination has been addressed in formal Anglican decision-making processes. We also outline the patriarchal attitudes that characterized the wider discourse of women’s ordination in Kenya and in the Anglican Communion, and discuss how this discourse informed Gitari’s intervention. Opposition to women’s ordination is only one facet of sexism in the ACK, as was implicitly recognized by Gitari in his wider project of ‘holistic development’.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© The Journal of Anglican Studies Trust 2021

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References

2 Gitari’s legacy is considered at length in Ben Knighton (ed.), Religion and Politics in Kenya: Essays in Honour of a Meddlesome Priest (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). See also Stephen A. Kapinde, ‘Prophetic Church Leadership in Kenya’s Democratic Processes between 1986 and 2010: A Case Study of the Most Rev. David Gitari’, MA thesis, Pwani University, 2016.

3 Esther Mombo, ‘Doing Theology from the Perspective of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians’, Journal of Anglican Studies 1.1 (2003), pp. 91-103; Mercy A. Oduyoye, Introducing African Women’s Theology (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press); Isabel A. Phiri, ‘Major Challenges for African Women Theologians in Theological Education (1989–2008)’, International Review of Mission 98.1 (2009), pp. 105-19.

4 Hazel Ayanga, ‘Voice of the Voiceless: The Legacy of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians’, Verbum et Ecclesia 37.2 (2016), a1580 (4).

5 Njoroge, Nyambura, Kiama Kia Ngo: An African Christian Feminist Ethic of Resistance and Transformation (Accra: Legon Theological Studies, 2000), p. 124Google Scholar.

6 Teresia Hinga, ‘African Feminist Theologies, the Global Village, and the Imperative of Solidarity across Borders: The Case of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians’, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 18.1 (2002), pp. 79-86 (85-86).

7 Mercy A. Oduyoye, Hearing and Knowing: Theological Reflections on Christianity in Africa (Nairobi: Acton, 2000), p. 129.

8 Mercy A. Oduyoye, Beads and Strands: Reflections of an African Woman on Christianity in Africa (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), pp. 90-91.

9 David Chidester, Christianity: A Global History (London: Penguin, 2000), pp. 447-68; Isabel Phiri, ‘African Women’s Theologies in the New Millennium’, Agenda 61 (2004), pp. 16-24 (16).

10 Tabitha Kanogo, African Womanhood in Colonial Kenya 1900–50 (London: James Currey, 2005); Wilhemina Oduol and Wanjiku M. Kabira, ‘The Mother of Warriors and her Daughters: The Women’s Movement in Kenya’, in Amrita Basu (ed.), The Challenge of Local Feminisms: Women’s Movements in Global Perspective (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995), pp. 187-208 (201).

11 This is evident in the work of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and Mothers’ Union (MU). See, for example, Lydia M. Mwaniki, ‘The Impact of the Church on the Development of the Identity of an African Christian Woman: A Case Study of the Anglican Church of Kenya, Diocese of Kirinyaga 1910–1999’, MA thesis, University of Pietermaritzburg, 2000, p. 54.

12 Esther Mombo and Helen Joziasse, ‘Jesus, A Man Above All Other Men: Kenyan Women Questioning Traditional Masculinities’ in R.S. Wafula, Esther Mombo and Joseph Wandera (eds.), The Postcolonial Church: Bible, Theology and Mission (Alameda, CA: Borderless Press, 2016), pp. 159-72 (162).

13 Kanogo, African Womanhood.

14 Ruth M. James, ‘The Church in Africa and Violence against Women’, in Grace Wamue and Mary Getui (eds.), Violence against Women: Reflections by Kenyan Women Theologians (Nairobi: Acton, 1996), p. 69. See also Oduyoye, Hearing and Knowing, p. 124.

15 Esther Mombo and Helen Joziasse, ‘From the Pew to the Pulpit: Engendering the Pulpit Through Teaching African Women’s Theologies’ in H. Jurgens Hendriks, Elna Mouton, Len Hansen and Elisabet Le Roux (eds.) Men in the Pulpit, Women in the Pew?: Addressing Gender Inequality in Africa (Stellenbosch: Sun Press/ESFA, 2012), pp. 183-94 (183-84). See also Mary-Jane Rubenstein, ‘An Anglican Crisis of Comparison: Intersections of Race, Gender, and Religious Authority, with Particular Reference to the Church of Nigeria’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 72.2 (2004), pp. 341-65 (357).

16 Deborah Gaitskell, ‘Female Faith and the Politics of the Personal: Five Mission Encounters in Twentieth-Century South Africa’, Feminist Review 65 (2000), pp. 68-91; Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton, Women of Fire and Spirit: History, Faith, and Gender in Roho Religion in Western Kenya (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996); Esther Mombo, ‘The Revival Testimony of Second Wives’, in Kevin Ward and Emma Wild-Wood (eds.), The East African Revival: History and Legacies (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012), pp. 153-62 (161); Derek Peterson, ‘Casting Characters: Autobiography and Political Imagination in Central Kenya’, Research in African Literatures 37.3 (2012), pp. 176-92 (183-85).

17 Galia Sabar, Church, State and Society in Kenya: From Mediation to Opposition 1963–1993 (New York: Frank Cass, 2002), p. 56.

18 Esther Mombo, ‘Resisting Vumilia Theology: The Church and Violence against Women in Kenya’, in Andrew Wingate, Kevin Ward, Carrie Pemberton, and Wilson Sitshebo (eds.), Anglicanism: A Global Communion (New York: Church Publishing, 1998), pp. 219-24; Galia Sabar-Friedman, ‘The Power of the Familiar: Everyday Practices in the Anglican Church of Kenya (CPK)’, Journal of Church and State 32.2 (1996), pp. 377-95.

19 Mombo, ‘Resisting Vumilia Theology’, pp. 221-23.

20 Eleanor Tiplady Higgs, ‘From “Imperial Maternalism” to “Matricentrism”: Mothering Ethics in Christian Women’s Voluntarism in Kenya’, African Journal of Gender and Religion 25.1 (2019), pp. 20-44.

21 James, ‘The Church in Africa’, pp. 68-77.

22 Erica Appelros, ‘Gender within Christian Fundamentalism: A Philosophical Analysis of Conceptual Oppression’, International Journal of Philosophy and Theology 75.5 (2014), pp. 460-73 (465-66).

23 Oduyoye, Beads and Strands, p. 94.

24 Esther Mombo and Nyambura Njoroge have made significant contributions in this regard. See Faith W. Ngunjiri, Women’s Spiritual Leadership in Africa: Tempered Radicals and Critical Servant Leaders (Albany: SUNY Press, 2010), pp. 108-11; ‘Swiss Reformed Church backs pro-women Kenyan theologians’, http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/8913 (accessed 17 September 2019); Rachel NyaGondwe Fiedler, A History of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians (1989–2017) (Luwinga, Malawi: Mzuni Books, 2017), pp. 58-64.

25 J.S. Mathenge, personal communication to S. Kapinde, 29 January 2015.

26 Mwaniki, ‘The Impact of the Church’, pp. 62-63.

27 Julius M. Gathogo, Mutira Mission: An African Church Comes of Age in Kirinyaga, Kenya (19122012) (Limuru: Zapf Chancery, 2011), p. 134; James, ‘The Church in Africa’, p. 72.

28 Esther Mombo, ‘The Ordination of Women in Africa: A Historical Perspective’, in Ian Jones, Kirsty Thorpe, and Janet Wootton (eds.), Women and Ordination in the Christian Churches: International Perspectives (London: T&T Clark, 2008), pp. 123-43.

29 Mombo, ‘The Ordination of Women in Africa’, pp. 129-30.

30 Mombo, ‘The Ordination of Women in Africa’, pp. 134-35.

31 Esther Mombo and Joseph Galgalo, ‘Theological Education in Africa in the Post-1998 Lambeth Conference’, Journal of Anglican Studies 6.1 (2008), pp. 31-40 (39).

32 Awino Okech, Widow Inheritance and Contested Citizenship in Kenya (New York: Routledge, 2019), pp. 53-55.

33 Mombo and Galgalo, ‘Theological Education’, p. 40.

34 Gitari, Troubled but not Destroyed, p. 124.

35 CPK Diocese of Mount Kenya East, Fifth ordinary session of the synod (Kenya, 1983).

36 Mwaniki, ‘The Impact of the Church’, p. 70.

37 CPK Diocese of Mount Kenya East, Fifth ordinary session of the synod (Kenya, 1983).

38 CPK Diocese of Mount Kenya East, DCC, Minute 23/1988. See also Fifteen Great Years 1975–1990, the End of the Beginning: Preparatory Documents for the Eighth and Last Ordinary Session of the Synod of the Combined Diocese (Embu: Diocese of Mount Kenya East, 1990), p. 24.

39 Mombo, ‘The Ordination of Women in Africa’, p. 131.

40 Richard Odeng, personal communication to S. Kapinde, 22 June 2017 and 8 January 2019.

41 Okullu was a Luo, the fourth largest ethnic group in Kenya, and in the 1970s ‘tribalism’ or inter-ethnic tensions resulted in discrimination within the ACK. Mombo, ‘The Ordination of Women in Africa’, p. 131.

42 This is the general assembly of all Anglican Bishops within a province; the House of Clergy refers to ordained priests within a diocese.

43 Gitari, Troubled but not Destroyed, p. 125.

44 The other seven dioceses were Eldoret, Machakos, Mombasa, Mount Kenya Central, Mount Kenya South, Nakuru and Nairobi. These dioceses declined to debate women’s ordination.

45 Galia Sabar-Friedman, ‘“Politics” and “Power” in the Kenyan Public Discourse and Recent Events: The Church of the Province of Kenya (CPK)’, Canadian Journal of African StudiesRevue Canadienne des Études Africaines 29.3 (1995), pp. 429-53 (434-40).

46 Gitari contributed to writing A Kenyan Service of Holy Communion. David Gitari, ‘The Anglican Church of Kenya’, in Colin Buchanan (ed.) Anglican Eucharistic Liturgies: 1985–2010 (London: Canterbury Press, 2011), pp. 145-52.

47 Gitari, Troubled but not Destroyed, pp. 125-26.

48 Data collated from Diocesan Synod resolutions 1979–1986. See also Gitari, Troubled but not Destroyed, pp. 125-26.

49 DCC Resolution 1983: 51/83.

50 DCC Resolution 1983: 51/83.

51 Gitari, Troubled but not Destroyed, p. 125.

52 Unfortunately, we have not been able to confirm the gender composition of the House of Laity. However, the data in Table 1 suggests that throughout the 1980s, lay men were in general more supportive of women’s ordination than were male clergy.

53 J.S. Mathenge, personal communication to S. Kapinde, 29 January 2015.

54 DCC 1983: 38/83.

55 Mombo and Joziasse, ‘Jesus, A Man Above All Other Men’, p. 162.

56 John Mararo, personal communication to S. Kapinde, 30 January and 14 April 2015.

57 DCC 1983: 38/83; George Paddy Benson (GPB) personal communication to S. Kapinde, 29 July 2018.

58 Magdalene, personal communication to S. Kapinde, 8 April 2018.

59 Oduyoye, Beads and Strands, p. 57.

60 Magdalene, personal communication to S. Kapinde, 8 April 2018.

61 Ngunjiri, Women’s Spiritual Leadership, pp. 115, 206-208.

62 Ngunjiri, Women’s Spiritual Leadership, p. 112.

63 Eliza Getman and Sarojini Nadar, ‘Natality and Motherism: Embodiment within Praxis of Spiritual Leadership’, Journal for the Study of Religion 26.2 (2013), pp. 59-73 (64-65).

64 Getman and Nadar, ‘Natality and Motherism’, pp. 59-60.

65 Getman and Nadar, ‘Natality and Motherism’, pp. 62-63.

66 Njoroge, Kiama Kia Ngo, pp. 61-66. Significantly, Nyambura Njoroge was the first Presbyterian woman to be ordained in Kenya.

67 Njoroge, Kiama Kia Ngo, pp. 66-68.

68 Ephantus Muriuki, personal communication to S. Kapinde, 30 January 2015.

69 Magdalene, personal communication to S. Kapinde, 8 April 2018.

70 Mwaniki, ‘The Impact of the Church’, p. 62, citing CPK Diocese of Mount Kenya East, Ordinary Session of Diocesan Synod 1983, p. 17, CPK Diocese of Mount Kenya East Newsletter 1985.

71 George Paddy Benson (GPB) personal communication to S. Kapinde, 29 July 2018.

72 Mwaniki, ‘The Impact of the Church’, pp. 61-62. See also CPK Diocese of Mount Kenya East Newsletter 1985, p. 12.

73 DCC Resolution 1986: 56 /86.

74 John Mararo, personal communication to S. Kapinde, 30 January and 14 April 2015.

75 Mararo, personal communication to S. Kapinde, 14 April 2015.

76 Gitari, Troubled but not Destroyed, p. 126.

77 Gitari, Troubled but not Destroyed, pp. 126-27.

78 Mararo, personal communication to S. Kapinde, 30 January and 14 April 2015. Gitari considered Ngotho’s claims to be bordering on insubordination and replaced him with Moses Njoroge as the Provost of St Thomas. Muriuki was also suspended, although later both were readmitted into the House of Clergy.

79 Gitari, Troubled but not Destroyed, p. 127.

80 Ephantus Muriuki, personal communication to S. Kapinde, 30 January 2015.

81 Magdalene, personal communication to S. Kapinde, 8 April 2018.

82 Mwaniki, ‘The Impact of the Church’, p. 71; citing an interview with Pamela Wilding.

83 Gitari, Troubled but not Destroyed, p. 40.

84 Gitari, Troubled but not Destroyed, p. 40.

85 Joanna Sadgrove, Robert M. Vanderbeck, Kevin Ward, Gill Valentine, and Johan Andersson, ‘Constructing the Boundaries of Anglican Orthodoxy: An Analysis of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON)’, Religion 40 (2010), pp. 193-206 (194). See also Christopher C. Brittain and Andrew McKinnon, ‘Homosexuality and the Construction of “Anglican Orthodoxy”: The Symbolic Politics of the Anglican Communion’, Sociology of Religion 72.3 (2011), pp. 351-73; Miranda K. Hassett, Anglican Communion in Crisis: How Episcopal Dissidents and their African Allies Are Reshaping Anglicanism, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007); and Rubenstein, ‘An Anglican Crisis of Comparison’.

86 Brittain and McKinnon, ‘Homosexuality and the Construction of “Anglican Orthodoxy”’, pp. 370-71.

87 Anglican Consultative Council, ‘Resolution 21: Women in the Priesthood’, The Lambeth Conference: Resolutions Archive from 1978 (London: Anglican Communion Office, 2005), pp. 13-14, www.anglicancommunion.org/media/127746/1978.pdf (accessed 6 June 2020).

88 The delegation included David Gitari, Henry Okullu, Peter Mwangombe (Mombasa); Sospeter Mangua (Mount Kenya South); James Mundia (Maseno North); and Manases Kuria (Mount Kenya Central).

89 Sylvia Sweeney, ‘The Feminization of the Episcopal Priesthood: Changing Models of Church Leadership’, Anglican and Episcopal History 83.2 (2014), pp. 126-45.

90 Rubenstein, ‘An Anglican Crisis of Comparison’, pp. 344-46.

91 Canon John Mararo, personal communication to S. Kapinde, 30 January and 14 April 2015.

92 Mombo, ‘The Ordination of Women in Africa’.

93 Anglican Consultative Council, ‘Resolution 1: The Ordination or Consecration of Women to the Episcopate’, The Lambeth Conference: Resolutions Archive from 1988 (London: Anglican Communion Office, 2005), p. 4, www.anglicancommunion.org/media/127749/1988.pdf (accessed 30 June 2020).

94 Rubenstein, ‘An Anglican Crisis of Comparison’, p. 344.

95 Charles Raven, ‘Unity in the Anglican Church’ (GAFCON, 2020)’, www.gafcon.org/news/unity-in-the-anglican-church (accessed 1 July 2020).

96 Mwaniki, ‘The Impact of the Church’, pp. 61-63; Mombo, ‘The Ordination of Women in Africa’, pp. 135-36.

97 Gitari, Troubled but not Destroyed, p. 126.

98 Pamela Wilding, personal communication to S. Kapinde, 2018.

99 Magdalene, personal communication to S. Kapinde, 8 April 2018.

100 Agnes Abuom, personal communication to S. Kapinde, 17 January 2019.

101 Dickson K. Nkonge, ‘Leadership Training for Mission in the Anglican Church of Kenya’, PhD dissertation, University of South Africa, 2008, pp. 133-35.

102 Nkonge, ‘Leadership Training’, p. 196.

103 Nkonge, ‘Leadership Training’, p. 196.