By Gaaki Kigambo
Retiring Church of Uganda Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi spoke to Gaaki Kigambo about his aspirations, the future and challenges facing the Anglican congregation, and the relationship between religion and politics
What explains this spate of early retirements in the Anglican Church? Yours, your assistant’s Dr Zac Niringiye, and farther afield that of Dr Rowan Williams, overall head of the Anglican Communion worldwide.
None of those guys is older than me. (My early retirement) isn’t as strange as it sounds. Some people think you have to retire when things are hard, when you are sick, or worn out. But that’s not retirement. That’s completion of work. For me, I’m moving on to accomplish things that I would need energy to do. That’s really why I’m moving on a year early.
How have your nine years of service been like?
I took six years visiting every spot in this country. I have done 175,000 Kms travelling in this country. None of my predecessors ever did that. My interest was to understand our country and our people before I could see how to serve them. We did a lot of work in reconciliation because there were several spots in the country that were conflicting. We did a lot of work forging a very united House of Bishops. My 10 years as a bishop made me understand that there was a great need for the bishops to work with each other. That came through. You know bishops are very independent and by their nature and place of work they would want to think more about their dioceses. None of my predecessors has consecrated as many bishops as I have. 25 out of 35 bishops in the House are new.
What sort of things would you say you could have done differently or given more time to?
None. Every leader has got a calling by God. Right from the beginning, I had a big passion to make the young generation understand the church belongs to them. In our church they hadn’t been considered in the forefront. I crusaded that in many ways. I wanted very much to see a church at peace without fighting one another. That has happened. I wanted very much to, at least, start the foundation of the Church House because that is something every Archbishop has been trying to do. We’re now on the 7th floor. I wanted very much to make sure that the House of Bishops works as a body. We have succeeded. So those are the things I really had a passion for. As for the rest, you see, everything is good but not everything is my mission. Otherwise, what would the next Archbishop do?
Yet tensions remain, especially across denominations. Do you think sometimes that, perhaps, peaceful coexistence is a more feasible goal than a fusion of these denominations?
Peaceful coexistence starts with knowing the other person and knowing what you are living for; knowing your space; understanding what you stand for. I see that as something that has begun during my leadership here. Last year on July 5, Pentecostal pastors to the tune of 32 met together with bishops and their wives in Lweza to seek forgiveness from each other for saying and doing things that were not Christian. They hugged each other. They repented. They cried. That had never happened before. It happened because I have had time with the Pentecostal pastors for the last two years. Every first Monday of the month we meet at Namirembe Guest House for prayer. We have two major concerns: can the body of Christ come together in this nation to demonstrate peaceful coexistence? Can God be the leader of this nation through the political leadership? It is very important for church to begin to understand that, like in military formation, friendly fires still kill. When you are targeting one another, the other side is winning. And that is Satan’s. Should we do that? Should we compete? The answer is no. We should complement each other because there are too many Ugandans who are sinners who are looking for the way to heaven. Show them the way.
Tensions are more pronounced in politics. Yet the church, with such a strong history of standing up against injustice, atrocity and bad leadership, has concentrated more on the moral crisis and stayed far away from the political one.
It depends from where you look at me. A preacher’s platform is the pulpit. If you pick some of my teachings, there’s a very strong loud voice that I have declared in many instances.
Our issue in this country should be tackled at where it matters most. Our problem is not policy. Our problem is the human heart. Corruption didn’t begin with this government. It’s not only in Uganda. God has given us the key to tackle the human heart. The Lord is the one who can understand the human heart.
The political crisis in this country is based on selfishness. Very few people really serve humanity for the sake of serving humanity. The driving force is; what can I get out of it. When you look at our Lord, He made personal sacrifice for people. He was one who never had anything that you would call trappings. I would like to see guys whose hearts are full of compassion so that they can serve this country. Those hearts must be surrendered to God first before they can serve humanity.
Are our current leaders’ hearts too hardened to be fused with some of that compassion?
There’s one thing God will never do to a human being, that is to force him. God will put the stakes before you and he wants you to make a decision. It will take God, through a concerted effort of believers, to transform our nation in terms of transforming leaders. In Romans 13, there are clear instructions by Paul that there is need for us to pray for governing leadership because if you don’t then there will be no peace, and when there’s no peace you can’t even preach the gospel. So many of these whose hearts are hard are not beyond God’s saving power.
You led an international breakaway because of disagreements over same-sex relations. How do you leave the crisis in the Anglican Communion?
Unity for the Anglican Communion is not going to come back easily. The Western church and the African church are no longer walking on the same premises. The African church is still a Bible-believing church. Its congregation responds, worships, is growing. You will never say the same about the church in Europe, not even in America.
We don’t interpret the Bible the same way. Whereas for them they’re influenced more by the status quo in terms of the modernised way of interpreting sexuality, we still, as believers, understand sexuality from the creation story, from our cultural background, which to them is all mixed up.
I think because we are a vibrant church, we see things more clearly than they do. And I suppose that the more you grow old, the less teeth you have, the dimmer your eyes, the more hard-at-hearing you become. That’s the church in Europe and America.
Gay people and their supporters insist it’s their right to love people of the same sex. Are human rights incompatible with faith in God?
There’s nobody who respects humanity more than God. This other human rights movement is totally a different agenda. If they were talking about human rights per se, don’t I have the right to exercise my faith and believe the way my faith teaches me? These guys will say no. Do it the way we want you to do it. That’s not human rights. That’s imperialism. We Africans need to begin to understand some other new approach of subjecting us to the thinking of the western world. When they coin it to be human rights, you can never get better human rights and justice than what’s in the Bible. It’s the same Bible they reject.
You’ve mentioned the future of Anglicanism being in reviving key reformation and evangelical principles. Is that a task you see well suited for the African church?
We are very good at that. The missionary outreach in Europe, particularly England, started with young men with a passion and moved out. I see that happening here. I see the passion of young people in evangelical churches here in Kampala. Is it difficult to channel than energy to look like a missionary movement that can go beyond Uganda?
You’ve also mentioned that the British hegemony over the Anglican Church is over. If Rowan retires, how do you see chances of Uganda’s own John Sentamu replacing him?
Unfortunately, it’s only the Anglican church of England that [elects Archbishop of Canterbury] then imposes it on the Anglican Communion. So, as for personality, we can’t say anything. We take what they give us. So if he can work with us, we can work together. If he can’t work with us, we are mature enough to say no.