The head of the Anglican Mission in America has been threatened with ecclesiastical discipline for contumacy.
Unless Bishop Chuck Murphy repents of his disobedience and apologizes for his offensive statements within seven days, the Rwanda House of Bishops will assume that he has “made a de facto choice to withdraw as primatial vicar” of the AMiA. In letter from the Rwandan House of Bishops to Bishop Murphy dated 30 Nov 2011, the AMiA leader was chastised for disobedience and abuse of office.
“You have constantly disregarded the decisions and counsels of the House of Bishops” and have “misused the authority given to you by the Archbishop in advancing your new missionary society interests,” said the letter signed by the Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje and the Rwandan bishops. The censure follows a 17 Nov 2011 meeting in Washington between Bishop Murphy and Archbishop Rwaje, where a full and frank exchange of views took place, sources told Anglican Ink.
Founded by Evangelicals in response to what it saw as the abandonment of the classical Anglicanism in the United States, the AMiA's first leaders, Bishop Murphy and Bishop John Rodgers, were consecrated on 29 January 2000 at St Andrews Cathedral in Singapore by the Archbishop of Southeast Asia and Rwandan Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini. It has grown rapidly under the leadership of Bishop Murphy, but has begun to witness internal tensions as well as stresses in its relationship with Rwanda.
Over the past few weeks, the tensions within the AMiA became public. Citing personal disagreements with Bishop Murphy, the Rt. Rev. Terrell Glenn, an assistant bishop, last month announced his resignation. A group of Washington clergy released a paper questioning the transparency of the AMiA’s finances and leadership structure. Criticisms have also been raised over new canons prepared for Rwanda by the AMiA’s canon lawyer, Dr. Kevin Donlon, that adopted Roman Catholic ecclesiology and sacramental theology in place of the traditional Anglican formularies.
Disagreements reached a head at a June 2011 meeting of the House of Bishops in Rwanda. Bishop Alex Bilindibagabo pressed Bishop Murphy to account for funds raised for the Rwandan church under the AMiA’s 10-10-10 program, where parishioners are asked to pledge 10 per cent of their income to the congregation, the congregation gives ten per cent of its income to the national offices in Pawleys Island, and the national office tithes ten per cent of its income to the Rwanda.
Bishop Murphy responded the AMiA has no canonical obligation to send money to Rwanda, but has contributed an average of 12 per cent of its income over the last seven years to Rwanda’s general fund. However, no public accounting of the disbursements has been made so far. Questions were also raised at the meeting about the degree of accountability the AMiA had towards the Rwandan House of Bishops.
Bishop Murphy charged the Rwandan bishops with seeking to impose a “reverse colonialism” on the AMiA. Overseeing a church half a world away had not worked during the age of colonial expansion when London missionary societies oversaw African churches and could not work today, he argued. The meeting, which was shortened by one day due to pressing Rwandan secular issues, closed on a sour note as the House of Bishops declined to approve Bishop Murphy’s assistant bishop nominees.
Upon his return to the United States, Bishop Murphy initiated work on a reorganization plan for the AMiA. One 27 Sept 2011 Bishop Murphy informed the Rwandan bishops that he proposed changing the AMiA into a missionary society with links to but no direct oversight from the Church of Rwanda.
He told the bishops the new arrangement would provide stability and continuity by moving oversight from the office of the Archbishop of Rwanda to a self-perpetuating college of consultors, initially led by Archbishops Kolini, Yong Ping Chung and Moses Tay.
The Rwandan church was nonplussed by the proposal. In an open letter to Bishop Murphy, retired Bishop John Rucyhana said the reorganization plan would “take AMiA from its original intent.”
He believed the AMiA was being ungrateful, as “this move may hurt the relationship” between the AMiA and Rwanda, “which stood alone in the whole world with AMiA in the most difficult times.” He was also distressed by what he saw as the AMiA’s taking Archbishop Kolini out of the Church of Rwanda.
“It may be extremely hard to comprehend for the retired Archbishop Kolini who led AMiA as a mission of Rwanda and now moves with AMiA out of the province during his retirement.”
On 31 Oct 2011, Archbishop Rwaje wrote to Bishop Murphy “requesting that all procedures toward the formation of the new missionary society be halted until we go through the Jerusalem moment (are of common mind).” Bishop Murphy was also to reflect on “the spirit of rebellion and lawlessness.”
Speaking to the Church of England Newspaper after the October meeting, Bishop Murphy said it was “absurd” to say he was in rebellion. He denied the AMiA was seeking to withdraw from Rwanda and stated his relations with the archbishop remained strong – and he looked forward to clearing the air at a 17 Nov 2011 meeting with the archbishop in Washington.
Sources tell Anglican Ink the Washington meeting saw a clash of visions with Bishop Murphy urging the AMiA's transformation into a missionary society, while the Rwandan church wished to maintain the current structures. The status of Bishop Glenn was also discussed. Archbishop Rwaje noted Bishop Glenn remained a member of the Rwandan House of Bishops though he was no longer part of the AMiA. He urged Bishop Murphy to reconcile with Bishop Glenn and to resolve their differences. They also agreed that the missionary society idea was merely a proposal and would not be brought to the 21 Dec 2011 Rwandan House of Bishops meeting for review.
Archbishop Rwaje also repeated his request that Bishop Murphy halt work on the project until he had been given a go from the House of Bishops. However on 30 Nov 2011 the Rwandan bishops wrote to Bishop Murphy giving him an ultimatum – honor his vow of obedience or go.
They stated Bishop Murphy had ignored two requests to halt the reorganization of the AMiA into a missionary society and “insulted” the House of Bishops by “using abusive language.” The AMiA head had also “dogged questions of financial transparency” and had not yet complied with a commitment given in September to provide an accounting.
The Rwandan bishops requested Bishop Murphy offer a letter of apology for his actions, end his moves to re-organize the AMiA, and confirm his “commitment to refocus on AMiA.” Unless Bishop Murphy complied with this request within seven days, the Rwanda House of Bishops would assume that he had “made a ‘de facto’ choice to withdraw as primatial vicar” of the AMiA. A spokesman for Bishop Murphy told Anglican Ink the proposed reorganization has “required the [AMiA] and the Province of Rwanda to engage in substantive dialogues, and we seek to ensure that our unique cultures are in clear communication with each other.”
“It has required that we listen carefully to one another in our attempts to fully understand all of the issues involved from one another’s cultural perspectives,” the spokesman said, noting the 30 Nov letter was “part of that yet unfinished dialogue and it will be addressed as our Archbishop has required.” Bishop Murphy has been asked to respond to the Rwandan request by 7 Dec 2011.