Anglicans are ‘voice of the voiceless,’ says outgoing archbishop of Kenya

Published April 24, 2009

Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi, primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya, is retiring this month.

As he heads towards retirement this month, Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi, primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya, said that he hopes he leaves behind “a strengthened, transformed province,” one that is “well-grounded in the word of God” and “well-equipped to meet the challenges of the new millennium.”

Archbishop Nzimbi, who was elected primate in 2002, identified corruption, poverty, quality of education, and HIV-AIDS as challenges that Anglicans in Kenya are helping to combat. (Anglicans constitute 2.5 million of Kenya’s population of 32 million.)

“What kind of education are we passing on to our children? There are issues coming on a daily basis because of westernization and new movements, and we ask ourselves, ‘What are our African values compared to what’s coming to the world today?'” he said in an interview. “What do we do to ensure that our people have enough to eat and to wear? The church must not sit and watch when the economy is going badly and the rich are becoming richer, the poor are becoming poorer. We have to be the voice of the voiceless.”

The Anglican Church in Kenya has also been active in the fight against HIV-AIDS. “Publicly, we’ve apologized on behalf of the church for the marginalization and stigmatization of HIV-AIDS victims. We’ve said, ‘We’re sorry about that now that we know more about HIV-AIDS,'” said Archbishop Nzimbi. He and other church leaders had themselves tested publicly to encourage Kenyans to take the HIV-AIDS test.

Archbishop Nzimbi, who has expressed support for the creation of a separate province for conservative Anglicans in North America, declined to say whether he would play a more active role on this front upon retirement. He is among the most vocal opponents of liberalizing views on homosexuality. To show his opposition, he boycotted last year’s Lambeth Conference, the gathering every 10 years of the world’s Anglican bishops; in 2007, he ordained as bishops of his province, two conservative church leaders who left The Episcopal Church in the U.S. because it had consecrated a gay bishop in 2003.

“When we talk about same-sex unions, it is to us a big challenge because missionaries, when they came here, taught us that we can’t change the word of God,” said Archbishop Nzimbi. “We never knew that something that we’re hearing now would happen.” He noted that Anglican missionaries arrived in Mombasa in 1844, and the first Africans were ordained to the priesthood in 1885. His own father worked for the Anglican church in 1937.

Archbishop Nzimbi, who became a bishop in 1985, added, “We said ‘no’ to our traditions and we said, ‘we’re going to use the word of God. When we hear of revisionists or others talk about new ways of looking at things, we get surprised. ‘Lord, what are we going to do?'”

He said that the open and vociferous debate on sexuality in the Anglican Communion has also not been easy for Anglicans in Kenya because “it’s something which, in the African culture, you don’t talk about.” He said that “maybe it’s talked about by peers – people of the same age – and they talk in a joking manner and in proverbs. When the question of marriage comes in, we believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, as it happened in the Garden of Eden when God said, “it’s not good that a man should be alone. I’m going to create a partner that’s fit for him.’ And he brought Eve.”

Despite differences in views regarding sexuality, Archbishop Nzimbi said that the Anglican Church of Kenya has chosen to maintain its ties with the Anglican Church of Canada. When Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, visited Nairobi in February for a brief consultation with African partners of the Primate’s World Relief and Development (PWRDF), Archbishop Nzimbi welcomed him and gave him a tour of a new building being constructed at All Saints’ Cathedral.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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