Abuse from an Anglican bishop, wisdom and welcome from a woman deacon


Bishop Joseph Kanuku

Yesterday morning we took the bus 35km from Nairobi to Machakos to meet the Bishop Joseph Kanuku. He is an old friend of Michael Kimindu, and this was presumably why he had agreed to meet both of us. Michael had been one of three candidates for Machakos when Bishop James was elected.

As we walked through the compound gate a woman rushed across and asked if we would like tea. Before we had crossed the compound and reached the diocesan office door, she had returned with two mugs of tea for us.

We arrived and were greeted by the bishop and invited into his personal office.  He disappeared and returned with two women carrying folders and notebooks. I assumed they were staff members or secretaries who were there to record our meeting. In fact they came from the Cooperative Bank and the bishop proceeded to discuss the diocesan accounts with them without introducing us or explaining who they were. He was charming with them.

When they left, he went and found the Dean and having both arrived, invited Michael to introduce me and explain the purpose of our visit. In African style, Michael began by recounting how Bishop Joseph had helped find his daughter a school place and had adopted her almost as his own child.

Eventually the bishop interrupted, saying he was busy and had many people waiting to meet him. He turned to me and said: “We are not accepting money from the Americans to promote homosexuality.” I wasn’t sure how to respond to what felt like a very confrontational opening but began by saying that in the context of our meeting, two things were important. I am a gay Anglican priest and I am working for equality and understanding for LGBTI members of the Anglican Church.

The bishop said he didn’t believe there was any such thing as a homosexual identity and that all his teaching was based on and found in the Bible and he wouldn’t accept anything found outside the Bible. I tried to explain how in the core of my being when I was 11 years old, through emotional attraction to another boy, I knew I was attracted to other boys as my class mates were being attracted to the opposite sex. The bishop didn’t believe we should follow our emotions – in that case, the church would accept people who were adulterers, prostitutes and thieves – he trotted out the usual list – and then the usual, ‘we are all sinners’. I said I did not accept that I was a sinner because I was gay and that I was insulted that he was likening my identity to being a thief or a prostitute.

The conversation became more intense with Michael and the Dean both trying to join in. At one point the bishop said he had a gift of healing and laid hands on prostitutes and thieves and healed them and also laid hands on homosexuals and healed them. The conversation moved on – and came to an end – before I was able to say to him, here I am, a homosexual, I want you to cross the room, lay hands on me and heal me right now of my homosexuality

Instead I told him that I was an adult, I was perfectly well-aware of my identity, that I represented a ministry conforming with the Anglican Communion’s listening to the experience of lesbian and gay people. Around that moment, the Dean stepped in and told the bishop that they were wasting their time and the bishop should dismiss us.  Michael was astonished that the Dean should intervene and tell the bishop what to do. The bishop said he would pray with us, which he did, and then, all smiles, dismissed us.

Throughout the encounter the bishop had shown a depth of anger and bitterness, ignorance and prejudice that amazed me, given he had offered us an appointment and we had travelled from Nairobi to meet him. There was nothing Christian in his welcome, and despite his assertion that he was a loving man, no love in his feelings towards me. Here is a bishop, a senior Anglican, who is incapable of containing his feelings and prejudice and behaved in an aggressive and dismissive way.

Michael and I walked back to the compound gate, when another woman stopped us and asked if she could say hello. She’s had joined our bus at the Machakos junction. She really did just want to say hello, but with encouragement, revealed that she was a woman deacon in the diocese. Michael gave her his Other Sheep Ministries card and she responded openly. The woman at the gate greeted us warmly as we left and we invited the deacon to join us for lunch.

She had been ordained 6 months ago, had trained at the Church Army College and was in the diocese as a Church Army missionary priest. Her home town was far outside Machakos diocese. She said she had a good lesbian friend whom she had met at college, a single woman. I was curious about the acceptance of women in ministry, given that the bishop had told me he accepted the whole teaching of the Bible. It was other women who were most reluctant to accept her ministry, and that in a church were 70% were women.

Many prostitutes were members of her congregation, with single mothers and some single fathers. She wasn’t aware of any who were lesbian or gay, but they would be equally welcome, and communion at the church was open to all, because God would never reject those who often lived at the margins of society. The prostitutes were some of the most faithful and responsive members of the congregation, she said. She baptised their children.

Now, all this is against the teaching and practice of the Kenyan Church, though I’d earlier learnt that many ignored the teaching. Perhaps the same happens in England – the deacon is operating her own don’t ask, don’t tell policy, and could understand why the Church of England had often done the same with LGBTI people.  She was deeply authentic, open, loving and pastoral, in dramatic contrast to her bishop who was hostile and judgmental.

As Michael and I journeyed home on the bus, we reflected on our encounters with bishop and dean and the woman deacon and gatekeeper, and we smiled together. The deacon is just 27, married to a Luhya, confident in the Christ-like values of her ministry. The episcopate is open to women in Kenya but none have yet been elected. One day, our woman deacon friend will make a truly wonderful, pastoral bishop, teaching by example. She will highlight the hollowness of the ministries of those allied to the Global South who claim to uphold the Gospel but are in fact wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are deeply ignorant, and blindly unaware of the many LGBTI people faithfully living the Gospel and ministering and worshipping under the radar in Kenya.


  1. Graham says

    What a scandalous situation that such ignorant and bigoted people should have become a Bishop and a Dean.
    It also appears that they need to devote some time to serious Bible study.




    • Anonymous says

      You should accord some respect to the servant of God. The Rt. Rev. Joseph Kanuku is my Bishop and i know his stand which is the stand of all the Clergy in the Diocese. We cannot support Gay marriage for it is against the bible.
      What ever is written here is malicious, luck of respect and black mailing the humble servant of God. We remain standing together with our beloved Bishop for we the Clergy of machakos Diocese are the ones who know him more. My self have belonged and served under him for more than ten years.

      REV. E. C. OMBISA.

      • says

        Rev. E.C. Ombisa.

        Please explain this comment ”We cannot support Gay marriage for it is against the bible”

        Now!! > What the Bible says about anything is selective, contradictory and liable to change in interpretation. Now what we have to understand here is that, People do not believe in What the Bible Says. People believe in traditions about what the Bible says.

        Judeo-Christians tradition certainly is homophobic, but what we need to research here is that are the words of Jesus Homophobic? The various Christian theological traditions from one and other they cannot be identical with the words of Jesus. Now the believer must decide whether the words of Jesus are more important than Christian traditions (Don’t you agree?) Arguing out Christian traditions is circular.

  2. says

    To say that the Bible condemns Lesbians and gays is misleading, it is clear that the phrase the Bible says is not a sufficient argument for anything. We need to develop, what feminist theologians call, an interpretation of suspicion which questions how texts either affirm or condemn women, lesbians, gays and other minorities. Now if they are condemning then they are not, and cannot be, words from a God of love. Homosexuality is not a new thing within the church, in the eighteenth century in London there existed “molly houses,” pubs where gay men gathered to sing and dance and have a good time, and make assignations with one another. In some of these molly houses there were “Marrying Rooms” and “Chapels” in which the men sometimes went to be “married” or “wedded”; often this merely consisted of them having sex together, sometimes in full sight of the company in the other large room of the tavern. There were also semi-formal bondings, and we know of at least half a dozen male couples who lived together for long periods, often years, including male couples who operated their own molly houses. But as far as I can discover, no duly ordained minister officiated at these ceremonies until the early nineteenth century, when the Reverend John Church appeared upon the molly circuit and began celebrating the first gay rites of Holy Matrimony.

  3. Anonymous says

    According to an article posted on the internet by title “Abuse from an Anglican Bishop; wisdom and welcome from a woman deacon. By Collin Coward, March 8th 2012.”

    If that article refers to me who greeted the author of the article because am a deacon married by a Luhya trained at Church Army serving the Anglican Church along Machakos junction. I would like to reply him as follows :-

    This article content lays malicious implications against alleged woman deacon who greeted these visitors on their way out at the gate. The descriptions given about the woman deacon are false, malicious and inaccurate. They claim that the bishop was hostile to the visitors is not justified since out of love and the warmth of our bishop the visitors were served tea by the bishop’s secretary. And i believe that our bishop was extremely tolerant to the visitors only that he did buy the two visitors’ agenda.

    I respond to the effect of the article to refute the link between me and the mentioned individuals in the article as friends. My encounter with the two men was because i was told that one of the men was a reverend from the area I serve and so I greeted them and introduced myself in hope that he was the person I intended to know, on the country he was not the one and so bid them bye. At my surprise the white man asked if he could take me a photo of which I refused because this was an impromptu encounter.

    The article claimed that the woman deacon had been ordained six months ago, which is false. Further the article relays false information about the church I serve : that is full of prostitutes, single mothers and single fathers, in fact this church is fledged with old folks who have honourable families.
    I refuse travelling in the same bus with them. I refuse the allegations that I had lunch with them. And I also refuse the allegation of any conversation with the two men.

    I categorically state that I am not lesbian neither do I know nor have lesbian friends as claimed in the article. The article further cheats that I have baptised many children belonging to prostitutes which is all false since I was ordained I had never baptised anyone or hosted baptism service.

    The term used in the article “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” is erroneous and foreign in our diocese and my life. The claims that the alleged deacon is 27 years is false and misplaced. If at all the article intended to mean the person who greeted the two men and the gate, then it’s not the deacon implied.

    I wish to inform whoever is concerned that I do not support lesbianism and gaism because this contradicts my human and Christian values, socially, ethically and spiritually. As for my diocesan bishop I do state that by the fact that you only stayed with him for a few minutes. But as long as I have served under him, I have never heard him accused of abusing his office or anybody and I know his stand which is the stand of all the clergy and my stand, which is a big NO! On gaism and lesbianism – it is contrary to biblical principals of reproduction and association and further for me I am happily married and God has blessed us with children.

    • REV. E. C. OMBISA says

      God bless you sister for correcting this malicious claims directed to the humble servant of God, our beloved Bishop.

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