African church needs more women in authority, bishops learn
Nov. 6, 2006
NOTE: A photograph and related coverage are available at http://umns.umc.org.
By Linda Green*
MAPUTO, Mozambique (UMNS) - The United Methodist Church in Africa needs to address the lack of women in positions of authority in both church and society, according to the head of the denomination's Africa University.
Rukudzo Murapa, vice chancellor of Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe, was one of many United Methodists from around Africa who provided leadership at the Council of Bishops' meeting Nov. 1-6 in Maputo. The bishops, who are the top clergy leaders of the 10 million-member church, met outside the territorial United States for the first time.
Although it is encouraging that women hold district superintendent positions, "we yearn for the day when the first African woman will be consecrated bishop," Murapa said. After the applause subsided from the Council of Bishops, he said: "Women have provided decisive leadership in difficult times."
He reflected on the women from Liberia, South Africa, Senegal and across the continent who have come together with their experiences and talents to "break the culture of silence," bring peace and order to their chaotic and war-torn communities, and create new relationships.
"African women may well have the special word of God to us for our time," Murapa said. "Is the United Methodist Church listening? Is the United Methodist Church urging anyone else to listen? We need a higher visibility of women in the church in Africa."
During the Nov. 1 welcoming service, Bishop João Somane Machado of Mozambique said the United Methodist Church was "greatly advanced" in having female bishops. He noted that Portuguese, the official language of Mozambique, defines the word "bishop" only as male.
"We have to insert this in our dictionary because the United Methodist Church has many women bishops," he said.
While the council members wore their episcopal purple shirts to the opening service to signify who they were, the garments also were used to make a statement by the women bishops. They wanted African clergywomen to know that while the entire council was in solidarity with them, they especially wanted to affirm the women and the jobs they are doing, and to show them that they too could one day be bishop.
Africa's problems include a serious environmental crisis whose impact may be greater than AIDS, according to Murapa.
He told the bishops that Africa "faces a serious environmental crisis" that threatens current and future generations. "This crisis has long-term implications which may be greater than even the scourge of HIV/AIDS," he said.
Deforestation, water resources, land degradation, food insecurity and scarcity, and urban and industrial pollution are among the most important environmental challenges facing Africa, he noted. How, he asked, can the church help overcome the crisis?
Quoting the World Bank, Murapa said Africa is the world's only region with decreasing food production per capita, and current growth trends point to a food shortage of at least 250 tons of grain by 2020, making food scarcity a serious regional concern in this century.
The shortages are the result of soil erosion, desertification, soil nutrient depletion, substantial loss of forest cover leading to flooding, evaporating springs, and the diminishing flow of rivers and streams. These hurt the productivity of agriculture and pastoral lands, Murapa said.
The economy and the environment are "inextricably intertwined," he said, and the crisis will be "solved when the majority of human kind begins to care for the environment for its intrinsic value."
Poverty at the center
The issue of poverty has been talked about among heads of states and governments across the globe, and an appeal for environmental action has been unsuccessful, partly because of scientific and economic points of view. Poverty, he said, is at the center of the challenges to be confronted by the church.
In his address, "God's Will for Africa," Murapa told the bishops that the church "has a great responsibility" to respond to Africa's environmental crisis, "which brings glory to the creator, advances the cause of Christ and leads to a transformation of the lives of the people and the land that sustains them."
According the United Methodist Book of Discipline, the church supports the restoration of ecosystems, and everyone is responsible for the way creation is used - and abused. Murapa said the church is compelled to embrace Africa's crisis and provide leadership.
"What we do today - or fail to do - will define the future of our people and children," he said.
Addressing the issue of globalization, Murapa said the technical globalization of communications, trade and inter-governmental decision-making processes have not been accompanied by the ethical frameworks that will ensure that all benefit and that a real sense of community is developed.
"Perhaps never before in human history has the Christian gospel of inclusive community been so seriously needed," Murapa said.
Need for leadership
He highlighted the inaction of governments, civil society and church organizations on various problems that continue to degrade the lives of people, especially in Africa. Globalization, he said, has given no room or space for the total participation and ownership of resources by the people.
"There have been paradoxical shifts, which have been difficult to deal with, as globalization has not been all inclusive and has seen the manifestation of sectional interests, with the dominant becoming the global," he added.
Murapa explored challenges to the leadership of the United Methodist Church within the African context, and cited the need for nurturing a new culture of leadership and governance and healing broken relationships for a new community.
Africa, like the rest of the world, needs leaders who see their "immediate task as a contribution towards an envisioned future," leaders determined to reach difficult goals and who can move the continent toward abundance and wholeness.
"It needs leaders who are committed to the well-being of their people and make uncounted sacrifices for them," he said. He acknowledged that the continent has contributed world leaders known for their vision and integrity.
The church has a role to play, he said. "The church is an important agent in building an ethical framework for transformation and indeed, it has a duty to do so."
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
United Methodist News Service Photos and stories also available at: http://umns.umc.org
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