I rather like the idea of an established church- one of the problems with regarding religion as something only for the private sphere is that it robs non-adherents of the ability to comment or get involved. The Church of England’s special place in the UK’s government and parliament, which many atheists see as unfair, is to me a good thing, a sign that whether or not we go to church we can have a say in how it is run, which is why I want to stick my nose into the debate over whether John Sentamu should be the next Archbishop of Canterbury.
Sentamu has been in the news this week after clarifying his view on whether civil partnerships should be renamed ‘Marriage’. He thinks they shouldn’t. This has been met with a great deal of criticism from those who are attached to their particular view on what name we should give to a legal contract between two people and the Inland Revenue, but all of this talk is obscuring the thing that most concerns me when I think of Dr Sentamu getting the keys to Lambeth Palace: his dodgy links in Africa.
Many remember the incident in which, while being interviewed by Andrew Marr, Sentamu cut up his dog collar and said he would never wear it again while Robert Mugabe remains president of Zimbabwe. An admirable stand, and the first time many considered him a possible candidate to replace Rowan Williams.
Closer to home though, are the activities of Senatmu’s brother, Robert Kayanja, a prosperity preacher who has amassed a fortune in the millions by selling ‘healing miracles’ to poor Africans and who enjoys a close political friendship with Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s President. This relationship is very close indeed, for when Kayanja was accused of raping two young boys in his church, the police arrested the boys, who subsequently retracted their allegation. Kayanja has also established links with the very iffy ministry of Benny Hinn, a similarly profit oriented ‘religion’ and his financial success is based on the same principles of greed and exploitation.
Sentamu has never commented publicly on his brother’s behaviour, having his spokesperson tell the Daily Mail:
“As a matter of Christian discipline he does not comment on or criticise other Churches”
but he has preached as Kayanja’s Miracle Centre Cathedral and officiated at his wedding. Someone in the running to be Archbishop of Canterbury ought to make it very clear whether he thinks this is acceptable behaviour. There is a good point to be made here about homophobia too- the CofE may be unsure on gay marriage, but in a country like Uganda where there are regular calls for gay people to be killed, the Anglican church has a very substantial moderating influence. John Sentamu’s views are far more tolerant than the competing churches in Africa, which exploit local hostility to homosexuality to fill pews, but would he be willing to stand up to them when he has such a close relationship to the Ugandan establishment?