The Kenya Forum | Anglican Church in Africa: Can African become Archbishop of Canterbury? - The Kenya Forum

April 17, 2012


With the role of Archbishop of Canterbury soon to open, we ask whether an African member of the Anglican church can take the job.

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Anglican Church in Africa: Can African become Archbishop of Canterbury?

Anglican Church in Africa: Can African become Archbishop of Canterbury?

So Jim Yong Kim secured the presidency of the World Bank with the support of President Obama over the candidature of Nigeria’s Ngozi Okanjo-Iweala, what a surprise. (Those who have kept abreast of our analysis of this decision will know that we said it would be the American from the get-go). But the latter is not the only African to face a skewed appointment’s process: enter Ugandan-born Dr John Sentamu, a contender for the position of Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the world’s Anglicans, or at least the “first among equals” of that Christian denomination.

The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is standing down (of which more shortly) after nine years in the job, vacating the position come January of 2013.


Are Kenyans and Africans in general, or at least the Anglicans in our country and continent, interested in the decision as to who replaces Dr Williams? Well yes they are, and in some numbers. There are approximately 76 million Anglicans worldwide. 36.7 million of these live in Africa (48.29 per cent) and there are over 1.5 million Anglicans in Kenya.

Here again there are similarities with the changing world situation that led to the contentious decision over the appointment of the World Bank’s president, namely the growing demands of the developing world and the “global south”.

After what has been described as the “explosive growth” of the Anglican Church in Africa, South America and Asia over the last 20 years, the Anglican population of these regions now accounts for over 55 per cent of the worldwide Anglican community: and they see no reason why this fact should not be recognised.


Dr John Sentamu is currently the Archbishop of York, making him the second most senior cleric in the Church of England. Cambridge University educated, Dr Sentamu is without question intellectually capable. He is also a man of principle who has held forth on subjects from the needs of the young, the importance of the family, Robert Mugabe, slavery and injustice, to the conflict in the Middle East. He is no fool, he is no patsy.

Up against Dr Sentamu to become the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury are (currently) three other contenders, Richard Chartres, Graham James and Nick Baines, respectively the Bishops of London, Norwich and Bradford, but Sentamu is probably at this stage the favourite to land the top job. There is, however, a “however”, that might stop his appointment.


Whilst Dr Sentamu has stated that homosexuals are “valued by God”, he has opposed same-sex marriages and the ordination of homosexual priests, although he has supported “civil partnerships” for ‘gay’ couples. This stance may not be liberal enough for the Church of England, or at least for the traditionally dominant “liberal churches” hailing from Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.

African Anglicans will in large measure take a different view. The Kenya Forum has written before on the clash between African attitudes and beliefs compared to those of many people in the Northern hemisphere, notably in ‘Prime Minister David Cameron, the ‘Gay issue’ and Africa’ (Nov. 10, 2011). It was Prime Minister Cameron’s decision over ‘gay marriage’ that led to Dr Rowan Williams’ decision to stand down as Archbishop of Canterbury.


Dr John Sentamu has been dubbed the ‘cleric of the people’. He is certainly more likely to be the cleric of choice for the African-Anglican peoples. But for the Anglican liberals and British politicians his views on homosexuality may make him too much of a ‘troublesome priest’ to allow his appointment.

The Kenya Forum will no doubt return to this subject.


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