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A Prelate of Evangelical Intensity

Ugandan berates the American church and says it's departed from historic teachings.

September 05, 2004|Larry B. Stammer | Times Staff Writer

When three conservative Southern California parishes fled the Episcopal Church in the culture wars over homosexuality and biblical interpretation, they sought the equivalent of political asylum from the Anglican Church of Uganda.

The welcome they received from Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi, Anglican primate of all Uganda, didn't surprise those who knew him. Orombi, 55, has a reputation for two things: welcoming refugees from the civil war and ethnic strife in neighboring Congo and preaching fiery sermons against what he sees as the Episcopal Church's fall from historic Christian teachings.

In the confrontation over the three breakaway parishes -- All Saints in Long Beach, St. David's in North Hollywood and St. James in Newport Beach -- Orombi is pitted against Los Angeles Episcopal Bishop J. Jon Bruno.

Whereas Bruno speaks of the church's mission in terms of inclusion, Orombi is ardent in his defense of tradition and in his belief that by deciding last year to approve the ordination of an openly gay priest as a bishop, the Episcopal Church in America has departed from it. The Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church in Uganda are both part of the Anglican Communion, which claims 77 million members worldwide.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 09, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 124 words Type of Material: Correction
Episcopal Church -- An article in the Sept. 5 California section about three parishes breaking away from the Episcopal Church said the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson led a team to Uganda in 1996, before he became bishop of New Hampshire, to set up an AIDS education program financed by the U.S. government. The trip occurred in 1992. Also, Robinson did not lead the team but was part of a group sent to assess the ability of the Anglican church in Uganda to administer an HIV/AIDS education and prevention program. The article also said that until the time of Robinson's visit, Ugandan bishops had ignored the AIDS crisis in their country. The Anglican bishops of Uganda approved an AIDS prevention strategy in August 1991.

"There is a tradition on human sexuality that was passed to us by the apostles, and if we're an apostolic church, how come the Episcopal Church claims they are better than St. Paul?" Orombi said in a telephone interview from Kampala, the Ugandan capital. "Why do they turn their back on the faith their grandparents brought to us?"

The Anglican Church arrived in Uganda with English missionaries in 1887. Uganda became a British protectorate in 1893 and achieved independence in 1962.

It was a few years after independence when Orombi, at age 18, heard someone preach Jesus' parable about the prodigal son.

In the biblical story, found in Luke 15:11-32, the son asked his father for his inheritance and left home, only to squander it on sinful pursuits. Eventually homeless and desperate, the son returned home, expecting to go to work as a hired hand. Instead, his father welcomed him as his son and celebrated his return.

"I could identify with the prodigal son," Orombi said. "I was naughty and difficult. I ran away from my father relationship." The story, he said, took him from the nominal Anglicanism of his father -- and the African spiritualist ways of a grandfather who was a "medium" in his village -- to a life-changing faith.

"I saw the joy in that story when the son came back and the father took him back," Orombi said.

Originally trained as a teacher, he became an evangelist and obtained a theological degree in 1978 from the Bishop Tucker Theological College in Mukono, Uganda, now known as Ugandan Christian University.

The president of the school, the Rev. Stephen Noll, is the former dean of the evangelical Trinity Episcopal School of Ministry in Ambridge, Pa., and was once a priest at Truro Episcopal Church in Virginia, one of the leading centers of conservative resistance to the Episcopal Church's stands on homosexuality.

Orombi, who is married and the father of four children, one of whom has died, later studied at St. John's College in Nottingham, England, and received a bachelor of divinity degree.

"I came to know that Jesus died for me personally," Orombi said. "I'm a sinner, and I admit that I am, and that his death on the cross is for my forgiveness."

Father Ron Jackson, rector of St. Luke's of the Mountains Episcopal Church in La Crescenta, has traveled to Africa a dozen times over the years, including two trips last year to Uganda, where he has worked with Orombi.

"He's a powerful preacher and has a tremendous heart of compassion for people of all kinds," Jackson said.

As Anglican primate of Uganda, Orombi has had his own problems, some familiar to church leaders everywhere, such as raising funds for schools and parishes, building ministries for young people and women, and winning converts. But he has some that Orombi said would be hard for Westerners to understand.

Last January, for example, he spoke out against those in his church who had fallen from the faith and turned to witchcraft, even human sacrifices.

"Witchcraft is part of our society," Orombi said in the interview. "Western man thinks it is superstition until he gets in touch with the thing itself. For us, we know it is not superstition" -- witchcraft is a real aspect of evil, he said -- "but we want people to understand [that] the power of Jesus Christ is far superior to the wicked powers."

Orombi has brought the same evangelical intensity to his denunciations of the American church.

Last November, the Ugandan church, which claims 9 million members, broke relations with the Episcopal Church after the U.S. denomination consecrated an openly gay priest as bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson.

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