By David Virtue
The Bishop of the Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Egypt, The Rt. Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis, has written a letter to Christianity Today, a leading-edge independent evangelical magazine, criticizing an article it published on the status of the Anglican Church in Egypt.
The article says that Protestant Churches of Egypt (PCE) is attempting a “hostile takeover” to prevent Egyptian Anglicans from achieving state recognition as an independent national church.
The evangelical bishop, a leading conservative among Global South Anglican Primates, said in his letter that the status of the Anglican Church in Egypt has been one of independence since 1839 and his church had no wish to be under the authority of another organization.
“After we had been established for sixty-three years, the Evangelical/Protestant Church Association (PCE) was started in 1902. Throughout the years we have communicated and helped each other, but we always did so as distinct, separate denominations. The Anglican Church’s distinct identity can be seen in the fact that the Anglican Church was made a full member of the Egypt Council of Churches in 2013. There are five members of this council: The Coptic Orthodox Church, The Coptic Catholic Church, The Protestant/Evangelical Church Association (PCE), The Greek Orthodox Church, and The Episcopal/Anglican Church. This means that the other churches including the PCE recognized our independence.”
The Egyptian bishop said the President of Egypt had consistently recognized the independent identity of the Anglican Church.
“In 2015, he welcomed the Archbishop of Canterbury and myself to meet with him. According to protocol, if we had been under the Protestant Church Association, the president of the PCE would also have been present at this meeting. In addition, in October 2016, the President of Egypt met the Archbishops and Bishops who came to attend the Global South Conference hosted by the Anglican Church of Egypt.
“The Anglican Church is also recognized as an independent denomination by an interfaith council, Beit El Aila (House of the Family), which was started by the Grand Imam of Al Azhar in 2011. Four Christian denominations along with several Muslim scholars represent this council. If we were seen by the Grand Imam of Al Azhar and the other denominations as part of the Protestant Church Association, we would not have been accepted by the Beit El Aila as a full member.”
The March 2017 article, stated, “The dispute ﬁrst surfaced in 2001, but this past summer Egypt’s High Administrative Court ruled against Anglican independence. This means the Anglican Diocese of Egypt must function as a full member of the Protestant Churches of Egypt (PCE).” The truth is that the Ministry of Interior, not the High Administrative Court, issued a statement saying that the Anglican Diocese of Egypt became part of the PCE in 1982, and it can only become independent by a decision from the PCE. The Anglican Diocese of Egypt then challenged this statement before the Administrative Court.
Anis criticized this paragraph; “The Anglicans originally filed their case against the Egyptian government. The PCE says soon after, the court obliged them to join as defendants in the Anglican effort at independence.”
The court never asked the PCE to join as defendants but rather the PCE applied to the court to become a party in this case. We have a copy of the PCE application to the court. We did not have any desire to sue a sister church, because we believe that problems between denominations should be dealt with outside secular courts. In addition, our problem of recognition is with the government, not with the PCE, because according to the Constitution only the President of the State of Egypt has the power to recognize denominations.
The President of the PCE stated that, “Under laws dating back to the Ottoman era, Egyptian churches and organizations are classiﬁed as either Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant.”
In fact, this Ottoman law divided the denominations into national with their heads residing in Egypt and international with their headquarters outside Egypt like the Greek Orthodox, Latin Catholic, Armenian Catholic and the Anglican Church. The latest classification of the Ministry of Interior in 2006 shows this differentiation very clearly. A copy of this document is available for review.
The article also stated, “Egyptian governments may prefer to work with a singular Protestant community, but there is a deﬁnite advantage for the Protestants themselves to present a united front toward the government”.
It may be true that the Egyptian government may prefer to work with a singular Protestant community, but this would refer to the collaboration of the different, small denominations (Pentecostal, Baptist, Brethren, etc.) that started in Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th century. It is worth emphasizing that the government of Egypt has been working with the Anglican Diocese of Egypt as an independent international denomination since 1839 long before the formation of the PCE in 1902.
It was also stated that “The Egyptian Anglican diocese says it would never accept formal affiliation with the PCE due to affiliation with the Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, created in 1976. Zaki disputes this view, noting that Ishaq Musaad, the Anglican bishop from 1974 to 1981, sought full affiliation and signed documents to do so.”
Actually, Bishop Ishaq had never requested the prior approval of the Diocesan Synod and the Provincial Synod in order to affiliate with the PCE. In fact, the former President of the PCE was quoted in the same article saying,”They were under pressure and asked [for] our help. The government was taking their properties after the English left. They needed recognition as an Egyptian church,” he said. “The (PCE] council was initially opposed. But we needed to help a common church.”
This reveals that the real aim of Bishop Ishaq in approaching the PCE was to obtain a certificate that the Anglican Church in Egypt is a national church, not a British colonial church, as it was mentioned in one of the documents as the reason to confiscate the Anglican School in the city of Menouf.
It was stated in the article that the President of the PCE said, “The most important thing for me is the unity of the Protestant community.”The truth is that unity amongst denominations cannot be enforced but should be achieved through the act of freewill. Those who seek unity need to overcome all the obstacles that cause divisions. It was mentioned in the article that there is a dispute between the Anglican Diocese and the PCE over the property of the Anglican Church of All Saints in Ismailia. Since 1978, the Anglican Church has allowed the Presbyterian Church to hold its services there. However, the Presbyterian pastor confiscated the All Saints Church and claimed that it was Presbyterian. We have the agreements between the PCE and us regarding the Presbyterians’ use of this church. Sadly, the PCE ignores this agreement.