Sunday, April 20, 2008

April 20, 2008

This will be a long entry. I received a surprising email from a Sudanese Bishop elect with whom I thought we were going to be in relationship. What follows is his letter and my response.


Christian greetings to you.

Dear Revd. Geoffrey Hoare, this letter is to serve as a repetition to my last year objection to your unhealthy proposed partnership between your parish and the Aweil Churches. I called it unhealthy proposed partnership, because our meeting with your parish Global out-reach committee, began like this,

Mathew, have you ever heard about the Gay issue? With this malicious question, I felt offended by being forced to speak, on an issue, that is regarded as non debatable agenda in our society.

But there was no way for me to avoid giving an answer. As a result, my respond was that, I, always used to hearing the term Gay, through the international debate quorums, in which it has been described as negative approach towards bible teachings, by the liberalist. In addition, it approves the dangerous acts of the so-called Gay marriages in the church. That is between man with another man as well as between the females.

Mathew, we are hated by many people because of this Gay issue. Our money had been thrown onto our faces in Tanzania and in some other parts in Africa . We have been wrongly misunderstood by the Tanzanian church leaders in particular. According to us, Gay is a social issue and not spiritual as being misinterpreted. Deacon Abraham Nhial was the eyewitness when all these things took place.

However, we know that you, the Sudanese church leaders, have no problem with the Gay system. You are very special and not like the other people. You are the kind of the people who deserve our support, as the partnership concerned in this regard. what is your opinion? We have enough funds to provide you with all that you need. We understand that your diocese of Wau is going to split into two very soon. In which your home area Aweil will become an independent new Diocese. For this reason, we are to support you under the promise to fulfil our demands before you. Hopelly,you might be the one to lead this new Diocese. Deacon Abraham Nhial was the eyewitness, when all these things took place.

My second response was, so challenging. I opted to inform the meeting about the consequences that law breakers of this kind face, as being stipulated in our community norms. Issues like Gay or Homo –sexuality, have no room for discussion in our traditional community. It has a section in our community traditional laws. It is punishable. You can imagine, something prohibited by non believers in Christ long time ago upto date, what if it is the believers in Christ of that community? Condemnation ………..

Hence, my unexpected negative response, caused great panic among your parish global out-reach committee members. As a result, three members of your parish committee, boycotted the meeting with bitterness in their faces followed by words of regret. That was the end of our meeting. Furthermore, I did not wait for you to say goodbye. I was so upset. My spirit was so irritating. Yet, I was still taking this matter as the simple thing. But with all that respect from my side, you mistaken me and start speaking about me in connection with what I called the unhealthy proposed partnership. You spoke boldly as if I have mandated you to do so. Please, stop take advantages of other people seem to be in need. That is total hypocrisy rather than a servanthood attitude.

My main aim is not to block you with your mission to Aweil or Sudan in general. But not to use me as a carrier of such scandallous mission. I am aware that, I am not the only person or pastor you knew from Aweil or Sudan in General. You have many others whom you might have already accomplished your deal with, concerning this partnership. I am saying this because, I did not see any reason why you had been ignoring my objections towards your proposed partnership. If there had been nothing of that kind, I think you would have been caring or showing some kind of reasoning over my objections to your request.

But, if you have that freedom of using other friends, I will have no authority to stop you from doing so. But, there is a saying, I quote, “ an already crowled hyena, never finds an animal to eat”. In the same way, your traps are already become known to ever God fearing flock, in the areas that your mission will be heading to.

In deed, there are vital needs in our area Aweil as you used to say. But I will not accept grants you uder the term Gay mission. Never, never. However, I will be very ready to receive grants, from ever generous God fearing person(s) communities, etc. whom their aims and purpose are to strengthen and encourage their own God given mission to progress, mainly to glorify God in this regard.

Our own vital needs in Aweil ECS church, shall never drive us into the pit of curses. Aweil churches and the common people underwent the following hardships within more than three decades, because of their unshaken faith in Christ.

(1) Islamic Mallitia-men torturing them to abandon both their own faith and their identity.

(2) Religious suppression through money and force by the hypocrites.

(3) War and the severe poverty. In the face of all this, the church was able to survive. Therefore, we will still be able to endure and survived hardships that are presented before us, in form of testing our faith. In the name of our lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Glory be to God alone. His justice and power, shall follow and guide His humble and faithful servants now and for ever, Amen.

You may be able to use other channels or persons, either in Sudan or in the United States. Howevrer, those who would collaborate with you, will do it on the basis of their own hypocrisy and not as Christ’s servants. After all, the Gospel must be preach, in and out of seasons, as the apostle Paul has put it. 2 Timothy 4: 2-5.

2 Timothy 6: 3-21. Please,let this chapter remind you.

Thank you very much.









My response :

Dear Canon Matthew Garang Chimiir:

I received your surprising letter in which you denounce our invitation to relationship with the proposed diocese of Aweil as ‘insincere’. I was unaware that you had stated any objection in the past and am sorry that your meeting with our global missions committee was so offensive to you. Your recollection of that meeting is quite different than the one that was described to me by others in attendance. I am certain that they had no idea that they were giving you offense and will be appalled to learn that they did.

The purpose of that meeting was to explore whether there were any barriers to entering into relationship with you. As you are well aware relationships in our communion are strained as many bishops decline to be in any conversation with members of the Episcopal Church in the U. S. who understand gay and lesbian people to be beloved children of God as they are. We are a parish that is not at odds with our leadership and wanted to be clear about that at the beginning of our conversation so that we would not find some political problem emerging later as had been the case for us with some dioceses in Tanzania.

We understood that we were talking to you as the bishop elect of a proposed diocese being created from the diocese of Wau, whose bishop, Henry Riak, had visited us in the past. It is clear that you do not wish to be in relationship with us on the basis that we accept and affirm the life and ministries of those in our parish who are gay or lesbian. That is your choice and we will most certainly honor it. We have no desire to proceed with relationship over your objection and are sorry to learn that you took offense at our desire to be clear. Please know that no offense was intended and, as is clear from your letter, stemmed from your being uncomfortable with feeling that you were in some way being asked to respond on a subject that you felt unequipped or ill-equipped to discuss. We too would rather not have to discuss something which for us is far from a central concern of our life and ministry, but which appears to be for so many in our communion.

I would like to take this opportunity to put in writing the nature of the invitation that you are choosing to decline. The Christians of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Atlanta have been blessed in many ways by a ministry of friendship with people who find themselves refugees in America. In some respects we are a model for such ministries of friendship with in the Episcopal Church. For a number of years we have been especially pleased to offer haven and sponsorship to the Sudanese Episcopal Church of Atlanta, moving into friendship in many ways. Out of those friendships we find our hearts being changed by the Holy Spirit and gifts beginning to flow as genuine caring grows between people who are quite different from each other in many cultural ways. It is out of experiences such as this that we have sought to have genuine connection with Christians on each inhabited continent for the purposes of mutual sharing and encouragement, believing that God will bless such friendships.

We believe that it takes a long time to know and be known in an international relationship given the costs associated with being in each others’ presence, but that such relationship is still worth pursuing. We know that there are many needs of the kind you outline towards the end of your letter which we would like to understand and in which we would like to become engaged. (We are, for example, particularly interested in learning from you about your experience of Islamic neighbors as that becomes part of our reality here in Atlanta.) We have sometimes found that others are only interested in relating to us on a formal basis to see what kind of financial support we might offer. In our turn, we have declined to enter into such relationships. We already have much work that we have been given to do here in Atlanta and every one of our ministries could use additional funds. Yet we believe we are called into the Body of Christ wherever Christ is to be found, trusting that what we need will be provided as we become advocates and partners in prayer and ministry with those we have come to know around the world. We hope that all of our ministries are based in and flow from personal relationship. We have no expectation that we will think alike on all matters of faith. We have no agenda that our friends will like everything we think or do, or that we will approve everything in their life and culture. That, surely, is part of the reality of friendship in Christ.

I used to disagree with using resources for such relationships until I met your new Presiding Bishop and who invited me and some others to ‘come and see’ the realities of his ministry in Renk more than twelve years ago. I am now personally committed to the power of such friendships for proclaiming the love of Christ for all people and for the strengthening of the Church. We will continue, in all sincerity, to seek such relationships wherever there are Christians who are willing to be in relationship with us. If you are ever inclined to change your mind and decide that what God is doing in our lives in Atlanta is not something that you either have to like or affirm in order to be in relationship with us, then we will welcome hearing from you.

In the meantime I wish you well with the work God has given you to do.

Yours Sincerely in Christ,


corinne08 said...

Although my first response to the bishop's letter was irritation, I did find myself thinking about the response that that we're not just going to send money, but that any donation must be in the context of an ongoing relationship (or at least that's how I understood the response).

And that brought to mind the Jerusalem collection: Paul is at odds with the Church in Jerusalem over a number of issues, including his apostleship and whether and under what terms gentiles could be part of the church. In so many words or less, the leaders in Jerusalem are saying that these supposed converts who do not practice Jewish law are not really Christians.

As a result of a meeting in Jerusalem that is attempting to resolve some conflict, Paul begins to collect money from the churches he is associated with to send as relief money to poor Christians in Jerusalem. The poverty in Jerusalem is apparently quite bad, and it seems that some of the money he collects is being contributed by congregations that are themselves experiencing financial difficulties.

Despite the conflict between Paul and the leaders in Jerusalem, and despite unresolved issues, these churches contributed to help the poor in Jerusalem.

I understand the concerns about simply giving money to poor churches (in Africa or elsewhere), but I also wonder about the appropriate response in light of the Gospel. It seems to me that if we were willing to help with a better relationship (and without such a disturbing letter being written to us), that perhaps we could be generous even under the present very strained circumstances.

I believe it was Jesus who said that if we're good to the people who are good to us, what virtue is there in that? The real challenge is how we behave to people with whom we have serious conflicts and who may not be treating us as well as we would like to be treated.

Mark Siegel said...

The bishop's unfortunate letter and the response it prompted from Geoffrey form a revealing commentary on the current state of the Anglican Communion.

Too much of what we talk about these days seems to focus on human sexuality, which based on my decidedly amateur perspective gets very little attention in the Bible. It should follow, then, that this issue should have nothing to do with the practice of our faith.

Yet sexualtiy all we seem to talk about these days. I am not sure why this is. Could it be some primal fear of the other who is not at all like us? Could it be an unwillingess treat the other as a true son or daughter of God? Could it be something else? I just don't know.

But what I do know -- I think -- is that the so-called "liberals" and those who are "conservatives" in the Anglican Communion keep batting this issue back and forth in a seemingly endless game of theological ping pong. Maybe it is time somehow to assimilate and integrate the issue of human sexuality, including our disagreements about it, and begin to move on from it. And maybe such a moving on would be the most radical step of all.

Thanks so much for listening.

David W. Foerster, Jr. said...

Geoffrey-- The African bishop's response is not surprising. You letter isn't either. It is very sad to me that the Church divided cannot find some measure of peace & unity around the Table. As you suggested to the Bishop, human sexuality is in fact a small part of what a worshipping community--linked communities-- should be about in view of the vast nature of Jesus' command that we break bread together as we honor Him & appropriate God's grace . Human defensiveness is quite understandable, but it can often shut out our Lord's saving light. When things become dark, it become right difficult to see clearly. We then become cut off from Jesus Christ & the HS, which brings hell fully back to earth. David W, Foerster, Jr.

Jetteye said...

Hello Geoffrey and fellow bloggers,
Just want to add my two cents to the mix concerning this unfortunate business with The Rev. Canon Mathew Grang Chimir, Episcopal Church of Aweil, Southern Sudan.
First, Geoffrey, thank you for your gentle and gracious response to Bishop Mathew. I agree that an approach of reconciliation is always the best, even when spat at. Hard, but that’s what we are called to do. “He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.” Eph. 2:15
Second, I want to recommend a wonderful book to anyone who wants to do some good thinking and praying about finding a path of reconciliation in this struggle: Gay Unions: In the Light of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, by The Rev. Gray Temple. It’s what got me harping on reconciliation as a way through this mess.
This is not simply a ping pong match. This is not “straining at gnats.” Real lives are affected in profound ways on both sides of the pond. This mess goes to the heart of our identity as sexual beings. It asks the question, “What is this gift of sexuality? Is it what it used to be? What happens if we change our long-time unquestioned definition of hermetically sealed masculinity and feminity and allow for flowing between, ever seeking homeostasis? Will we devolve into chaos if we allow such a process? Is this really about purity vs. compassion? What is purity? Are we listening? All of us?
And now a few questions about specific passages in Bishop Mathew’s letter:
1) 1: To what objection last year does he refer? Geoffrey asks the same question in his response. What did we miss?
2) 1: Did the meeting begin the way he describes, i.e., with the question, “Mathew, have you ever heard about the gay issue?” It would be good to hear from the committee on the accuracy of his impressions of the meeting of the global missions committee. Were minutes taken?
a. Did three members of the committee walk out of the meeting? Or, as I suspect, were there three who had a scheduling conflict and simply couldn’t attend?
b. If the former, I do think that was a breach of hospitality, as Bishop Mathew was our guest. But, if the latter, then it sounds like a misunderstanding on Bishop Mathew’s part. What part did language barrier do to exacerbate the situation?
3) 2: Did he say anything at the time about being offended? Also, he uses the phrase “malicious question.” What, I wonder, does he mean by “Christian greetings to you” in the beginning, when as early as the second paragraph he begins flinging accusations of malicious intent on our part? Reconciliation is a two-way street, methinks.
On the one hand, Bishop Mathew wants us to avoid offending his sensibilities and on the other takes no trouble to avoid offending ours. E.g.:
- “unhealthy proposed partnership”
- “malicious question”
- “negative approach toward bible teachings”
- “dangerous acts of the so-called (belittling) gay marriages”
- “scandalous mission”
- “crowled hyena” (whatever that means – if anyone knows, please share with the class. If it means what I think it means, that is, “a crouched hyena, never finds an animal to eat,” meaning his perception is that the global missions committee came to the meeting with closed minds and a predetermined position, I wonder if Bishop Mathew has access to a mirror?)
- “…into the pit of curses” (referring to accepting help from All Saints)
- “…those who would collaborate with you, will do it on the basis of their own hypocrisy and not as Christ’s servants.”
4) 6: What, I wonder, will it take to communicate that “the gay issue” IS being debated in the U. S. and in many parts of the world? Certainly, we in the U. S. must make efforts to absorb the realities that our African brothers and sisters face in a part of the world where this issue is not openly debated, and in some countries such debate is susceptible to criminal prosecution. But, it is not so here. And this is not the Roman Catholic Church, where there is a Pope to issue an edict that there will be no further discussion on a topic. We do have to acknowledge a legitimate concern in Bishop Mathew’s society for the safety of those who might express tolerance for homosexual behavior. Bishop Mathew is right to say that there are laws in some countries even forbidding discussion of anything having to do with homosexuality. But it is not a reason to compromise Christian compassion. Do I dare bring up the Bible passage that reads, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles” Matthew 10:16-18. I hesitate to bring this up, as I am not in the midst of a society that would prosecute me for supporting gay rights, but surely Bishop Mathew does not want to back down from standing up for his gay brothers and sisters because he doesn’t want any trouble?
5) 10: “God fearing person(s) communities, etc.” Who gets to decide who fits that description?

I am very sad to see this potential collaboration come to such an unhappy roadblock. I, for one, was prepared to make a contribution to Bishop Mathew’s new diocese as a part of All Saints’ partnership. As a Christian lesbian (does anyone ever say “as a Christian heterosexual?”), how tiresome it is to be the focus of this family fight. I will be interested to see if Geoffrey receives a response from Bishop Mathew and, if so, what it will say.
P. S. – Wouldn’t his letter make an interesting T.R. for EfM?

david feldman said...

OK, Gretchen (aka jetteye), I really appreciated your post. That is until you got nasty. There was no need to bring TR into this! :)

Actually, I really appreciated Gretchen's entry. I have been struggling with this situation these last two weeks. My initial response was, "Don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya!" Corinne's response was very helpful, but still somewhat lacking for me. As I read Gretchen's entry, I came to the point where I really understood why Corrine's response was lacking for me.

Where I have trouble is in the easy answer that the bishop is taking by just not talking about the topic. It seems that in his mind either the topic is too difficult to address or the answer is so simple it does not need addressing. If it is the former, then that does seem to be out of synch for an authentic representative of Christ. I believe that Christ took on the hard moral topics; wrestled with them; and, engaged with the sinners. If it is the later, then again, I do not see the example of Christ in the bishop's actions. Christ associated with those who the law clearly and unequivocally said were unclean. He seemed to find God's grace throughout humanity, even those discarded by society.

Therefore, I am left with the conclusion that the bishop, and apparently a great many of those who feel like him, is simply unwilling to walk in the way of Christ. It is easier to enslave than it is to liberate. It is easier to oppress than it is to empower. It is easier to execute than it is to redeem. But, those bold items certainly seem to be the Christian message as lived out in Easter. Why cannot that meaning of Christianity be the example by which the bishops of this Communion model their behavior?

Patty said...

It seems as if all who have responded have done so as I would. David Feldman's comment rings true for me--that this bishop and others are not choosing the way of Christ. The more I see those who have the attitude of Bishop Matthew, the more I wonder how they can possibly claim to be "Christian," when they are not exhibiting Christlike actions. Their speech is hateful and their inability to receive all as Christ did is amazing. Geoffrey, thanks again for all the support you have given and continue to give the gay/lesbian community at All Saints. This is evidenced not only by this letter, but by what you do and have done as our rector--including bringing in those others who are likeminded and open to sharing God's love with all. God has truly blessed us!!