Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lambeth (3): The Episcopal Church of the Sudan

July 23, 2008

The Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan has made a statement from the Lambeth Conference on behalf of the bishops of his province as follows (courtesy of www.thinkinganglicans.org ):

Original Statement of the Bishops of ECS

In view of the present tensions and divisions within the Anglican Communion, and out of deep concern for the unity of the Church, we consider it important to express clearly the position of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan (ECS) concerning human sexuality.

We believe that God created humankind in his own image; male and female he created them for the continuation of humankind on earth. Women and men were created as God’s agents and stewards on earth We believe that human sexuality is God’s gift to human beings which is rightly ordered only when expressed within the life-long commitment of marriage between one man and one woman. We require all those in the ministry of the Church to live according to this standard and cannot accept church leaders whose practice is contrary to this.

We reject homosexual practice as contrary to biblical teaching and can accept no place for it within ECS. We strongly oppose developments within the Anglican Church in the USA and Canada in consecrating a practicing homosexual as bishop and in approving a rite for the blessing of same-sex relationships. This has not only caused deep divisions within the Anglican Communion but it has seriously harmed the Church’s witness in Africa and elsewhere, opening the church to ridicule and damaging its credibility in a multi-religious environment.

The unity of the Anglican Communion is of profound significance to us as an expression of our unity within the Body of Christ. It is not something we can treat lightly or allow to be fractured easily. Our unity expresses the essential truth of the Gospel that in Christ we are united across different tribes, cultures and nationalities. We have come to attend the Lambeth Conference, despite the decision of others to stay away, to appeal to the whole Anglican Communion to uphold our unity and to take the necessary steps to safeguard the precious unity of the Church.

Out of love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, we appeal to the Anglican Church in the USA and Canada, to demonstrate real commitment to the requests arising from the Windsor process. In particular:
- To refrain from ordaining practicing homosexuals as bishops or priests
- To refrain from approving rites of blessing for same-sex relationships
- To cease court actions with immediate effect;
- To comply with Resolution 1:10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference
- To respect the authority of the Bible

We believe that such steps are essential for bridging the divisions which have opened up within the Communion.

We affirm our commitment to uphold the four instruments of communion of the Anglican Communion: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council; and call upon all Provinces of the Communion to respect these for the sake of the unity and well-being of the Church.

We appeal to this Lambeth Conference to rescue the Anglican Communion from being divided. We pray that God will heal us from the spirit of division. We pray for God’s strength and wisdom so that we might be built up in unity as the Body of Christ.

The Most Revd Dr Daniel Deng Bul
Archbishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan and Bishop of Juba





Those of you who follow this blog will recall the entry of April 20, 2008 and the unfortunate exchange of letters with a Sudanese bishop-elect for a new diocese. One of the things to bear in mind with statements such as that letter and now this pronouncement from the Sudanese House of Bishops is that the intended and real audience is not always the most obvious recipient of the statement. I wonder what transpired that led Archbishop Deng Bul to make such a statement only two days into a conference that is designed to be based on ‘listening’.

I have not been in close touch with Daniel in recent years. He visited All Saints’ in about 2000 and visited the Sudanese community in Atlanta. I was his guest in his former diocese of Renk in January 1998 and was privileged to preach at one of the services before the annual council of that diocese during which they affirmed the ministry of women and supported the ordination of women. He is now Bishop of Juba as well as Archbishop. He has emailed me from Lambeth inviting us into relationship with him and his diocese, fully aware of who we are.

I am surprised by the Sudanese statement in light of the fact that the Archbishop has managed to avoid being drawn into conflict about homosexuality ever since I have known him, always preferring to talk of more important things to him such as the war that ravaged the South for so many years. (We could hear the gunfire about 50 kilometers south of where we were in Renk.) Now he likes to talk about Darfur and the bishops also made a statement about that, the text of which has not surfaced in a form that I have seen as yet.

I have never had a question in my mind that he neither understands nor approves of homosexuality. I have no trouble believing that he approves the content (if not the fact) of the statement of his House of Bishops. When he makes statements that sound as though he is denying that there are homosexual people in the Sudan, I hear him as saying that it is simply not a compelling or urgent matter for his ministry or the ministry of the Sudanese Church. I have no trouble believing that. Thus far, that has not been an impediment to sharing in the gospel and being open to the transforming grace of the Holy Spirit as we gather around the Lord’s Table.

Listening is a two way street. The reality of being Christian under a government that is aggressive in its imposition of sharia on all its citizens and then selective in its interpretation such that they allow or encourage certain kinds of persecution, requires a kind of faith that we do not often see in a place where we are free to worship without fear that our schools will be knocked down the next day. Some Christians have a tendency to want to respond to this kind of Islam on its own terms becoming more ‘moral’, more legalistic and more ‘firm’ than any Muslim group. I would prefer that they go a different direction and proclaim a gospel of grace, not needing to defend their American and Canadian brothers and sisters, but not needing to condemn us either. There are many African Christians who believe that their witness is made more difficult by American and Canadian actions in the same way that I think our witness is undermined by the proclamation of a conservative theology in blogland that bears no relation to the life and teaching of Jesus that I have been able to discern as yet.

Our global missions committee has only just been informed of the Archbishop’s invitation to us and it is my hope that we will want to find ways to accept it as I think we have much to learn from each other. I think (and pray that I am correct) that we would be in relationship with a bishop and a church who up to now have shown no sign of needing to play the politics of current Anglican disagreements at the expense of relationship. I see the Archbishop’s invitation to us as a real and tangible sign that while doctrine is important, relationship is more important in the end and we can accept that wheat and tares are growing together even if we all think our beliefs and commitments are the wheat.

4 comments:

Tracy said...

Thanks for this, Geoffrey. What an interesting local angle that brings some complexity to the situation...

Tracy Wells
All Saints' webmaster

Robert Ross said...

Geoffrey-

I think you ascribe him too much latitude in his remarks. The power of relationship is real and I strongly believe in it, but from the press that I've seen surrounding this pronouncement and the text itself, there is very little doubt in my mind that he would cancel the invitation to you if he had a fuller understanding of our parish. I fear that for him any chance of relationship is very much predicated on his calls for Robinson's resignation and the North American Churches repudiation of their recent actions. Not a promising place to begin.

Luiz Coelho said...

As I previously commented on the Episcopal Café, this is, sadly, the first of a series of statements and press-releases trying to polemize the issue around homosexuality that will be released throughout this conference. The Lambeth Conference this year was designed not to have any statement at all, and the pace of the indaba process has probably got on some people's nerves. Those people, who want to force their "shun X and Y churches" agenda, will try, repetitively, to force certain figures to release similar statements.

For those who know African culture(s), it's clear that most bishops in that context will be as opposed to homosexuality as our grandparents, or great-grandparents were. They are the easy target for those who want to push their agenda. They are not better or worse Christians than me or any of you. They just come from a different context. If we didn't have all this "behind the scenes" orchestra, we wouldn't see as much of the shunning spectacle.

The good feeling I have from what I've seen so far is that such desperate measures seem to me like extreme attempts of hijacking a power that does not belong to those who planned them anymore, and they won't probably have it again.

david feldman said...

Geoffrey,

Given this recent statement by ++Daniel combined with his previous statements to All Saints', I am very surprised that he has reached out to us asking for some kind of relationship. I am curious about what kind of relationship he is talking about. Is it truly a desire for relationship, or is it just our money?

If it is truly a relationship, then I wonder if he will really be willing to work with us. I do not know everyone who is on our global missions group, but I think there are some gay and lesbian people. Will they have to sit in the back and be quiet when dealing with him? Will they be expected to behave the way that +Gene is having to behave at Lambeth?

If this is truly an ongoing relationship, then I would expect that he, and we, have to live with some parts that make us uncomfortable. That means that I would expect ++Daniel, and his community, to learn how to love and affirm gays and lesbians equally with the heterosexual members of our community. Additionally, I expect that we learn how to love and affirm him, and those in his community, who do not understand gays and lesbians.

In the early part of this relationship, I am certain that it would be like when I began eating vegetables. (Which was only long after I had become an adult.) At first, I had to take a deep breath before putting the objectionable food in my mouth. That would allow me to not actually smell them, and mean I would have to swallow before the actual taste could register with me. Sometimes I would not take too big of a bite to be able to swallow it all at once, and that would mean I would gag, almost to the point of vomit. Once the vegetable was on its way to my stomach, I would grimace and take a big drink of whatever I was having so that the taste would get out of my mouth and the food would quickly find it ways to my stomach. This process continued until eventually the gagging went away, and I no longer needed to take a deep breath. Now, I have discovered that there are some vegetables that I actually like. I actually order them when I am out to dinner, and eat them gladly. There are still some that when I see, I find a way to avoid.

If the gays and lesbians are vegetables (as a whole not just as one vegetable), then I would expect that ++Daniel, and his community, would come to learn that gays and lesbians are not all bad. There are some that they like and others they do not. Equally, I would expect that we would find that those of his community who we genuinely enjoy and seek out, while there may be other individuals who do not fit our taste.

This, to me, is the nature of a relationship. There are individuals within nearly every community to which I belong who I love and seek out, and those who I hope I do not see too much. However, I stay within relationship to that community.

If that is not the case, then I am going to struggle supporting All Saints' position in this relationship. I will struggle with being in a relationship with someone who wants my money but not my person. Are we, All Saints' parish, so far on the fringes of the Body of Christ that we now have to pay for our friends?

In other areas of my life, it is difficult for me to live with that reality. And, ultimately, I leave those relationships. I would think that this would be the same. I hope that there is more information coming out about this proposed relationship, both now and as it unfolds.