Monday, July 28, 2008

Lambeth (4): More on Sudan

July 28, 2008

I have received a number of comments from friends in Northern Virginia who are in parishes that know well Archbishop Deng Bul Yak and his ministry. On the whole they are somewhere between surprised and disappointed –not that the Bishop believes what he said, but that a man who has kept focused on the serious issues of war, genocide and famine in Sudan would be drawn into the mess. I still want to know the internal political processes or the pressure or whatever that led the Sudanese bishops to their statement and the Archbishop to his regrettable remarks about the Bishop of New Hampshire. Bishop Lee of Virginia is quoted as follow in the Church Times Blog:

Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia was one of those expressing puzzlement. “We had a meeting of six to eight American bishops with Sudanese bishops, all having diocesan links. It was a very helpful meeting because we respect and appreciate the Sudanese position and at the same time welcome their commitment to remain in relationship with us: we accept that we have much to learn from them and they seem to welcome our participation in their lives,” he said on Saturday.

“Archbishop Deng Bul made it clear at the press conference. He was asked what he would do if he were Gene Robinson. It was a speculative question and he said if he was Gene Robinson, he would resign. It was not a formal call from the Sudanese bishops. He did not repeat that to us as a demand at all.”

I have shared my thoughts with Archbishop Daniel who tells me he respects my views and hopes that I respect his as we are both coming from different backgrounds.

What I respect is him and his extraordinary Episcopal ministry in Port-of-Sudan and then Renk before being elected Archbishop and with it, the see of Juba.

What I know from a visit to the Sudan and further visits to Tanzania is that all norms, mores, roles and so on are different in Africa than I would enjoy or appreciate. It takes me a while to settle myself down when women stay in the kitchen serving men, when churches bend over backwards to find pastoral responses to situations in which people and especially church leaders fail to treat 2 Timothy as a rule book, and in which every choir needs to have its own electric instruments which all need to be set up and tuned before any rendition in a service of worship. Yes, I come from a significantly different background and neither need nor expect that my hosts would change their ways to suit me when I am a privileged to be a guest in their homes.

I assume that we understand that by the grace of God we are brothers and sisters in Christ who have been brought into relationship as a sign and work that is itself building for the kingdom of God, and extension of the blessing that is Eucharistic community in which we are al transformed by the Holy Spirit around the Table of the Lord. I assume that we can share and discuss our readings of Scripture and would be most surprised (and suspicious) if they were the same in every instance. All of this is reality and I can have full respect for those who differ from me in background and culture.

I also recognize that I too live in a different culture with different mores norms and assumptions than that with which I grew up, --especially with regard to the existence and status of gay and lesbian Christians. I have been changed and shaped in that same Eucharistic community and challenged to respond to the extraordinary love of Jesus, especially for those whom the powers that be would cast out. In this respect I am a convert to something that I freely admit is a development and one that is clearly unsettling to many. I happily bear witness to the fact that we have nothing to fear except the consequence of trading in the love of God for human law, desires, taboos and prejudice. I fully accept that the Sprit works in different places on different timetables and in differing ways. I think it unlikely that homosexual relationship will become truly ‘normal’ and accepted in my lifetime in the U.S. (I think that more likely in England.) And think it possible that it will never happen in Nigeria, although I pray that the hatred for homosexual people expressed in some of the laws of that land and echoed in pronouncements of the church will be modified over time.

There is one part of this debate that I cannot respect and which I believe to be profoundly wrong (even for followers of the utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill) and that is the tendency to make political calculations that do not appear to understand the full humanity of the people that are part of that calculation. I do not respect arguments that say that Gene Robinson should resign so that the church can be at peace. I do not respect arguments that say that church unity can only be achieved at the expense of gay people. This IS deeply personal, all protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. Every bishop who makes a pronouncement that seems to trade gay people for the pipe dream of peace on some other issue is failing to care for the whole people of God. The current version of this kind of argument that I find most tricky is the one that implies that Christians would not be targeted by Muslims if it wasn’t for some churches affirming gay people and their relationships as such. Muslims who wish to persecute Christians have always found an excuse to do so. I believe and hope that Christians would do better to proclaim God’s grace and love as a better way than any law and especially the code of Sharia. I could well be wrong on this point, but I still do not respect the arguments of Christians that would condemn a whole class of people for the sake of some kind of church unity.

1 comment:

Patty said...


Thank you again for standing up for the dignity and humanity of all people, and for your remarkable sense of acceptance for various cultures while at the same time not accepting the dehumanizing of any group of people.