Tuesday, July 22, 2008

On the Gulf That Divides Us

The Most Reverend Dr. Daniel Deng Bul, the Bishop of Juba and the Archbishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, has dared to speak truth to power. At the Lambeth Conference, he requested that the Press Office arrange for him a briefing with the press. When they declined to do so, he walked over to the Press Room (which is some 15 minutes away from where the bishops are meeting) and held an impromptu press conference of his own. He was following up on this eloquently drawn Statement which had been approved by all of the bishops in his church, and released the day before:

Statement of the Sudanese Bishops to the Lambeth Conference on the ECS Position on Human Sexuality

July 2008

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.

Archbishop Deng explained to the press the reasons he and his bishops had decided to issue the statement, and answered their questions. In this account by Cherie Wetzel at Anglican Mainstream, his responses only are given; as she notes, the questions can be inferred from what he says in response:

“Gene Robinson should resign for the sake of the Church and the entire Anglican Communion. We are pleading with them (the others at this conference) for the Anglican World, to not throw that away.

“We do not want to throw any people away, either. But we are here to determine how to remain united. That begins with forgiving one another for errors made. Gene Robinson is an error. The American church has not admitted they are wrong and we cannot forgive them until they do.

“I do not see a way out of these problems with the Indaba groups. The main issues have not been touched.

“300 bishops are not here because of Gene Robinson. Can he not resign to allow them to come? Why has he not done that?

“He is a human being and we are not throwing him away but the norms of the Anglican Communion have been violated. The question is not if Gene Robinson comes but what are we being challenged to do by GAFCON?”

“Let the Anglican world be united and be a normal, respected Christian body.”

“We have not punished the American church yet. We are asking them to repent. I am talking about the institutional church in America, no specific bishops. I am here to speak within the House. I cannot be silent on this issue; I must speak to the House for the reality I know with my people. I should not hesitate to be here since I have been an Anglican since I was a child.

When asked what would happen to the Communion if Robinson did not resign, the archbishop continued, “I cannot predict what will happen if he will not resign.”

Ruth Gledhill of the Times of London asked the archbishop who would pay for this conference, reportedly 2.6 million pounds in debt at this minute, and [with the Communion] not able to pay for this by the parishes in the Church of England, if the American church was not invited. He replied very gently, “Issues of faith cannot be mixed with materialism.”

The baiting by the press had begun with Ruth Gledhill's sarcastic question. There followed this exchange with an unnamed Western reporter or blogger accredited to the Press Room; the comment following the quoted sentence is an editorial addition by Cherie Wetzel:
When asked if he knows any gay people in the Sudan he replied, “They have not come to the surface. We do not have them.” The press from TEC that were in the room did not laugh out loud at this statement, but nearly.

And naturally, another reporter or blogger had to ask his position on women's ordination:

The final question was about the women and ordination, an issue that is still a smoking topic in the Church of England. “Yes,” he said. “Women are human beings that have ministered with the Lord Jesus Christ and to the Lord Jesus Christ.” He does believe in the ordination of women.

From the point of view of the Westerners asking the questions, the trap had been set, and the Archbishop had walked right into it. Susan Russell is as good an example as any of this one-sided mindset:
When asked about ministering to the gays and lesbians in his province, the archbishop declared that he did not think there were any homosexuals in the Sudan as “none had come forward.” And when queried about his position on the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate said he “believed in women priests and bishops because they were human” – leaving listeners to wonder if the inference was that homosexuals were not.

. . .

What is news is that the Archbishop of the Sudan helped make the case on Tuesday that the schism facing the Anglican Communion is the direct result of hard-line reactionaries who will stop of nothing short of compliance with their narrow, exclusionist agenda as their criterion for being in communion.

What is news is that a bishop in the Church of God would deny the existence of gay and lesbian members of his province despite the call for listening to the experience of homosexual people throughout the communion.
Susan Russell, of course, is at Lambeth promoting the "gay/lesbian rights" agenda, and specifically the film "Voices of Witness: Africa", whose shallow and manipulative content has been fully laid out for all to see. Note that Susan accepts without reservation the questioner's blind premises, namely, that (a) Sudanese gays and lesbians, in the poorest region of the world, take their identities from their orientation, just as do those in the West, and see themselves as a separate segment of society; and (b) they would consequently come forward and expose themselves to punishment or death in that country's primitive, war-torn and religiously divided society. Making such assumptions is further evidence of the gap that divides those openly advocating gay and lesbian rights within the Church from the majority of the Anglican Communion. A commenter over at StandFirm echoed Susan Russell's views:

“When asked if he knows any gay people in the Sudan he replied, “They have not come to the surface. We do not have them.”

I commend the press from TEC for keeping a straight face. It would have been very hard to do!

So ... let me get this...; Some who post here are okay with the idea that someone who does not know a single gay or lesbian person can make statements like these and be lauded for his defense of orthodoxy? And you see nothing wrong with that...?

IMHO...maybe he needs to enlarge his list of acquaintances, or open his eyes...he comes across as poster child for someone in need of the “litsening process”!
As it was intended to do, this jibe drew several quick and sharp responses:

Your understanding of the situation in the Sudan seems rather uneven. One word from the Good Bishop that he knows homosexuals and the Muslims will be all over it, saying “See, we told you they are all demons!” So it doesn’t exist. And, from my Peace Corps understanding, it is not that homosexual acts don’t happen. No one, however, self-identifies as homosexual. To do so in that environment is suicide. The homosexual culture does not exist. It was that way 20 years ago and I assume it is even worse today.

Gee, . . . I can’t imagine why, if Sudanese Anglicans are being murdered on the grounds that other Anglicans merely support the gay agenda, that actual gay Sudanese wouldn’t be waiting in line to come out.

Life in the Sudan is not a Will and Grace rerun. People there are focused on life or death issues. They do not need to expand their circle of friends so that people in this country can feel better about who they are sleeping with.

To which last the original poster responded:
Should their own issues of life and death not be their focus at Lambeth? Or is it sermonizing from a position of relative ignorance about who people in the US should be sleeping with?

Consider how the point of view expressed here has isolated itself from the reality on the ground in the Sudan. The Archbishop comes to Lambeth because he is greatly concerned how the consecration of a gay bishop has led to the persecution and deaths of Christians in Africa, and particularly in the Sudan. It has also greatly hindered his mission, as we shall see. And when he speaks out at Lambeth, he is caricatured by Susan Russell and her ilk as a "hard-line reactionary" who is "sermonizing from a position of relative ignorance about who people in the US should be sleeping with." This is a case of projection in the extreme, of seeing everyone who proclaims the truth of the Scriptures as making a personal attack on one's lifestyle.

A while back there was a similar flapping of the jaws over the failure of Archbishops Akinola and Orombi at GAFCON to jump on the bandwagon of condemning violence against homosexuals in their respective countries---again in response to a baited question at a press conference. The usual commenters on the left could not avoid ascribing Western psychological terms like "homophobic" to the two African Archbishops. It is amazing to see how so much prejudice and anger can be projected onto two of the men most responsible for increasing the numbers of baptized Anglicans today---and who are doing so in the face of horrendous violence and difficulty---while the reporters and bloggers give a free pass to visiting Moslem leaders, like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the same subject.

In short, the inability of the gay rights activists to perceive the narrow selfishness of their point of view, and their utter disregard for the consequences of their actions on the wider Anglican Communion, are simply monumental. Let us return to the Archbishop, and let him spell out some of those consequences for us:
“This issue of homosexuality in the Anglican Communion has a very serious effect in my country. We are called ‘infidels’ by the Moslems. That means that they will do whatever they can against us to keep us from damaging the people of our country. They challenge our people to convert to Islam and leave the infidel Anglican Church. When our people refuse, sometimes they are killed. These people are very evil and mutilate and harm our people. I am begging the Communion on this issue so no more of my people will be killed.

“My people have been suffering for 21 years of war. Their only hope is in the Church. It is the center of life of my people. No matter what problem we have, no material goods, no health supplies or medicine; no jobs or income; no availability of food. The inflation rate makes our money almost worthless and we have done this for 21 years. The Church is the center of our life together.

“The culture does not change the Bible; the Bible changes the culture. Cultures that do not approve of the Bible are left out of the Church’s life; people who do not believe in the Bible are left out of our churches. The American church is saying that God made a mistake. He made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Adam.”

Not all Westerners are so blind to the significance of the Sudanese statement, however. Be sure to read Brad Drell's post, and watch the video of the Archbishop's press conference. And here is blogger Karen B., at Lent & Beyond:
It has come as something of a surprise in the last 24 hours to read of the bold statement passed by the Province of Sudan at the Lambeth Conference. The Sudanese bishops, and their new Primate, the Most Reverend Dr. Daniel Deng Bul have created huge waves at Lambeth by calling for the resignation of bishop Gene Robinson, as the press coverage today demonstrates. (Here are a few links to some of the articles that have appeared in the last few hours: Telegraph, Christian Today, Guardian, Times Online, Anglican Journal (how interesting to note the absence of US Press coverage so far!)) Archbishop Deng Bul gave a press briefing today which you can read here.

As I read this news and think about the stand taken by the Sudanese bishops, I’m reflecting on the crisis in Sudan. I have close personal friends who have worked in Darfur. I know quite a bit about the suffering and need in Sudan. How much easier it would have been for the Sudanese bishops to ignore the problems in the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion and be consumed by their own needs. How easy it would have been for them to close their eyes to the actions of TEC and NOT make waves, so as to continue receiving much needed gifts from wealthy Episcopalians. And yet, that is not what they’ve done. They have done the opposite.

And here is Derek the Ænglican, who usually sides with the left, but not this time:
* The real key quote: “Asked whether there were homosexuals in Sudan, Deng said, ‘They have not come to the surface, so no, I don’t think we have them.’” It’s one thing to look at homosexuality as it currently is lived out in the Western world, to analyze it as we analyze other behaviors, and to come to the conclusion that the Bible, Church tradition, and reasoned evidence in light of scientific and spiritual truths leads one to believe that Christianity does not and cannot sanction it. It’s another entirely to reject a thing without having a grasp on it. This statement shows that Archbishop Deng is speaking from a paradigm that fundamentally does not intersect the North American situation. (And I’d wager a great deal we do exactly the same when we shoot off our mouths about polygamy…)

* Some interviewer asked if conservative Americans were behind the statement; the archbishop denied it. Based on the people and clergy that I have personally known from the Global South… Actually, back up… From the African people and clergy I have personally known, all of them have been vehemently opposed to homosexuality. I do believe some Westerners are of the opinion that conservative Americans are driving African and other Global South bishops to say something that they wouldn’t ordinarily say. And I think that’s false. I think the Africans would be saying this even if there were no conservative American party. As we all know, however, there is and they are stirring things up in the sense that their support emboldens primates like Archbishop Deng and others to say what they believe with reduced fear of reprisals, financial and otherwise.
. . .


I think it’s important to include this. These further statements found at Anglican Mainstream give us a bit of background for the archbishop’s paradigm and some of the issues that make this whole situation harder:

“This issue of homosexuality in the Anglican Communion has a very serious effect in my country. We are called ‘infidels’ by the Moslems. . .

Globalization is a complicated force that we still have no clue how to handle.
Not only do we have no clue how to handle it, but the problem is exacerbated by assuming that our "advanced" civilization gives us the right to set the pace for all to follow. Look at the Presiding Bishop's response given to an interviewer from the Boston Globe:
"Where the protesters are, in some parts of Africa or in other parts of the Anglican Communion today, is where this church and this society we live in was 50 years ago, and for us to assume that people can move that distance in a year or in a relatively instantaneous manner is perhaps faithless," [+Jefferts Schori] said. "That kind of movement and development has taken us a good deal of pain and energy over 40 or 50 years, and I think we have to make some space so that others can make that journey as well."
"That kind of movement," indeed. "That kind of movement" is not going to happen in Africa---not while there is a life-and-death struggle going on in the Sudan and elsewhere with the forces of Islam. Instead, "that kind of movement", continuing in America, will serve only to widen further the gulf that now divides us from the rest of the Anglican Communion.

[UPDATE 07/22/2008: Bishop Robinson has now responded to the Sudanese demands that he resign---not officially, but in a monologue on his blog (I have interspersed some editorial comments):
I have decided not to make any official kind of response. It seems to me that the challenge is not so much to me as it is to the Episcopal Church, and specifically to its House of Bishops, our polity as a Church, and the canons which were followed to the letter in my election and consecration.
To paraphrase the good Dr. Johnson, "polity is the last refuge of a scoundrel." No one takes issue with the fact that The Episcopal Church scrupulously followed its canons in electing and consecrating Bishop Robinson. The issue is whether TEC just as scrupulously followed scripture in doing so. By this same reasoning, TEC could "follow its canons" and elect a polygamist to be a bishop. (Nothing in the canons says that a bishop can have only one wife; that restriction comes from scripture.) The polygamist would have the title of a bishop, but he would not be recognized as a bishop by the churches in the Anglican Communion. Bishop Robinson continues:

First, this is also about the faithful people of New Hampshire who called me to be their bishop. Everyone seems to forget that I am not here representing myself, but rather all the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire, with whom it is my privilege to minister in Christ's name. They have called me to minister with them as their Bishop, and suggestions that I resign ignore the vows that I have taken to serve my flock in New Hampshire. I would no more let them down or reneg on my commitments to them than fly to the moon. We may be the one diocese in the entire Communion who is, for the most part, beyond all this obsession with sex and are getting on with the Gospel. They would be infuriated, as well they should be, if I entertained any notion of resigning. And it is not just Gene Robinson who is being denied representation at the Lambeth Conference, it is the people of New Hampshire who have been deprived of a seat at the table.
Once again, this is a resort to "church polity." To continue my analogy, if the good people of New Hampshire had elected a polygamist as their bishop, it would hardly make sense if they then complained about being "unrepresented" in the Communion, and of "being deprived of a seat at the table" when the Communion at large refused to recognize him. Never forget: TEC was warned in advance that this would be the consequence of consecrating V. Gene Robinson as a bishop, yet it went ahead and did so. For TEC's bishops now to complain about his exclusion from Lambeth is , as I have stated elsewhere, like robbing a house and then whining that you are "excluded from decent people's society" by being required to spend time in jail.
Second, those calling for my resignation seem to be under the impression that if Gene Robinson went away, that all would go back to being "like it was," whatever that was! Does ANYONE think that if I resigned, this issue would go away?! I could be hit by a big, British, doubledecker bus today, and it would not change the fact that there are faithful, able and gifted gay and lesbian priests of this Episcopal Church who are known and loved for what they bring to ordained ministry, who will before long be recognized with a nomination for the episcopate (as has already happened in dioceses other than New Hampshire), and one of them will be elected. Not because they are gay or lesbian, but because the people who elect them recognize their gifts for ministry in that particular diocese. We are not going away, as much as some would like us to. That toothpaste isn't going to go back into the tube! Not if the Bishop of New Hampshire resigns. Not if the "offending" bishops leave the Lambeth Conference. Not ever.
And so we get to the real reason for why V. Gene Robinson stood for bishop in the first place, and why the social activists champion his case at every opportunity: he is the embodiment of a "cause" for civil rights, notwithstanding that scripture itself makes him ineligible to be a bishop. (And please: let's not have an attempt at justifying his episcopacy by pointing to other bishops who have been divorced and remarried. Two wrongs can never equal a right, and there is already way too much argument from that premise. Besides, the language of Titus 1:6 ["one man of one woman"] excludes homosexual couples without question; its application to singles and to remarried couples is not by any means as clear.)

As the bishops learned during their retreat with ++Rowan, "bishops can never, however much they’d like to be, become the spokesperson of a single nation, or cause, or group, however worthy they may be." By turning himself into a cause, and by allowing himself to be used as its symbolic figurehead, V. Gene Robinson demonstrates each day he remains in Canterbury, giving interviews and preaching at services, how his gay-rights message is more important than his mission as a bishop in the Church. And the fact that there are many more behind him, willing to take on the same role if he steps down, spells nothing but trouble ahead for The Enabler Church.


  1. I notice that you don't bother mentioning the fact that gays and lesbians are also persecuted the world over - persecuted to death, quite often. Even here in the United States, gay people are beaten and sometimes killed for being gay. You're not, it would seem from this post, very interested in calling for an end to that situation; how come?

    Are only Christians worthy of your concern? Gay people just don't count for much, is that it?

    In any case, TEC is, in case you haven't noticed, not the only Christian church in which there is an argument going on about homosexuality. It's not even the only religion in which this is happening; Conservative Jews recently had a conference on the topic, and were split about whether openly gay people could be ordained as rabbis. They left it up to local congregations.

    Gene Robinson is not the only gay cleric, and there are already Provinces where same-sex blessings occur all over the Communion. So how come the focus is all on Gene Robinson, as if none of the rest of this were happening? And BTW, there are gay people in Africa as well, and they, too, are fighting for their civil rights - if not for their very lives. Will they be to blame for the situation in Sudan, too? And when will posters at Stand Firm mention them when it comes to "life and death" issues?

    Answer: Never.

  2. bls,

    Thank you for your comment here. I sincerely appreciate it, but I will not take up your bait.

    With all respect, I submit you have missed the purpose of my post. It was not a post about the plight of gays and lesbians around the world. It was not even a post about the mistreatment of gays and lesbians in The Episcopal Church. It was instead a post about the agenda of gays and lesbians for The Episcopal Church, about the gulf which that agenda creates between gays and traditional Episcopalians, and specifically about the very unepiscopal role being played by their figurehead, V. Gene Robinson, in that agenda.

    What that agenda misses---or rather, to use your critique, what that agenda simply does not "care about"---is that scripture expressly prohibits what it is trying to accomplish, and has done so since the earliest days of the church. As I point out in the post, you might as well elect a full-blown polygamist to be a bishop as elect V. Gene Robinson, if that is what you think of scripture. But since a bishop is specially charged with teaching the Gospel and preserving the faith, how does it look when that bishop, say, delivers a sermon on Titus 1:6?

    The concern at this blog is The Episcopal Church and what is happening to it. If I comment on what is happening in other churches, it would only be to draw a lesson for us in TEC. I am indeed aware of what is happening in Judaism, and in the Presbyterian Church, in the Lutheran Church, and in the Methodist Church, but I do not belong to any of those churches. Perhaps someday I will do a post on how the same agenda to undermine the authority of scripture is leading to their disintegration as well, but I note that if I do so, it would certainly not be the first on that topic, so I would have to decide if I could contribute anything new to the discussion.

    You have your own blog to write about what concerns you; I link to it because what you write is important for people who visit my site also to read. I hope that you will come to understand why I write what I post here, as well.