Live: TEC-Sudan relations, what happens now?

By Jim Naughton

Archbishop Daniel Deng's call for the resignation of Bishop Gene Robinson today surprised many of his friends and colleagues in the Episcopal Church because the Sudanese Church has extensive relationships with Episcopal dioceses and parishes, and openly gay clergy and lay people are active in these relationships.

“More than a dozen dioceses in the US are supporting, either through formal or informal relationships, ministry in Sudan, including literally hundreds of parishes, with relationships going back more than two decade,” said an Episcopal clergy person who is active in these relationships.

Both Deng, a spokesman for the Episcopal Church and at least one diocesan bishop said they hope these relationships continue.

In issuing his call for Robinson’s resignation, Deng said, "I'm not talking to the individual bishops that are relating to the Sudan, but I am talking to the institution of the Episcopal Church in America." The church should "allow Gene Robinson to resign."

One Episcopal bishop involved in a companion relationship with a Sudanese diocese met Deng ishortly after the press conference, but was unaware that the archbishop had called for Robinson’s resignation. Deng told him that the Sudanese value the partnership it has with his diocese. The Sudanese diocesan bishop expressed similar sentiments in a later meeting, the bishop said.

The Rev. Chuck Robertson, canon to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, said the Episcopal Church “cherished our relationships with the various dioceses there. Our goal has been …. to make a difference, to respect the dignity of every human being, to bring the good news of God in Christ to people, to support and strengthen and encourage. That has not changed.”

In the Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Virginia has perhaps the most extensive relationship with the Church of Sudan. It is also the diocese most deeply involved in litigation over church property with breakaway congregations that have affiliated with African churches, making Deng’s call for the Episcopal Church to abandon such litigation all the more provocative.

Two of Virginia's three bishops and a former assisting bishops have visited the country, and the relationship has spawned numerous projects, programs and visits back and forth.

The Rev. Lauren Stanley, the Episcopal Church’s missionary to Sudan, comes from the diocese. Stanley is a contributor to the Daily Episcopalian blog on Episcopal Café, and has written about her experiences in Sudan and the role of cultural differences in the conflict within the Anglican Communion.

Deng spent a year at St. Paul's Church in Arlington, where he was extremely popular, said an acquaintance of Deng’s.

Virginia Theological Seminary and Duke Divinity school co-sponsor a visiting teachers program.

The Diocese of Missouri also has a companion diocese in the Sudan. Lisa Fox, who is openly gay and keeps the blog My Manner of Life chairs the committee, and has written quite recently about the relationship, and about a visit from Deng here and here.

Deng’s friends in the United States say his opposition to homosexual relationships is well known, and that he has expressed concerns about the effect of Robinson’s consecration on his ability to evangelize in a predominantly Muslim country. However, they said that they assumed Deng was aware that some of the leaders of companion programs with Sudan were gay.

While Bishop of Renk, Deng maintained a companion relationship with All Saints Episcopal Church in Chicago, which he visited about a year ago. All Saints' Rector, the Rev. Bonnie Perry, is openly gay and lives with her partner. Perry's sexuality was much in the news in 2006 when she was a candidate for Bishop of California.

Comments (8)

What does evangelism mean when, in order to win converts to Christ, gay Christians must be ostracized and gay Sudanese must be ignored?

Is a partial message of the Good News worthy of being proclaimed?

Is gaining members at the expense of some of the most despised really evangelism?

I have a difficult time hearing the Archbishop Deng's words without hearing him condemn me. I hear him condemn the gift from God that my marriage has been, both to my husband and me, as well as to our church and community.

Theologically and personally, I know that I should not let this issue break the communion that the Archbishop and I share. We say that it is not a communion-breaking issue. But the pain of his words is so intense.

Perhaps that intensity is born of the inseparability of my sexual orientation with my identity. In the same way that racial epithets are so powerful: the target has no way to be any different.

But, my pain aside, how do we, as mission partners, respond?

I can respond to my pain with prayers for him, and I will, but isn't there a way to be even more helpful? A way to be active? My first response would be to reach out to the Archbishop and offer to show him how the Holy Spirit is present in my life; how the fruits of the Spirit bear out the truth.

But he has stated that he will not listen. What then?

We are called to respond to the great suffering in his part of the world. I guess the best thing to do is to say out loud: "What the Archbishop said is wrong. His statements hurt millions of people and damaged the witness of the church and the spread of the gospel. He should apologize." And then quietly send the check, gather the donations, or go on the mission trip anyway.

There are many avenues for sharing spiritual and material resources with people in Africa. Doing it in conjunction with people who are not inclined to show some spirit of mutual respect may not be the best approach.

Turning the other cheek doesn't have to go to the level of masochism.

Agreed, especially if my spiritual health was in jeopardy, as I suspect it is for many who encounter the ignorance->fear->bigotry chain. But I keep asking myself, and not in a cliched way, what would Jesus do?

How do we square "love your enemies", "love your neighbor as yourself", with "get thee behind me, Satan"?

I'm not sure I have an answer for that yet, but perhaps some of us are called and spiritually equipped to be the warriors of love: visibly loving those whose words hurt. Perhaps those people are not spiritually harmed by these words. It seems to me that some *are* called to do this. Some of the Roman Catholics still worshiping in Roman parishes may be doing it with no danger to their spiritual health. And the witness they provide to their communities is valuable, no?

And perhaps there are others who are called to return to the well of support offered by inclusive communities. Building their strength; strengthening others. Providing resources.

I personally worry that abandoning someone because they "believe wrongly" deprives them of the experiences that might help them come to new understandings.

Or do you think I'm just barking up the wrong tree?

Archbishop Deng's specific "suggestions" are painful, but the position of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan is not new. Indeed, Sudan has been a demonstration case that, contra what has been said in Uganda or Kenya, we continue to provide support without requiring folks to agree with us.

We need, as best we can, to continue to provide that support, recognizing first that their disagreement - even the Archbishop's specific suggestions - don't force us to do anything; and, second, that we continue to demonstrate that communion isn't about idealogical purity but about shared mission. I even remember someone saying something about situations like this, something about "heap[ing] coals of fire...."

"Archbishop Deng's specific "suggestions" are painful, but the position of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan is not new. Indeed, Sudan has been a demonstration case that, contra what has been said in Uganda or Kenya, we continue to provide support without requiring folks to agree with us."

Certainly people can work together toward some common objectives even when they agree to disagree about other things. However, that presupposes some notions of mutual respect. One does have to question the mutual respect of someone who holds a grandstanding press conference to say that he will not listen to what you have to say.

I think it's time for TEC to seriously reevaluate its approach to conducting its activities in Africa.

Considerable comment about Deng statements by Thinking Anglican readers:

For some of us who are Gay or friendly, the best response is to walk away from any involvement with the Church of Sudan. Shake the dust off your sandals and move on. Be open in the future if they want to re-engage. Pray that they do, then move on.

For me, I took great comfort in Desmond Tutu's foreword to Gene Robinson's book, which I just received from Amazon. Tutu writes:

"May I wholly inadequately apologize to my sisters and brothers who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered for the cruelty and injustice that you have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of us, your fellow Anglicans; I am sorry. Forgive us for all the pain we have caused you and which we continue to inflict on you.

"Gene Robinson is a wonderful human being, and I am proud to belong to the same church as he."

Truth and reconciliation, indeed.

Add your comments

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Reminder: At Episcopal Café, we hope to establish an ethic of transparency by requiring all contributors and commentators to make submissions under their real names. For more details see our Feedback Policy.

Advertising Space