Support the Café

Search our Site

The sad case of Dartmouth and Bishop Tengatenga

The sad case of Dartmouth and Bishop Tengatenga

I’d like to add my voice to those who are deeply disappointed that Dartmouth College has revoked Bishop James Tengatenga’s appointment as dean of the school’s Tucker Foundation. The more I speak with friends in Malawi and elsewhere in Africa, the more wrongheaded and damaging to the cause of LGBT rights the decision seems.

Lisa J. Wangsness of The Boston Globe quotes several of the bishop’s able defenders in her story this morning.

“You are asking the impossible of someone coming out of that African situation,” said the Rev. Nicholas Henderson, a parish priest in West London, an editor of, and a vice president of Modern Church, the oldest theological society in the Anglican communion. “Just rescinding that [appointment] is to show a lamentable lack of understanding of circumstances that are outside the confines of privileged North America.”


“This is a big blow, because it leaves African activists on the ground wondering if they can work with Westerners,” [the Rev. Kapya John] Kaoma, [a priest formerly in the Church of Zambia who has conducted extensive research on religion and sexuality in Malawi and other African countries for Political Research Associates] said. “All human rights defenders in Africa are working under very, very hard conditions, and the violence against them is always there. What they have done is exposed Bishop Tengatenga and then dumped him back into Malawi.”

Bishop Ian Douglas of the Diocese of Connecticut, who has known Tengatenga for years and serves with him on the Anglican Consultative Council, a worldwide representative elected body, said that Tengatenga played a crucial role in keeping the Anglican Communion from splitting apart in the last decade, following Robinson’s election and controversies over other issues.

“It’s an incredible lost opportunity — I would go so far as to say a travesty to justice with respect to James and a compromise of what academic institutions are supposed to stand for with respect to trying to seek a higher truth through academic freedom and genuine conversation,” Douglas said.

In an email that he has given me permission to quote, my friend the Rev. MacDonald Sembereka, a leading activist on LGBT issues in Malawi said:

This is sad and defeatist news from some of us who are on this side of the divide because Bishop James is an astute defender of rights for all. In our part of the world an advocate of rights of PLHIV [people living with HIV] cannot afford to just advance one side of the argument because evidence has it that we need to defend all vulnerabilities. HIV provides a huge platform or stepping stone for advocates of lgbti in africa that you cannot dismiss Bishop James on the premise being advanced by the President of Dartmouth and the nay sayers. Further, none of those who said a lot against the appointment ever consulted us on the ground so much so that we may end up fighting our own allies.

I see this matter in fairly simple terms. The people whom MacDonald calls the “nay sayers” at Dartmouth have behaved as though one affects change primarily by making statements of unassailable correctness and then standing back while one’s will is done. There is no room for diplomacy in this way or thinking, no occasion on which an activist would hold his or her tongue in order to play a more effective role behind the scenes. Bishop Tengatenga knows differently. He has skillfully helped move homophobic institutions and organizations toward acceptance of LGBT rights and helped defend those who were marginalized for doing the same. Dartmouth is punishing him for his effectiveness.


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

This is how conservatives view it:

Are you glad to be in such company – complaining about the “gay agenda” – you sound just like the right wing….


Last comment, and I’m out—

“Gay people are being criminalized and killed”

That’s precisely WHY having an African leader who can serve as liason between (predominantly) Western understandings of sexuality, and African ones, is so desirable (if not essential). Yes, Bishop Tutu is great . . . but he’s just ONE guy (and South Africa is a rather special case). We NEED more . . . in order to save LGBT lives in Africa. I (white North American) can’t do that liason task, can you?

JC Fisher


Jimmy, who are you calling “heterosexual” here? Me?! :-0

Many, many LGBT people (LIKE MYSELF) have remained in the church, have fought the Good Fight, and ***WON ***(transforming the lives of LGBTs *outside* of the church for the better, as well). My gay self doesn’t appreciate being lumped in w homophobes, merely because we see our Highest Truth in personified terms (i.e. “God”).

*I* am not your enemy, Jimmy. Is Bishop Tengatenga, today (8-17-13)? PEOPLE CHANGE. People who KNOW Tengatenga say he has changed. Can you?

JC Fisher

A Facebook User

With his permission, I’m reposting this comment Bill Rankin, former Dean and President of EDS and President Emeritus of Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance (GAIA) which has been doing HIV/AIDS work in Malawi since 2001, offered in another on-line discussion Dartmouth’s decision:

We have worked in Malawi on HIV, TB, malaria and other health issues nonstop since 2001. In all that time I have known Bishop Tengatenga to be an open, thoughtful, intelligent, and caring man. As he says, his position on gay men and lesbians has changed. He went from a deeply African perspective to a decidedly counter-cultural and more just one. I greatly admire Dartmouth, but I believe they lost badly when they deprived themselves of this man of nearly unique integrity.

Bill Rankin, President Emeritus, Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance (GAIA,) San Francisco

(posted by Donald Schell)


I’m sorry – academic queer theory givers activism a bad name. Homonationalism? neoliberal foreign policy? This is why the humanities are failing so badly. As a gay man, I am saddened by the myopia of elite academia. Queer Theorists have accomplished zero in the fight for gay marriage and in fact have opposed it in many instances. There is a reason 95% of gay people can’t stand the word “queer” and its advocates in academia do themselves no favors convincing themselves they are so much smarter than the hoi poloi gays they so disdain…

—Jimmy Green

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café