Sudanese Anglican leader calls for Bishop Robinson to resign

By staff writers
July 23, 2008

In a letter and statement circulated at the Lambeth Conference, the Sudanese Anglican primate has called on the openly gay Bishop of New Hampshire to resign his post "in order to preserve the unity of the Anglican Communion".

Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul from the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) declared yesterday: "Gene Robinson has to be away from the Anglican world and be a normal Christian,” said Deng at an afternoon news conference. "If he is, as he always says, a Christian, he should resign for the sake of the church."

Asked if he has talked to Robinson, Deng replied, "I have nothing to say to him."

He also said he cannot participate in the Anglican Communion's Listening Process - which was a required part of the Windsor Report process - because homosexuality is not "approved by the Bible" and "is not part of my culture, I cannot talk about it."

Archbishop Deng also said there are no gay or lesbian people in Sudan - a claim which has been made by several bishops from Africa and Asia in recent years, but which is contradicted by the evidence say campaigners for equality.

Mike Barwell, a spokesperson for Bishop Robinson, who is in and around the 2008 gathering of worldwide bishops, even though he was refused a formal invitation, noted that there have been numerous calls for Robinson to remove himself beginning soon after he was elected to be bishop of New Hampshire.

"This is nothing new", he said. "He's been very clear that he will not step down... and that the issue of gay clergy and gay bishops will not go away."

Bishop Robinson, who has appeared widely in the media over the past week, was giving a 'View from the Fringe' at the Kent Business School on the University of Kent campus, where most of the Lambeth Conference is taking place, while Archbishop Deng was holding his news conference.

Barwell suggested that Deng's demand for Robinson's resignation was a matter for the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, reports Episcopla Life Online.

"The fact remains that it is not the House of Bishops that is meeting right now at Lambeth," said the Rev Dr Charles Robertson, canon to the Presiding Bishop. "This is a gathering of invitees who twice have the opportunity to meet within the context of their province."

Mary Frances Schjonberg of Episcopal News Service writes: Archbishop Deng and the other Sudanese bishops issued their call for Robinson's resignation in a statement earlier in the day and Deng then held a news conference later in the day.

The bishops also released a statement about the current situation in Sudan. The latter statement was addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury, all the communion's other archbishops, bishops and clergy. The Robinson statement had no such addressees listed. Both statements were signed only by Deng.

Deng also told reporters that the Episcopal Church bishops who participated in Robinson's ordination and consecration in 2003 and who are at the Lambeth Conference do not have to leave the conference. Rather, "they should confess to the conference" that they have made a mistake because that's what Christians do.

"If they could do that, that would help the Anglican world," he added.

"We are for the Anglican world and we want the Anglican world to be united," he said. "We are not throwing anybody away but we want to say this is not the norms of the Anglican world."

Saying he was representing "my people and myself," Deng said his stance had been backed bishops from 17 or 18 provinces of the communion's global south with whom he had met earlier in the day.

At first Deng said that 400-500 bishops had been at that meeting, but the Rev Canon Ian Woodward of the Church of England Diocese of Salisbury, which has a long-standing relationship with the ECS, leaned into the news conference to say the number was closer to 150 to 200 bishops.

Deng expressed some frustration with the fact that on the second day of the conference what he called "the main issues" facing the Anglican Communion "have not been touched." He said the communion was breaking down, claiming that 300 bishops have stayed away for the Lambeth gathering "because of Gene Robinson."

Conference officials have said that 670 bishops out of a possible 880 are attending the decennial gathering.

Canon to the Presiding Bishop Robertson spoke to reporters on 22 July just as Deng left the newsroom, saying that "over the years the Episcopal Church has enjoyed a very fruitful and important collaboration of ministry with the Church of the Sudan."

"We have cherished our relationships with the various dioceses there," he continued. "Our goal has been there, as in any of our relationships with churches throughout the world, 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. We continue to look forward to finding ways to move forward in our own culture and in our own context, but also to be respectful of other contexts."

Robertson later told ENS that the Episcopal Church "remains grounded in Scripture -- rooted in Scripture -- and, in our Anglican tradition, has always understood that we use reason as well as tradition to understand and appreciate and interpret Scripture." He recalled a prayer in The Book of Common Prayer that calls Episcopalians to "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" Scripture. "That's hard work," he said. "And with God's grace and that work, we continue to understand Scripture and to be understood by Scripture."

Robertson said that he once served in a diocese that shared a strong ministry with Sudanese refugees in which "all were blessed." Many Episcopal Church dioceses have found similar blessings and "we would hope to continue that in the years to come."

Robertson said that "the Sudanese people are, like ourselves, diverse and individuals and we want to continue to be in partnership with any individuals who wish to be the partnership of gospel work to which we are called." He added that the Episcopal Church exists in many countries outside the United States, each of which has its own cultural context.

"All of us are called to the work of reconciliation, evangelism and making a difference in the world," he said. "We will do that in partnership with any who would join us."

The new book Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, edited by Simon Barrow, is published by Shoving Leopard / Ekklesia.

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