Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Defending Bishop Tengatenga

Updated Thursday morning

Bishop James Tengatenga has been in the news recently because Dartmouth College reneged on a job offer they made to him, after he had already resigned his previous position as Bishop of Southern Malawi. See for example this ENS report by Matthew Davies Dartmouth withdraws Tengatenga’s appointment as foundation dean:

Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, has withdrawn the appointment of former Southern Malawi Bishop James Tengatenga as dean of its Tucker Foundation saying that his past comments about homosexuality “have compromised his ability to serve effectively.”

Meanwhile, some North American church leaders are surprised and saddened by the decision, saying that they know Tengatenga as a bridge-builder and reconciler who has a deep understanding of the complex issues concerning human sexuality.

Tengatenga, a long-standing member and current chair of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), the Anglican Communion’s main policy-making body, announced in mid-July that after 15 years as bishop of Southern Malawi he was tendering his resignation to become the Virginia Rice Kelsey Dean of the William Jewett Tucker Foundation at Dartmouth College from Jan. 1, 2014…

Today the Living Church has published a letter signed by a number of notable people, which criticises Dartmouth College. See Defending Bishop Tengatenga:

Dartmouth’s folly and the struggle for LGBTQ rights in Africa

Earlier this summer an offer was made to the Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga, Anglican Bishop of Southern Malawi, to become the next Virginia Rice Kelsey ’61s Dean of the William Jewett Tucker Foundation at Dartmouth College, an organization charged with educating students and the Dartmouth community into “lives of purpose and ethical leadership, rooted in service, spirituality, and social justice.” Tengatenga accepted, announced his resignation as Bishop of Southern Malawi, made plans to come to Dartmouth in early 2014, and news of the appointment was made public on July 16. With a swiftness that hardly seemed possible, even in this age of electronic communication, messages started to circulate on blogs and over email, as were letters of protest sent to the College’s top administrators, charging the Bishop with homophobia. On July 22 the Dartmouth College Chapter of the NAACP sent a letter protesting the appointment to the president, provost, and members of the search committee…

Much of this communication was vague. Some of it, however, was quite specific, citing comments made by Tengatenga on matters related to human sexuality within the context of the Anglican Communion. Despite issuing a statement declaring his unequivocal support for marriage equality and the sanctity of human rights for all individuals appearing on the official “Dartmouth Now” site, Tengatenga continued to be criticized. One month after his appointment was announced, the President of the College, Philip J. Hanlon, released a statement saying that the appointment had been rescinded.

The President’s decision brought applause from some in the Dartmouth community. Others were appalled, as are we. The action represents a gross injustice to an individual who would have made an ideal person to provide moral and ethical leadership at the College. It casts serious doubts on what is being learned in American universities when members of those communities fail to distinguish between public positions of institutions and the views of individuals who participate in those institutions. It reflects badly on western human rights advocates who consciously or unconsciously engage in forms of cultural imperialism that undermine their own success and credibility by demanding proofs identical to their own kind and, in this instance, by also ignoring the voices of Africans and church leaders who have known and worked with Tengatenga in some cases for decades….

Do read the entire letter.

Update
A response to this letter by Joseph Asch has been published at Dartblog A Public Letter for Tengatenga. This response contains numerous links to earlier discussions on the same site.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 4 September 2013 at 7:00pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Anglican Communion
Comments

Bishop Tengatenga has been poorly served by his advisors. As soon as he was appointed at Dartmouth, he should have issued a full statement of his current beliefs on this issue, and an explanation of any statements made in the past that might contradict it.

The signatories claim that America does not understand Africa, but surely his American friends understand America, especially the educated elite and our top universities.

(Dartmouth is ranked #10 nationally on the most visible system, US News magazine. It has always been one of the most intellectual and socially prestigious colleges in this country, with early connections to the Earldom.)

Gay rights, indeed all civil rights for everyone, are a finished subject in such circles. There is nothing left to debate. Even the Supreme Court has spoken. Many Republican Party politicians have changed their position. American society is moving on, with the Episcopal Church leading.

It is unfortunate that Bishop Tengatenga was not fully informed of the current situation in the US.

Posted by: Andrew on Wednesday, 4 September 2013 at 7:43pm BST

Sorry, not convinced. Tengatenga is attempting to argue that his position on homosexuality has evolved and whatever he said in 2004 should be seen in that context.

But in 2012 when it looked like the government of Malawi was going to suspend criminal penalties for homosexuality (which doesn't affect the cultural discrimination, but is at least a start), Tengatenga was amongst the people that lobbied for them to be retained. So homosexuality still attracts a penalty of 14 years in jail, because Tengatenga and other church leaders couldn't bear to see those penalties suspended.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/irene-monroe/malawis-lgbtq-communitys-short-lived-freedom_b_2130681.html

You can see what an "evolved" position on homosexuality looks like here:

http://www.nyasatimes.com/2012/11/16/malawi-council-of-churches-communique-on-contemporary-issues/

They also don't like men wearing earrings and braiding their hair, by the way. Tengatenga's a signatory to these statements.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 4 September 2013 at 8:27pm BST

This would appear - from all evidence available - to have been a very sad and confusing situation. As both 'Andrew' and 'Interested Observer' have here intimated, there seems to have been a great deal of confusion surrounding both the appointment, and the subsequent cancellation, of Bishop Tengatenga to the position at Dartmouth.

However, the situation has served to highlight the culture of secrecy in African countries concerning the emergence of LGBT rights as a factor in the political and religious sphere on that continent.

Where the Church of England is still submerged in the culture of denial about the presence of Gay and Lesbian people within the Church; the position in African countries is much more dire for LGBT people, who have to hide their sexual orientation for fear of persecution from the authorities.

Though Bishop Tengatenga has had to go along with the official line of both Church and Governmental authorities in Malawai, it has long been recognised that he has quietly but also effectively opposed the African culture of oppression of the LGBT community in the Church.

No doubt the overwhelming opposition to the LGBT community in the public statements made by African Churches condemning Gay and Lesbian activists; is one of the reasons that Bishop Tengatenga has been caught in the cross-fire.

Short of condemning the African Churches' official stance on homosexuality, it would appear that there will be no reversal of Dartmouth's abandonment of the bishop's appointment - even though this has occasioned a high-profile list of objectors from the supporters of LGBT people in the U.S. and other places around the world. What also has to be factored in to the equation, is the fact that many Africans really do believe that homosexuality is both sinful and 'un-African'.


Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 5 September 2013 at 12:30am BST

Also, see this post for a response to the above letter:

http://www.dartblog.com/data/2013/09/011038.php

Posted by: etseq on Thursday, 5 September 2013 at 2:50am BST

At last, liberals unafraid of being savaged as the bad guys for doing the right thing and refusing to accept that "tolerance" means the same thing as "accepting your spurious 'right' to do harm to others without consequence."

God bless Dartmouth and President Hanlon!

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Thursday, 5 September 2013 at 8:35am BST

This case is a near mirror opposite of what happened in Central Africa in 2005 when the Rev Dr Nick Henderson was elected Bishop of Lake Malawi. Despite overwhelming support for Henderson in Malawi and what turned into a protracted four year struggle, the then Archbishop Bernard Malango finally managed to overturn Henderson's appointment on the grounds that he had been associated with Modern Church the liberal theological society. Malango was much influenced by the American right and was one of those who had charged around the Anglican Communion with Peter Akinola, then Archbishop of Nigeria, condemning every part of the Communion that was remotely sympathetic to the gay position. Malango was also very close to the infamous Nolbert Kunonga who broke away from the Central African Province in Zimbabwe and caused (still is causing) mayhem accusing them of being 'pro-gay.'

The point of this is that James Tengatenga resisted Malango, Kunonga and the American right in favour of Henderson. He should have a lot of credit for this (I notice that Dr Henderson is one of the signatories to the letter) and for bravely standing up against tyranny in what were dangerous circumstances. He deserves better from Dartmouth.

Posted by: Concerned Anglican on Thursday, 5 September 2013 at 9:21am BST

"He deserves better from Dartmouth."

He doesn't "deserve" anything from Dartmouth.

It is not Dartmouth's job to reward Anglican-political bravery. No one is entitled to a job at a university, simply because he supported a liberal Anglican bishop.

That is a serious non sequitur.

It is one factor that Dartmouth might consider, yes. But Bishop Tengatenga is not entitled to special treatment either.

Dartmouth's obligations are to its own community, students, and academic ideals. Certainly not to someone who plays the race card as quickly as Tengatenga did.

Posted by: Jeremy on Thursday, 5 September 2013 at 12:37pm BST

The point is not what anyone deserves, but that this candidate was apparently selected on merit by the appropriate body, and then had the offer withdrawn. That is a wholly different situation from being excluded from consideration in the first place.

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Thursday, 5 September 2013 at 8:32pm BST

The position that Bishop James finds himself is ghastly and I wouldn't wish it upon anyone.

However, I don't find it that hard to see this from the position of those making decisions at Dartmouth and feel that they may have acted entirely properly.

I'm pretty wearing of people telling me that bishops are really, secretly on my side when they say and do things which are at best unhelpful and positively harmful.

As a gay man in ministry, I feel more let down more by straight liberals in power in the church than anyone else.

Posted by: Kelvin Holdsworth on Thursday, 5 September 2013 at 10:48pm BST

After Kelvin's comments, it leads me to wonder, which is the more conducive to the culture of hypocrisy in the Church - the closet Gay, or the closet Liberal? I know which suffers the most! And it's time The Church became 'honest to God'.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 6 September 2013 at 1:57am BST

i really don't know. I am reluctant to be on the opposite side of Desmond Tutu on anything.

Most of all, I have been to the Third World, but not Africa. I know that a lot of Western, First World, language and lenses don't work in the Third World. I have found myself explaining why things don't work in Haiti like they do in the US, for example. Or why it is that perfectly nice corporations operating in the US are monsters in their operations in Latin America, with no body of environmental law, for another example, and that people aren't socialists or communists for trying to rein in abuses. I can well imagine that the language of LGBT rights could be different in Africa, even if I'm not schooled in that language myself.

The evolution of Tengatenga could well have been a powerful story for other Africans. Now, the story isn't so nice.

Posted by: Cynthia on Friday, 6 September 2013 at 3:37am BST

I can't help but feel that the Perfect has been made the enemy of the Good here. (Per Asch) Tengatenga misread his "confirmation" process: really? That's his disqualification?

"Toleration is Not Enough": yes, that's the standard I to which I would hold a North American (44 years after Stonewall). However...

Posted by: JCF on Friday, 6 September 2013 at 3:58am BST

If you look at Tengatenga's response, as reported by Asch in "A Public Letter . . . " I think you'll see that no saintly and humble souls were harmed in the making of this decision.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Friday, 6 September 2013 at 5:02am BST

Re the Update: Joseph Asch’s response

The activists at Dartmouth have won their fight to have the job offer to Tengatenga withdrawn. However, they are not magnanimous in their victory, but have continued to needlessly and viciously attack the thoroughly defeated Bishop. Asch’s article is an example of such nastiness.

The letter in defence of Tengatenga was signed by 14 notable people, amongst them Desmond Tutu and the heads of two human rights organisations in Malawi. One of the latter, Gift Trapence, was singled out for praise in a recent speech by Ban Ki-moon for his work on LGBT rights in Malawi. It is impossible to believe that Trapence would write in defence of Tengatenga if the latter was indeed an enemy of LGBTs in Malawi, or anywhere for that matter.

Asch’s response to the letter has been to publish a nasty article directly attacking Tengatenga, ignoring and bypassing the 14 who actually wrote and signed it, and who did NOT himself write or sign it. Asch is particularly nasty when he shows an e-mail sent to him by Tengatenga in confidence, thinking that he was having a dialogue with a decent person. Asch uses the e-mail to show that the Bishop is “imperious”.

Having published his nasty article, Asch makes sure that there is no comment facility to allow anyone to challenge his tirade against Tengatenga.

Finally, I am far more impressed with the combined credentials of the 14 signatories than I am with those of Dartmouth graduate Joseph Asch.

Posted by: Peter Nkosi on Friday, 6 September 2013 at 11:31am BST

And I'm more impressed with Asch than Tengatenga. On the 14, I'm inclined to see white guilt more than actual concern over any actual wrong.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Friday, 6 September 2013 at 11:43am BST

Mark Brunson has it right. The letter is spectacularly ill-judged. It includes abuse directed at the entire US University system (which seems unwise when you are trying to influence a US University), tedious accusations of "cultural imperialism", a large amount of "racism of low expectations" excuse-making and a finishing flourish of whataboutery. Whoever wrote it should have done better, given the quality of the signatories they had. I can't imagine it did anything to sway the Dartmouth authorities.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Friday, 6 September 2013 at 3:44pm BST

In my earlier post today I mentioned the needless and vicious attacks on the thoroughly defeated Bishop. The three comments by MarkBrunson in this thread are examples of such attacks.

Tengatenga is down, but is being defended in a letter by a group of prominent people. Rather than taking the time to comment directly on what they have written, MarkBrunson just keeps gloating over the Bishop’s humiliation and heaping further insults upon him.

Posted by: Peter Nkosi on Friday, 6 September 2013 at 5:51pm BST

"Asch is particularly nasty when he shows an e-mail sent to him by Tengatenga in confidence."

This is silly. On what basis could Asch have thought that this was a confidential e-mail?

Bishop Tengatenga did not come off at all well in this episode, which suggests to me that Dartmouth eventually did the right thing by not hiring him.

Tengatenga and his defenders need to look to the quality of their argumentation.

Posted by: Jeremy on Monday, 9 September 2013 at 1:55pm BST

“On what basis could Asch have thought that this was a confidential e-mail?”

Bwana Jay, I did not say that Joseph Who thought that his correspondence with Tengatenga was confidential. I said that TENGATENGA believed it to be confidential.

“Bishop Tengatenga did not come off at all well in this episode “.

Yep, just like the 5 previous posts in this thread from MarkBrunson (3) and Interested Observer (2), yours is just another needless kick at a man who is down. (Are you multi-monikered?)

“Tengatenga and his defenders need to look to the quality of their argumentation.”

Since it started Tengatenga himself has had nothing publicly to say in his defence. However, from the internet I see that most people who post comments and articles are in support of the Bishop. They do a far better job of defending the Bishop compared to the poor efforts of this simple villager.

Here is an article by one of the 14 signatories to the letter written by Tutu et al:

http://sdgln.com/social/2013/09/06/rgod2-who-my-gay-ally

It is posted to the “San Diego Gay and Lesbian News”, and is written by Albert Ogle. If Tengatenga is as wicked as you say, then why would SDGLN publish an article in his defence? And look! No comments! Why not be the first to comment?

Finally, this stupid fiasco was created by Americans. Your lot, I believe.

Posted by: Peter Nkosi on Tuesday, 10 September 2013 at 5:52am BST
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