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Sudanese primate wants Robinson's resignation

Spokesman says New Hampshire bishop won't resign

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[Episcopal News Service, Canterbury] Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, primate of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS), said July 22 that New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson should resign in order to preserve the unity of the Anglican Communion.

"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 because homosexuality is not "approved by the Bible" and "is not part of my culture, I cannot talk about it." Deng said there are no gay or lesbian people in Sudan. [A video stream of the full media conference is available here.]

Mike Barwell, a spokesman for Robinson, noted that there have been numerous calls for Robinson to remove himself beginning soon after he was elected to be bishop of New Hampshire.

"He's been very clear that he will not step down," Barwelll said. "He has also been very clear that if he were to step down, the issue of gay clergy and gay bishops would not go away."

Robinson 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 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.

"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."

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."

His statement echoed one also made July 22 by Diocese of Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker who said that "those bishops who stand in solidarity with Gene Robinson should withdraw themselves from further participation in the Lambeth Conference" and should feel the conference's rejection. He added that "integrity and honesty" call for them to leave after their failure to convince the conference to include him.

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.

He said he could not predict the future of the communion if Robinson did not resign.

Deng told reporters that the Bible does not approve of what he called a homosexual "culture."

"God is not making a mistake of creating Adam and Eve," he said. "He could have created two Adams if he had wanted, but now what we are hearing is that God is wrong" and that people can create "a different text."

When asked if his statement would change the mission relationship the ECS and the Episcopal Church have had in the past, 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." That institution should "allow Gene Robinson to resign."

Deng and the other Sudanese bishops spent July 13 with Jefferts Schori in the Diocese of Salisbury. Deng processed with Jefferts Schori during the morning Eucharist that day. The next day, she met with the ECS bishops, who were visiting Salisbury for a two-week pilgrimage to celebrate their church's 35-year partnership with the diocese.

Canon to the Presiding Bishop Robertson spoke to reporters July 22 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 Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is Episcopal Life Media correspondent for Episcopal Church governance, structure, and trends.

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