The Rt. Rev. David Colin Jones, president of the American Friends of the Episcopal Church in Sudan (AFRECS), is not surprised by the Sudanese church’s renewed statement regarding the Episcopal Church and same-sex couples.
Jones, who will retire in January as a bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Virginia, attended the Sudanese church’s provincial synod Nov. 14-16. He said that the synod did not discuss the Episcopal Church’s policies on same-sex couples, and that bishops did not discuss the topic in a post-synod meeting.
He said a statement from Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, which circulated through the web in late December, reaffirmed a statement by Sudanese bishops during the Lambeth Conference of 1998. The Sudanese church’s clear affirmation of the Anglican Church in North America is new, however.
“We are deeply disappointed by the Episcopal Church’s refusal to abide by Biblical teaching on human sexuality and their refusal to listen to fellow Anglicans,” the statement said, adding that the Episcopal Church has “pushed itself away from God’s Word” and from the Anglican Communion. “TEC is not concerned for the unity of the Communion.”
The statement also said the Sudanese church will no longer offer its advice to the Episcopal Church on these topics, since the Episcopal Church has disregard earlier advice.
Archbishop Daniel wrote a separate letter to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori that she would not be welcome to visit the Sudanese church. Bishop Jones declined comment on that letter.
Two bishops, the Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith of Missouri and the Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee of Chicago, both urged Episcopalians to be cautious and patient in their responses to the Sudanese church’s statements.
“What we know right now is just the contents of this letter,” Bishop Smith said in a Dec. 19 report on his diocese’s website. “I would encourage the people of this diocese to avoid the rush to judgment until all facts are in, especially since the inner workings of ECS are often complex.”
Bishop Lee said in a statement Dec. 19: “The political seasons of the Anglican Communion come and go, and tensions sometimes boil over. That appears to have happened last week when Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul chose to withdraw an invitation to visit that he had previously made to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. This was regrettable, but disagreements among primates who are often playing to audiences we are not aware of should not disrupt relationships among Anglicans working together in mission.
“We stand with the people of Renk, just as we stand with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians around the world, especially in places where they suffer violence and persecution,” Bishop Lee added. “We will not allow communion politics or matters of theological interpretation to keep us from following the Gospel with any of our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Bishop Jones spoke with affection for Archbishop Daniel, whom he has known since the archbishop’s studies at Virginia Theological Seminary. The provincial synod was the third visit to Sudan for Bishop Jones, who attended a bishops’ retreat in 2009 and a 2010 meeting of dioceses and other groups, including AFRECS, that work with the Sudanese church.
He praised the archbishop’s work for peacemaking and reconciliation, often in cooperation with the United Nations.
Bishop Jones said the two churches’ perspectives on sexuality has disrupted neither his relationship with the archbishop nor the ministry of AFRECS.
“I profoundly respect where they are. Daniel and I never discuss it. We’re friends,” Jones said. “That should not get in the way of helping our friends.”
The Rev. Andrew Merrow, rector of St. Mary’s Church in Arlington, Virginia, accompanied Bishop Jones for part of his time in Sudan.
Like Bishop Jones, Merrow has a long friendship with Archbishop Daniel, who spoke (as Bishop of Renk) at his parish on the night Sept. 10, 2001. A parishioner asked that night whether Christians and Muslims could work together, Merrow said. The bishop responded that they could, but it was also important to know that radical Muslims in Sudan have a different temperament than Muslims down the street from St. Mary’s.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 reinforced the bishop’s warning, Merrow said. He has visited Sudan four times, and his parish helped pay for constructing a new cathedral in Renk, which was dedicated in 2006.
During this trip to Sudan, the hosts asked on short notice if Merrow would teach at a meeting of deans and bishops. He taught from the Gospel of Mark, focusing especially on the lessons of servant leadership found in how Jesus responded to James and John.
“I would be less than candid if I did not say I was very surprised and somewhat hurt by the archbishop’s letter,” Merrow said, but the relationship will continue. “We pray for Sudan every Sunday in our parish, and if anything we’ll redouble our prayers in light of that statement.”