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Tengatenga’s Morality

Tengatenga1.jpgIn an e-mailed statement shared with the media yesterday, Bishop Tengatenga has responded to concerns about his extensive and vocal past opposition to homosexuality, marriage equality and the consecration of gay bishops in the Anglican/Episcopalian church:

I consider all people equal before God regardless of their sexual orientation. Their dignity should be honored and respected and their safety assured. Where the law prescribes rights those rights have to be upheld. Discrimination of any kind is sinful.

As this space had previously reported, Bishop Tengatenga also commented on the seeming dissonance between the Archbishop of Canterbury’s personal views on homosexuality and the supposedly strict teachings of the Church:

“The Anglican Church hasn’t changed, yes we are against homosexuality and [Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan] Williams does not approve of the consecration of gay bishops,” he said. “The church’s position and an individual’s are two different things.”

Regarding the latter comment, The D’s story yesterday leads one to believe that Bishop Tengatenga is referring to a dichotomy between his personal views and his Church’s doctrine; however, that is not at all the meaning of his comments. His actual meaning is that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s tolerant views in no way take away from the anti-gay import of Church law.

But let’s parse Bishop Tengatenga’s more recent statement in response to the growing controversy. First off, we should give him credit for a finely honed sense of language. His comment is craftily crafted: it is designed to play well both with the home crowd in Malawi and at Dartmouth. But he can’t have things both ways. Nowhere in it does Tengatenga refer specifically to the core issues where his views are of concern: homosexuality, marriage equality and the consecration of gay bishops. Instead, his platitudes leave readers, whether they be Malawian homophobes or Dartmouth supporters of gay rights, with plenty of wiggle room to find agreement with him.

Secondly, he leaves space for himself to continue to be anti-gay. While “all people” — presumably including gay people — may be equal before God, the good Bishop does not seem to have any problem with the anti-gay laws in place in many African countries: “Where the law prescribes rights those rights have to be upheld.” That’s not good enough. One may render unto Caesar in Africa, but clerics in America such as Martin Luther King, Jr., have a long and noble tradition of opposing discriminatory laws. The head of the Tucker Foundation should show similar courage.

The College should withdraw Bishop Tengatenga’s job offer forthwith. A mistake has been made. Admit it. Move on.

One last remark: If an American fundamentalist minister with a record of beliefs similar to Bishop Tengatenga’s had applied for the Tucker job, it is fair to say that his application would not have been considered for a nanosecond.

Addendum: The search committee that selected Bishop Tengatenga was headed by German and Comparative Literature Professor Irene Kacandes; it included Tucker Board of Visitors member Ann Beams ‘77, Government Professor Russ Muirhead, Associate Provost for Advancement and Centers Rachel Silver, Associate Professor of Native American Studies Melanie Taylor, and the College’s Director of Residential Education Michael Wooten.

Erratum: The Search Committee also included Dean of Admissions Maria Laskaris ‘84.

Addendum: The College’s press release concerning Bishop Tengatenga’s appointment makes no reference to his controversial views.

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