The Church of England’s Archbishop of York continues to distinguish himself as a frequent fly in the ointment of political correctness by defending British culture and Christianity. Himself a Ugandan refugee from the horrors of Idi Amin, John Sentamu is thankful for the civilization that has protected and elevated him. It’s perhaps no great surprise that a Church of England commission assigned to nominate the next Archbishop of Canterbury, who would be their church’s and the global Anglican Communion’s senior prelate, declined to nominate Sentamu. Amid allegations of adamant resistance by some to the Archbishop of York, who is a strong and sometimes polarizing figure, the commission instead has so far failed in its duty and nominated nobody. The Church of England is left dangling. Almost certainly the Archbishop of York would provide greater leadership and clarity than the often left-leaning, poet intellectual who is currently the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Further evidence of Sentamu’s leadership emerged in an October 17 speech he delivered to the House of Lords in defense of the besieged and mostly Christian people of South Sudan. The South Sudanese won their independence from the brutal Islamist regime in Khartoum last year after decades of vicious war in which millions perished. Yet Sudan’s tyrants still threaten the south just as they continue to wage war against various Muslim minority groups in northern Sudan that don’t subscribe to Khartoum’s nasty brand of radical Islam.
In May Sentamu attended a retreat in South Sudan with 14 senior Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops. Bishops from Sudan itself, representing the often besieged Christian minority that remains in the north, were unable to travel. The senior prelates issued an appeal to a world that does not often heed their plight. “Much of the last six decades has been characterized by a struggle for freedom on the part of marginalizd peoples within the old nation of Sudan,” the Sudanese bishops noted with understatement. They celebrated the “peaceful birth” of South Sudan amid the north’s frequent refusal to abide by the peace accord and despite “military provocation from Khartoum.” And they emphasized that South Sudan represents only “one section of the marginalized peoples of Sudan.” The bishops expressed frustration that the United Nations and other prominent international actors mostly are ignoring the ongoing plight of Sudan’s oppressed minority groups against whom Khartoum continues to wage war. The targeted peoples include Darfur and the peoples of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile.
The Anglican and Catholic bishops accused Sudan of supporting “rebel militia” in South Sudan that are abducting recruits to fight against the “democratically-elected government” there. “Unlike the rebel movements in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, they do not appear to have any popular support nor just cause,” noted the bishops, who said Khartoum is suspected also of supporting the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army. Citing Martin Luther King, Jr., the bishops declared they “too have a dream” about “two nations which are democratic and free, where people of all religions, all ethnic groups, all cultures and all languages enjoy equal human rights based on citizenship,” and where Christians and Muslims “can attend church or mosque freely without fear.”
Such a dream from the Sudanese bishops is lofty, and the international community, above all the churches, should embrace it. But most are silent in the face of Khartoum’s ongoing crimes. As the Archbishop of York politely told the House of Lords: “The fact is that the needs and aspirations of these noble people are not actually understood in the West.” Sentamu said Britain should encourage Sudan to recognize the reality of itself as a “multiethnic, multicultural and multireligious nation.” But of course, Khartoum’s Islamist regime despises this notion. “Freedom of religion is an essential element of respect for human rights in Sudan and needs to be emphasized,” Sentamu said, citing the “significant indigenous Christian presence in Sudan whose rights must be respected.” With restrained language, he recalled “dangerously provocative language” earlier this year from Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, which was followed by a Sudanese Islamist mob destroying a Presbyterian church and the Khartoum police destroying an Anglican church. Sentamu described the senior Roman Catholic and Anglican clerics as key leaders for negotiating a satisfactory peace in wider Sudan. And he concluded: “I call upon Her Majesty’s Government to do all in their power to assist both countries in making this dream [of the bishops] a reality.”
Let’s see if Her Majesty’s Government or other Western nations pay sufficient heed to the Archbishop of York’s appeal. Or even if Western churches bother to listen and echo Sentamu’s concern. The many Western church elites, for example, who obsess over Israel’s reputed oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank might make just a little time to examine the many millions more who suffer far, far worse in Sudan. Just as South Sudan did for decades, the tormented minority groups of north Sudan yearn for decent government if not independence. Unlike Israel, which has repeatedly acceded to the idea of a Palestinian state, Khartoum prefers to crush its opponents where possible.
Of course, acknowledging the wickedness of a radical Islamist regime is hard for many Western church elites who, unlike Sentamu, typically locate evil only in Western culture. But at least the Archbishop of York is speaking when too many other clerics are silent.
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