a man of the cloth

John Sentamu is now the first black archbishop in the Church of England.

(Brief organizational pause: The Church of England is the British part of the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is the American part. So Sentamu is part of the greater communion, second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but not a direct superior to us Yanks. Got it? Good. I have a chart with colored pushpins if you need it.)

At first I was nervous, because Sentamu is from Uganda. Why such a reaction? It's the African bishops who have raised the most hell - pardon the expression - about we pesky Americans ordaining a gay bishop.

But Sentamu seems to be one of the good guys, as much as you can tell from newspaper accounts. Born the sixth of 13 children, he survived childhood illness and a famine to become a Ugandan barrister and judge. In the 1970s, he publicly criticized the Amin regime and was forced to flee Uganda for the U.K.

He studied theology at Cambridge, and intended to return to Uganda until the Ugandan archbishop, a friend of his, was murdered. Sentamu pursued ordination to take up his friend's work. And surpassed it, it seems, as he led the push for minority concerns in Anglicanism and for social justice, assisting in police inquiries into two high-profile racially-motivated murders. One of those inquiries exposed rampant racism in the police department.

During six years as a bishop, he was stopped and searched by police eight times. Once four young white men spat at him and one of them shouted, "Nigger, go home."

"You have wasted your saliva," he replied.

He has championed blue-collar workers' causes and against lengthening prison sentences to deter crime. He opposed the Iraq war and called on Bush to apologize for torturing prisoners. He has attacked the Church of England itself on occasion for bouts of "institutional racism," for becoming "a cumbersome organization that repels, and whose people are dull, complacent, judgmental and moralizing."

And they still ordained him Archbishop of York, stepping-stone to the top job. Sometimes I love my denomination - open minds and accepting of others' opinions. He was ordained in a bright blue and yellow cope and mitre (garments), by the way, adorned with traditional Ugandan cymbols, and the ceremony included an African drum and dance performance. I would have loved to see that. Apparently, Sentamu plays a mean drum himself.

I was surprised to read that the Church of England still doesn't ordain women bishops. We've been doing that for a long time here across the pond. But Sentamu said he would do so, and hoped they would pass the legislation in July allowing it to happen. His only concern, he said, was that those who disagreed with the majority opinion should still feel welcome in the church. Of course, the consecration of the first female bishop in the Episcopal Church threatened a division in 1989, as did the first female priests in 1974.

As with all archbishops, Sentamu says he obeys the law of Lambeth in regards to gay ordination. So say they all, but I would be interested to know how he voted. He said that all people should be welcomed in the church regardless of orientation, and should be judged on their being in Christ, nothing else. He called for the discussion over sexuality to be an actual discussion, not "standing on either side of the river shouting at one another."

Get this, from his ordination sermon:

"As followers of the Prince of Peace, the friend of the poor, the marginalized, and the vulnerable, I bid you all by the mercies of God to go and find friends among them ... and all those in society who are demonized and dehumanized; and stand shoulder to shoulder with them. Christians, go and find friends among Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, agnostics, atheists, not for the purpose of converting them to your beliefs, but for friendship, understanding, listening, hearing."

Sing it, Father.

In case you're wondering, I got all my information from various European and African news sources. CNN doesn't give a damn. They ran the "face transplant" lady instead.

I can't tell you how many times I have heard from those who oppose Dominionist Christianity and are vigilant keepers of the separation of church and state how much they wish moderate Christians would speak up. Where are the sane Christians, the ones who don't predict fire and damnation for a town that kicks out its bullheaded creationist school board? The ones who don't call for the assassination of foreign leaders? The ones who espouse tolerance and understanding and diversity over hellfire and brimstone?


They complain that the moderate Christians don't speak up. They have to speak against the waves of conservative intolerance and fundamentalism if they wish to counteract the growing backlash against Christianity. Thank you, Pat Robertson, for making it so difficult for us to admit we're Christians in public without the "oh no, run for your life" look in their eyes.

IT IS NOT TRUE THAT MODERATE CHRISTIANS DON'T SPEAK UP. It's that no American news outlets will run it when they do. We can stand on the hill and scream at the top of our lungs, but everyone insists we are mute. And that infuriates me.

When creationism/intelligent design vs. evolution rears its stupid head for the nine hundredth time, we see reams of newsprint parroting Robertson and Dobson as the sole spokesmen for the Christians of America. But when the Presiding Bishop of the United States says that "the freedom given to creation to evolve does not diminish the role of the Creator".... well, I guess that's just a little too highbrow for the American public. Cut it from the story. Where is the story repeating Sentamu's call for unity? If he had stood at the pulpit and denounced homosexuals and feminists and evolution and peace activists and fluffy little bunnies, we'd have seen it blasted on every newspaper in the country, British or not.

Sentamu has always spoken up, against the Amin regime, against police racism, against his own church. He stands up and speaks. We don't listen, but he speaks anyway. Yet when I am in a roomful of people my own age, who share my interests, I find it more expedient to hide my cross. Their eyes will change. They will think the lesser of me for my faith. That is something I'm trying to stop. I speak, when and where I can. If only there were ears to hear.

I wish I had his courage.