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Dartmouth Appointee Causes Stir

James Tengatenga in an undated photograph. (Anglican Communion Office photograph)

James Tengatenga in an undated photograph. (Anglican Communion Office photograph)

Hanover — The new dean of Dartmouth College’s Tucker Foundation is not set to start his job until the spring, but he is already facing criticism about his views on homosexuality.

Dartmouth announced James Tengatenga’s appointment on Tuesday to the foundation, which is the religious hub at Dartmouth that works to further the moral and spiritual work of the college.

Tengatenga is currently the diocesan bishop of southern Malawi. As a member of the Anglican church, he has sided publicly with the church’s position against homosexuality.

In a letter released Thursday by Dartmouth’s office of public affairs, Tengatenga wrote, “So, let me be clear. I support marriage equality and equal rights for everyone, and I look forward to working with everyone at Dartmouth — everyone. I believe that discrimination of any kind is sinful.”

Tengatenga has come under fire by the Dartmouth chapter of the NAACP and Dartblog, which is run by Dartmouth alumnus and prominent college critic Joe Asch.

Dartblog linked to various articles where Tengatenga shared his views on homosexuality.

In 2003, the Episcopal Church, which is the American branch of the Anglican Communion, consecrated Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as the bishop of New Hampshire.

This appointment caused a great rift among the Anglican and Episcopal churches because the Anglican Communion has taken a firm stance against same-sex marriages.

Asch posted a link on Dartblog showing that at the time of Robinson’s consecration, Tengatenga was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying:

“There’s a sense in which you are very much part of me and a very serious sense of being part of you,” Tengatenga said. “I come from an angry people. I come from a very frustrated church, a church that feels it has been betrayed by its brothers and sisters.”

In his Thursday statement, which was posted on the college’s website, Tengatenga referenced how Robinson’s consecration forced people to consider homosexuality and gay rights.

Tengatenga, who is also the chairman of the Anglican Consultative Council, which facilitates work between churches in the Anglican Communion, said it was his job to “hold the church together” as western churches began to welcome same-sex marriages and openly gay priests and bishops while churches in Africa remained firm against homosexuality.

“Mediators, however, often find themselves in the crossfire,” Tengatenga wrote Thursday. “I have tried very hard to represent Africa to the West, especially to the Episcopal Church, and the West to my African colleagues.”

Homosexuality isn’t allowed in many African countries, and in Malawi, engaging in sexual acts is punishable by law. In November, the government said it would stop arresting and prosecuting homosexuals until the issues could be debated more in parliament. But the government reversed course on that decision. Homosexual acts carry a maximum prison term of 14 years.

Asch also posted other links on his website, including a 2011 story from The Church of England Newspaper that quoted Tengatenga saying:

“The Anglican Church hasn’t changed, yes we are against homosexuality. ... The church’s position and an individuals’s are two different things.”

The Dartmouth chapter of the NAACP also wrote a letter that was posted on Dartblog before Tengatenga’s Thursday statement that is addressed to college president Phil Hanlon and members of the search committee that selected Tengatenga that stated the chapter is “deeply troubled” by the appointment.

“The NAACP firmly believes that the individual who is to be named Darmouth’s moral spokesperson must unequivocally advocate and actively pursue equality and justice for all members of our community — regardless of sexual orientation. We are not yet confident that Bishop Tengatenga meets this rigorous standard,” the letter reads.

Search committee member Ann Beams was reached at home Thursday and said the committee was impressed with Tengatenga’s life experience, but would not comment about the recent criticism concerning his views on homosexuality.

“The Tucker Foundation tries to prepare students for a life of service, spirituality and social justice, so we were looking for people who had lives that demonstrated that,” Beams said.

Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson said that when Tengatenga heard about the criticism, he wanted to respond.

“His response was he wanted to introduce himself to the Dartmouth community because he felt the picture that was being painted of him was not complete,” Anderson said.

In his statement, Tengatenga said he has made it his life’s work to advocate for human rights and has worked to end human trafficking and violence against women.

“As I told the search committee when I visited Dartmouth this spring, I have expected to die for the past decade because I have dared to speak out against official corruption and in defense of those Jesus called ‘the least of these,’ ” Tengatenga wrote.

Tengatenga said he doesn’t think he’s alone when he says his ideas about homosexuality have evolved over time. But Jordan Terry, president of the Dartmouth NAACP chapter, wrote in an email that his organization wants a public discourse among Tengatenga, the Tucker search committee and the Darmouth community about Tengatenga’s vision for the Tucker Foundation.

“Merely stating support for equality is insufficient,” Terry wrote. “Dartmouth’s new spiritual spokesperson must be a vigorous advocate for the rights of all members of the Dartmouth community in word and deed.”

Nancy Vogele, director of religious and spiritual life at the Tucker Foundation, said Thursday that she is proud of the students of the NAACP chapter for engaging in this discussion.

“Tucker’s program is meant to help students engage and reflect on the moral issues of the day,” Vogele said. “And I’m really heartened that they want to make sure this person is worthy to carry that mantle. They get how important this appointment is. The dean of the Tucker Foundation is a moral voice.”

Tengatenga isn’t expected to take over his new role until spring 2014 because of visa challenges, Anderson said.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.