College Cuts Ties With Bishop Over Homosexuality Comments
Hanover — An African bishop’s comments supporting the Anglican church’s opposition to homosexuality have cost him the position as the new dean of the Tucker Foundation.
Bishop James Tengatenga was appointed dean of the Tucker Foundation, the spiritual hub on Dartmouth College’s campus, in July by a search committee, but almost immediately, comments Tengatenga had made against homosexuality that aligned with the Anglican church’s views began to spread online.
While Tengatenga quickly put out a statement that said he considers all people equal regardless of their sexual orientation and he supports marriage equality, Phil Hanlon, the college’s new president, ultimately decided to revoke the appointment.
Tengatenga, who lives in the east African nation of Malawi, met last week in Hanover with Hanlon, who asked him “tough questions” about his prior statements on homosexuality.
Hanlon formally announced on Wednesday that he would be rescinding Tengatenga’s position.
“Following much reflection and consultation with senior leaders at Dartmouth, it has become clear to me that Dr. Tengatenga’s past comments about homosexuality and the uncertainty and controversy they created have compromised his ability to serve effectively as dean of Tucker. The foundation and Dartmouth’s commitment to inclusion are too important to be mired in discord over this appointment,” Hanlon wrote in a letter on his website.
Hanlon added that Tengatenga spoke to him passionately about his commitment to gay rights and his support for the gay and lesbian community in Malawi, where he is the diocesan bishop of Southern Malawi.
Tengatenga said he was told about the decision through a phone call.
“I am very disappointed with the decision,” Tengatenga wrote in an email. “As to what I was bringing to Dartmouth as new dean? They will never know now and so no point in talking about it. The search committee saw it but the community refused to accept it and so it is. They built a man of straw and went on to beat it. My side of the story is no longer important. They have theirs and they told it and even debated it and never once wanted to know mine. As such, it serves no purpose for a victim to go on or it will sound like sour grapes.”
Many at Dartmouth consider the dean of the Tucker Foundation as the moral voice of the campus community, and there were those who felt that Tengatenga’s prior statements about homosexuality were hurtful .
At the same time, members of the search committee that chose Tengatenga said the comments that drew criticism were taken out of context. Links to Tengatenga’s comments were posted on Dartblog, a blog that is run by Dartmouth alumnus and frequent college critic Joe Asch, and were then circulated on other websites, such as the Huffington Post .
For example, when the Episcopal Church, which is the American branch of the Anglican Communion, consecrated an openly gay priest, V. Gene Robinson, as the bishop of New Hampshire in 2004, Tengatenga was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying, “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.”
Tengatenga was quoted in a 2011 story from the Church of England Newspaper saying, “The Anglican Church hasn’t changed, yes we are against homosexuality. ... The church’s position and an individual’s are two different things.”
Irene Kacandes, the chairwoman of the search committee that chose Tengatenga, argued that criticism of the statements failed to take into account the role in which he was speaking.
“I’m not ignoring that the Anglican church officially condones sexuality, but we’re talking about a decision by an institution and he was a spokesman for that institution,” Kacandes said. “Would you want to be known by one single thing you’ve said?”
In addition to his role as a bishop, Tengatenga was chairman of the Worldwide Anglican Communion’s Anglican Consultative Council. The appointment of Robinson divided the Anglican and Episcopal churches, and Kacandes said when she read the statement, she interpreted it as Tengatenga reaching out to members of his church to “figure this out together.”
Kacandes said she understands Hanlon’s decision to rescind Tengatenga’s appointment because it was becoming clear that Tengatenga would not have been accepted in all quarters of campus.
However, she said she’s disappointed by the reaction on campus. She said Tengatenga was “held hostage” by the decisions of other institutions — the Anglican church and the Malawi Council of Churches. Not only is the Anglican church against homosexuality, but homosexuality is reviled in many African countries, and in Malawi, homosexual acts are punishable by law.
Michael Bronski, a senior lecturer for women’s and gender studies, said he thinks people did understand that Tengatenga came from a different culture, but decided he still wasn’t doing enough.
Tengatenga never said homosexuality was morally acceptable, Bronski said, and he never apologized for any harm he might have done in the past, even if it was unintentional.
“If he had said, ‘I am sorry and I apologize,’ if he would have said that, many of his critics would have said thanks,” Bronski said.
Andrew Longhi, a rising Dartmouth senior who wrote a column for the Huffington Post about Tengatenga’s appointment, agreed with Bronski and said that Tengatenga’s clarification wasn’t enough.
He said he wasn’t as concerned about Tengatenga’s views on gay marriage, but was more worried about Tengatenga’s opinions on laws that persecute gays in Malawi, which Tengatenga didn’t address in his letter to campus.
“It can’t be easy to be a gay rights advocate in Malawi, but why should we settle for someone that has caused harm to the LGBT community here and there when we could just as easily find someone else?” Longhi said.
Randall Balmer, chairman of the religion department and a member of the search committee, said Tengatenga was chosen because of his moral authority and his demonstrated concern for the poor and vulnerable of Africa, including victims of sex trafficking.
Balmer said that he heard testimony from various people who said Tengatenga is seen in the gay and lesbian community in Africa as an advocate for equal rights.
“I’m not disappointed in him, I’m disappointed that many of my colleagues rushed to an improper judgement of Bishop Tengatenga based on quotations wrenched out of context,” Balmer said.
Lindsay Whaley, interim vice provost at Dartmouth, said the college is working on an “interim plan” since the current dean of the Tucker Foundation, Richard Crocker, plans to retire at the end of the month. Whaley said he expects a new search for a dean to begin this fall.
As for Tengatenga, he has already resigned from his position as diocesan bishop of Southern Malawi. As for what is next, he said in an email, “I have time to think about that yet.”
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3223.