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Ghost marriages split Sudanese diocese: The Church of England Newspaper, June 24, 2011 p 9. June 27, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church of the Sudan, Secession, Syncretism.

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Tribal jealousies and theological tensions have split the Episcopal Church of the Sudan’s Diocese of Bor.  On June 13, the day after Archbishop Daniel Deng consecrated Bishop Ruben Akurdit Ngong, supporters of his defeated rival in the May 14 election announced they were quitting the Episcopal Church to form the Lutheran Church of Sudan.

In a letter given to the new bishop, five dissident clergymen protested the lack of spiritual and physical development in the diocese.  The five also denounced the diocese’s toleration of “Ghost marriages”, saying the Nuer tribal custom was incompatible with Christian teaching.

A form of levirate marriage, Ghost marriages among the Nuer tribe occur when a married male dies before he is able to produce a son.  Tribal custom dictates that an unmarried male relative of the deceased stand in as husband until a male heir is born.  No formal marriage ceremony is contracted, and the dead husband continues to be regarded as the head of the family—and any issue from the ghost marriage are recognized as being the children of the deceased.


Once a male heir is born, the ghost marriage ends and the man is freed to start his own family—but remains obligated to provide for the deceased’s family.


Anthropologists believe the custom serves economic and religious ends for Nuer.  The dead man’s wealth remain within his own family and his widow is protected from economic hardship.

The Nuer also believe that unless a man produces a male heir, his ghost will haunt his family bringing misfortune if no son was produced in his name.

The Episcopal Church of the Sudan has seen several schisms over the past 25 years.   In 1986 the first Primate of the Sudan, Archbishop Elinana Ja’bi Ngalamu, refused to step down when he reached the age of mandatory retirement.  The House of Bishops subsequently elected a new primate, Archbishop Benjamin Wani Yugusuk, but quickly split with bishops dividing on tribal lines in support of the two primates.

Archbishop George Carey was able to resolve the schism in 1992 and reconcile the two factions.  However, in December 2003, two deposed bishops led by the former Bishop of Rumbeck, the Rt. Rev. Gabriel Roric Jur formed the Reformed Episcopal Church of the Sudan (RECS).  In 2004 the RECS split and five of its bishops led by Bishop John Machar Thon of Duk Diocese formed the Anglican Church of the Sudan (ACS).

A further schism within the ACS occurred when the ACS Bishop of Rumbek Abraham Mayom Athian broke away to form his own Anglican Church of Sudan in Rumbek.  The newly styled Archbishop Mayon has consecrated at least ten bishops for his church, sources in Sudan tell The Church of England Newspaper.

This month’s schism in Bor is notable in that instead of forming a fifth Anglican Church in South Sudan, the dissidents are forming the country’s first Lutheran Church.

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