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Sudan archbishop elected: The Church of England Newspaper, April 28, 2014 June 2, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church of the Sudan.
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The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan (ECSSS) has elected the Rt. Rev. Ezekiel Kondo, Bishop of Khartoum as Archbishop for Sudan (north). On 4 April 2014 the church’s bishops elected Bishop Kondo to serve as the first archbishop for the newly created northern province of the ECSSS. At the November 2013 meeting of general synod, the ECSSS voted not to split the church into two national provinces in light of the independence of South Sudan, but two create two internal provinces: one for the Republic of South Sudan and one for the Islamic Republic of Sudan that would consist of the dioceses of Khartoum, Port Sudan, Wad Medani, Kadugli, and El Obeid. A native of the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, Bishop Kondo was elected Bishop of Khartoum in 2003 and has led the church through recurring bouts of persecution by the Islamist government in Khartoum.

Outrage over church demolitions in the Sudan: The Church of England Newspaper, July 1, 2012 p 5. July 3, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church of the Sudan, Persecution.
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Bishop Kondo dedicating Saint Johns, Haj Yousif in 2009

The Sudanese government has demolished an Anglican Church in Khartoum, claiming that as all South Sudanese have been ordered to leave the country, there is no need for any Christian churches in Khartoum.

On 18 June 2012 Khartoum police ordered all South Sudanese to leave the Khartoum suburb of Haj Yousif within 72 hours and demolished St John’s Episcopal Church. Dedicated on 24 May 2009, the Diocese of Khartoum reported the church had been built by the members of the community to serve the town’s Christian population.

However, Bishop Kondo told Radio Tamazuj the police claim the church was now no longer being used. “They argue that all Christian Sudanese have moved to South Sudan. But the authorities are fabricating lies. There are still many South Sudanese living in Sudan. Moreover, the church acts as a place of worship to all, not just the South Sudanese” the bishop said.

On 25 June the heads of the World Council of Churches [WCC] and the All Africa Conference of Churches [AACC] issued a formal protest over the “renewed destruction of church property in Khartoum.”

The WCC and AACC “strongly condemn the demolition of the Episcopal Parish Church of Saint John” by “government authorities.”

The attack on Saint John’s was part of a pattern of discrimination against Christians and follow government sanctioned attacks on churches and schools.  “We are further reminded that, the government of Khartoum had, for the first time in the country’s history, denied its citizens the Christmas holiday in December 2011.”

“We express our fears that all these events may not be isolated but rather calculated attacks on Sudanese civilians who are not of the Muslim faith and their property in Khartoum, and in particular Christians,” the church leaders said, adding that “it is now public knowledge that Christians of Muslim background have also been targeted and have been dispossessed of their properties and their spouses.”

“We once again regret that despite repeated rhetoric about freedom of religion and the protection of the minorities in the Republic of Sudan, the government policy seems to be bent on threatening and discriminating against Christians in Khartoum. By protecting religious fundamentalists who wreck mayhem and havoc on innocent civilians with impunity, the Republic of Sudan undermines the tenets on which a multi-religious society is based.”

The church leaders said they “cannot remain silent while such a horrific violation of human rights and threat to lives continues unabated” and called upon the Islamist National Front government to “fully investigate the motive of these repeated incidents and apprehend those responsible for these criminal acts, and to provide adequate and true security to Christians in Sudan.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Foreign Office reports no govt persecution of Christians in the Sudan: The Church of England Newspaper, June 17, 2012 p 5. June 19, 2012

Posted by geoconger in British Foreign Policy, Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church of the Sudan, House of Lords.
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Bishop Ezekiel Kondo of Khartoum and Archbishop Rowan Williams

The Foreign Office reports there is no evidence of an anti-Christian pogrom being waged by the National Islamic Front government in Khartoum.

In a written statement given in response to a question from the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Foreign Office Minister Lord Howell on 23 May 2012 said “We have no evidence that there is a state orchestrated campaign against Christians. However, recent rhetoric by government leaders on the north-south conflict has led to tension between communities and fear of attacks against South Sudanese in Sudan, many of whom are Christians.”

The government’s view of the conditions in Sudan is at odds with reports from Sudanese Christians and NGOs. Southern Christians living in the North were stripped of their Sudanese citizenship and are being expelled to the South, forcing hundreds of thousands into refugee settlement. In a 12 Oct 2011 speech to university students in Khartoum, President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan stated: “Ninety-eight percent of the people are Muslims and the new constitution will reflect this. The official religion will be Islam and Islamic law the main source [of the constitution]. We call it a Muslim state.”

Last year Bishop Ezekiel Kondo of Khartoum reported that in his home province, South Kordifan, now on the Khartoum government’s side of the border between North and South, the Islamist government was engaged in the religious cleansing of the province, driving Christian Nuba across the border and burning the region’s principle town of Abyei.

The violence prompted a statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. “Numerous villages have been bombed. More than 53,000 people have been driven from their homes. The new Anglican cathedral in Kadugli has been burned down,” Dr. Williams reported, adding that “many brutal killings are being reported.”

However in his statement to Parliament last month, the minister said the British government was “very concerned by a recent attack on a church in Khartoum, although there was no evidence of state involvement. We welcome the announcement from the Ministry of Religious Guidance and Endowments of an investigation into the incident and urge them to ensure this enquiry is thorough, independent and timely. We continue to remind the Government of Sudan of their obligation to protect all of their civilians, including those in religious groups.”

In response to a second question from Bishop Peter Prince concerning the disputed border provinces, Lord Howell said the British government had pressed both sides to come to the negotiating table.

“We are also encouraging the Government in Sudan to put in place a political process of constitutional reform that will address the needs and views of all its people, including those in the conflict affected states of Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei,” Lord Howell said.

In May 2011, the Sudanese army occupied Abyei following a three-day clash with South Sudanese troops. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported that a dispute over who could vote in the independence referendum in the state led to the clashes. Sudan had argued that the Miseriya, a nomadic northern tribe that roam into Abyei in order to feed and water their livestock, should be included in the referendum, while South Sudan maintained that only the Ngok Dinka people who reside in Abyei should participate.

After the Sudanese Army entered the province, approximately 130,000 Ngok Dinka residents were displaced to the south and forced to seek assistance from aid agencies. Last week Sudan agreed to honour UN Security Council Resolution 2046 and pulled its troops out of Abyei.

CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said his organization welcomed the troop withdrawal. But the resumption of peace talks “must not be allowed to obscure the Sudanese government’s responsibility for the creation of humanitarian crises not only in Abyei, but also in Darfur and most recently, in the Nuba Mountains, where access is being denied to a civilian population that is deliberately targeted by the military and faces imminent starvation.”

Lord Howell told Parliament the UK has worked hard to “ensure United Nations Security Council Resolution 2046, which supports the roadmap, dealt with Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile State under a Chapter VII mandate.”

“We continue to remind the Government of Sudan of their obligation to protect civilians and allow humanitarian access to both states. I welcomed the news that South Sudan have withdrawn their remaining security forces from Abyei on 11 May, and we now urge the Sudanese security forces to do the same,” the minister said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

A New York Times puff piece on the Sudan: Get Religion, January 2, 2012 January 2, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Episcopal Church of the Sudan, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Archbishop Daniel Deng

I have mixed emotions about focusing the critical spotlight on this New York Times story about the plight of Christians in the Sudan. I am pleased that a story that speaks to the state sponsored persecution of Christians made it into the paper’s pages, yet I would have wished they had fact checked their story.

What we have in the 23 Dec 2011 article entitled “Fewer to Celebrate Christmas in Sudan After South’s Split” is an example of the good quotes/bad facts phenomena — where an article has great color quotes but the facts and context to support the quotes are either incorrect or missing.

Because this is the Sudan, the assertions made by the Times take on a deeper significance. Is theTimes guilty of sloppy reporting or are they acting as a shill (wittingly or unwittingly) for the National Islamic Front of President Omar al-Bashir? Let’s take a look.

The article begins with a snapshot of Khartoum’s Christian leaders on eve of Christmas. It begins with the camera focusing on a sparse living room, itemizing the objects to establish a Christian focus for the article.

Hanging from the wall of Bishop Ezekiel Kondo’s living room — a few blocks from a silver-coated dome marking the tomb of Sudan’s 19th-century Muslim leader, the Mahdi — are a cross, pictures of fellow clergy members and a photo of him with the former archbishop of Canterbury above a small plastic Christmas tree.

A nice word picture — but should not archbishop have been capitalized like the Mahdi in the previous line? The Archbishop of Canterbury not the archbishop of Canterbury. Is this a hint of things to come? The story continues.

Much has changed for Bishop Kondo, and for the nation, since the holidays last year. Though he presides over one of Sudan’s largest churches, he is more in the minority than ever. South Sudan, with its large Christian population, became an independent nation over the summer, making for a Christmas of mixed emotions.

“This Christmas, since Southern Sudanese have gone, we don’t know what the attendance will be, but I would say people will celebrate with mixed feeling of joy and fear,” said Bishop Kondo, who is the bishop of the Episcopal Church of Sudan and the former chairman of the Sudanese Council of Churches.

South Sudanese voted overwhelmingly in a referendum early this year to separate from Sudan, the culmination of a peace accord to end decades of war and hostilities with the largely Muslim north. But while South Sudanese Christians constituted the majority of what was the Sudanese Christian community, they are not all of them.

“There is an idea that Southern Sudanese have gone, therefore, the church has gone. That is not true,” Bishop Kondo said. “Sometimes, I am asked, ‘When will you go to South Sudan?’ ‘But I’m not from the south,’ I reply!” he said.

Bishop Kondo is from South Kordofan, a state dominated by ethnic Nuba, who are divided between Islam, Christianity and African traditional religions. Fighting erupted there last May between government forces and rebels allied with the party that now governs South Sudan. …

The scene is set these paragraphs. The predominantly Christian South has seceded from the predominantly Muslim North. Bishop Kondo leads a church in the North that in the wake of independence will now be smaller, but Christians remain in the North.

The article offers voices of other Christian leaders that speak to the difficulties they face, and then Bishop Kondo returns to center stage.

While concerns weigh heavily on the minds of many Sudanese Christian leaders, Bishop Kondo pointed out that Sudanese government officials had expressed a keenness to work with them.

“The Ministry of Religious Guidance and Endowments have approached us to know what the timetable of services and celebrations are this Christmas, to come and congratulate, but to also make sure people celebrate peacefully,” he said. “I think this is a good gesture.”

“Well and good”, you might say. A nice little story about the Christian minority in a Muslim country trying to make the best of a difficult situation. “What is the problem?”, you might ask. Why is this a dreadful article?

President Omar al-Bashir

For starters, Bishop Kondo is not the head of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan. Bishop Kondo is Bishop of Khartoum, one of 31 dioceses of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan. The head of the 4 to 5 million member church that spans North and South Sudan is Dr. Daniel Deng, Archbishop of Juba.

On one level this is not a fatal flaw. Adjusting Bishop Kondo’s title does not change the story arc of Khartoum’s vanishing Christians this Christmas. However, is something else going on?

The Khartoum government has sought to divide the Anglican Church in the past — and at one point appointed an Anglican bishop to be deputy minister of foreign affairs. The government then helped this bishop, Gabriel Ruric Jur, to form a rival Anglican church and seized Khartoum’s cathedral from Bishop Kondo to give to their bishop. Bishop Jur, in turn, endorsed the establishment of Sharia Law in Khartoum for all Sudanese citizens — Muslim and Christian.

The Episcopal Church of the Sudan has also refused to divide now that the country is divided, even though the Khartoum government has pushed for church split. Why I raise all of this intra-Anglican detail, is that a Sudanese Anglican reading this story would see in this mistake the spectre of government interference in the church once again. Is the New York Times backing Khartoum’s line, making Bishop Kondo head of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan (North). Or, is it  simply ignorance on the part of the New York Times.

The story also fails is in not developing the issue of “Where did all the Christians go?” The article notes that “the larger group of worshipers, administrators and teachers” of one church have moved to South Sudan.  It also states the Sudanese government claims that only three percent of the population is Christian. Bishop Kondo disputes that figure, saying it is closer to 10 to 15 per cent. That should give you a clue that there is story beneath this story.

What is missing from this story is the crucial bit of information about the government of President Omar al-Bashir’s attitude towards Sudan’s Christians.

In a 12 Oct 2011 speech to university students in Khartoum, President al-Bashir stated: “Ninety-eight percent of the people are Muslims and the new constitution will reflect this. The official religion will be Islam and Islamic law the main source [of the constitution]. We call it a Muslim state.”

When I reported on this issue for the Church of England Newspaper, one South Sudan bishop told me that he believed this meant that it was President al-Bashir’s goal for Sudan to be only two percent Christian. Is that a fact? No, it is a view by an admitted partisan in the affair. However, as Reuters has pointed out, South Sudanese living in the North have been denied citizenship and must petition the government for citizenship or leave the country.

Bishop Ezekiel Kondo and Archbishop Rowan Williams in Jamaica

In Bishop Kondo’s home province, South Kordifan, now on the Khartoum government’s side of the border between North and South, the Islamist government of President al-Bashir has been denounced for engaging in ethnic cleansing, driving Christian Nuba across the border and burning the region’s principle town of Abyei.

The violence prompted a statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. “Numerous villages have been bombed. More than 53,000 people have been driven from their homes. The new Anglican cathedral in Kadugli has been burned down,” Dr. Williams reported, adding that the region had also been “overrun by the army, and heavy force is being used by government troops to subdue militias in the area, with dire results for local people. Many brutal killings are being reported.”

The archbishop’s complaints are not likely to deter President al-Bashir.  The International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2009 issued a warrant for the arrest of the Sudanese president on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In 2008 the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina, accused Bashir of directing a campaign of mass murder that has left more than 300,000 civilians dead and driven more than 2.7 million from their homes in Darfur. President al-Bashir was the first sitting head of state to be charged by the Hague-based court with war crimes, and the first Arab leader to face the prospect of being tried for atrocities by an international tribunal.

All of this has been treated extensively by Catholic and Anglican news agencies but this background information is missing from this New York Times story. And its absence means the article fails the criteria of good journalism.

First published in GetReligion.