Dartmouth College’s decision to withdraw its appointment of a prominent African bishop as dean of the Tucker Foundation, a campus institution charged with furthering the moral and spiritual work of the school, has deeply wounded the bishop.
After accepting Dartmouth’s offer, the Rev. James Tengatenga last month resigned his post as bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Southern Malawi and publicly affirmed his support for marriage equality – a risky stance in Malawi, where homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in jail.
But Dartmouth’s new president, Philip J. Hanlon, rescinded the offer Wednesday, saying that Tengatenga’s past statements on homosexuality would prevent him from leading effectively.
Tengatenga declined a request for an interview before receiving written confirmation of the withdrawal, but he said in an e-mail Thursday: “All I can say is that history now has it on record that truth and justice lost and bigotry won and that the Dartmouth NAACP led in the defamation of an honorable black man.”
The Episcopal News Service reported Thursday that Tengatenga said once he receives the letter, he plans to seek legal counsel.
The Dartmouth chapter of the NAACP wrote a letter signed by numerous student groups, staff, and faculty saying that its members were “deeply troubled” by the appointment.
Controversy erupted after word circulated that Tengatenga opposed the 2003 election of the Rev. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the Anglican Communion’s first openly gay bishop, and asserted in 2011 that Malawi’s Anglican provinces remained “totally against homosexuality.”
He was also a member and former chairman of an ecumenical group of church leaders in Malawi who have taken sharply anti-gay stances.
But close observers of gay rights issues in Africa say Tengatenga has been an ally who has publicly opposed the most virulently anti-gay pronouncements of other African bishops, and that he played a crucial role in keeping the Anglican Communion from splitting apart in the aftermath of Robinson’s election.
Tengatenga is a major player in the 85 million member Anglican Communion. He is chairman of the Anglican Consultative Council, a representative body that meets every three years, as well chairman of its standing committee, akin to the board of directors.
Tengatenga, in a statement to the Dartmouth community shortly after his appointment was announced, said he had changed his mind in recent years about gay rights and that he regards any kind of discrimination as sinful.
The NAACP wrote in its letter that too many questions remained about Tengatenga’s position and past actions: “Merely stating support for equality is insufficient,” the chapter wrote. “Dartmouth’s new spiritual spokesperson must be a vigorous advocate for the rights of all members of the Dartmouth community – in word and in deed. We are not yet confident that Bishop Tengatenga meets this most basic standard.”