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“Christians Must Become a Cooling System for All This Pain”

September 22, 2009

Archbishop+DanielChristian leaders on the left and right in America increasingly seem captured by their parties rather than by their baptism.  In a print and video interview this week at Faith&Leadership, my friend Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak of Sudan confronts this kind of challenge head on.

Daniel was one of the 40 leaders at the first African Great Lakes gathering the Center hosted in Kampala, Uganda in 2006.  Tall and gentle, Daniel told his own painful story amidst the violence of Sudan.  Then he said, “We have to forgive to gain the life of our country back … Christians must become a cooling system for all this pain.”

In April 2008 Daniel was installed as archbishop and primate of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan.  In the interview he says:

“Politics means you have to join the game, but [religious leaders] have to be outside the game. You have to watch the people playing the game, and you have to police them. You have to warn the nation, warn the people. You have to let the people see how they are really leading the nation. I have to tell the politicians what is wrong. That is my job. Ezekiel said you are like a dog that barks when seeing something wrong; that’s how I work as a church leader. When you don’t do that, then you are part of the politics and you only say, “Oh, OK, I’ll leave the politicians to do what they want to do.” At the end of the day, they may drive the train into the sea, so it’s better to caution them so that they don’t drive the train into the sea.”

In Reconciling All Things Emmanuel Katongole and I talk about the need for Christians to practice both prophetic presence and prophetic distance. This is what Archbishop Daniel articulates so powerfully in the interviews.  [In seminary Archbishop Daniel studied with Duke Divinity professor Ellen Davis who is leading a partnership between Duke and Sudan, another story I’ll share sometime.]

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