Archbishop Justin Badi Arama (left) and Bishop Moses Anur (right)

The Archbishop of Juba has asked the South Sudan government to protect Episcopal clergy and churches in Bor Town after local chiefs organized mobs to close their churches.

In a statement released on 8 August 2023, the Most Rev. Justin Badi Arama, Primate of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, “strongly condem[ed]” the “torture of priests and closure of the Church by the chiefs, community leaders and youths in Bor.”

“Last week, Bor community leaders and the Chiefs, mainly from  Makuach payam, mobilized heavily armed youths to forcefully close the Churches that are loyal to ECSS administration. They sealed the doors of the main Church known as St Peter’s Parish … and up to now the Church is closed while the Government is watching.”

The division in Jonglei State within the Episcopal Church dates back three years, when the former bishop, the Rt. Rev. Ruben Akurdit Ngong, was stood down by the House of Bishops after he began to consecrate assistant bishops and create new dioceses without the permission of the national church.  

A new bishop, the Rt. Rev. Moses Anur, was installed by the national church, but supporters of BIshop Akurdit refused to accept his ministry after Bishop Akurdit demanded he be reinstated, leading to the armed clash last week.

The archbishop called upon the government to “immediately give orders for our Church in Bor to be opened for worship as soon as possible, and give freedom to all ECSS clergy and faithful to move and operate freely in Bor Town.”

Police Commissioner, Major Gen. Elia Costa told the Sudan Tribune the police were proceeding with caution so as not to spark riots. “It is true there has been a tension between two groups in the church. One group supports Bishop Ruben Akurdit Ngong and another behind Bishop Moses Anur but they are all from the same area and the same church.  This has caused tension which has made it difficult for police to intervene because the youth are heavily armed and do not want to listen to the police. They are heavily armed and so our personnel decided to withdraw to avoid getting into a violent confrontation with them.” 

The President of South Sudan sought to broker a compromise, urging Bishop Akurdit to write a letter of apology to Archbishop Badi Arama. In return, Bishop Akurdit would be welcomed back into the House of Bishops. The compromise broke down, however, when Bishop Akurdit demanded he be returned to office, while the national church would agree only to his retirement in good standing.