Monday, March 12, 2007

 
I really am taking a break for a bit
Following on a recent post, I just want to let people know that I'll be back shortly. I have some professional things I have to attend to.

No news regarding the Nigerian resolution (this is a GOOD SIGN), but there is a new UN report on your chances of getting tortured if you're in Nigerian police custody.

Thanks to all who have let me know about emails sent and phone calls made.

If you're a conservative and you want to add your name to a growing list of "reasserting" voices objecting to the Nigerian legislation, please email me. Believe me, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Friday, March 09, 2007

 
Ruth Gledhill chimes in
Read her thoughts here.

UPDATE: VOA has additional coverage, including an interview with Davis Mac-Iyalla. (h/t Jim Naughton)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

 
Time Magazine calls for clarification from Akinola
[updated below]

David Van Biema writes (Thurs, March 8) [my emphasis]:
Awkward as it may be for an outsider to intrude in the doings of a country or a church that is not his own, I nonetheless believe that the Most Rev. Archbishop Peter Akinola has some explaining to do. The Anglican Primate of Nigeria, one of the most powerful churchmen in Africa, needs to clarify his stance on a Nigerian anti-homosexuality bill he initially supported, which assigns a five-year prison term not only for practicing gays, but also for those who support them. Akinola either needs to publicly renounce, in strong terms, his early support of the bill's punitive clauses and to amplify the rather tepid concern he later expressed about them, or else he needs to explain why he's not doing so to the dozen or so churches in Virginia whose congregants were largely ignorant of the legislation when they voted to join Akinola's archdiocese in December.
Please read the whole thing.

Van Biema concludes, significantly [again, my emphasis]:
A few months ago, Nigerian religion expert Abieyuwa Ogbemudia said to my colleague Gilbert daCosta, "It is incredible for any church to even tolerate homosexuality and survive in Nigeria. Your church would be dead in the water." Akinola, however, has proven himself in the past to be a brave man. He took a strong and important stance against Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo's bid for an extraconstitutional third term. He needs to be brave again and speak out against the penalties in the Nigerian bill. If he truly has concerns about human rights, he should express them with vigor. Failure to do so ought to prompt his new Virginian congregants to give a second thought to their choice of Akinola as their shepherd.
I would go beyond the question of Archbishop Akinola's personality and beliefs and argue that even if the legislation fails to pass, his "new Virginian congregants" may soon realize that even the best intentioned men are required by the pressures of Nigerian politics and cultural mores to do things that are demonstrably wrong, especially when that man is as important to Nigerian society as the Archbishop of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion).

If so, Nigeria is no safe haven from the storm. I think a great many parishes departing The Episcopal Church will soon come to this realization, if they haven't already.

UPDATE March 9, 09:22. Jim Naughton (and Simon Sarmiento of Thinking Anglicans) finds the tone of the Time piece to a bit off. I agree with him, especially on the factual matters.

However ... I don't think the Time piece is aimed so much at getting Archbishop Akinola to change his mind or offer an explanation as it is at getting the Virginian parishes to rethink their decision. He's making the Archbishop out to be "not such a bad guy after all" (while still in error), while making it perfectly clear that most Virginian parishioners didn't know what they were getting themselves into.

Jim, I think, may be stating too strongly how much these parishioners knew. I've gotten lots of emails in private, even from Virginian vestry members who are still deciding whether to leave the Episcopal Church for Nigerian oversight, wondering if what I have been saying on my blog is true. If I were a traditionalist parishioner reading only what had been written by Bishops Minns and Akinola on the subject (see here for links to their letters, etc.), and following their implicit suggestion that I ignore anything Bishop Chane had written in the Washington Post, then I would be in a pretty ignorant position, indeed!

Commenter C.B. on Jim's blog echoes this thought (just now!).

 
The New York Times weighs in, big time
[updated below]

OK, not so fast, Matt. You're not going on vacation just yet.

The New York Times editorial page assaults the Nigerian gay marriage legislation, and drags the Anglican Communion along with it. If conservative American Anglicans think they can keep ignoring this, they're dangerously mistaken.

Time to speak up. Disassociate yourselves from this immediately, and do so clearly, explicitly, and without rationalization.

From the Times [my emphasis]:
A poisonous piece of legislation is quickly making its way through the Nigerian National Assembly. Billed as an anti-gay-marriage act, it is a far-reaching assault on basic rights of association, assembly and expression. Chillingly, the legislation — proposed last year by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo — has the full and enthusiastic support of the leader of Nigeria’s powerful Anglican church. Unless the international community speaks out quickly and forcefully against the bill, it is almost certain to become law.
It's not long. Read it all.

This all makes me wonder -- are some of the Episcopal leaders who are leaving the Episcopal Church (or who have already left) really thinking hard enough about going under Nigeria's oversight? Are their parishioners?

UPDATE March 8, 10:21. Jim Naughton caught this, too. And well before I did.

 
Passage still imminent
Human rights workers are still fighting hard in Nigeria to defeat the "same-sex marriage legislation." The delay in a vote (it looked at one point as if the legislation would get a vote in the Nigerian Senate last Friday) is a good thing. But there has been no concrete news since before the weekend, so I have nothing to report. Further, I am disappearing for a short while to take care of some job-related issues. However, I will continue to monitor the news -- if anything comes up, I will post ASAP, if briefly.

And you conservative Anglicans out there -- I love you, but you gotta speak out! This is your last chance. Be sure to read Ephraim Radner's comment.

I expect to be blogging at full strength again on or after 18 March, but stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

 
News from Tanzania that interests me
Seriously, this is the only thing that I've read to have come out of Tanzania in the last several months that has peaked my interest.


(Photo credit Nils Hagar, World Wildlife Fund, via the NYT)

Evolutionary "hotspots," as they are called, arise in regions that have been geographically isolated and environmentally stable for very long stretches of time. Under these conditions, populations tend to evolve characteristics that set them far apart from neighboring populations outside the "hotspot," and with diversity not found elsewhere.

The Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania comprise one of these hotspots. For example:
In 2005, for example, scientists discovered a new species of monkey, a slender, tree-dwelling primate called the Kipunji. At first it appeared to belong to a group of monkeys called mangabeys. But last year scientists studying its DNA were surprised to discover that it was not a mangabey at all; its closest kin are actually baboons.
The New York Times' Carl Zimmer has the coverage. Read it all.

 
Fighting HIV/AIDS through Shar'iya
A fascinating and non-polemic article in This Day (Lagos) by Imam Imam on the challenges and triumphs of fighting HIV/AIDS in Zamfara State, Nigeria, a Shar'iya state.
One positive aspect of the battle against Aids in the state is how some people infected with the disease raised to ensure its spread is limited. Hajiya Asma'u Muhammed Ibrahim is HIV-positive and since last year, she has been the leading voice in the fight against discrimination. The virus infected her through her husband who "got it somewhere." Always in her Hijab (Islamic head wear), Asma'u moves from house to house in Gusau, the state capital and other towns and villages to sensitise the people.

She does not feel different from other people and expressed delight that ARVs are made available to them free of charge at designated government hospitals. She said as part of measures to alleviate the sufferings of those infected with HIV virus, the Federal Government has agreed to establish four additional anti-retroviral centres in Zamfara State so as make the drugs available to people living with the virus in the state.
Read the whole thing.

Monday, March 05, 2007

 
Nigerian Senate VP Mantu
[updated significantly below. And I've heard word that calling or writing the Nigerian government directly is unlikely to do any good. So I've added contact info for the Church of Nigeria, and deleted the embassy numbers.]

Nigerian Deputy Senate President Ibrahim Mantu (see here) was in DC today. I have it on good authority that a letter of protest was delivered to him by Congressman Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo, California, 12th District) regarding the "gay marriage" legislation. No word on the text of Lantos' letter.

Letters to Nigeria by American legislators is nothing new. Another letter was sent to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo by Congressman Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts, 4th District) on May 2, 2006. The text can be found here. Frank's argument was that as ranking member (and now Chair, I should add) of the Financial Services Committee, he had the power to cut off aid to Nigeria should Obasanjo sign the legislation. I wonder if that threat is still intact.

Make calls of support to Congressmen Lantos and Frank, and encourage your friends to do the same:
Congressman Tom Lantos
2413 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202-225-3531

Congressman Barney Frank
2252 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202-225-5931
Email is good, but a phone call is way better. Tell them that you appreciate their concern for civil rights abroad, and their efforts to encourage Nigeria to avoid making a terrible mistake.

If you're a Republican, get over it and give these folks a call anyway. They're doing God's work with this legislation, and they're doing it right now.

Also, I should add, if and only if you're a member or incipient member of a CANA parish, contact Bishop Martyn Minns:
The Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns
mminns@trurochurch.org
703.273.1300 x140
Truro Church
10520 Main Street
Fairfax, Virginia 22030
If and only if you're a member of a Network parish or diocese, contact Bishop Robert Duncan:
The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan
duncan@pgh.anglican.org
412-281-6131
Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh
900 Oliver Building
535 Smithfield Street
Pittsburgh, PA, 15222-2467
If you're an Anglican, contact Archbishop Rowan Williams and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori:
The Most Reverend Rowan Williams
The Press Office
Lambeth Palace
London SE1 7JU
Tel: 020 7898 1200
Fax: 020 7261 1765
Press Secretary's email: jonathan.jennings@lambethpalace.org.uk

The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017
E-mail: pboffice@episcopalchurch.org
Phone: (800) 334-7626
If you're "nothing at all," and you don't know who to write, contact your US Representative or Senator, or the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) -- BE POLITE!:
Archbishop Peter Akinola (primate@anglican-nig.org)

Archbishop Akinola's Communications Director, Canon Akintude Popoola (communicator1@anglican-nig.org)
What to say:
Tell them all that the "same-sex marriage" legislation before the Nigerian Federal Assembly is undemocratic, it violates the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, it has been condemned by the US State Department and 16 human rights organizations, it is in violation of the Nigerian Constitution, and it is in violation of Christian and Muslim principles.

Most importantly, stress the urgency of action, and above all, be very, very polite.

 
From the comments: Ephraim Radner
I hope he won't mind my posting his comment to the front page of my blog, but his words are significant. The Nigerian legislation -- and Archbishop Akinola's explicit endorsement of it -- are serious issues that transcend the theological and ecclesiological crises that rend the Anglican Communion. Common ground must be found. To do so, liberals must be willing to grant, at least in this one instance, that Akinola's endorsement is grave enough to overlook their distaste of their opponents' "theological and evangelical" arguments against homosexuality, and grave enough to lead conservatives to understand that this is their problem to fix and their burden to bear.

I post Ephraim's comment here in its entirety, and I look forward to your thoughts.
Dear Matt,

Unlike some, I don’t have a problem with the single-minded way you have pursued this issue. It is an important one. While I don’t agree with everything you write on the topic, I believe that the credibility of Christian witness – and that obviously includes conservative Christians as much as anybody – demands some clear articulation of our duties to protect basic human rights and our willingness to fulfill these duties. In this case, as you know, I believe that these basic human rights, included in God’s own purposes for human life and understood communally within the larger society of nations, would be subverted by major parts of this proposed legislation (especially in sections 7 and 8). It needs to be said that the essay that Andrew Goddard and I wrote on this topic – and that we forwarded to the Nigerian Church via Martyn Minns – was posted on an evangelical Anglican website (Fulcrum) and certainly represents the views of many conservative Anglicans (as you suggest it probably does). It is quite possible to admire Abp. Akinola’s spiritual and missionary leadership – and I do, greatly – without agreeing with (and by in fact publicly disagreeing with) his support of this proposed legislation. You are right: this is an area where Anglican Christians across of the board ought to be able to be of one mind, even if they continue to stand far apart on basic theological principles dealing with sexuality. It is interesting, however, that there seem to be very few persons in the gay inclusionist wing of the church who are willing to accept this common ground: to argue for the theological and evangelical unacceptability of same-sex behavior, they claim, is already to have attacked the human rights of homosexuals. I have heard this claim made many times in response to my own views. In this kind of climate, it must be admitted, it is hard to make the kinds of distinctions necessary to bring conservatives and liberals together on this fundamental ground. I appreciate your more sensible – and to my mind, truthful -- approach.

Ephraim Radner
If it interests you to take part in finding this common ground -- and especially if you are a conservative -- please email me, and we'll see where it leads. Reaching out on this issue would work wonders to engender good will for the coming months, and could even save thousands of gay and lesbian Nigerians from harassment, gratuitous violence, and other forms of persecution.

Remember, the bill could pass presently, and if it does, and you've said nothing, then it's partly your fault.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

 
Apologies
I recently posted two entries regarding comments made by Canon Kendall Harmon, the proprietor of Titusonenine, to Howard Lesser of the Voice of America. Reaction to these entries, both on his blog and on Thinking Anglicans, has disturbed me. Many engaged in the debate over homosexuality in the Anglican Communion wish to make the issue of Archbishop Akinola's endorsement of the Nigerian "gay marriage" legislation part of their own partisan polemics. This is a grave mistake, and it shows in the ugliness and personal nature of many of the comments on both sites.

The dangers associated with Archbishop Akinola's endorsement transcend the current crisis. Conservatives -- no matter how justified their position might be -- run the risk of looking like monsters, bent on jailing their opponents rather than hearing them out; gay and lesbian Nigerians lose by being put in prison for their speech. Until the implications of Akinola's endorsement are resolved, neither side can reasonably come to the table with an interest in honest discussion. Whatever we think of Peter Akinola as a person and as a spiritual leader, he was wrong to have endorsed legislation that would effectively put in prison those that disagree with him on the issue of homosexuality, and his actions must be admonished and corrected.

While the negative comments were not my own, I want to personally apologize to Canon Harmon for making him the target of vitriol from the left (such comments on Thinking Anglicans as "it's amazing how multiculti Harmon and the others can get when it furthers their plan to take over the church" were beyond the pale). He has been very gracious to me on his blog. I hope to return the favor continuously.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

 
Clarification on the "Shar'iya" bomb
Canon Kendall Harmon, proprietor of Titusonenine, has now made it quite clear to me and to his readers that "I have not been able to find the text of the legislation, but there is no way I could support it based on the way it sounds like it will be worded."

This is, of course, really, really good to hear, but I'm not at all surprised. I never for an instant thought that Canon Harmon thought this legislation was a good idea -- I feel I've gotten to know him over the last year or so that I've been lurking on his blog, and I can say with certainty that he is a good and decent man.

That said, now that he has a copy of the most recent version of the legislation (see here), I wonder if he can join me and others in explicitly declaring exactly what it is about the legislation that he doesn't like, and explicitly calling for Archbishop Akinola to withdraw his support for those sections of the bill that offend him (and which should offend the Archbishop).

Canon Harmon took some umbrage at my characterization of his position on the bill, and he has since corrected the record, as have I. But it's important that he understand what it was that I found so troubling about his statement to the Voice of America's Howard Lesser.

Bishop Martyn Minns of CANA, and rector of Truro Church, said in a public statement (March 4, 2006) that "I do NOT believe that criminalization is an appropriate response to those who understand themselves to be homosexuals. Resolution 1.10 from the Lambeth Conference in 1998 is a good summary of my convictions on this contentious issue."

Bishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Communion Network said (March 15, 2006) that "the proposed law sounds harsh to American ears."

These quotes are from statements in defense of Archbishop Akinola following a Washington Post Op-Ed (February 26, 2006) by Bishop John Bryson Chane (Diocese of Washington, DC), in which Bishop Chane quite accurately said:
... the Nigerian law has crossed the line in several important respects. Its most outrageous provision deals not with marriage but with "same-sex relationships" and prohibits essentially any public or private activity in any way related to homosexuality. It reads in part: "Publicity, procession and public show of same sex amorous relationship through the electronic or print media physically, directly, indirectly or otherwise are prohibited in Nigeria."

Any person involved in the "sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly" is subject to five years' imprisonment.

The archbishop's support for this law violates numerous Anglican Communion documents that call for a "listening process" involving gay Christians and their leaders. But his contempt for international agreements also extends to Articles 18-20 of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which articulates the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, association and assembly.

As far as I can tell, Bishop Chane, Bishop Duncan, Bishop Minns, and Canon Harmon would all agree in principle with these words. If I am mistaken, I would like very much to be corrected. But my point is that there are certain principles at stake here, principles of honesty and decency, that both sides of the broader debate within the Anglican Communion on the subject of homosexuality should be able to agree upon.

If Chane's words from the above quote represent the views of all of these men, then none of them should have any difficulty stating as much in public.

Canon Harmon should have been able to say to the Voice of America's Howard Lesser (perhaps he did) that while he opposes the consecration of gay priests and bishops and the blessing of same-sex marriages, he also opposes any legislation that would put gay and lesbian Nigerians in prison for advocating on their own behalf, and he furthermore believes that Archbishop Akinola made a mistake by endorsing the legislation without qualification.

Instead, what we have heard from Bishop Minns, Bishop Duncan, Archbishop Akinola, and lately Canon Harmon amounts to quiet acquiescence to the "background" noise of Shar'iya in Nigeria. This is not a particularly brave position, and it shows a willingness to rationalize rather than clarify, and a desire to protect an ally rather than correct his error. It is also a specious position, given that there are Nigerian Muslims in both Houses who oppose the legislation. Thus, I was surprised and disturbed enough by Canon Harmon's words to blog on the fact that he appeared to have been the latest to drop the "Shar'iya" bomb.

Canon Harmon now has a copy of the latest version of the legislation. He knows it will soon pass, and he knows enough of its history to know the score. What say he?

 
The legislation under debate
I've received a request to provide the latest version of the Nigerian "same-sex marriage" legislation under debate in the Nigerian Federal Assembly. The following was provided to me by Scott Long of Human Rights Watch. Scott tells me that it is the same version that was debated before the Nigerian Senate last week.

For the record, it is also the same version that was published as an appendix to the Andrew Goddard / Ephraim Radner article from Fulcrum, linked to on my banner above [I have made no edits other than to format it for the web]:
A BILL FOR AN ACT TO MAKE PROVISIONS FOR THE PROHIBITION OF SEXUAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PERSONS OF THE SAME SEX, CELEBRATION OF MARRIAGE BY THEM AND FOR OTHER MATTERS CONNECTED THEREWITH

BE IT ENACTED by the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as follows-

1. Short Title

This Act may be cited as Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2006.

2. Interpretation

In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires-

“Marriage” means a legally binding union between a man and a woman be it performed under the authority of the State, Islamic Law or Customary Law;

“Minister” means the Minister responsible for Internal Affairs”

“Same Sex Marriage” means the coming together of two persons of the same gender or sex in a civil union, marriage, domestic partnership or other form of same sex relationship for the purposes of cohabitation as husband and wife.

3. Validity and Recognition of Marriage.

For the avoidance of doubt only marriage entered into between a man and a woman under the marriage Act or under the Islamic and Customary Laws are valid and recognized in Nigeria.

4. Prohibition of Same Sex Marriage, etc.
  1. Marriage between persons of the same sex and adoption of children by them in or out of a same sex marriage or relationship is prohibited in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
  2. Any marriage entered into by persons of same sex pursuant to a license issued by another state, country, foreign jurisdiction or otherwise shall be void in the Federal Republic of Nigeria,
  3. Marriages between persons of the same sex are invalid and shall not be recognized as entitled to the benefits of a valid marriage.
  4. Any contractual or other rights granted to persons involved in same sex marriage or accruing to such persons by virtue of a license shall be unenforceable in any Court of law in Nigeria.
  5. The Courts in Nigeria shall have no jurisdiction to grant a divorce, separation and maintenance orders with regard to such same sex marriage, consider or rule on any of their rights arising from or in connection with such marriage.
5. Non-Recognition of Same Sex Marriage
  1. Marriage between persons of same sex entered into in any jurisdiction whether within or outside Nigeria, any other state or country or otherwise or any other location or relationships between persons of the same sex which are treated as marriage in any jurisdiction, whether within or out side Nigeria are not recognized in Nigeria.
  2. All arms of government and agencies in the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not give effect to any public act, record or judicial proceeding within or outside Nigeria, with regard to same sex marriage or relationship or a claim arising from such marriage or relationship.
6. Prohibition of celebration of same sex marriage in a place of worship
  1. Same sex marriage shall not be celebrated in any place of worship by any recognized cleric of a Mosque, Church, denomination or body to which such place of worship belongs.
  2. No marriage license shall be issued to parties of the same sex in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
7. Prohibition of Registration of Gay Clubs and Societies and Publicity of same sex sexual relationship.
  1. Registration of Gay Clubs, Societies and organizations by whatever name they are called in institutions from Secondary to the tertiary level or other institutions in particular and, in Nigeria generally, by government agencies is hereby prohibited.
  2. Publicity, procession and public show of same sex amorous relationship through the electronic or print media physically, directly, indirectly or otherwise are prohibited in Nigeria.
  3. Any person who is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a term of 5 years imprisonment.
8. Offences and Penalties.
  1. Any person goes through the ceremony of marriage with a person of the same sex is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a term of 5 years imprisonment.
  2. Any person performs, witnesses, aids or abets the ceremony of same sex marriage is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a term of 5 years imprisonment.
9. Jurisdiction

The High Court in the States and the Federal Capital Territory shall have jurisdiction to entertain all matters, causes and proceedings arising from same sex marriages and relationships.

EXPLANATORY MEMORANDUM

This Act shall prohibit in the Federal Republic of Nigeria the relationship between persons of the same sex, celebration of marriage by them and other matters connected therewith.
My objections are to Sections 6(1) (but not 6(2)), 7, and 8, but I am primarily worried about Sections 7 and 8, since they would effectively, and in the context of Nigeria's police and judicial systems, abridge all speech, assembly, press, and free exercise of religion rights for gay and lesbian Nigerians speaking out on their own behalf.

I can make no principled objection to Sections 1-5, or to 6(2), since these are provisions that are under debate in many states here in the US and it would be the weakest of arguments (if not rank hypocrisy) for me to call for gay marriage to be recognized by the Nigerian Federal Government if it is not so recognized in my own country.

Thus, I have only ever called for Archbishop Akinola to qualify his endorsement by explicitly denouncing Sections 6(1), 7, and 8. In addition, I believe that is only these changes to the legislation that Bishop Minns of CANA and Bishop Duncan of The Anglican Communion Network are morally obligated to pressure Archbishop Akinola to demand. Many will argue that failure to do so would be tantamount to organized and church-sponsored persecution of Nigeria's homosexual minority.

Friday, March 02, 2007

 
Canon Harmon drops the "Shar'iya" bomb
[updated below]

Canon Kendall Harmon, the proprietor of the right-leaning Anglican blog Titusonenine, was just interviewed by Voice of America's Howard Lesser about the meeting in Tanzania, and also about the legislation before the Nigerian Federal Assembly that would radically abridge basic civil rights (like speech, press, assembly, free exercise of religion) for gay and lesbian Nigerians.

In light of recent news developments (see here, here, and here), Canon Harmon's words, which echo the arguments made by other conservative American Anglicans, and by Archbishop Akinola himself -- that the legislation may be necessary given the threat of Shar'iya -- ring very, very hollow:

As for this week’s indications that Nigerian legislators plan to criminalize same sex relationships and all promotion of a homosexual lifestyle, Canon Harmon says he hopes the Nigerian diocese and its leaders will strike a balance that respects the region’s cultural history and the personal rights and freedoms of Nigerian citizens.

“Nigeria is closely divided between Islam and Christianity. So you have Sharia law in the minds of a lot of legislatures. From an American perspective, it looks very, very punitive relative to American legislation. So I think the hard part is the degree to which the Church can push back in a compassionate way and still try to uphold the teaching of the Church in a society where Islam and Christianity are competing strongly,” he said.

I have a great deal of respect for Kendall Harmon, and I don't want this come across as a personal attack.

But he "hopes that the Nigerian diocese and its leaders will strike a balance"? Too late! That ship has long since sailed. The very imminent passage of this legislation is rapidly turning into a serious PR disaster for anyone who continues to blame Shar'iya for this legislation, or who fails to recognize the implications this would have for potentially millions of Nigerians.

Here's an appropriate "balance" for Canon Harmon. Call for Archbishop Akinola to revise his endorsement to leave intact those parts of the legislation that state that gay marriage is not to be recognized by the Nigerian government, and strike those parts that would put a gay or lesbian Nigerian in prison for 5 years for disagreeing.

Simple.

UPDATE March 2, 2007, 12:29. Canon Harmon, via email, has indicated that he did in fact condemn the legislation, but that it did not make the tape, and that the interview with Lesser was intended to be about Tanzania. I believe him. He also said he would never support legislation like this.

However, I don't believe that I should be the one clarifying his position. One shouldn't have to take it from me.

UPDATE: I'm currently engaging Canon Harmon's readers on this subject on Titusonenine. Come by and check it out.

 
The blinkered "right"
From an undated interview of Martin Barillas, conducted by Michael Westfall, from the conservative web page TheRealityCheck.org [my emphasis]:
Michael Westfall: On these vital matters, do governments and world authorities really care about Biblical values and faith issues relative to their behavior? Does world morality continue to slide downward in important areas and if so, what are your views on the moral decline?

Martin Barillas: Certainly, there is a perception that the observance of moral values is in decline. In the 20th Century, we saw the onset of industrialized warfare in the trenches of the Somme during the First World War, Nazi death camps and Soviet pogroms before and during the Second World War, the bombing of civilians and the use of the atomic bomb by the Allies, abortion and contraception, and then the advent of gay rights. All of these are manifestations of the culture of death. ...

... An area of hope is that Christians in Africa, Asia, and Latin America may have a great deal to tell us about the importance of clinging to the anchor of faith. It is truly significant that Anglican bishops of Africa, for example, are leading the Anglican Communion in rejecting proposals to dignify homosexual relationships with the moniker of “marriage”.
Of course, if Barillas had read the legislation, he would know that it does far more than simply ban gay marriage, and abridges the full set of what we in the US would call First Amendment rights (the right to free speech, assembly, press, and exercise of religion). But never mind -- just before this, Barillas impeached himself entirely by donning the mantel of "protector of human rights" [my emphasis]:
Michael Westfall: What do you see as the role of the Church in protecting human rights around the world, who are the major players and do you see the role of the Church increasing or decreasing? Could you explain for our readers some of the other major human rights violations, and what kind of obstacles the Church faces in addressing these issues?

Martin Barillas: Christians, of whatever stripe, are called to not only praise the Lord but to share his word. This can be in not only evangelising but also taking risks as some missionaries and others do when they challenge economic and legal systems. My thoughts run to the many Catholic nuns and priests who have given their lives in witness to the Gospel when they put the spotlight on the violence and inhuman practices of the powerful. Christians may at times be at odds with government, even if it is the government of the United States.

In Latin America, the Church has long been persecuted by governments that have cozied up to US corporations such as United Fruit, mining and railroad interests [i.e., the United States]. There have been times in places like Guatemala in the 1980s when there was a price on the head of missionaries there. In El Salvador, three US missionaries were murdered there during the Reagan administration.

The Church, broadly speaking, must address human rights violations honestly and courageously. It has to be a beacon of hope and truth to all people.

This is the same line we hear from the Institute on Religion and Democracy (a non-democratic Christianist organization) over and over again. Culture is in decline. We must abridge the rights of those who threaten our culture. At the same time, we must invoke the human rights of our co-believers to protect them from attack by those who would attack our culture.

This is a very, very cynical understanding of of human rights, and it represents the rankest hypocrisy.

I should probably have ignored this interview, but there has to be some defense against this kind of nonsense.

 
Thoughts from Archbishop Rowan on an impending Anglican Schism
Nothing new to the Angliscenti, but it's important to put as strong a spotlight as possible on the nominal head of the Anglican Communion in the midst of an Anglican Church-sponsored campaign of discrimination in Nigeria.

From General Synod:
"Whatever happened," the Archbishop lamented, "to persuasion? To the frustrating business of conducting recognisable arguments in a shared language? It is frustrating because people are so aware of the cost of a long, argumentative process. It is intolerable that injustice and bigotry are tolerated by the Church; it is intolerable that souls are put in peril by doubtful teaching and dishonest practice. Yet one of the distinctive things about the Christian Church as biblically defined is surely the presumption (Acts 15) that the default position when faced with conflict is reasoning in council and the search for a shared discernment."
As someone who has not picked sides in this grand Anglican crisis -- but who has simply found himself disturbed into action by one side of the debate -- I find Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan William's words to ring with truth, but to be hollow with impotence due to their inconsistent application.

He has on repeated occasions spoken out against what he sees as "doubtful teaching and dishonest practice." But when a concrete example of "toleration" (if not support) of "injustice and bigotry" is right before his nose (I am, of course, referring to the situation in Nigeria), he says absolutely nothing.

Perhaps the Archbishop is being poorly advised.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

 
Passage Imminent 11
Human Rights Watch has put out another, highly informative press release that summarizes the situation in Nigeria eloquently. The release was published by Reuters AlertNet in its entirety, and in a summarized form by the BBC.

The latest news on the legislation, from the press release [my emphasis]:
The legislation was first introduced in January 2006 by Nigeria’s minister of justice, Bayo Ojo. It lay dormant for months in the National Assembly, as nationwide elections – scheduled for April 2007 – drew near. On February 12, 2007, however, a public hearing was called in the House of Representatives Women’s Affairs Committee with only two days’ notice. A coalition of Nigerian human rights organizations opposed to the bill was initially told it could not address the hearing, as it was by invitation only. Although the groups were later allowed to speak, the bill has apparently moved forward rapidly in both Nigeria’s House and Senate without further public debate. It is reportedly poised for a third reading in the Senate on March 1, after which it could become law.
In other words, still not law, but it's getting closer every day.

Here's a bit of history to add to Scott Long's account (in the HRW press release). Archbishop Akinola (Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion) pushed hard for this legislation. Twice he publicly and explicitly endorsed the legislation. The legislation was approved by the President's Executive Council a few weeks after the embarrassing (for Akinola) appearance of Changing Attitude Nigeria (a gay and lesbian Anglican organization) and its extensive coverage by the press, even by the New York Times. Since the legislation would ban Changing Attitude from operating in Nigeria, one wonders not only about the timing, but also about the rationalizations that Akinola has put forward to his American supporters that he does not endorse jailing gay people.

For God's sake, where are the conservative Anglicans? Why don't they see this for the public relations disaster that it is?

The "Christian Leaders" letter to Nigerian politicians was signed only by liberal Anglicans, but of all the members of the Anglican Communion, they are the least likely to sway the Nigerian legislature. Akinola's conservative supporters -- by failing to add their voices to the voices of their liberal co-religionists -- are betraying themselves, their followers, and all of us, but most of all the gay and lesbian Nigerians who will endure the worst of it. If conservative Anglicans (and Archbishop Rowan Williams) fail to condemn this sub-human bit of populist nonsense and if they fail to condemn Akinola's endorsement, they will bear the shame of it to their graves.

This could have been stopped a long time ago. Instead, conservative Anglicans saw it as just another cog in their battle with the liberal Episcopal Church.

Remember, it's not too late to do something about this. See here for whom to contact to speak your mind (especially if you're a conservative Anglican -- you, most of all).

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

 
Passage Imminent 10
What a letter! Wiser heads than those on the Anglican Right express exactly the right sentiment, addressed to the President and Deputy President of the Nigerian Senate (a southern Christian and a northern Muslim -- Mantu is the current avatar of Nigerian Muslim tolerance):
Most importantly, this bill would strike at the equality, dignity and respect due all people in Nigeria. As faith leaders we are committed to building bridges of understanding across divides of difference. We believe all people of faith are called to work together for a world of justice, peace and equality. We urge you to resist the polarizing rhetoric of some narrow, religious ideologues and instead affirm the fundamental values of freedom reflected in the Nigerian Constitution.

We are asking that you oppose this bill and protect the equality of all Nigerians. Your assistance is necessary in order to overcome the discrimination that takes place in the world today. We are depending on you to do all you can to prevent this bill from being passed and to take a stand for the basic human rights of all people.
Read the whole thing (there are over 250 signatories -- none of them conservative -- but I am really, really looking forward to standing corrected on that point). A press release from Human Rights Watch accompanies the letter. Will this letter do any good? Here's hoping.

Andrew Sullivan linked here earlier, inspiring an old-school Episcopalian to respond on behalf of Nigerian gays and lesbians. Quote:
In the US, many parishes within ECUSA split long ago over the issue of the role of women. We have been here before. In my view, the Episcopal Church in the United States of America is better for having let those voices of repression depart. I say, "Good riddance." While I would never refuse to take the Eucharist with a declared homophobe or misogynist and I continue to pray that we all become more tolerant of one another, the day of reckoning is upon us, and it is better that, as organized churches, we part company and, in the words of St Paul, work out our own salvations.
I don't take a position on "schism," except that I would rather it occur sooner rather than later, so that the cooler-headed conservatives in the Anglican Communion (yes! they exist!) can speak out without worrying about maintaining solidarity with Archbishop Akinola.

 
No news today ... so far
A quick scan of the Nigeria press today reveals nothing so far. But the Nigerian Senate isn't expected to vote until tomorrow. Stay tuned.

If you haven't already called or written the relevant folks, see here for relevant contact info. And do it now!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

 
Passage Imminent 9
[updated below, three times]

The roman numerals were getting ridiculous (let alone the increasing size of the actual numbers).

At the risk of generating a bit of blog-circularity, Jim Naughton has important news from Nigeria. The Nigerian Senate is expected to vote on the legislation this Thursday (less than 48 hours from now). The Nigerian House is ready to vote as well.

If you belong to a parish or other organization that has supported Archbishop Akinola's spiritual leadership in the Anglican Communion, but you are disturbed (as we all should be) by his endorsement of legislation that would put gay and lesbian Nigerians in jail for organizing and that would irrevocably damage the Church of Nigeria's ministry to gay and lesbian persons not to mention their physical and mental well-being, now is the time to act.

If your parish is a member of CANA, or is considering departure to CANA, write or call:

The Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns
mminns@trurochurch.org
703.273.1300 x140
Truro Church
10520 Main Street
Fairfax, Virginia 22030

If you belong to a Network parish or diocese, write or call:

The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan
duncan@pgh.anglican.org
412-281-6131
Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh
900 Oliver Building
535 Smithfield Street
Pittsburgh, PA, 15222-2467

If you are not a member of a Network or CANA (or incipient CANA) parish, please do not call or email.

Also, everyone should contact the Archbishop of Canterbury. His silence in the matter has been astonishing. His office can be reached here:

The Most Reverend Rowan Williams
The Press Office
Lambeth Palace
London SE1 7JU
Tel: 020 7898 1200
Fax: 020 7261 1765

BE POLITE!! And remember, the issue here is not whether homosexual acts should be made legal (they're already illegal in Nigeria), nor whether gay marriage should be made legal (it already is not recognized by the government), but that the basic civil rights of a minority (speech, assembly, press, free exercise of religion) must not be abridged in the name of religion!

This is not a question of "context," either. The Nigerian Constitution guarantees all these rights for its citizens, regardless of religious beliefs. And for good reason: in a nation split as evenly as Nigeria is between Christians and Muslims, tolerance is a virtue.

It is also not a question of Muslim encroachment. Muslim legislators have called for caution in implementing this legislation -- if a Muslim can speak out with impunity, why can't an Anglican?

This is your last chance to meaningfully break your silence.

UPDATE Feb 27, 12:12. From Integrity via Jim Naughton, here's even more you can do, especially if you don't belong to a Network or CANA parish:
Davis Mac-Iyalla of Changing Attitude Nigeria is asking for our help. Here are two concrete things you can do ...

1) Send an e-mail to Archbishop Peter Akinola (primate@anglican-nig.org ) asking him to use his considerable influence with the Senate to defeat the bill. Remind him that paragraph 146 of the Windsor Report states that, ''any demonising of homosexual persons, or their ill treatment, is totally against Christian charity and basic principles of pastoral care."

2) Call the Nigerian Embassy (202-986-8400) in Washington, DC, to express your concerns about the bill. Remind embassy staff that Nigeria is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees freedom from unfair discrimination and the right to privacy. Parts of the act are also inconsistent with the principle of non-discrimination found in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the Nigerian Constitution.

NOTE regarding the Nigerian Embassy -- it's better to fax a note and address it to the General Assembly. Their fax number is (202) 362-5684 (h/t one of Jim Naughton's commenters, A. MacArthur).
These can be tough phone calls to make / emails to write, but they're worth it. Don't delay.

UPDATE II Feb 27, 13:46. Sammy Morse recommends alternative contact info for those outside the US:
Nigerian High Commission in London:
9 Northumberland Avenue
LONDON
WC2N 5BX
chancery@nigeriahc.org.uk
Tel: (+44) 020 7839 1244

Nigerian Embassy in Dublin:
56 Leeson Park
Dublin 6
Tel: (+353) 1 660 4051

E-mail form on their website - https://www.nigerianembassy.ie/dublin/content/en/contacts.htm
Thanks for this.

UPDATE III March 2, 09:51. Hat tip to Susan Rusell for providing a letter template for writing to Archbishop Akinola. It's a good, polite letter. I recommend it:

Dear Archbishop Akinola,

It is urgent that you use your influence with the Senate of Nigeria to oppose the Same-sex Marriage Prohibition Act. Please remind the Senators that:

1) Paragraph 146 of the Windsor Report of the World Wide Anglican Communion states that "any demonizing of homosexual persons, or their ill treatment, is totally against Christian charity and basic principles of pastoral care"; and

2) Nigeria is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil andPolitical Rights, and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, which guarantee freedom from unfair discrimination, and the right to privacy; and

3) Those rights are also affirmed in the Constitution of Nigeria.

Embellish the letter how you will, but be polite!!! Akinola's email address is Primate@anglican-nig.com.

Please also CC: Archbishop Akinola's Communications Director, Canon Akintude Popoola, at communicator1@anglican-nig.org. Canon Tunde has played an active role in defending Akinola's endorsement of the legislation.

 
Passage Imminent VIII
The Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) just announced their public support of Peter Akinola in a press conference in Abuja, condemning any group that might wish to make same-sex marriage lawful in Nigeria. As I've made clear, I don't wish to enter the debate on whether Nigeria should recognize same-sex marriage as long as we in the US are still having a democratic debate on the subject -- that is, if Nigerians decide that they don't wish to recognize same-sex marriage, there's not much I can do about it.

What's much more horrifying to me than the possibility that Nigeria should fail to enact pro-gay-marriage legislation (ha!) is that the current legislation radically abridges the right of gay and lesbian Nigerians to organize politically on their own behalf. But even worse than that has been the deafening silence of conservative American Anglicans (and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams) who are all too happy to acquiesce and rationalize Akionla's endorsement to maintain rhetorical advantage in the midst of the political fight of their lives.

Meanwhile, there's an interesting and heartening editorial in Nigeria's Vanguard (February 27) by Rotimi Fasan, that speaks to both the HIV/AIDS dimension of the legislation's purported rationale, as well as its "unAfrican" dimension [my emphasis]:
There can be no harm, I believe, in Nigerians taking a closer look at the matter. For whether we like it or not, situations around us will not permit us to remain impervious to the questions raised by the issues any longer. For whatever it was worth, let’s not forget there was a prominent, religious gay lobby, from Nigeria, at the Dar conference. As I pointed out above, that homosexuality is a closet issue is no reason to believe that the practice is totally alien in these parts. Like in South Africa where HIV positive men sleep with under-aged girls in the mistaken belief that sex with virgins cures HIV/AIDS, homosexual acts are, in certain cases, believed in our part of the world to confer mystical powers on its practitioners. In some cases, it is seen as the harbinger of great wealth.

It is a known fact that one of the reasons adduced for one of the bloodiest coups in Nigeria’s history was the alleged overwhelming presence of homosexuals in the government that was to be displaced. The April 22, 1990 coup, announced/led by Gideon Orka, was partly staged to oust the ‘homosexual’ regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. Likewise, homosexuals supposedly populate the Yan Dauda cult. Thus, from whatever angle it is viewed, there are practising homosexuals among us. The essence of bringing discussion of homosexuality to the public domain is neither an attempt to offend the prudish sensibility of anybody nor engage in the prurient game of a voyeur. Rather it is to afford Nigerians an opportunity for a rational as opposed to a prejudiced response to the issue.

As I write this, a bill is being sponsored at the National Assembly to ban same sex relations. It was, last week, referred to the judicial committee of the Senate where some senators, led by Ibrahim Mantu, are totally opposed to any discussion of the matter. For them, discussing same sex relations, amounts to giving prominence to a culturally alien subject. But even as the debate goes on majority of Nigerians are, arguably, unaware of it. People like Mantu are, probably, afraid of Nigeria going the way of South Africa that has legislated in favour of same sex relations. But the question for me, however, is whether there is the slightest possibility of opening up avenues for a better understanding of homosexuality.
I can't speak to the size of the Nigerian constituency that holds Fasan's views, but it's good to hear someone in Nigeria publicly call for caution and rational discourse.

South Africa's Mail & Guardian covers the recent Tanzania conference from the perspective of those whom the legislation would affect the most, and from the perspective of the nominal "head" of the Anglican Communion:
The archbishop [Williams], who admits he may be unable to prevent schism in the 450-year-old church, said the public perception was that "we are a Church obsessed with sex".
Yep.

Monday, February 26, 2007

 
Passage Imminent VII
The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) and the God's Kingdom Society (GKS) have both announced their support of the Akinola-led Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) for its spearheading and strong support of the new legislation. The PFN's and GKS's announcement is not surprising in the least -- the legislation has had broad support from Nigerian religious groups since it was first introduced in January of last year.

Says the Vanguard (Lagos):
In separate statements over the weekend, Pastor Oritsejafor and the GKS president commended the head of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola for his strong stance against homosexuality as could be seen from the statement issued by the Anglican Church of Nigeria last year affirming the commitment of the church to the total rejection of the evil of homosexuality which is a “perversion of human dignity” and urging the National Assembly to expedite action and ratify the Bill prohibiting the legality of homosexuality.
Given the reluctance to pass the legislation by even some Muslim members of the Federal Assembly, Pastor Oritsejafor words on the subject are intriguing [my emphasis]:
Pastor Oritsejafor who was particularly piqued by what he described as "unnecessary politicking" by members of the Nigerian National Assembly on the bill argued that most of the socio-economic problems militating against the nation today are traceable to the erosion of our cherished family values.

According to him, "it does not make any sense for Nigerians to ape everything from the West because the African was created by God uniquely and for a special purpose and there is therefore no basis for us to imitate other cultures."

This brings us back to the most common argument made in defense of the legislation -- that homosexuality is unAfrican. What strikes me in Pastor Oritsejafor's words, though I'm sure he didn't mean it this way, is the implication that Africans were created separately. I fear to tread this politically dangerous ground, but this strikes me as a bridge too far. Thoughts?

I've thought quite a bit about the justifications made by important conservative Anglicans in favor of, in support of, or in acquiescence to the Nigerian anti-gay legislation. But what would its passage look like in practice?

Human Rights Watch has a new report (pdf) on the human rights outlook in Nigeria up to and after the April 2007 elections. They make no mention of the legislation in their report (there are, indeed, far greater problems faced by the Nigerian people, despite what the overheated rhetoric of my blog might suggest). Regarding the Nigerian police, they say:
Nigeria’s police and other security forces are implicated in widespread acts of torture and other ill-treatment, extrajudicial killing, and arbitrary arrest. Police officers routinely torture criminal suspects, often to extract “confessions” from them, while at the same time releasing other criminal suspects from custody in return for bribes. Police personnel routinely use the threat of violence or arrest to extort bribes from Nigerians who come into contact with them, often with the active encouragement of their commanding officers.
These are the same folks that are expected to fairly apply the new law once it's enacted. Given Changing Attitude Nigeria director Davis Mac-Iyalla's arrest and bribe-enabled release in late 2005, I'm sure that now-out gay and lesbian Nigerians have a lot to look forward to, and are filling out their asylum applications as we speak. I hope the State Department's condemnation of the new legislation will carry some weight during their subsequent asylum proceedings.

(And lest we forget, the problems faced by gay and lesbian Nigerians are not unique to Nigeria. Read this for more.)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

 
Passage Imminent VI
Muslim legislators are under pressure to back the Nigerian "gay marriage" legislation.

Why the Muslims? Perhaps, out of self-interest, they're not as comfortable giving up the concept of minority rights as their Christian coreligionists. Or perhaps they have a higher sense of the importance of pure democratic principles. Either way, where are the Anglican detractors?

We're waiting.

And ...

... making explicit what any biologist worth their salt knows, BBSNews explains (in perhaps too stark terms) that homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom is not as unusual as Archbishop Akinola makes it out to be.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

 
Passage Imminent V
[Updated below]

Coverage from the BBC that I had missed earlier (Feb 14), following on an earlier post [my emphasis]:
Speaking at the session, Deputy Speaker Austin Opara said he did not want Nigerians to forget their "religious and cultural backgrounds".

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the umbrella body for Nigerian Christians, called for speedy passage of the law, describing same sex unions as "barbaric and shameful".

The National Muslim Centre also condemned gay relations as "immoral, and runs contrary to our cultural and religious values".

The deputy chairman of the house committee on human rights Abdul Oroh [a man with a Muslim name from a predominantly Muslim state - MT] says it was hypocritical of proponents of the bill to use morality and religion as basis for their arguments.

"We should not be hypocritical here. I think we should deal with this subject dispassionately. While we are trying to protect morals and values, we must also remember to protect people's rights even if they are a minority," Mr Oreh said at the public hearing.

Wow, I don't think I possibly could have said it better than Oreh. Notice that CAN (the organization presided over by Archbishop Akinola of the Church of Nigeria) pushes hard for the bill, while a putative Muslim argues for minority rights!

With Oreh's words, we've now documented the thoughts of two Muslim legislators (MP Abdul Oreh, and Senator Ibrahim Nasir Mantu) who are reticent to pass the legislation. Where's the Anglican legislator?

Also: some coverage from The Jurist (Feb 23).

... and links to the UN Press Release I had mentioned earlier, with an accompanying article (h/t Simon Sarmiento).

UPDATE Feb 24 20:15. It occurs to me that Mr. Oreh's and Senator Mantu's words in the Nigerian Legislature would be made illegal by the new legislation as they could be liberally construed as providing "indirect" "sustenance" to "same-sex amorous relationship[s]" under Section 7(3). Hmmm.

 
The irony!
The Washington chapter of the Anglican American Council (from whom we've heard before, rather embarrasingly), has written a letter to the Diocese of Washington requesting that Jim Naughton at the Daily Episcopalian tone down his rhetoric (you tell me, after reading a few of his posts, whether you think his rhetoric is "divisive").

Aside from a series of rather hilarious logical flaws, the letter's most salient characteristic is that it has been published online, as far as I can tell, only by David Virtue, one of the least civil voices from the Anglican right, and the man from whom I first learned the term "homofecalerotic."

Does the AAC in Atlanta support this letter? If so, why didn't they publish it on their own website? If not, are they happy with their branch in Washington publishing on Virtue's site?

Please, AAC-Washington, stop embarrassing yourselves.

Friday, February 23, 2007

 
Passage Imminent IV
The UN weighs in today: (via Monsters & Critics)

Four UN special rapporteurs on racism, violence against women, xenophobia and related intolerance said in a statement that the draft bill is 'an absolutely unjustified intrusion of individuals' right to privacy' and goes against the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

'We are apprehensive that, if adopted, the proposed law will make persons engaging in, or perceived engaging in, same-sex relationships in Nigeria more susceptible to arbitrary arrests, detention, torture and ill-treatment, and expose them even more to violence and attacks on their dignity,' the statement said.

And from Reuters:
The independent experts, most of whom report to the Human Rights Council, the U.N. watchdog on fundamental freedoms, said the legislation amounted to an 'absolutely unjustified intrusion' into an individual's right to privacy.

'(It would) contravene ... the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that 'all human beings are born equal in dignity and rights',' they said in a statement.

... 'The bill contains provisions that infringe freedoms of assembly and association and imply serious consequences for the excerise of the freedom of expression and opinion,' the envoys' statement said.
Sadly, such rights are viewed as unimportant in the face of the threat of Nigerian homosexuality (This Day, Lagos, February 20, 2007):
The only right the Nigerian homosexuals and lesbians have is their right to be taken to the hospitals (or Babalawos or Dibias for those of them who are professed atheists) for treatment. Those who are sick should not be going about advertising their sickness.
If you want to feel sick, read the rest of the Sonnie Ekwowusi's disheartening op-ed, an op-ed mercifully ignorant of the Nigerian Constitution. Nigerian democracy is in bad shape.

I had always hoped that conservative American Anglicans, especially highly placed ones like Bishop Minns, could have gently nudged the Church of Nigeria in the right direction. Instead, these Americans have shown themselves to be either complicit in the CofN's plans by their acquiescence or support, or utterly impotent in their objections.

 
Passage Imminent III
[UPDATE -- this legislation is up for a vote in the Nigerian Senate tomorrow, March 1. For more on what you can do to speak out against it -- it's almost too late -- see here.]

For far too long, the Anglican church in Nigeria has used the "shari'ya" canard to justify their advocacy of the anti-gay bill currently before the Nigerian Senate.

On December 19 of last year, in an open letter to the Virginia parishes leaving the Episcopal Church for Nigerian oversight, Archbishop Peter Akinola was given the opportunity to rationalize his unequivocal endorsement of the legislation:
We recognize that there are genuine concerns about individual human rights that must be addressed both in the framing of the law and its implementation. I am glad to inform you that while the Honorable Speaker of the House, a Moslem, wanted the immediate and outright passage of the bill, the Deputy Speaker, an Anglican, persuaded his colleagues to allow full public debate on it.
The subtext here -- as emphasized innumerable times by conservative Anglicans supportive of Akinola's actions -- is that the efforts of the Nigerian Church in civil affairs are subject to extreme pressures from Nigerian Muslims, many of whom apparently believe that their Anglican brethren are light in the loafers.

The "pressure from Islam" thread has been repeated elsewhere. Here's Bishop Robert Duncan (Pittsburgh), the Moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, on March 15, 2006:
... it should be noted that while the proposed law sounds harsh to American ears, the penalty for homosexual activities in those parts of Africa under Islamic Sharia law (such as the Sudan and portions of Northern Nigeria for that matter) is death. It is precisely the imposition of these much harsher Sharia laws that Archbishop Akinola and other Anglican leaders in Africa have resisted so strongly for many years with little publicity or support from the West.
Here's (now) Bishop Martyn Minns, Rector of Truro Parish, Virginia, on March 4, 2006:
The situation in Nigeria is even more complex. There is a precarious balancing act between those regions that are under Muslim influence – where Sharia law calls for the stoning of homosexuals – and those that have a majority Christian population. The situation is volatile as demonstrated by the repercussions from the Danish cartoon saga that have already led to hundreds of Christian and Muslim deaths. Keeping the lid on this situation is a formidable task. In recent months homosexual activism sponsored in part by organizations from the UK and South Africa has threatened to add further instability. In response the President of Nigeria has proposed legislation that would restrict such activities.
Minns is now a bishop under Archbishop Akinola's oversight.

We are led to believe that a primary impetus for Akinola's unequivocal endorsement of the legislation is the threat of Islamic extremism.

Until we read this, from This Day (Lagos, Nigeria), February 22, 2007 [my emphasis]:

The Deputy Senate President, Senator Ibrahim Nasir Mantu (Plateau State) [a Muslim name] who spoke after the Senate Leader said that he would have thought that the government would devote more time to "do things more important to the lives of our country than for it to propose this Bill."

"What the government is now doing is creating awareness to this thing and for us to create this kind of awareness, people may now want to start exploring it. Mr. President we have more serious things to do than to be working on this bill, I therefore urge that members should help me to kill this bill." Senate Chief Whip, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma supported Mantu and argued that, "when you pass a law, it is meant to deal with a problem. My view is that the marriage act that we operate in Nigeria defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. As the deputy Senate President [Mantu] said, I think we should set this aside so that we can concentrate on the more important things we have to do."

What!??! A northern Nigerian Muslim doesn't think this legislation is important enough to warrant the attention it's getting? Hmm, that doesn't fit with Akinola's, Minns', and Duncan's argument. I'll have to give this logical puzzle some thought.

But notice what I think is the key phrase from Senator Udoma: "My view is that the marriage act that we operate in Nigeria defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman." That is, there is already a marriage law on the books that unequivocally defines marriage as between a man and a woman. This was new to me, and it makes it quite clear that even the nominally important aspect of the new legislation (a ban on gay marriage) is legally unnecessary. Homosexuality is already illegal in Nigeria; marriage is already defined as between a man and a woman.

All the new legislation does is ban activism and in a nakedly political fashion. Those who have endorsed this bill, and the allies of Akinola who have failed to actively criticize his endorsement of this legislation, have a lot to answer for.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

 
Passage Imminent II
Continues previous post.

Different country, different province, different Primate, same logical gap. From The New Vision (Uganda):
Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi refused Holy Communion while at the Anglican Communion Primates Summit in Tanzania over the issue of homosexuality.

He also reiterated his stance that the Church of Uganda cannot accept homosexuality because it contravenes the Bible and African culture.
Here, what I am particularly worried by is the idea that homosexuality is in contravention to African culture. There are a great many things that are African, and a great many things that aren't. But if there are, in fact, homosexual persons living in Africa who are African, can one really say that homosexuality is alien to the continent? Perhaps more importantly, can one really rule out the presence of homosexual behavior in Africa in the pre-colonial/imperial era?

The "unAfrican" argument is made ad nauseum in Nigeria in support of their anti-gay-civil-rights legislation. But if there are Nigerians (who last I checked are African) who disagree, and believe that homosexuality is not alien to African culture, shouldn't their voices be heard, even if they are in the minority?

The problem with the proposed legislation is not that it draws a line in the sand against gay marriage (hey! we're having that debate here in the US) but that it forces silence with prison sentences on those who quietly and peacefully disagree.

UPDATE February 23, 4:02 AM. Orombi's actions at the Primate's meeting in Tanzania run the risk of setting a counterproductive and bad example for how those who hold homosexuality to be sinful should behave in the face of disagreement. His refusal to take Communion -- while understandable in the context of a protest on his part -- signals to his flock that bread is not to be broken with one's spiritual enemies.

I am reminded of Matthew 9:
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Does Jesus approve of the behavior of these tax collectors and "sinners"? No. But does he refuse to eat with them, even though many might not be in repentance? Also no.

Orombi is setting himself up in the position of the Pharisees, providing those in the Province of Uganda who are antagonistic to homosexuality a rationale to refuse far more basic human kindnesses than the shared sacrament of Communion to their gay and lesbian Ugandan brothers and sisters.

 
Passage Imminent I
I haven't posted on the Nigerian legislation much lately due to pressing professional matters. I still won't be able to blog like I had been early on, but I'll introduce a series of posts covering news of the Nigerian Anti-Gay bill that's facing imminent passage by Nigeria's populist legislature prior to the upcoming Presidential elections:

This is the first of many posts. These are aimed at the conservative Anglicans in the US who are not aware (or avoid being aware) of what their allies in the Church of Nigeria (Anglican) have advocated. I am not trying to convince anyone here that gay marriage is a good idea, or that Nigeria should make it part of their civil code. Rather, I wish to make as many people as possible aware of this legislation's gross violations of the most basic of civil rights (in ways that have nothing to do with whether Nigeria should recognize civil relationships between gay people), and also that the legislation carries the strong strong endorsement of Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, the head of the Church of Nigeria.

I find all of the claims and reports made in the links to be entirely credible (some news sources stretch the truth -- I have not included them).

First, check on the IGLHRC's documentation of the practical impacts of the legislation on the lives of gay and lesbian Nigerians, Voices from Nigeria (pdf), November, 2006. Quote (from Davis MacIyalla):
In October 2005, after my organization’s first publication criticizing an archbishop of the church for his stance on homosexuality, eight of our members were apprehended by police while we were on our way back from a meeting. We were locked in a police station without food and water for three days. Eventually we were released. I am sure that we were apprehended because of my organization’s publication.
Read the whole thing.

Second, this article from Znet, on the "World's Worst Anti-Gay Law," February 22. Quote:
Even mere socializing by two or more gay people, like having dinner together, is likely to be interpreted as illegal.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals would be targeted not only for specific acts but also for simply existing under this proposed law, and even heterosexual people who "promote" the lifestyle of homosexuals, for example by selling them a house, would be criminalized.
Third, from the Gay City News, on "The Nightmare of Being Gay in Nigeria," February 19. Quote:
Public hearings on the bill were held last week by a committee of Nigeria’s National Assembly and it could be voted into law as early as next month.

With elections for the Presidency, Senate and House of Representatives in April, gay rights activists fear that politicians will put populism above human rights.

At the House committee hearing it emerged that over 100 petitions had been received objecting to the proposed new law, which would be one of the most draconian ever considered anywhere in the world.
More to come.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

 
Same-sex relationships make you "retarded"
... this according to Nigeria's special adviser to the president, Professor Friday Okonofua, at Friday's public hearings on the "same-sex marriage" (read "patent civil rights violations") bill before Nigeria's Federal Assembly, and now under active debate.

Same-sex relationships also apparently lead to cancer, depression, and a high rate of suicide (well, I can accept the latter two, especially in Nigeria).

The level of misunderstanding of homosexuality is so extensive in Nigeria that most lack even the basic tools to debate the subject intelligently. It's quite one thing to have firm religious convictions against homosexual practice (I have no problem with their beliefs), but it's quite another to play fast and loose with the facts when the speech, assembly, press, free expression of religion rights of "4%" of Nigeria's population are on the line. (For all you islamophobes out there who like to point to Shar'iya when justifying Akinola's support of this bill -- notice NO MENTION OF ISLAM in The Tide's coverage.)

This bill looks like it will pass before April's presidential elections. I don't think conservative Anglican supporters of Archbishop Akinola -- an ardent advocate for the bill's passage -- have any idea what they've gotten themselves into. Worse, the Anglican leadership's refusal to actively condemn Akinola's support for this legislation is a fantastic shame. May it follow them to their graves.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

 
A lullaby from the Heritage Foundation
The IPCC Summary for Policymakers is out, and it's some pretty serious stuff. Serious enough to give many a conservative think-tank the heeby-jeebies, and enough to lead them to release this balm to their adoring hand-wringers:
Just a Summary

It should be emphasized that only a short "Summary for Policymakers" has been released, not the actual report which contains the underlying scientific assessment. The final version of the full report is scheduled to come out later this year. IPCC summaries are written at the direction of political appointees representing member nations. The limitations and potential biases of such summaries give reason to withhold judgment until the scientists actually weigh in--both the IPCC scientists and especially the independent scientists who will comment on the final report. That the summary is being so aggressively marketed ahead of the science is itself reason for caution.
Read the whole thing. You'll notice a glaring omission -- no mention of the SFP's primary conclusion that there is a greater than 90% chance that current global warming is anthropogenic.

But don't think about that, Heritage's Ben Lieberman seems to say. Just focus on the independent scientists who will review the final report once it comes out to provide us all with good, bromidic arguments to avoid having to face up to reality.

Lieberman goes on to provide us with copy that could be written any and every day:
Science should play a big role in global warming policy, and the full IPCC Report should be a part of that. But economics must also play a role, lest the U.S. embark on a course that does more harm than good.
Duh.

So can we stop the denial now and get on with the hard work of deciding what to do? Where's our Stern Review? Shouldn't we in the US be commissioning dozens of them, each by different groups?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

 
Beware the religio-politico-economic complex
Evan Sparks of AEI congratulates the religious right on their "evangelical entrepreneurship":

Even evangelical churches that use “traditional” liturgies or are smaller than Saddleback organize themselves entrepreneurially. Hundreds of once-Episcopal parishes have, like The Falls Church and Truro, sought oversight from Anglican archbishops overseas, some joining formal mission dioceses set up by archbishops in Nigeria, Rwanda, Southeast Asia, South America, and Uganda. In these cases, technological innovation has aided evangelical entrepreneurship: dirt-cheap communications and relatively cheap travel have arranged previously impossible connections.

With its emphasis on innovation, experimentation, and change in the service of truth, evangelical theology has generated what one might call a favorable regulatory environment for religious innovation. Evangelical entrepreneurs say, “If you don’t like what’s around you, change! Leave! Try something new!” In this way, Protestantism has inculcated and preserved both liberalism and orthodoxy. At any rate, the evangelical entrepreneurs have ensured a wide variety of choice in religious belief and practice in the United States.

Do evangelicals really want this guy's help? "Try something new"?

Hilarious.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

 
Debating (political) conservatives on a religious blog about climate change
For the last several days, I've been engaged in what I thought to be an honest debate with a range of conservative readers of the blog Titus One Nine on the subject of climate change. The thread, and accompanying story, can be found here (I'm "Matt").

Kendall Harmon, the proprietor of the blog, for some reason allowed our comment-debate to go on for a very long time without any direct moderation. I'm grateful to him for that, as I think it proved to be a constructive debate for me, one that required I spend a bit more time reading the available literature and sharpening my understanding of areas outside my immediate knowledge, issues like economic discounting and the global economic costs of doing nothing versus doing something, etc.

One expects to learn a great deal in such debates. What one doesn't expect is the depths to which some participants will plunge when faced with the challenge of actually having to do the hard work of debate, as you'll see near the end of the thread.

What was also surprising was the extent to which the climate change denialist camp -- represented by some of my fellow commenters on that particular religious blog -- doesn't base its denialism on Christian principles (since both sides try to argue -- one side more successfully than the other, in my opinion -- that great harm could come to a great many people by taking decisive action or inaction). Nor does it base its argument on the science, since essentially no one responding to my comments ever brought up a credible scientific reason to doubt anthropogenic climate change.

Rather, the denialist camp is comprised of ideologically driven small-government optimists. And they're like proverbial (not literal) rats cornered (name-calling, etc.) when they are faced with having to substantively support their position.

This is a useful lesson for me. The denialists don't want to debate the science. They are much more interested in the implications of the fact of anthropogenic climate change: that we might have to rely on our representative government to tell us what to do.

UPDATE: Jan 21, 2007, 19:02. Again, the value of these debates is that they focus the mind. So advantaged, I want to briefly add what I now think are the critical questions that any debate about climate change must address, and address honestly:
  1. Is climate change occurring, and, as a corollary, is it likely to damage human economic, cultural, and political systems?
  2. If so, are we humans the cause of climate change?
  3. If so, are we able to stop it, and when must we begin to act to do so?
  4. If so, would it cost us more to act than it would cost to do nothing at all? (I credit BillS on the thread for making me aware of what's at stakes in this last question.)
Any debate that skirts or confuses these issues can't really be considered honest.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

 
For those who wish to blame Islam for Nigeria's troubles ...
... there's this interesting bit of analysis from the Voice of America.

Bottom line: relieve poverty, promote economic equality, tamp down corruption, and repair massive environmental damage to the Niger Delta, and there will be no religious conflict.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

 
A new strategy?
If you've read Thomas Ricks' Fiasco, you know that Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus is one of the good guys. Read Ricks' book if you want to know what I'm talking about (it's one of the few books critical of the Iraq War that leaves you feeling hopeful about the military).

I can in no way speak to whether there is anything that Petraeus can do at this late stage to improve the Iraqi disaster -- my gut tells me to be pessimistic -- but Bush could do far worse than to have appointed Petraeus to be the man in charge.