Thursday, December 21, 2006

No, but seriously ...

[edited twice for style early one morning]

... here's the serious post.

I am stunned by the PR corner Bishop Minns and Archbishop Akinola have put themselves in. They both know that Akinola can't back down on this legislation. It would make him look weak, and it would further his embarrassment among his Nigerian co-religionists about the consecration of Bishop Robinson (Diocese of New Hampshire).

But if they stay where they are, they have to weather the increasing hail of bad press Truro and The Falls Church have received after their votes to leave for the rather sordid "civil rights" pasture of the Church of Nigeria.

The two letters in the CANA release, while artful, avoid what's really at stake in this PR disaster: has the Archbishop, in fact, endorsed the legislation (twice), and does he now recant his endorsement or has he in any way softened his stance toward the wording of the legislation?

But it's best to proceed with their actual quotes (since I butchered Archbishop Akinola's in the last post). Here's what Bishop Minns had to say [my emphasis]:
I want to address one recurring untrue accusation concerning our attitude towards homosexual persons. Our vote was not an "anti-gay" vote. We affirm that as Christians we believe that every person, regardless of their sexual orientation, is made in the image of God, and deserving of the utmost respect. ... I have attached a recent letter from Archbishop Peter Akinola that addresses this same issue from his perspective. Please notice the difference between what he actually says and believes and the dismissive tag lines that are often attributed to him.
Well, that sounds great, and I wish I could stop there, but here are Archbishop Akinola's words on the matter:
Sadly, I have also heard that some are suggesting that you are now affiliated with a Church that seeks to punish homosexual persons. That is a distortion of our true position.
This is tough to swallow. The "distortion," as Akinola calls it, began with his own press releases (he implies that his Standing Committee is responsible for these, even though he signed his name to both -- Fr. Jake has more.) The Archbishop goes on, regarding the legislation [my emphasis]:
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.

I am troubled, however, by the silence of outside commentators concerning the rights of the clergy, Christians, and particularly converts to our Church whose lives are threatened and too often destroyed because of mob violence. I see no evidence of compassion for those whose rights are trampled on because of the imposition of unjust religious laws in many parts of the world. There seems to be a strange lack of interest in this issue.
With all due respect to the stature and importance and worthiness of the Archbishop's other ministries, this is a dodge. In fact, it's two separate "dodges".

The first is to suggest that the worst provisions of this bill are the Muslims' idea. While he's not happy with those provisions, he suggests, there's just no denying Nigerian Muslims what they want. Thank goodness, we should be saying, that there's an Anglican in the House of Representatives able to stand up to these Muslims and protect us Christians from their radicalism!

Small problem: if Archbishop Akinola had had these same reservations about this bill back in February, or back in September, why didn't he say so? Why let the debate go to the House of Representatives before "recogniz[ing] that there are genuine concerns about individual human rights"? If it is truly his position, today, that the bill goes too far in its particulars, and that it would violate the human rights of Nigeria's gay and lesbian population (he never says this explicitly), then he should provide suggestions for specific changes -- perhaps the removal of Sections 6 and 7? That way, the bill would still ban gay marriage, but not speech and all those other pesky civil rights necessary to a democracy.

Second dodge: Archbishop Akinola seems to be saying that the silence of his detractors when a church or cathedral is burned or a cleric is wounded or killed at the hands of Muslim extremists (a myth) bars them from any further discussion of the Archbishop's behavior, beliefs, or ministries.

This is not credible for two reasons. First, we who have ties to western Churches like the Anglican Communion are far more capable of affecting those institutions than we are capable of changing public opinion among Nigerian Muslims. We want our church and our institutions to be immaculate and beyond reproach. Of course, we would also like Islam in northern Nigeria to operate within the confines of civil discourse. We would like Shari'ya to be pushed back and for civil law to predominate. We recognize the dangers of Shari'ya, and we have been yelling about its abuses long before 9/11 and long before Archbishop Akinola began to endorse this legislation. There is, in fact, no "lack of interest" on that issue. If the Archbishop thinks otherwise, it might be because his would-be abuses -- as close to home as they are to so many of us -- have overshadowed those of Islam in our eyes, and that he has found this to be a bit of a shock.

But in an evaluation of the place of the Church of Nigeria in this "recent unpleasantness" in northern Virginia, it really doesn't matter what Islam does, which brings us to the second reason why his statement about "mob violence" is a dodge. Regardless of the troubles in Nigeria regarding Shari'ya, there is no consistent philosophical or theological position one can take that would allow a cleric as highly placed as Akinola to state that persecuted Christians in northern Nigeria should be protected as they do missionary work among their Muslim brethren, while at the same time stating that gay and lesbian Nigerians should lose their chance to speak out on their own behalf.

From a purely PR perspective, there are only three ways through this pickle. One, ignore the bad press and push on as usual, stopping every once in a while to shift the weight of the growing burden of bad public perception that CANA carries as it moves to Nigeria. Two, have Bishop Minns publicly denounce the legislation, saying that it should never have been endorsed by Akinola in the first place. I do not believe that Minns will do this, but it's an option. Three, have Archbishop Akinola withdraw his endorsement, or modify it.

There is no middle path here, even though they seem to want it both ways. The second and third options would alleviate much if not all of the bad press, but would damage Akinola's credibility, either here or in Nigeria. The first, which is the course most likely to be chosen, would represent a path of principle. Minns and Akinola would be saying, "we believe in what we are doing, now leave us alone." It would require that they stop defending Akinola's endorsements; they would have to own them. The position that they don't support the legislation, but actually do, is no longer tenable.

But PR isn't everything. How one bishop looks relative to another is ashes in the wind compared to the real suffering of gay and lesbian Nigerians that we can all expect should this legislation pass (and it will). Let's not forget that. Apparently these two have.

And Merry Christmas!

I'm flabbergasted

There's a new press release from Bishop Minns of Truro Church and Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria. It's basically damage control. If I could paraphrase the key bits of Akinola's letter, it would read something like this:
Thanks for your vote. I heard you guys are concerned that you're now "anti-gay". Not true. I love gay people. Many of my best friends are gay people. I also heard that you're worried about the fact that I endorsed that legislation, not once but twice. Yeah, I know. It looks bad. But we don't want to be like Massachusetts or Cape Town, do we? I mean, seriously. And besides, there was this one guy in the legislature, an Anglican, who wanted to debate the bill. The Muslim guy didn't. Did I mention that no one ever brings up the fact that there's Shari'ya in many northern Nigerian states? Anyway, thanks for your vote.
Serious commentary after these messages ...

[By the way, Jim Naughton and Fr. Jake have more.]

The Nation's Richard Kim asks the right question

Given these statements [of Archbishop Akinola's support of the "gay marriage" legislation], the attempts by Akinola's supporters to distance themselves (and him) from his previous support of this draconian legislation ring false. Is this crusade what the parishioners of Truro Church and Falls Church in Virginia, who according to World magazine include "leaders of government agencies, members of Congress, Washington journalists, and think-tank presidents," meant to endorse by siding with Akinola?
Richard Kim is not expected to "get it" when it comes to why these parishes are departing, but when will the parishes themselves "get it" why their realignment comes with this public stigma? Are they prepared to have their witness to the world be forever colored by their new Archbishop's failure to understand the basic importance of certain civil rights?

We're waiting.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

No surprise -- more bad press

The Economist doesn't really "get it" as to why parishes like Truro and The Falls Church have voted to leave, but the press is bad, either way. Quote [my emphasis]:
The breakaway congregations are putting themselves up for adoption by Anglican archbishoprics in the developing world. One would-be parent is a Nigerian bishop, Peter Akinola, who runs the largest province in the Anglican communion, and who has pronounced views on homosexuality: he supports legislation that would make it illegal for gays to form associations, read gay literature or even eat together. There are also suitors from Rwanda, Uganda and Bolivia.
From commentary at the Guardian (UK), which is indeed free [my emphasis]:
Now these two Virginia congregations have taken the plunge, placing themselves under the authority of Archbishop Peter Akinola, primate of the Church of Nigeria - a man who not only opposes gay bishops but enthusiastically supports a proposal by his nation's government to outlaw meetings of homosexuals. In doing so, these parishes - whose histories are wrapped up in the history of the founding of American democracy - have betrayed both their American and their Anglican roots.
This meme has stuck: Archbishop Akinola endorses legislation that would curtail basic freedoms for gay and lesbian Nigerians, most notably the right to speak out against their own oppression. The departing parishes now have the very tough task ahead of them of convincing others that they don't support jailing homosexuals, Bishop Minns words aside. A superficial PR campaign won't be enough.

UPDATE Dec 20, 9:18: From a Meyerson op-ed in the Washington Post:

... The presiding Nigerian archbishop, Peter Akinola, promotes legislation in his country that would forbid gays and lesbians to form organizations or to eat together in restaurants and that would send them to jail for indulging in same-gender sexual activity. Akinola's agenda so touched the hearts of the Northern Virginia faithful that they anointed him, rather than Jefferts Schori, as their bishop.

Monday, December 18, 2006

This time, paragraph three

Reuters has coverage of the recent Virginia parish departures. Mention of the Nigerian legislation? You betcha. Third paragraph:
The Nigerian church is headed by Peter Akinola, who has supported a proposed law in Nigeria that calls for prison terms for homosexual activity.
Will the press keep covering this story, day after day? No. But when it does come up, when new parishes leave for the Church of Nigeria's oversight, this will be one of the ways by which Peter J. Akinola is known.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Not whence but whither

[updated below]

Personally, the question for me has never been whether Episcopal parishes like The Falls Church or Truro in northern Virginia have the right to leave the Episcopal Church, nor do I particularly care if they fight to keep their property, or give it up to their diocese as they leave. In other words, I don't dispute the whence of their decision -- I'll grant them that they have just cause to leave the Episcopal Church, since I will challenge neither the courage nor the need for their decision.

What I will challenge is the whither. Why go to Nigeria, of all places? Well, Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times doesn't go into too much detail on the subject, and I must confess that I'm not sure I could adequately explain the historical reasons myself. But in her mention of the imminent departure of The Falls Church and Truro, she makes mention (but little more) of the primary reason one might object to Nigeria [my emphasis]:
In Virginia, the two large churches are voting on whether they want to report to the powerful archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, an outspoken opponent of homosexuality who supports legislation in his country that would make it illegal for gay men and lesbians to form organizations, read gay literature or eat together in a restaurant.
It is this paragraph that should give the greatest pause to those within the Episcopal Church who wish to realign with external Anglican provinces like Nigeria. Readers of the Times might well agree with the departing parishes' reasons for leaving -- i.e., the perceived non-evangelical character of much of the Episcopal Church and its countenance of homosexuality -- but would then go on to question why these parishes would wish to swing entirely to the other end of the spectrum and join the Church of Nigeria, whose highest church official has publicly called for the passage of legislation that would put gay and lesbian Nigerians in prison for just about anything.

What is obvious to some is not as obvious to others. It is possible to be against both homosexuality and jailing homosexuals. The Church of Nigeria (Anglican) has yet to discover a way to do both (for a variety of reasons detailed elsewhere).

In leaving the Episcopal Church for the Church of Nigeria, these parishes send two equally important, but distinct signals to the rest of the world and to their brothers and sisters in other denominations: first, that they are true to their principles and are no longer able to tolerate what they believe to be heresy within the Episcopal Church; and second, that their principles guide them to desire oversight from a Church that would take away the speech, assembly, press, and free exercise of religion rights of gay and lesbian Nigerians.

This NYT story reveals something very important about the emerging character of the press coverage of the conflict within the Anglican Communion. Now that the NYT has brought it to the light of day, descriptions of ecclesiastical departures from the Episcopal Church for Nigeria will henceforth always mention Archbishop Akinola's endorsement of that crap-tastic Nigerian legislation. I guarantee it.

The congregants of these parishes should know that. Sadly, few do.

[edited slightly for style, 23:39, Saturday, Dec 16]

UPDATE Dec 17, 15:33. The Falls Church and Truro have voted to leave the Episcopal Church and keep their property. All votes were in the affirmative and in the 90s%.

And, as expected, the press coverage in the Washington Post mentions the legislation [my emphasis]:
The churches voted to align themselves with a new group that hopes to eventually be home to thousands of dissident Episcopalians, the Convocation for Anglicans in North America, which is led by the Rev. Martyn Minns, the last rector at Truro. CANA is formally under the Church of Nigeria and Archbishop Peter Akinola, who supports a proposed law in Nigeria that would outlaw public and private gay activity. The American dissident churches have not been pushing to outlaw gay activity.
Good on Bill Turque and Michelle Boorstein for making it clear that leaders of these Episcopal parishes have denied support for that legislation (even if those leaders' denials have been more defensive and accusatory that one would hope), but it's going to continue to follow them around so long as it's on the verge of passing (or if it passes), and so long as Archbishop Akinola endorses it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"There is a lot of ignorance"

That notorious "same-sex marriage" bill is again up for debate in the Nigerian Federal Assembly. Davis Mac-Iyalla, of Changing Attitude Nigeria, tells me that it is under review by the House of Representatives' Human Rights Committee, and is expected to pass prior to the April 2007 presidential elections. While Nigerian politics are nearly inscrutable to me, I am willing to bet that not voting for the legislation's passage would be a difficult vote to explain to one's constituents, and it definitely wouldn't help to curry favor with various Nigerian religious organizations (especially the Anglicans), which, as far as I can tell, support this legislation unanimously.

When reading the "same-sex marriage" legislation -- which can be found as an appendix to Ephraim Radner's and Andrew Goddard's recent article in Fulcrum -- one is immediately aware that the legislation goes far beyond a statement by the Nigerian Federal Government that it will not recognize same-sex marriages; the legislation effectively abridges speech, press, assembly, and free exercise of religion rights for all homosexual advocacy, public, private, or in the media. Given the rather sorry state of Nigeria's judicial system, the vague wording of the legislation, and the potential for egregious abuse, the ramifications of such abridgement would be well beyond anything we here in the US could possible understand.

Katharine Houreld of the Associated Press recently published a surprisingly in depth outline of what those ramifications might be [my emphasis]:
Anyone attending a meeting between gay people, even two friends in a private house, could receive a sentence of five years under the act.

... "This meeting, right here, would be illegal," says activist Alimi, stabbing the air with a French fry for emphasis as he sits at a table with three gay friends and a reporter. "We could be arrested for talking about this. You could be arrested for writing about us."

... Haruna Yerima, a member of Nigeria's House of Representatives, portrays the legislation as aimed at stamping out something already well under control.

"It's not really such a big problem in Nigeria, we just want to prevent such occurrences (gay marriages) from happening here," he says.

Yerima said he approved of the limitations on films and books because they could be used to "make such practices popular." Even social contact between gays should be limited, he said, because it might encourage behavior that was "against our culture...against our religion."

Civil rights organizations and human rights lawyers have said that the bill could also be used to deny legal representation to gay people who have been arrested.

... Nigerian Anglicans split with the American Episcopal church over the ordination of a gay bishop and many in the country say they want to prevent anything similar to the South African legislation.

But Akin Marinho, a Nigerian human rights lawyer, says that bill's prohibitions are illegal under Nigeria's constitution and intenational treaty obligations. Not only does the bill affect freedoms of speech and expression, but foreign companies could face lawsuits if gay or lesbian staff are unable to take up positions in Nigeria, he says.

"It's a civil liberties issue as well as a gay rights issue," Marinho says. "Under this bill, anyone watching 'Brokeback Mountain' or even 'Will and Grace' could be prosecuted ... it could also infringe on lawyer-client relations," he says, pointing out that the vague wording of the bill could interpret a meeting between a gay client and a lawyer as a meeting designed to promote same-sex relationships.

Even some conservative religious leaders say the bill goes too far. Though Bishop Joseph Ojo, who presides over the congregation at the evangelical Calvary Kingdom Church, says gay relationships are "foreign to Africans" and should be outlawed, he adds that homosexuals should "have freedom of speech and expression."

Nigerians have been publicly flogged, exhibited before the press naked, or beaten severely in prison after being charged with homosexuality. Alimi's companions say they're wary of voicing too much opposition to the new law out of fear of arrest. Death sentences have been meted out in the north, though no one has yet been executed.

"There is a lot of ignorance, and that is why people are afraid," Alimi says. "But we are not willing to come out and say, yes, I am gay. Here I am. I am human too."
[An abridged version of this article was published by the Houston Chronicle.]

Many Nigerians believe that there are, in fact, no "real" homosexuals among them. It is difficult for those of us outside of Nigeria to understand this, and it is in part because of this lack of understanding that so few in the United States, especially those with affiliations to religious groups in Nigeria that have endorsed the legislation (like many readers of Titus One Nine or Stand Firm in Faith), can grasp the magnitude of the situation. Yet regardless of our ignorance, Nigerians themselves understand quite well that this legislation is intended to stamp out speech, prevent gay and lesbian organizations from organizing, and make second-class citizens of "suspected" homosexuals.

This is not academic. It's not the same debate as is commonly heard in the US and Europe about granting the same rights, priveleges and responsibilities to same-sex couples as to opposite-sex couples. It's a real threat to the lives of what could amount to millions of Nigerians. Those complicit in this legislation's passage, both within Nigeria and without, will have a lot to answer for.

For more on the American and Anglican angles on this story, read here, here and here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Oh, Martyn

A note of uncertain date by Martyn Minns of Truro Parish regarding Archbishop Akinola's attitude toward imprisoning gay and lesbian Nigerians has appeared on Truro's website. Here's an excerpt (h/t ThinkingAnglicans):
In a recent Washington Post article, Archbishop Peter J. Akinola was characterized as "an advocate of jailing gays." That is not true.

Archbishop Akinola believes that all people—whatever their manner of life or sexual orientation—are made in the image of God and deserve to be treated with respect. "We are all broken and need the transforming love of God," Archbishop Akinola said to me during a recent conversation.
Archbishop Akinola may say one thing to the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns when they're in private meeting, but he does quite another in his public statements. If Akinola doesn't advocate jailing gays, then why, on at least two separate occasions (here and here), did he endorse legislation that would do so? Where were the caveats? I guess the "transforming love of God" is some pretty tough love if disagreeing with the good Archbishop could put you in a jail like this.

As Jim Naughton says [my emphasis]:
One does not support laws criminalizing certain activities unless one wants to put the people who break those laws in jail. Archbishop Akinola supports a piece of Nigerian legislation that includes the possibility of five year's imprisonment for gay people, and their advocates, should those people exercise rights to speech, assembly and religion in ways that the law proscribes. As I've pointed out numerous times, this bill has been criticized by the U. S. Department of State and numerous human rights groups.

... Leaving the Episcopal Church does not require associating with those who endorse the violation of human rights. It does not require associating with those who bear false witness against their enemies. This is a choice Bishop Minns has made freely. It is a choice that the vestries of Truro Church and the Falls Church have made freely as well. They are entitled to their choice, but we are entitled to elucidate what they have chosen.
Can't say it better than that.

UPDATE: I should add that Bishop Minns has had plenty of time to deal with the confusion and controversy surrounding this situation. He was in a position, all along, to simultaneously push Archbishop Akinola to stand down from his strong stance on this legislation and realign his parish with the Church of Nigeria.

I don't see how those two actions would have been incompatible, except that to do so would have softened the political aims of the conservative wing of the Episcopal Church.

Frankly, I'm surprised. Martyn Minns can read, and he can understand a basic civil rights issue when he sees it. He can also understand that silencing opponents is the wrong path for a Church to take. So, why on Earth has he let this get so unbelievably messy?

Archbishop Akinola DEFINITELY supports legislation in Nigeria that calls for prison sentences for homosexual activity

American press coverage of all things "church" is too, too careful about offending sensitive ears.

Today's Falls Church News-Press has a story on the upcoming vote by the nearly 300-yr-old Falls Church Episcopal on whether to leave the Episcopal Dioces of Virginia for the Anglican District of Virginia, under the oversight of Primate of the Anglican Province in Nigeria, Archbishop Peter J. Akinola. At the risk of oversimplifying the situation, this vote is nominally over the issue of whether The Falls Church can any longer countenance what they consider to be the permissive position of the Episcopal Church regarding homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and Biblical orthodoxy.

Regular readers of this site are familiar with this story, and with the Nigerian question, so I most certainly won't bore you with details, but the coverage of the vote, written by News-Press staff writer Nicholas F. Benton, is skittish about some of the facts [my emphasis]:
In the Falls Church Episcopal’s case, if the congregational vote goes the way the vestry wants it to, the church will depart the Episcopal denomination in favor of an alternate configuration known as the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA).

... The CANA structure the church would affiliate with, should the vote to secede pass, will be under "under the spiritual authority and protection" of Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, described as the "chairman of the Primates of the Global South," according to a letter from Yates to the congregation on Dec. 2.

Archbishop Akinola allegedly supports legislation in Nigeria that calls for prison sentences for homosexual activity. According to a comment on his popular blog this week entitled, "Slouching Toward Nigeria," conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan remarks that the Falls Church Episcopal will be aligning with a bishop "who believes that gays should be incarcerated for the crime of adult consensual sex and that free speech should be curtailed."

First, there is no question that Archbishop Akinola supports prison sentences for engaging in homosexual activity. However, that ship has already sailed -- "sodomy" laws have been on the books in Nigeria since before independence in 1960. No "allegedly" about it, but it's irrelevant.

Second, the issue is not whether Archbishop Akinola supports "sodomy" laws, but that he supports legislation, which has not yet passed, that would curtail the right of gay and lesbian Nigerians to advocate on behalf of same-sex marriage or their sexuality. It would effectively ban the press from discussing homosexuality in a positive light (not that it does now), and it would ban groups from organizing on behalf of changes to the law that would restore those civil rights.

In short, it would do more than simply ban gay marriage (which is not recognized by the state anyway) -- it would remove the basic speech, assembly, press, and free expression of religion rights of a small and vocal minority. It would make gay and lesbian Nigerians "shut up."

But most seriously, the legislation -- which has been endorsed by Archbishop Akinola not once, but twice -- would effectively outlaw a new Anglican gay and lesbian church group in Nigeria that calls for the acceptance of homosexuality within the Church. The legislation, which was introduced just after a series of public excoriations of this new group's leader by Church of Nigeria officials, would effectively silence the Church's political opposition on the issue of homosexuality. While the Church is under no obligation to recognize homosexuality as Changing Attitude would want it to, it is not in the Church's best interest to be perceived as simply gagging its opponents.

Nor is it in the best interest of the congregation of The Falls Church to vote to associate itself more closely with the Church of Nigeria without serious consideration on how Archbishop Akinola's actions will reflect on them and their parish.

To whit, do they wish to be perceived as silencing a gay and lesbian churchgoing minority, and with a prison sentence of 5 years?

Nicholas Benton does a good thing by bringing in Sullivan's short comment, but like many journalists covering this tough issue, he is both too careful, and not careful enough. On the one hand, he uses words like "allegedly" when describing attitudes and actions that are well documented. On the other hand, he follows Sullivan's lead too closely, thinking that the pitfall for The Falls Church is Akinola's opposition to gay marriage, rather than his endorsement of legislation that would put his political opponents in prison just for speaking their minds.

UPDATE: Discussion of the Falls Church story and general issues relating to the Nigerian legislation can be found here on Titus 1:9.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Apparently, the heartland loves him

Last I looked, Cheney's approval ratings were in the teens (is anyone still publishing his numbers?). So, why the gushy bit about his warm reception in the Heartland? I've never seen a less realistic fluff piece, as if there's nothing else going on in the world. Here are the first two, fun-filled paragraphs:
Grace Mosier lives with her mom and dad, goes to birthday parties, takes ballet classes and is just like a lot of other 6-year-old girls. Except that she happens to be obsessed with Dick Cheney.

“I really, really like him,” says Grace, who can tell you what state the vice president was born in (Nebraska), where he went to grade school (College View, in Lincoln) and the names of his dogs (Dave and Jackson). She gets her fix of Cheney fun-facts by visiting the White House Web site for children. It says there that his favorite teacher was Miss Duffield and that he used to run a company called Halliburton.
So, his approval rating is in the teens, but his real base is among the children. That sounds about right.

Anyone else wanna barf?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Tolerance not dead in Nigeria?

From the Weekly Trust out of northern Nigeria (Kaduna, October 15):

In a bid to provide an intellectual platform for ventilation of ideas on specific cultural topics, the National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) recently held a roundtable conference in Jos to review the significance of tolerance in promoting cultural orientation.

Participants in the two-day conference on 'Culture, Tolerance and Nation Building' have identified lack of dialogue and proper education as some of the leading factors responsible for the culture of intolerance in Nigeria.

In a communiqué issued at the end of the conference, the conferees also noted the need for rule of law to help appreciate the tolerance of alternative views.

The NICO conference is clearly meant to address the rising tide of ethnic violence that threatens Nigeria as the April 2007 presidential elections approach. As they say, the "rule of law" is needed to help Nigerians "appreciate the tolerance of alternative views."

But according to Archbishop Akinola of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican), homosexuality is sufficiently "unAfrican" that those Nigerian homosexuals who simply speak out on their own behalf deserve 5 years in jail (pdf).

Is there a contradiction here? Is "tolerance" unAfrican, too? Or must the Church of Nigeria (along with all Nigerians) accept that, while they may oppose homosexuality, silencing the voices of gay and lesbian Nigerians with a prison term would be a gravely intolerant, uncivil, and deeply counterproductive gesture?

(For skeptics out there, the proper point of comparison here is not between homosexuality and pedophilia, both of which are "Western" values according to the Communications Director of the Church of Nigeria, but between the abrogation of civil rights and the internecine violence and intimidation that has plagued Nigeria since independence. Banning "gay" speech is just another slip along the seemingly inevitable slipperly slope of Nigerian institutional corruption, anti-democracy, and violence. Without a blanket understanding of what tolerance is and what it means for healthy civil society, the country may be doomed.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


From the inimitable Digby:
They can look over any given transcript of the Chris Matthews show during the Lewinsky scandal and see how the Democrats who were forced to do this handled the situation. They were required to make this disclaimer, in ever more florid terms as the scandal unfolded, each time they appeared on television.

... They will also find in those transcripts the approved Republican talking points of the period which repeatedly claimed how repulsive and nauseating it was for a middle aged man to become involved with a 22 year old who worked in his office. That might give them some clues about what's about to happen to them. This time, of course, you have the specter of multiple 16 year old victims, the perpetrator being a closeted, gay Catholic Republican and the House leadership pretty much giving the guy a thumbs up and an "attaboy" --- so there's a lot more for their opponents to work with.
Digby's on a roll.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The news cycle for at least the next two weeks

House Majority Leader Boehner, Speaker of the House Hastert, and NRCC chairman Reynolds may now be in a position where they're asked to resign. From the New York Times:
Top House Republicans knew for months about e-mail traffic between Representative Mark Foley and a former teenage page, but kept the matter secret and allowed Mr. Foley to remain head of a Congressional caucus on children’s issues, Republican lawmakers said Saturday.
This is not going away. Says Christopher Shays (R.-Conn.):
If they knew or should have known the extent of this problem, they should not serve in leadership.
And I should add, for those of you who say this is just politics, even if the Democrats had pushed this story to come out on Friday of all days, right at the end of this Congress, does it absolve the GOP leadership of their responsibility to have policed their own caucus? No, it doesn't.

This is where politics over ethics and policy leads us. Let's kick the bums out.

An enterprising Christianist ...

(updated below)

... might use the "Mark Foley scandal" as a means of arguing, yet again, that homosexuality equals pedophilia, thus spinning the unbelievable damage this will do to the GOP in the coming weeks into some kind of Marilyn Musgrave-style victory (good luck!). While I harbor no sympathy for Congressman Foley's gross misconduct, Andrew Sullivan's recent words are particularly helpful in understanding it:
... the news about Mark Foley has a kind of grim inevitability to it. I don't know Foley, although, like any other gay man in D.C., I was told he was gay, closeted, afraid and therefore also screwed up. What the closet does to people - the hypocrisies it fosters, the pathologies it breeds - is brutal. There are many still-closeted gay men in D.C., many of them working for a Republican party that has sadly deeply hostile to gay dignity. How they live with themselves I do not fully understand.
Although I'm not gay, I think that one only has to be a man, gay or straight, to understand the pressures, strains and breakdowns associated with suppressed sexuality. While it must always be kept under control, there is something about the male animal that makes us prone to unhealthy venting when the standard outlets are unavailable.

Mark Foley: a man undoubtedly committed to Republican ideas, destroyed by his own party's intolerance.

UPDATE: October 3, 2006, 11:36. From an email sent around by Gary Bauer of American Values, and former presidential candidate (via Digby) [my emphasis]:
This latest scandal in Washington is just further evidence that the pro-family agenda is desperately needed for the country. We are the ones who have argued that human sexuality should be channeled through marriage. We are the ones who have argued that marriage is between one man and one woman. We are the ones who have argued that schools should teach kids how to read and write and stop handing out condoms and birth control pills. We are the ones who say that all our children should be welcomed into the world under law. We are the ones who say there are reliable standards of right and wrong. And we are the ones who have led the charge against the sexualization of our children.
I told you so. Keep spinning, Gary -- you and people like you are our only hope for keeping this scandal alive until November.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Dennis Hastert: protecting pages from GOP Congressmen

(updated below)

From the AP (via the NYT):
House Speaker Dennis Hastert said he had asked the chairman of the House's page board, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., to investigate the page system. ''We want to make sure that all our pages are safe and the page system is safe,'' Hastert said.
Good idea.

UPDATE: Sept 30, 2006, 00:29. Want to stay up-to-date on this growing scandal? -- go to Talking Points Memo:
House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told The Washington Post last night that he had learned this spring of some "contact" between Foley and a 16-year-old page. Boehner said he told House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), and that Hastert assured him "we're taking care of it."

It was not immediately clear what actions Hastert took. His spokesman had said earlier that the speaker did not know of the sexually charged e-mails between Foley and the boy.
This one isn't going away.

UPDATE II: Sept 30, 2006, 00:40. And just in case you weren't sufficiently grossed out, let me push you over the edge (from The Blotter):

They say he used the screen name Maf54 on these messages provided to ABC News.

Maf54: You in your boxers, too?
Teen: Nope, just got home. I had a college interview that went late.
Maf54: Well, strip down and get relaxed.

Another message:

Maf54: What ya wearing?
Teen: tshirt and shorts
Maf54: Love to slip them off of you.

And this one:

Maf54: Do I make you a little horny?
Teen: A little.
Maf54: Cool.

The language gets much more graphic, too graphic to be broadcast, and at one point the congressman appears to be describing Internet sex.

Foley's gone, Hastert's toast (he appears to have known about this for as much as a year), Pelosi has filed for a House ethics investigation, which won on a 410-0 vote today, and with the Democrats' newly minted 50-state strategy, there's now a credible Democrat running in Florida's 14th (eat Howard Dean's shorts, Rahm Emanuel!).

A plan for the Delta?

Since the Nigerian government is utterly paralyzed by internal PDP (People's Democratic Party) squabbles about who is more corrupt (i.e., President Obasanjo or Vice-President Abubakar) and by the potential chaos of next year's April elections, I think it's worthwhile to examine what recommendations outside organizations have made for Nigeria to bring the environmental / commercial / social crisis that is the Niger Delta under control.

The International Crisis Group released an executive summary yesterday that is about as comprehensive as such recommendations can get, and whose accompanying report (pdf) would serve as an excellent primer for anyone interested in getting familiar with a region that the US plans to extract as much as 25% of its oil imports by 2015.

ICG's last point:
To the Energy Companies’ Home Countries:

20. Legislate to require companies with overseas operations to publicly disclose all payments to foreign governments. This initiative should be synchronised through the Group of Eight to provide additional credibility to extractive transparency efforts in developing nations.
This is exactly right. I, for one, want to know exactly how Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron are spending their "Exploration" money in Nigeria. Is it being used to bribe government officials (not without precedent), or used to develop the economic involvement of Deltans in mineral extraction programs. And I want to be sure that my cheap oil is not cheap because of the destruction and mismanagement of someone else's backyard.

Hey, Lasky, what about China?

Ed Lasky, over at the American Thinker, has discounted the threat that Iran poses to global oil markets. He argues compellingly that newly discovered and very large deep-water oil reserves have been discovered in the Gulf of Mexico, that we now have a strategic petroleum reserve to buffer changes (which we didn't have in the '70s), that there has been increased development of African off-shore deepwater fields, and that new oil fields are coming on line in Saudi Arabia. Taken together, he believes that Iran withholding oil from global markets would have little if any effect on global and US markets, and that Ahmadinejad and his disturbingly rational rants can be safely ignored.

He may be right in the short term. After all, the "risk premium" -- or the $20 per barrel we were tacking on to the price of oil to buffer potential supply shortfalls -- has largely evaporated since Bush stopped talking so tough on Iran. (Indeed, in the short- to medium-term, Bush's actions are those most directly responsible for the recent hike in our gas prices: the invasion of Iraq took a good chunk of Persian Gulf oil offline, reducing OPEC's excess production capacity to just above demand, and saber-rattling with Iran unsettled the nerves of oil traders already concerned that a major supply crash could follow.)

But what about the long-term? Lasky makes no mention of India and China, and without a recognition of their growing demand for petroleum, his analysis is almost meaningless. The bottom line is that even with big new discoveries, we are discovering new reserves at a slower rate than we are using them up. Iran may not pose a threat to oil markets today or this year or next year, but the continuing expansion of China's and India's demand for oil will narrow the supply gap until, once again, we're paying a $20, maybe $50, risk premium for the off-chance that 100,000 bpd of production is shut down in Nigeria because some guy gets kidnapped.

Incendiary? Yes

Read on before you judge.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Maybe Democrats are showing life at just the right time ...

(updated below)

This is exactly the voice we need to hear, but we need to hear it from entire congressional Democratic delegation. Frankly, I'm surprised to hear it first from Hillary Clinton; I would have expect this from Feingold or Leahy. Perhaps what we're seeing is the beginnings of the kind of bold move necessary to push a beleaguered Democratic party, with a poorly defined public image but every electoral advantage in the world, into a new place -- or perhaps just a place where Hillary looks good as a Presidential candidate. She's still not my first choice by a long-shot, but her spirit is most definitely in the right place.

(h/t to Andrew Sullivan.)

UPDATE Sept. 28, 2006, 19:20: Sorry, Feingold did speak first, in fact.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Well said

From the New York Times, regarding the declassified summary (pdf) of the April, 2006, National Intelligence Estimate [my emphasis]:
As a political matter, at least for the next few weeks, the intelligence findings will only fuel the argument over Iraq on both sides. Mr. Bush has grown increasingly insistent that nothing he has done in Iraq has worsened terrorism. America was not in Iraq during the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, he said, or during the bombings of the U.S.S. Cole or embassies in Africa, or on 9/11.

But that argument steps around the implicit question raised by the intelligence finding: whether postponing the confrontation with Saddam Hussein and focusing instead on securing Afghanistan, or dealing with issues like Iran’s nascent nuclear capability or the Middle East peace process, might have created a different playing field, one in which jihadists were deprived of daily images of carnage in Iraq to rally their sympathizers.

"Somehow we have to ... "

(updated below)

I've been hearing this phrase a lot lately regarding the various secondary exacerbations and crises to have arisen from our adventure in Iraq. The latest, and for me the most frustrating, comes from Andrew Sullivan, responding to Bashir Goth's recent Washington Post blog entry. From Goth:
To survive in such unfriendly atmosphere like this, journalists in the Muslim world have become like parrots that only echo the official line. Torn between the call of professionalism and that of censorship, they have to always adhere to the call of the latter. If it takes a village to raise a child in Africa, it takes a community to kill a writer, artist and a journalist in the Muslim world.
Responds Sullivan [my emphasis]:
And so the backwardness deepens; and the ressentiment intensifies; and the censorship grows. Somehow we have to reverse this cycle of conformity and fear - there, and, to a mercifully much lesser extent, here.
What's my frustration, you ask? On the surface, I can disagree with nothing substantive that Sullivan has penned on the subject in the last several years, but I am always left unsatisfied. I want to know what we are going to do about Iran, Muslim democracy, and the unfolding civil war in Iraq. Sullivan quite rightly brings up all the little things that should make us afraid -- he is serious about taking real threats into account -- but he stops short of offering solutions.

Iran is dangerous: but do we invade? As Goth writes, free speech is not a guarantee to Muslim writers: do we invade? Women live under the burqas and the threat of assassination for driving a car in Iraq: do we invade? Oh, wait ...

The set to which Sullivan now belongs -- and it's an expanding one -- is those who supported the war in Iraq for the "right reasons", i.e., our desire to spread democracy, to save ourselves from another terrorist attack, and to show the world that we will not be pushed around, but which is now realizing with every new revelation about our government's incompetence and the scale of the risk we were taking that the war was a very bad idea. (I'm not talking about Afghanistan -- I think that was the right war, and it could have been brilliant had we decided to stick around with half the commitment we made in Iraq.)

Now, what Sullivan is left with is a overexcersized sense of outrage at all of the low-hanging fruit of the kind we see in Iran, and in Goth's comment, that drew him to support the war in Iraq in the first place. Unfortunately for him (but perhaps fortunately for the rest of us) there is no credible and belligerent anti-Iran US foreign policy behind which he can put his considerable rhetorical strengths. When he says "Somehow we have to ... " but goes no further, he leaves us standing at the altar, wondering if we should really have given him that second chance.

Perhaps recognizing how impotent his words about "scary" Ahmadinejad have become when there are no immediate plans to invade Iran -- if you want proof of the lack of imminent plans, look at the recent and very significant drops in oil prices from $75 a barrel to about $61 -- Sullivan posts a comment from a reader, who says [my emphasis]:

I find myself troubled by your recent posting. Specifically, the line, "We have a dictator on the brink of nukes." By all indications, the Iranian regime is at the very least, 6-7 years away from a working nuclear weapon. Most estimates give it a decade, as in around the year 2016. Some predict more time. I have seen no credible reports that they are remotely close to a nuclear weapon. Have you?

Also, Ahmadinejad is not a dictator. He cannot make decisions without the specific approval of Supreme Leader Khamenei. A small point, but still.

I understand the difficulty in projecting domestic politics in a country as hostile as Iran. However, we know that Ahmadinejad is facing a dearth of support in his country over his economic failures, when he was elected largely on an economic populist platform. Seeing how the key issue driving his popularity appears to be his belligerence and feistiness towards the USA, instead of adapting a hard-line stance and feeding into his popularity, it puzzles me why we don't treat him like the pretend fraud he is.


UPDATE 9/27/2006 12:32: Apparently Sullivan did know what a "high-risk adventure" the Iraq invasion was going to be:
We knew occupying a Muslim country would be a very high-risk venture.
I've read his blog since 2002. His recognition of what we knew is news to me -- but I'm ready to stand corrected.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Exactly my fear

About the inevitable separation of The Episcopal Church from the remaining Anglican Communion, and the future of the conservative Anglicans who remain in the US, Jim Naughton nails my worries precisely:
Once the struggle is over, they are a group of perhaps a quarter million members on the crowded right wing of the American religious landscape, handicapped by the fact that they are more or less invisible in most of the country. Their leader, Peter Akinola, advocates putting gay people and thier allies in prison. And their banker, Howard Ahmanson once told the Orange County Register that while he no longer believed that it was "essential" to stone gay people, he would be hardpressed to say that such the practice was "inherently immoral."
Once they "win", and they will, conservative American Anglicans won't look too rosy.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Islam can be (and often is) a good-faith player for peace in Nigeria

The comments posted to a blog should never be considered a pure reflection of the blog itself or of the readers of the blog (there's too much self-selection in who actually posts comments), but I found a recent thread on titusonenine (a blog run by Rev Canon Kendall Harmon of South Carolina) regarding recent riots in Nigeria by Muslims against Christian-minority churches and property to be disturbing. One commenter wrote:
Ah yes. Islam, the religion of peace.
Since I easily grow tired of this kind of Michelle Malkin-style religious polarization, the kind occassionally seeded by the Institute on Religion and Democracy, I got involved in the thread, pointing out, as one can see if they go to the end of the thread, that the violence is much more complicated than a "my prophet is better than your prophet" sort of struggle.

In fact, Muslim leaders in Nigeria, both religious and civil, seeing the coming electoral conflict in 2007, are working hard to stem this tide of internecine religious conflict, just as their Christian counterparts are doing so in the Church of Nigeria (Anglican). In the Vanguard yesterday (September 23) [my emphasis]:

In a special announcement made on the state-owned Kaduna State Radio Corporation (KSMC) Mr Ibhaze [the state police commissioner] said his command was reliably informed that trouble makers wanted to ferment trouble either yesterday or immediately after today's Jumat prayers pointing out that the aim was to cause violence and destruction.

Ibhaze said: "good morning the good and peace loving people of Kaduna State. As we look forward to sighting the moon any moment from today, I wish you Allah's blessings and a rewarding ramadan fast.

"We are reliably informed that some trouble makers want to infiltrate our faithful worshippers today (22/9/2006) during or immediately after the Friday prayers. Their aim is to cause trouble and cause a reign of destruction in this peace loving state.

"My dear good people of Kaduna state, I urge you to say no to violence; no to riots and no to destruction.

"What we need at this stage, is prayers and sober reflection so that Muslims and their Christian brothers can continue to live in peace. The police has not granted any body or group permit to do a precession or rally.

"Anyone who ferments trouble or sponsors chaos will be arrested and prosecuted. A word is enough for the wise."

The "threat" of Islam is commonly used, by the allies of Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola, to explain or deflect criticism of his actions. To whit, Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh (Episcopal) wrote the following Friday regarding the recent move by the Anglican Communion's Global South Bishops to call for an idealogically purified and separate Anglican Church in the United States [my emphasis]:
We are deeply humbled by the care shown for us by our Fathers in God in the Global South ... In many places they and the Anglicans they pastor face poverty, disease and persecution for their faith on a scale that goes far beyond anything that threatens us. In fact, just this week, Anglicans in Nigeria saw their cathedral in Dutse burned to the ground by rioting Muslims. Yet, in the midst of dealing with these massive issues, they continue to offer us their support and guidance. We can only be profoundly grateful.
The same "threat of Islam" was used by Bishop Duncan (back in March, 2006) to rationalize the fully anti-democratic, anti-gay legislation that had been endorsed by Archbishop Akinola (an excerpt):
Bishop Chane's comments betray a profound lack of empathy or understanding for the position that Archbishop Akinola and all Christians in Nigeria find themselves in. During the last few weeks in Nigeria, an archdeacon has been murdered and two bishops have survived assassination attempts.

All were attacked by what appear to be Islamic extremists. During the same time, Islamic violence ignited by the publishing of Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed have claimed the lives of scores of lay Christians and seen numerous churches destroyed in Nigeria.

Further, 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.
You seeing the pattern? Islam has become a convenient scapegoat for all kinds of anti-democratic initiatives.

Nice try, guys, but if Islam is such a threat to minorities and thus to democracy, then face up to it with a higher standard (i.e., a commitment to real democracy)! If it's not the threat you make it out to be, as suggested by the very well-meaning words of Commissioner Ibhaze above, then start answering criticism with facts and substance!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

No guilt by association

The most serious charges (or criticisms) I've seen yet against my last two posts about the Nigerian anti-homosexuality bill (see here and here) have come from a commenter on Jim Naughton's Daily Episcopalian, who says that I am out to get the Anglican Communion Network (which is theologically closely aligned with Archbishop Akinola) and that I wish to cast guilt by association on Akinola's US bishop, Martyn Minns, or on the Network's moderator, Bishop Robert Duncan, for not denouncing the legislation. The commenter points out, quite rightly, that while both of these church leaders have commented on the bill, neither has endorsed it. In fact, their comments leave bread crumbs to the conclusion that they in fact do not support it at all.

My claim is actually that American conservative Anglicans are not taking the legislation seriously, and that, as their leaders, both Minns and Duncan have a responsibility to do so, and to react accordingly. While trying to think of a verbal explanation as to why the Akinola-endorsed legislation is so totally out of bounds, I came up with the following illustration (here, black and white have no moral significance):

(Please note that "divine" discourse is defined very broadly to include the core beliefs of agnostics -- yes, even agnostics have strong moral beliefs).

Both sides of the church-state debate have a disturbing tendency to want to claim the entire gray area for themselves. American evangelicals now have a history of attempting to make gay marriage an impossibility for all Americans regardless of their faith. Civil libertarians (including many in the Episcopal Church) now have a history of attempting to rewrite the central message of Christianity to accommodate what is, in fact, a rather derived notion of tolerance (i.e., "tolerance" means to accept the behavior of others, rather than simply to tolerate it). Like the religious right, the new "religious left" has its own version of the Gospel, one that is heavily influenced by civil libertarianism and social justice (two things to which I am quite partial), that it wants to impose politically on everyone else.

In reality, neither side can claim the "gray area" for themselves without asking the other side to compromise their own "divine discourse." The issues in the "gray area" relate to both important civil liberties (which are important) and core moral issues (which are also important). The direction that society takes when resolving these issues must therefore accept input from both sides as the result of a rational, if spirited, debate: the co-equal importance of civil and divine discourse (insofar as we all want to live together in peace) must not be denied.

It is here that the Nigerian bill and Archbishop Akinola's endorsement of that bill have crossed the line. What the bill asks of the debate surrounding homosexuality (let alone same-sex marriage, which this bill is not about) is that one side be completely shut out; that is, that the importance of civil discourse be ignored. I am not saying that gay marriage should be made legal in Nigeria, nor am I saying that there shouldn't be a debate about homosexuality. But with this legislation, there would be no debate at all, only 5 year prison sentences.

For this reason, and this reason alone, I have repeatedly called on Minns and Duncan, and their associates, to make a clear denunciation of the legislation -- for their own conscience, for the sake of the reputation of the emerging conservative Anglican Church in the US, and for the sake of the perhaps 1 million Nigerians whose voices would be silenced.

With his endorsement, Akinola has shown a desire to impose his God's Dominion on the lives of all Nigerians, regardless of their core moral beliefs. He has Nigerian colleagues in other faiths and denominations that agree with him, but that only makes his movement to outlaw "gayness" just another form of mob rule. There are dominionist Christians in the US who have made similar desires known. Are American Anglicans now among them?

Monday, September 18, 2006

What kind of black eye are Minns and the ACN hoping for?

This is getting ridiculous.

From the Church of Nigeria's (Anglican) Message to the Nation, dated 15th September, 2006 [my emphasis]:
The Church affirms our commitment to the total rejection of the evil of homosexuality which is a perversion of human dignity and encourages the National Assembly to ratify the Bill prohibiting the legality of homosexuality since it is incongruent with the teachings of the Bible, Quran and the basic African traditional values.
Since this same sentiment was expressed in an earlier March "Message to the Nation", it isn't anything new, but I have to say that it doesn't get clearer than this. The Anglican Church is calling for homosexuality to be made ILLEGAL. Not just in terms of gay marriage (which isn't recognized in Nigeria), not just in terms of "sodomy" (which is already subject to a 14 year prison sentence), but in terms of the basic rights of a minority group to speak out on its own behalf.

There's no room for nuance. In calling for this legislation to be passed, the Primate of All Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, is explicitly calling for the end of one group's lawful participation in civil society.

We have heard his arguments, and the arguments of his supporters, before:
  • They argue that the Archbishop must call for this legislation to be enacted lest he appear weak in front of Nigerian Muslims. Of course, the consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson in 2003 was personally embarrasing to Archbishop Akinola, as there were Muslims in Nigeria who criticized the Anglican Church for being morally degenerate, but there is no Christian moral or political principle to which Akinola and his allies can hold when calling for a ban on civil discourse among and by homosexuals because "Muslims made them do it." If, as our President says, this century is to be characterized by a grand idealogical struggle between Western and extremist values, this is hardly the time for the cool heads in the Anglican Communion to start giving in to or -- more than that -- encouraging extremist behavior. Also, religious conflict in Nigeria is commonly made to look like it is more than it really is. While the violence that has erupted between Nigerian Christians and Muslims is all too real, political leaders on either side (but especially on the Nigerian Muslim side) have a disturbing tendency to foment civil unrest to consolidate their "victim" status among their own people.
  • They argue that gay marriage is not recognized here in the US, and that there is nothing wrong with banning it in Nigeria. First, there is no state government in the Federal Republic of Nigeria that is planning to institute civil recognition of same-sex marriages or partnerships. Neither are such unions federally recognized. Thus, there is no current threat to Nigerian marriage law that this bill would redress. Second, the bill would do so much more than ban gay marriage. It would make it illegal to perform a private same-sex marriage ceremony -- even without civil recognition. Violators of this law, who in this case would be acting on their personal convictions in private, would be subject to 5 years' imprisonment. The bill would make it illegal to hold meetings or organize in the hopes of reversing the law, should it pass. The bill would make it illegal to depict homosexuality in any way in the press. It would make it illegal to display same-sex affection in public (I hope straight Nigerian male friends don't hold hands like they customarily do in Iraq). It is because of these extra steps taken by the Nigerian bill that the Rt Rev Martyn Minns' argument in his response to Bishop John Bryson Chane's February 2006 Washington Post op-ed rung so hollow, when Minns said that
    ... I am very much aware that even in the Commonwealth of Virginia there are still laws that deal with various 'Crimes against Nature' and in particular homosexual practice and adultery. The continued existence of these laws is a reflection of our own society’s struggle to find a way to support and protect heterosexual marriage while at the same time acknowledging the human rights of all persons.
    This is not just about gay marriage or about "crimes against nature" -- it's about silencing a minority.
  • They argue that the idealogical left's concern for protection "speech" is all so much hypocrisy so long as there are "hate crime" laws in Sweden, the UK, and Canada that prohibit the Church -- or anyone for that matter -- from speaking out against homosexuality. The simple rejoinder to this argument -- and by the way I'm not totally comfortable with those laws, whatever their details -- is that those laws limit the right of a majority to speak out against a minority, whereas the Nigerian law abolishes the right of a minority to speak out for itself. Now, tell me there's any shred of moral equivalency here!
Enough is enough. Not commonly known by many Americans is that the same Nigerian church leader (Akinola) who is calling for the extermination of the civil voice of a sizeable minority within his own country is now ecclesiologically empowered to act in the US through his new Missionary Bishop, the Rt Rev Martyn Minns (see here). Conservative Christianity has already taken a very hard right turn into some very dark political corners, but I am sure that conservative Anglicans in the US and elsewhere would agree with me that this is not how they want to represent themselves to their fellow citizens.

I'm going to leave aside all issues of "church law" and what the future of the Anglican Communion is to make a simple, declarative statement, one that has no bearing on their theological position with respect to homosexuality (about which I care very little): Bishop Minns, and his allies in the Anglican Communion Network, have no moral alternative but to call for this legislation to be withdrawn (as the US Department of State has done), or at the very least make a clear statement of disassociation. If they can't do this now, then from here forward let them never again declare their support of the rights of the minority in the face of a majoritartian, idealogical onslaught (are you hearing this, Institute on Religion and Democracy?). They will have impeached themselves utterly.

Hat tip to the Daily Episcopalian and Thinking Anglicans in re: the Church of Nigeria letter. Mark Harris has further coverage (here and here).

PS. Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney (Anglican) had these words to say -- out of the blue -- about a supposed Akinola quote regarding homosexuality (hat tip to an anonymous commenter):
I'd like to add something else to that last point before I go into that, and that is to say that and if Archbishop Akinola ever did say something like that [that "gay men and women are lower than pigs"], which he may or may not have, I would utterly repudiate it and next time I see him, not that I see him very often, perhaps twice I've met him, I would certainly tell him so in no uncertain terms. It is reprehensible that he should speak like that. And that's as clear as anything. I just want to make that clear, because sometimes it's felt that one might associate with such speech, and I certainly don't.
Hopefully, Jensen has the same position on the Nigerian bill. At least, he should. I should point out that in late June of this year, it looked as though Bishop Duncan, the moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, might make such a disassociation himself.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Toxic Texan's U-turn

From the Independent (UK), Sept 17:
President Bush is preparing an astonishing U-turn on global warming, senior Washington sources say.

After years of trying to sabotage agreements to tackle climate change he is drawing up plans to control emissions of carbon dioxide and rapidly boost the use of renewable energy sources.


Environmentalists expect the measures to fall far short of what is needed, but say this does not matter. "The very fact that Bush would reverse his position will liberate many Republicans to vote for meaningful pollution cuts," says Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust.

But Iain Murray, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Mr Bush's chief climate change cheerleader, is deeply alarmed: "We are left with the unpleasant conclusion that the only motivation is political."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Nigeria: Why doesn't the Anglican Communion Network come clean and speak out?

[edited for style, 22:14, 9/14/2006; updated with a link to the bill's text, 00:39, 9/15/2006]

One can't help feeling impotent when railing about civil rights violations in another country. Even in my own country, the United States, any effort I make to change the Administration's policy on extraordinary rendition or their tendency to alienate rather than embrace moderates in Muslim countries will be utterly without effect. Bush doesn't read my blog. Neither do civil rights violators in Africa.

As actual readers of this blog know, this January saw the introduction to the Nigerian Federal Assembly of a bill that is designed to strip basic speech, press, and assembly rights, not to mention freedom of religion, from gay and lesbian citizens of Nigeria. While called the "Same-sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2006" (pdf) -- and thus ostensibly targeted at ensuring that same-sex civil marriages are not recognized by the Nigerian government -- no one was fooled. The bill (available here as a PDF, and originally made available to me by Sokari at Black Looks) contains provisions that make it illegal, and punishable with a 5 year jail sentence, to form clubs that defend homosexuality, or worse to speak out individually. If the bill passed, and you were a witness of a gay marriage in Nigeria (even though the marriage is not recognized by the state), you would be subject to a similar penalty, as you would be if you engaged in public procession or printed stories in the press that defended homosexuality.

What has always made this bill peculiar, though, was not its draconian character, but the timing of its presentation only a few weeks after a new Anglican gay and lesbian organization began meeting in Nigeria's capital city, Abuja, and the coastal Lagos. While involvement by the Anglican Church of Nigeria in the writing or presentation of the bill has not been confirmed, the endorsement of the bill by the Church's leader, Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, strongly suggests that the appearance of a gay Anglican group in their midst prompted the Federal Government to quickly draft and present legislation that would explicitly ban such organizations. A cursory history of the legislation can be found here.

Even more troubling than the Anglican Church of Nigeria endorsing the legislation -- which would imprison the church's declared theological enemies -- is the acquiescence of Archbishop Akinola's allies in the United States. As I said above, there is little I can do about anything in Nigeria, but it is certainly a worthwhile activity to point out to the conservative factions within the Anglican Church -- which are currently undergoing a significant realignment out of the Episcopal Church and into other branches of the global Anglican Communion -- that their compacency is suicidally short-sighted.

Perhaps the theologically orthodox Anglican Communion Network (ACN), which is the closest Church ally of Akinola in North America, feels that the lay people and clergy they represent have no objection to imprisoning homosexuals for their beliefs (let alone for their actions -- "sodomy" is already illegal in Nigeria and subject to a far greater sentence). As far as I can tell, most in the ACN are unaware that the the Nigerian bill would do more than just ban gay marriage. (A bill to ban gay marriage, when no State in Nigeria currently allows it, is a pointless effort, anyway.) They don't realize that the greatest effect of the bill would be to strip gay and lesbian Nigerians of civil rights that we in the US reserve for even the most odious (for example, the right to a free and fair trial is granted to all -- ahem -- regardless of how evil they might be).

The Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, now the Anglican Church of Nigeria's bishop in residence in the United States, provided a defense of the legislation that never mentioned the concrete prohibitions contained in the legislation, focusing instead on his belief that critics of Akinola were attacking him ad hominem. While Minns says that he "does NOT believe that criminalization is an appropriate response to those who understand themselves to be homosexuals", his statement would have had much more force if he were to have stated clearly that endorsing legislation that would put "those who understand themselves to be homosexuals" in jail for their speech is no way for a Church to behave. It reflects badly on Minns, it reflects badly on the Anglican Communion Network, and it refects badly on its supporters.

The Nigerian bill (pdf), though it has not yet passed, is most certainly not dead. The greatest danger posed by the bill is not so much that people would be put in jail (my guess is that actual prosecutions and convictions of Nigerians who violate the new law would be rare), but that it institutionalizes discrimination. Police harassment will become even more intense than it already is, and with its endorsement the Church of Nigeria will have signalled to its people both that gay and lesbian Nigerians are not be tolerated -- thus eliminating any remaining credibility in their stated position that they welcome all to the Church -- and that they are overt partners with the State in enacting laws with explicitly religious underpinnings.

As I have made very clear elsewhere, I believe the Church to have every right to define its beliefs as it wishes. But it is instructive to read how the subject is really discussed in the Nigerian press (from This Day, Lagos, September 7). Note the stereotyping, and the fact that the article focuses entirely on the "gay marriage" part of the bill, ignoring entirely the part that would commit massive civil rights violations [emphasis mine]:

In the past, around the central market in Kaduna they could be easily seen as they wait for customers. Quite a spectacle: painted lips, ear rings, neck laces complete with all sorts of rings on their fingers. They have imbibed the feminine mannerisms completely in their ways of life. They are homosexuals, now called men having sex with men.

Loathed and scorned by many in the Nigerian society, a combination of factors have driven underground the unrepentant army of homosexuals in the country. Within the central market, Kaduna where they used to practice their unusual past time openly, they are no longer seen, just as elsewhere in Nigeria. Within the secular and religious authorities, no sector has spared this group of individuals, who are treated as outcasts in the society.

In January this year, in a major pre-emptive move that has continued to receive public applause, the Federal Executive Council approved a Bill on the nefarious practice. If passed by the National Assembly, the bill would have the effect of banning the same-sex marriage in Nigeria. The new law, according to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Bayo Ojo, will provide for outright prohibition of two men entering into what they wrongly perceive as marriage or two women entering into what they wrongly perceive as marriage. The bill prescribes a five-year jail sentence without an option of fine for offenders. Also, any persons or institutions, which expressly or implicitly, aid or abet such an aberration, would equally receive the same jail sentence of five years.

While explaining the position of the government on the issue, Mr. Frank Nweke, Information Minister, stated: "It is an offence for anybody to contract a marriage or have a relationship with a person of the same sex. If you do, it carries a sentence of five years imprisonment without the option of fine, and if you aid or support in any way, anybody of the same sex to contract a relationship or marriage, it will also attract five years imprisonment." [Remember, there is no state in Nigeria that currently issues marriage licenses to gay couples -- this part of the bill is moot. -- MVT]

Home to the world's largest Anglican province, Nigeria is leading the resistance against accepting gays in the Anglican Communion.

Among the clergy in Nigeria, they have never been equivocal in condemning the practice, which they regard as sinful. But, particularly, among the Anglicans, the controversy raised a notch ever since the ordination of an openly gay New Hampshire bishop in 2004. It exposed a deepening fault line between conservative Christianity flourishing in many developing countries and more liberal doctrines preached elsewhere. It also underscores a long-standing intolerance of homosexuality in Africa, which carries very secular implications.

Homosexuals are certainly not welcome in Nigeria's 17 million-member Anglican Church [!!!!! -- MVT], whose primate, Archbishop Peter Akinola, condemned the consecration of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as an openly gay bishop as a "satanic attack on the Church of God."

Akinola severed relations both with Robinson's New Hampshire diocese and with a Canadian one last year for accepting homosexuals. Should the church formally split over homosexuality, Akinola -- who has a large membership -is considered the likely leader of a conservative spinoff.

"Homosexuality is a deviation from the Scriptures," Dr. Adebola Ademowo, Archbishop of Lagos [Anglican], declared in the wake of the controversy, which has put the Nigerian clergy in the forefront of the campaign against same sex marriage. "And we are not alone in this belief. All the other denominations here are just enthused with our stance. They are praying with us", Ademowo added.

Read it all.

Sure, the ACN is in the midst of a political battle with the Episcopal Church that makes it difficult for them to express any criticism of Akinola, but they (and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams) are unwise to think that their unexamined allegiance to everything Akinola has said and done will yield positive fruit in the end.

PS: It's not just Nigeria that is teetering on this cliff of massive discrimination. Assuming at the very least 1% of Nigerians are homosexual, the Nigerian bill would put civil rights limitations on well over 1 million people. In Uganda, where the press has already taken on the responsibility of publicly outing its gay citizens, we would be talking about 200,000. Are conservative Anglicans in the US, who also have significant ties with the Ugandan Church, willing to take on this responsibility?

UPDATE: I should note that the US Government has already made clear its objections to the proposed law.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Digby on 9/11

I'm so glad that someone who writes so well is out there putting my thoughts so eloquently into words.

If you haven't yet read Digby's spot-on post -- or if for some reason you want to know exactly what I was thinking on the morning of 9/11/01 -- read it now.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Finally: data!

After about two years+ of dreaming about the feasibility of the project I've been working on, I finally have positive results (and they're better than I thought they'd be). I don't expect anyone to understand what this picture means (unless you're a phloem biologist), but I can't resist publishing at least one picture. It's still a crude image -- I need to do a lot more work on different microscopes to sharpen it -- but here it is:

ABC and unbelievable right-wing hypocrisy

ABC's 9/11 "docudrama", The Path to 9/11 -- which, among other things, claims in a highly publicized dramatization that Clinton had his finger on the button to take out bin Laden but declined to do so because of potential "political fallout" from Arab nations (all controverted by the 9/11 commission report, BTW) -- is raising cain in the blogosphere, not least because only right-wing media outlets have been permitted to view it. Not on the list of screeners: Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and virtually any other Clinton official you can imagine.

President Clinton and his attorneys have lodged a letter of protest with ABC, and rightfully so. As Glenn Greenwald points out, it wasn't too long ago that Bush supporters were fighting for historical accuracy in media portrayals of their own favorite president:
When CBS announced in November, 2003 that it would broadcast a mini-series it produced about Ronald and Nancy Reagan called "The Reagans," Matt Drudge obtained excerpts from the script and published them. That led to right-wing bloggers, organizations and pundits, along with the RNC itself, demanding that CBS cancel the broadcast, which it did (moving it instead to Showtime, with a panel discussion afterwards filled with critics of the film).
Here's what Ed Gillespie, the then-RNC chair, said about "The Reagans" back on 11/06/2003 [emphasis Glenn's]:
GILLESPIE: And I think it was important that it be historically accurate. And if they didn't intend to make it historically accurate to make sure that viewers understood that it was not intended to be historically accurate but a fictional portrayal. So we made two requests: One is having historians review it for accuracy if you're going to broadcast it. And if you're unwilling to do that, inform the viewers that it's not historically accurate. That's not censorship, that's common sense ...

I've sent a similar letter to the head of Showtime making the same point: "If you're not willing to have it reviewed for historical accuracy, make sure your viewers understand that it's a fictional portrayal. You know, in this society that we live in and with the media culture that we have, there's infotainment and docudrama and reality TV, and the lines between fact and fiction blur. That's fine when it's entertainment, but when you're talking about the formative phase of the Reagan legacy formation, I think that it's important that we get things right. ...

I think that same standard should apply to the late president John F. Kennedy or to Jimmy Carter or any president. If you're going to portray a presidency and a president, I think you should do all you can to make sure it's accurate. ...
The irony is so deep now that that even Al Franken is running satirical "excertps" from the Path to 9/11 involving Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and Bill Clinton all snorting coke off the chest of Madeleine Albright.

Read Glenn's entire post to see the increasingly long and updated list of hypocrisy by some of conservative media's most strident voices.