Tuesday, March 07, 2006

AAC letter to Bishop Chane an embarrassment

Washington-based trustees of the American Anglican Council have delivered a letter to Bishop Chane regarding his Feb 26 op-ed in the Washington Post.

Far from answering substance with substance, and thus laying any issues of policy to rest, the AAC has decided -- as have many others -- to treat Chane's op-ed as an ill-behaved personal attack on Archbishop Akinola.

A copy of Chane's op-ed can still be found here. Below, the AAC letter to Chane, as published on VirtueOnline (so far, the only source of the letter):
March 7, 2006

An Open Letter in response to your op-ed piece titled "A Gospel of Intolerance"

Dear Bishop Chane:

In response to your op-ed piece titled "A Gospel of Intolerance" that appeared in The Washington Post on Sunday, February 26, the American Anglican Council of Washington views your comments as a deliberate and unwarranted attack on Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, and an attempt to discredit him for his supporting a new law in Nigeria that criminalizes same-sex marriage.

We find no evidence of any sort of a public statement by Archbishop Akinola in regards to these proposed laws. Nigerian Justice Minister Bayo Ojo announced the draft law last week, saying it is in response to President Olusegun Obasanjo's concern over homosexual relations and same-sex marriage encroaching on Africa's most populous nation. An on-line article from the newspaper Nigeria First said, "This progressive legislation is expected to put a check on homosexuality and lesbianism, a deviant social behaviour fast gaining acceptance in Western countries."

This is not the first occasion that you have attacked the recognized leader of the traditional Anglican movement, who is not seeking to victimize or diminish anyone.

Rather than speaking to the substance of statements and principled positions actually taken by Archbishop Akinola on homosexuality, your op-ed piece distorts and belittles his message and his standing as a Godly bishop. And, instead of seeking ways to find unity over the extremely serious issues that divide the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church, your public criticism of a respected Godly Christian leader is one of intolerance on your part and a deaf ear and blind eye to what Archbishop Akinola is saying to the decadent Western Anglican churches.

As members of this diocese, we look to our bishop to find unity in the body of Christ on the difficult issues that divide the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. We pray you will amend the situation by making direct contact with Archbishop Akinola.


The Trustees of the American Anglican Council of Washington, Inc.

Bradley Hutt, Wes Courtney, William Boniface, Rufus Peckham, James Brown, Robert England, John McKendrew, Emily Volz, David Bickel, Nancy Virts
What is particularly frustrating about this letter is that the claims made by Chane in his op-ed were factually correct. What's worse is that the AAC letter seems to suggest that the Nigerian Primate of the Church of Nigeria has no position on the legislation -- this is either factually incorrect, or, like the Kremlinologists who worked to decipher the inner workings of the Soviet Communist Party, we should take every statement coming out of the Archbishop's office with a grain of salt.

Before anything, I think it's important to address some misleading information in the AAC letter. First, a draft of the Nigerian legislation (pdf) was available on January 19, not "last week." Second, sodomy is already illegal and subject to a 14 year prison sentence. This raises questions as to the necessity of the legislation. Third, while the legislation would ban gay marriage and would imprison for five years anyone who engaged in or attended such a celebration, it further bans the advocacy of gay marriage, as well as the advocacy of homosexuality. In other words, it's not simply an empty ban on gay marriage; it also significantly abridges freedom of speech, assembly, and religion, all unambiguously protected by the 1999 Nigerian constitution.

Most important, to suggest that no public statement of the Church of Nigeria's stand on the new legislation can be found is a weasel of the highest order. The Voice of America on January 19, 2006, had this to say:
The spokesman for the Anglican church in Nigeria, Reverend Tunde Popoola [Director of Communications], says the proposed ban is appropriate. The Anglican community in Nigeria has long waged a vigorous campaign against homosexuals, as Reverend Popoola explains.
And Popoola, speaking to the Living Church, said the following on February 27, 2006:
A spokesman for the Church of Nigeria, Canon Akintunde Popoola, disputed this characterization, arguing Bishop Chane misconstrued the text of the bill and Archbishop Akinola’s role in the legislative process. "Archbishop Peter to my knowledge is yet to comment [publicly] on the bill. I have said we welcome it because we view homosexuality as 'against the norm'."
Let's be clear -- they feel the legislation is "appropriate" and they "welcome" it.

To claim that this is not an endorsement would be to suggest that Akinola is not in charge of his own Director of Communications, or that he has no idea of what comes out of his office. Popoola was the one who made the announcement that the Primate believed the legislation to be “appropriate”. He spoke on behalf of the Church of Nigeria, which, by proxy, includes his boss, Archbishop Peter Akinola. By analogy, Scott McClellan speaks before the White House press corps on behalf of the President. No one questions McClellan's credentials. Why would we question whether Popoola speaks for Akinola?

The problem for the AAC is that Chane's op-ed is factually correct, and in reality not objectively inflammatory. I know that Chane has not always been fair in his criticism, and that conservative Anglicans have a legitimate beef with liberal Anglicans over their near unilateral decision to permit blessings of gay marriages and the ordinations and consecrations of openly gay, non-celibate priests and bishops. For this reason, I understand why the AAC letter strongly responded to what they believed to be a personal affront to Archbishop Akinola.

However, the following facts in Chane's letter remain indisputable (a couple are at worst arguable):
  1. The Anglican Communion is in a bitter struggle.
  2. The February 2005 Lambeth Conference uanimously agreed to the following statement: "The victimization or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us." I leave it to the reader to decide what "victimization" means in this case, but I would tend to think that 5 years' imprisonment for defending gay marriage or one's own homosexuality is victimization, especially if endorsed by the Church.
  3. Archbishop Akinola, a man of considerable resources and prestige, supported the legislation, which limits the power of the people to petition their government regarding homosexuality and which would curtail press freedoms should the press ever defend homosexuality in any way (the Vanguard online newspaper in Nigeria would become illegal).
  4. With respect to (3), Akinola's endorsement of the new legislation amounts to a state-sponsored restriction of speech and various other freedoms.
  5. Akinola has publicly stated his belief that the Anglican Communion will split, and that this split is largely over the issue of homosexuality (sadly, other issues of orthodoxy, such as the integrity of the Gospel message, is rarely mentioned).
  6. Akinola's endorsement crosses the church-state barrier.
  7. Thus, outsiders to the Anglican Communion (such as myself) should take notice, especially civil libertarians.
  8. The IRD, with donations from prominent conservatives, supports renewal movements in the Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran Churches, as well as in the United Church of Christ.
  9. It is frightening (to Chane) to consider that if these renewal movements are successful here in the US, similar decisions could be made here that would curtail civil liberties at home. For instance. (NO MENTION OF FUNDING BY THE IRD OR THE AAC OF THE CHURCH OF NIGERIA .)
  10. There is disagreement about homosexuality throughout the world. Reasonable people can debate it.
  11. The Nigerian legislation crosses the line by curtailing speech, the press, and the right to assembly.
  12. The Archbishop's support of the law violates numerous Anglican Communion documents calling for a listening process (I'll let Anglicans debate this point -- I don't much care).
  13. The legislation violates Articles 18-20 of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights (true, it does, but the UN-UDHR is non-binding -- see here for other relevant human rights provisions).
  14. Liberals in the Episcopal Church, as well as conservatives, have been silent about the legislation.
  15. Supporters (high-profile or otherwise) have not dissociated themselves from the legislation and Akinola's support for it.
In its incautious wording, the AAC letter essentially endorses Akinola's support of the Nigerian anti-gay legislation, while only once addressing the substance of Chane's letter. What was that one instance? -- when they claimed that Akinola never publicly stated his support for the new legislation. This lame argument not only flies in the face of all available evidence, but worse it suggests that even if Akinola were to support the legislation, which they never once discuss in a substantive manner, they would support him.


sokari said...

Thank you for this informative post.

Daniel said...

The Anglican Communion as it is today is doomed. Archbishop Akinola is calling the shots and if Cantebury tries to step in Akinola and the "Global South" churches will leave the communion and take half the members with them. The Archbishop of Canetury needs to decide what it right for the AC and let all parties involved know his decision. The the ECUSA or the Global South can leave the AC everyone can get on with their lives. There can be no reconciliation unless the ECUSA comes out in favor of homophobia and persecution of gays, that is the only thing that will placate Akinola and the IRD.

Anonymous said...

Its not doomed. If the American branch that defines itself from Episcopal Liberalism cannot tolerate its new home, it will reconstitute again. Reminds me of the early church in America.