Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Nigeria

Nigeria has arrived front and center on two major issues in the last two weeks -- East-West culture wars, as typified by violence between northern Nigerian Muslims and southern Christians (and more broadly the violence inspired by the publications of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed); and the limitation or outright ban of homosexual marriage, behavior, and "speech". The two are related. Sitting near the epicenter of both issues, strangely enough, is the Anglican Church of Nigeria, and its Primate, Archbishop Peter Jasper Akinola.

Attention in this country was spasmodically (and ephemerally) drawn to Akinola over the weekend with an Op-Ed in the Washington Post by the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, John Bryson Chane. Chane has been an outspoken (and to some occasionally unfair) critic of the rise of a conservative movement within the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) over various issues within the Church, primarily the evangelical mission of the Church (i.e., its mission to spread the Gospel, versus ECUSA's "gospel of inclusion," as the conservative movement often derisively calls it), but spurred by the consecration of the openly gay Bishop of New Hampshire, V. Gene Robinson. Since that fateful event in 2003, the global Anglican Communion, with which ECUSA is affiliated, has undergone a radical reallignment. Bolstered by the deep social conservatism of the "Global South" (a term in common employ by the United Nations, and the name by which the Anglican Provinces of the southern hemisphere are known) and their rapid rate of growth, some American parishes, long stagnating under the load of ECUSA-malaise, have split from ECUSA to join diocese in Africa. One example, which was close to me personally, was the realignment of three parishes in the Diocese of Los Angeles with the Diocese of Luweero in the Anglican Province of Uganda, a move which inspired this pastoral letter from the Episcopal Bishop of Los Angeles, Jon Bruno. Other parishes in the US have left ECUSA to join the Diocese of Bolivia, Recife (Brazil), and Caledonia, among others.

The Anglican Communion is now in crisis mode, struggling to salvage a broad, though loosely affiliated, organization from self-destruction under the pull of two very strong forces. On the one hand, northern Anglicans in the US, Canada, and the UK are broadly committed to moderate stands on homosexuality and abortion, and to a sort of evangelicalism-lite, one that is less likely to make simple declarations of faith as those that are declared canonically in the Gospels. On the other hand, the Global South, and splinter organizations in the North (see the American Anglican Council, or AAC, and the Anglican Communion Network, or Network) are "orthodox" on the issues of homosexuality and abortion, and consider their purpose to be far more missionary than the stated purpose of ECUSA or other Northern Anglicans. The strength of the Global South is lent considerable credence by the fact that churches outside the traditional strongholds of the Northern Church are growing considerably faster. The correlation (to me, debatable) is then made between the rate of church growth in the Global South and the far more conservative positions taken on issues of orthodoxy.

American Christian evangelicalism, in the last several decades, has undergone a significant transformation, aligning itself with conservative American politics, most strongly with the national-defense / tough-on-crime / personal-responsibility politics of the Republican Party. Splintering parishes in the North are no exception, despite their "Mainline Protestant" background in ECUSA. One need only look at posts at the conservative Anglican blog VirtueOnline to see that this is the case. Though Virtue's blog and his readership are by no means representative of the broader American Anglican conservative community (TitusOneNine maintains balanced coverage of events relevant to "orthodox" Anglican readers), words like "liberal" and "conservative" are freely employed, and almost always mean the same thing whether applied to biblical orthodoxy or American politics, such as this apology for New Testament support of the death penalty, or this report on the 500+ scientists publicly proclaiming their doubt about evolutionary biology (never mind the 25,000+ scientists who signed a counter-petition). It is not worth our time to go through the many other websites and news venues that conflate conservative American politics with evangelicalism, because most of these have nothing to do with evangelical Anglicanism as it is practiced in the US or in the Global South.

However, it is important to keep in mind that the organizational roots of conservative Anglicanism in the US are deep inside the Republican Party. The AAC, mentioned above as an umbrella group for American conservative Anglicanism, has historical and present ties with the Institute on Religion and Democracy (or IRD), a conservative political group devoted to supporting evangelical Christianity as part of movement conservatism. The IRD has received considerable support ($4,679,000 between 1985 and 2005) from The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Richard Mellon Scaife via the Carthage Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundaiton, and the Scaife Family Foundation, the Randolph Foundation, the Castle Rock Foundation (the Coors family), and others.

This is not to say that all AAC members are hard-core conservative Republicans -- they may have no political affiliation at all. However, we must take for granted that the movement is driven (or at least heavily supported by in-kind contributions -- for example, the IRD and AAC websites used to be identically formatted, and their offices were in adjacent suites in an I St. office building in northwest Washington, DC) by a political and social agenda effectively separate from the movement of expanding evangelicalism in the Global South. The IRD board is populated by such conservative luminaries as Mary Ellen Bork, Fred Barnes, author of "Rebel in Chief", Richard J. Neuhaus, Michael Novak, and is advised by conservative radio talk-show host Michael Medved, a group that spends little time evangelizing in Kenya.

The radical conservative agenda of this melding of religion and politics dirties religion immensely. Like Tony Campolo has said,

When government and church begin to mix, you got a problem. It's like mixing ice cream with horse manure: You will not ruin the horse manure, but it will ruin the ice cream. I think to mix the church and state is to, in fact, put the church in a compromising position.

And where it gets really complicated, however innocently, is when the northern conservative Anglican movement, driven by political trends in the US, Canada, and the UK, affiliates itself with diocese in the Global South, which are "conservative" for sometimes completely different reasons. The Op-Ed by Bishop Chane discusses the decision by Archbishop Akinola, the Primate of Nigeria, to support new Nigerian legislation that effectively outlaws homosexuality. The law, which can be found here (pdf), states that "publicity, procession and public show of same sex amorous relationship through the electronic or print media physically, directly, indirectly or otherwise are prohibited in Nigeria," and that "any person who is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a term of 5 years imprisonment."

Here is some of what Bishop Chane said:

It's no secret that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are engaged in a bitter internal struggle over the role of gay and lesbian people within the church. But despite this struggle, the leaders of our global communion of 77 million members have consistently reiterated their pastoral concern for gays and lesbians. Meeting last February, the primates who lead our 38 member provinces issued a unanimous statement that said in part: "The victimization or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us."

We now have reason to doubt those words.

Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, primate of the Church of Nigeria and leader of the conservative wing of the communion, recently threw his prestige and resources behind a new law that criminalizes same-sex marriage in his country and denies gay citizens the freedoms to assemble and petition their government. The law also infringes upon press and religious freedom by authorizing Nigeria's government to prosecute newspapers that publicize same-sex associations and religious organizations that permit same-sex unions.

Were Archbishop Akinola a solitary figure and Nigeria an isolated church, his support for institutionalized bigotry would be significant only within his own country. But the archbishop is perhaps the most powerful member of a global alliance of conservative bishops and theologians, generously supported by foundations and individual donors in the United States, who seek to dominate the Anglican Communion and expel those who oppose them, particularly the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Failing that, the archbishop and his allies have talked of forming their own purified communion -- possibly with Archbishop Akinola at its head.

Because the conflict over homosexuality is not unique to Anglicanism, civil libertarians in this country, and other people as well, should also be aware of the archbishop and his movement. Gifts from such wealthy donors as Howard Ahmanson Jr. and the Bradley, Coors and Scaife families, or their foundations, allow the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy to sponsor so-called "renewal" movements that fight the inclusion of gays and lesbians within the Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches and in the United Church of Christ. Should the institute succeed in "renewing" these churches, what we see in Nigeria today may well be on the agenda of the Christian right tomorrow.

Many countries have laws restricting marriage on any number of grounds. Some of these, such as age, kinship and marital status, for instance, are prudent, while most of us believe other sorts of restrictions, including race and religion, are oppressive and indefensible. Our global community has certainly achieved no consensus on the issue of same-sex marriage or the related issues of civil unions.

But the Nigerian law has crossed the line in several important respects. Its most outrageous provision deals not with marriage but with "same-sex relationships" and prohibits essentially any public or private activity in any way related to homosexuality. It reads in part: "Publicity, procession and public show of same sex amorous relationship through the electronic or print media physically, directly, indirectly or otherwise are prohibited in Nigeria."

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

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

The response of the Anglican conservative David Virtue (of VirtueOnline) to this Op-Ed was interesting. Far from dealing with the issue of the potential human rights violations that might evolve from the support of the highly influential Akinola, Virtue calls ECUSA's broader interests within the Anglican Communion "homoerotic," relying on the fact that homosexuality is a crime throughout Africa to argue that a complaint against Akinola's support of the legislation by Bishop Chane is somehow a call for increased homosexuality among Africans. Virtue then misleads, alleging that Chane claimed that Akinola is directly funded by the AAC or the IRD, relying on a "close personal friend of Akinola" and board member of the AAC, Rev. Canon Martyn Minns, to attest that "[t]he money thing is absolutely not true -- as far as I know the Church of Nigeria does NOT get funding from any conservative foundations nor do they victimize homosexuals -- they love them and pray for them." I'm sure he's right on both counts. But regardless of whether they love and pray for them, the fundamental character of the Nigerian legislation, is, as Chane says, in violation of Articles 18-20 of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights. This legislation, if it were enacted in the United States, would radically abridge 1st Amendment rights to free expression of religion, assembly, and the press, enforcing those bans with a punishment of up to five years in prison. It is one thing for Virtue to argue that the Anglican Church in Nigeria should in no way endorse homosexual relationships, but it is quite another thing if the Anglican Church were to support a criminal (and thus civil) ban on religious/personal behavior.

Not that he reads this blog, but I would certainly challenge David Virtue to reconsider his objection to Chane's words with respect to the potential human rights violations that would be imposed if this legislation were enacted. It's not as if Akinola hasn't come right out and said what Chane claims he said. Voice of America has the meat:

The Anglican Church in Nigeria Thursday said it welcomes government decision to push for legislation to outlaw homosexuality. The government said it will introduce legislation to punish homosexuality by up to five years in jail and ban same-sex marriages. A spokesman for Nigeria's Anglican Church described homosexuality as an abomination.

The spokesman for the Anglican church in Nigeria, Reverend Tunde Popoola, says the proposed ban is appropriate. The Anglican community in Nigeria has long waged a vigorous campaign against homosexuals, as Reverend Popoola explains.

"The Anglican church in Nigeria has been in the forefront of condemning the attitude because the church sees it as an aberration, in other words, we see it as against the norm. We see it as an abomination," he said.

Let's not mince words -- the Nigerian Church wants to outlaw not only gay marriage, but also homosexual behavior, free speech, freedom of assembly, free press, and freedom of religion. Bottom line: Chane is factually correct in his objection. Will Virtue argue from moral relativism to say that standards of conduct (in this case tolerance of those who are different from ourselves) must be allowed to vary on country-by-country basis? I doubt it.

Perhaps more interesting than Virtue's incomplete, and rather non-introspective review of Bishop Chane's OpEd is the response of the Nigerian Church. The Living Church, an Anglican newsletter, ran a news story about the OpEd and the subsequent response on Feb 27th:

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'."

While banning 'gay clubs' in "institutions from secondary to the tertiary level or other institutions in particular" and "generally, by government agencies," the proposed law is silent as to the status of private gay clubs.

The proposed law should also be seen in light of the wider conflict between civil law and Shariah law in Nigeria, Canon Popoola said. Under existing "Islamic law" in effect in "some parts of the country," the acts covered by the proposed law currently "stipulate the death penalty," he said.

Here, Canon Popoola claims that Chane mischaracterized Akinola's role: "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'." Now, I'm not a professional parser, especially with respect to comments made by clerics in the Anglican Communion, but to "welcome it" usually does not indicate that you "deny it" any support. Besides, all Chane said was that "Akinola ... recently threw his prestige and resources behind a new law."

But of far greater interest is the suggestion by Canon Popoola that the Nigerian legislation should be seen in the context of the battle between civil law and Shari'ah. If so, he is providing cover for the legislation by saying, essentially, that, "well, at least the proposed legislation is not as severe as Shari'ah, which demands the death penalty for homosexuality of any kind" (my words).

But I am now quite suspicious of the meaning of the words coming out of the Archbishop's office -- for instance, in response to recent violence following the cartoons depicting the Prophet, and violent and aimless reprisals against Christians and Christian churches, Akinola said in a statement "may we at this stage remind our Muslim brothers that they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation" and that "C.A.N. [Christian Association of Nigeria] may no longer be able to contain our restive youths should this ugly trend continue". That was Tuesday of last week (2/21), just as anti-Christian violence in the north over the previous weekend claimed at least 43 lives (some say at least 50) in the predominantly Muslim cities of Maidugiri and Bauchi. On Tuesday (2/21) and Wednesday (2/22), retaliatory attacks against Muslims in the southeastern Christian city of Onitsha claimed 80 more. (Numbers from ReliefWeb) The situation is ugly, folks (h/t Andrew Sullivan).

Of course, it is unclear from news reports whether the timing of Akinola's statement led directly in any way to the retaliatory attacks on southern Muslims, but the statement certainly offered no effort of reconciliation.

Chane closes his Op-Ed with a request that the "archbishop's many high-profile supporters in this country [ask themselves] why they have not publicly dissociated themselves from his attack on the human rights of a vulnerable population. Is it because they support this sort of legislation, or because the rights of gay men and women are not worth the risk of tangling with an important alliance?"

Good question. But I would also ask this: Can "orthodox" elements of the Anglican Communion afford to develop international affiliations that are for all the world based on violent conflict and discrimination? It is my view that they are putting themselves on the wrong side of a civil rights debate, but far worse they are eagerly seeking a place in the midst of a nasty Christian-Muslim political struggle in the Republic of Nigeria. On both counts, Akinola deserves some form of censure.

UPDATE: Grammatical errors fixed, 3/2/2006, 1 AM

UPDATE II: 3/2/2006, 1 AM. I had left this out before, because it doesn't directly relate to Northern Anglican involvement in Africa, but I think it's worth including if only to highlight the broad instability of the Nigerian government. It is broadly believed that the current Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, wishes to extend his presidency into a third term. Obasanjo is a self-proclaimed born-again Christian in a country whose presidency has traditionally been held, since the country's independence in 1960, by Muslims. A third term would require amending the Nigerian constitution. Such an amendment would lead to considerable unrest, as Muslims who feel their time has come would feel jilted, at best. According to US intelligence chief John Negroponte, the ensuing "chaos could lead to disruption of oil supply, secessionist moves by regional governments, major refugee flows, and instability elsewhere in West Africa."

UPDATE III: 3/2/2006, 7 AM. I fear I may have given the impression that Bishop Chane, of the Diocese of Washington, was the only to raise his voice in protest, or that I am somehow unique in laying this all out. The Rev. Mark Harris, a priest of the Diocese of Delaware, has provided an excellent analysis of the odd roll of Akinola in the Anglican Communion:

The Archbishop of Nigeria, The Most Rev. Peter Akinola, has emerged as a primary spokesperson for the collection of Provincial leaders, diocesan bishops, and other concerned Anglicans who constitute a movement within the Anglican family of churches to “realign” their various bodies into greater conformance with what they understand to be a biblically warranted or based internationally organized church.
On the AAC and the Network, and what Harris believes to be the coming reckoning:
Archbishop Akinola’s various remarks, papers, and official briefings give every indication that he clearly is his own man, save for his obedience to the Word of God as he has received it. It is not at all clear that he is willing to live again in a world where deference is given to a church leader simply because that person is leader of the English church.

Whether or not he is his own man in reality is yet to be seen. He is the chair of CAPA, the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, which he acknowledges has been underwritten by western donors to the present time. He is chair of the South to South Encounter which will meet in Egypt this month. Its funding is from its own members, but where they in turn get the funds is less clear. It is unclear how many of his international activities (which are considerable) are funded by Western conservative voices, particularly the AAC and the Network.

The effort to realign the Anglican Communion has given rise to the creation of a wide variety of agencies and organizations, some more a reality than others. All the meetings, travels, lectures, caucuses, consultations and encounters necessary to put this together costs a great deal, and there is considerable lack of clarity as to where the funding comes from.

There is no question that the funding of the AAC or the Network includes major donors whose concerns and objectives are not primarily about the Episcopal Church but about conservative agendas across ecclesial structures. There is also considerable concern that those non-church conservative agendas include paralyzing the ‘mainline’ denominations with such internal dysfunction that they cease to be able to carry out the progressive agendas of their own synods. So the question of AAC and Network engagement with the Archbishop of Nigeria and his agenda involves the question of funding, and the agenda of these outside funding sources.

On the Akinola's conception of homosexuality:
The Archbishop speaks his mind on many occasions, and what he says is often intriguing, sometimes hurtful, sometimes constructive and occasionally destructive.

He has said horrid things about gay persons:

"I cannot think of how a man in his senses would be having a sexual relationship with another man. Even in the world of animals, dogs, cows, lions, we don't hear of such things." (The Atlantic online)

And about gay and lesbian persons:

"God created two persons -- male and female. Now the world of homosexuals has created a third -- a homosexual, neither male nor female, or both male and female -- a strange two-in-one human."

"The acceptance of homosexuality and lesbianism as normal is the triumph of disobedience; the enthronement of human pride over the will of God. This lifestyle is a terrible violation of the harmony of the eco-system of which mankind is a part. As we are rightly concerned by the depletion of the ozone layer, so should we be concerned by the practice of homosexuality." (Both [quotes] from Why I object to Homosexuality and Same-sex Unions)

His arguments – that homosexuals are a "two-in-one human" and that homosexual lifestyle is somehow related to the eco-system -- are amazing in their profound misreading of both homosexuality and humankind’s role in the eco-system. His suggestion that not "even in the world of animals, dogs, cows, lions, we don't hear of such things" turns out not to be completely true, but worse it makes the dreadful hierarchical comparison where, as President Mugabe of Zimbabwe stated, gay people are "worse than dogs..."

I can only repeat the words of AAC boardmember, Rev. Martyn Minns, quoted by David Virtue as saying of the Nigerian Church, "they [don't] victimize homosexuals -- they love them and pray for them."

Those interested in a very important perspective on changes within the Anglican Communion, and for recent news and links on Archbishop Akinola should continue with a reading of Rev. Mark Harris's excellent blog.

UPDATE IV: 3/3/2006, 12:10 PM. I have received word from some in the Anglican community that my characterization of most conservative Anglicans as using language similar to that used by American political conservatives is misleading. I have changed the paragraph starting with "American Christian evangelicalism, in the last several decades..." to reflect the fact that not all conservative Anglicans reflect the conservative political perspective of someone like David Virtue.

5 comments:

Daniel said...

A very thorough and enlightening discussion of this issue. Many people may think this is not important because it is way off in Nigeria and who really cares what they do anyway. Don’t you believe it, this is a glimpse of the will of conservative Christianity and if they can peddle their influence to help pass laws like this in Nigeria, they’ll soon be trying in the U.S.

Is it a coincidence that as soon as Justice Alito was confirmed South Dakota introduced a law written to almost completely ban abortion? As I understand it, if South Dakota’s law is upheld abortion would not be allowed even in cases of rape or incest, or even to protect the health of the mother. Abortion would only be allowed if the mother’s life was in imminent danger.

I served my country for 24 years in the Army and consider myself a patriot. I am a Christian and consider myself a moderate, in that I disagree with both the liberals and the conservative fundamentalists, and this kind of precedent scares me for the future of my church and the future of my country.

Matt said...

Daniel,
Thanks for your note. I'm curious: on what issues do you tend to disagree with liberals?
Matt

John Wilkins said...

Excellent and thorough exploration into the debate. Fortunately, the emerging consensus in the Episcopal Church is that some gay relationships represent God's will.

Jared Cramer said...

Thanks for this thorough analysis. One response, you said:

Will Virtue argue from moral relativism to say that standards of conduct (in this case tolerance of those who are different from ourselves) must be allowed to vary on country-by-country basis? I doubt it.

Virtue may not argue that, but it seems that is very close to what TitusOneNine argues.

Matt said...

Jared, I completely agree. Did you see my other post on this blog relating to this?
Matt