Saturday, March 25, 2006

Perhaps Schism is the way forward?

A particularly odious biproduct of the current wrangle in the Anglican Communion over gay priests and bishops is the utter lack of focus within the communion of how purely political maneuvers may be adversely affecting the very subject of their disagreement: homosexuals.

We have seen this clearly in Nigeria over the last two months. President Olusegun Obasanjo presents a law to the Nigerian Federal Assembly which would meaninglessly ban gay marriage but, more importantly, also ban speech, press, and assembly in support or in advocacy of homosexuality and homosexuals. The legislation, which has not yet passed, would have wide-ranging implications, such as barring church groups, like Changing Attitude Nigera, run by Davis Mac-Iyalla, a gay Anglican Nigerian, from operating within the country.

The Primate of the Anglican Nigerian Church, Archbishop Peter Akinola, has endorsed this legislation. The Church has disavowed Davis Mac-Iyalla, claiming that he was never an Anglican, and that his activities and organization are an attempt to defraud foreign Anglicans wishing to support homosexuality in Nigeria.

Despite the obvious human rights violations implied in the legislation, despite the condemnation of the US State Department, and despite the protest of various international human rights organizations who have called for President Obasanjo to withdraw the legislation, conservative Anglicans in the United States, with whom Akinola is aligned both by doctrine and organizational commitment, have remained silent.

True, several conservative American Anglican leaders have mentioned the legislation. Alan Wisdom was the first (March 3). Speaking to the Washington Blade, this non-Anglican former interim director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (recently replaced by Dr. James Tonkowich, the managing editor of BreakingPoint with Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship, as the permanent director) said that there was a "legitimate concern about the Nigerian law relating to sexual expression ... we would oppose a law like that."

Yet, just a week later (March 9), the director of IRD's Religious Liberty program -- ironic name, huh? -- Faith McDonnell, said, "the proposed federal legislation is onerous to us ... but our society is not yet living in constant fear of the rule of Islamism." In other words, we "would" oppose a law like that, but we're not going to. Why? Because of Islamism. What we're left with, then, is Christianism versus Islamism. I've blogged on Faith McDonnell's IRD letter, and her similar letter to the Times Union of Albany, below. Both letters have led me to question whether the word "Democracy" really belongs in the IRD's moniker.

In the interim (March 4), the Rev Canon Martyn Minns of Fairfax, Virginia, and a member of the Anglican American Council's board (the Episcopal organization with strong historical ties to the Institute on Religion and Democracy), wrote a letter posted on TitusOneNine, that said that "while I find some of the language of the proposed Nigerian law too harsh and unacceptable in our context, sadly there are many other situations that I find even more unacceptable. For example, in Saudi Arabia there are death penalties for women convicted of adultery or for any citizen who converts to Christianity." He further said about Nigeria, "There is a precarious balancing act between those regions that are under Muslim influence -- where Sharia law calls for the stoning of homosexuals -- and those that have a majority Christian population. The situation is volatile as demonstrated by the repercussions from the Danish cartoon saga that have already led to hundreds of Christian and Muslim deaths. Keeping the lid on this situation is a formidable task." Minns argues, in essence, that the threat of Islam is great enough to justify sacrificing democratic principles. Intepreted more broadly, in the context of the recent incarceration and possible release of Abdul Rahman, what he is actually saying is that democratic principles matter more in some cases than in others; that is, only when Democracy protects interests of Christians.

On March 7, Washington-based trustees of the American Anglican Council wrote an open letter, embarrassing themselves by claiming that they could find no evidence that Archbishop Akinola had made any public claim of support for the legislation. Of course, he had. The letter goes on to claim that Chane's op-ed to the Washington Post was nothing more than a personal attack against Archbishop Akinola. They make no mention of whether they would support or condemn the Nigerian legislation. I blogged on this letter here.

On March 15, the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh, and the moderator of the Anglican Communion Network (the only Anglican organization in the US with which Akinola will associate), published a letter on VirtueOnline, publicly defending Archbishop Akinola against Bishop Chane's op-ed. In it, he made the same kernel of an argument advanced by Rev. Minns and the IRD staff -- Akinola is facing a grave threat from Nigerian Islamists and the only way to stop their advance is to appease them. Duncan makes no mention of his endorsement or condemnation of the legislation. I blogged on Duncan's letter here.

The problem, of course, is that conservative American Anglicans find themselves unable to publicly condemn the Nigerian legislation. Even if they found it "onerous," they would be hard pressed to avoid criticism of a man who is, for all intents and purposes, a political ally in Africa, a man who represents a movement within Anglicanism that gives theirs far greater legitimacy than if they were alone.

Meanwhile, conservative American Anglicans who happen to agree with the spirit of the Nigerian legislation banning speech on behalf of homosexuality, such as readers of VirtueOnline (David Virtue is called the Rush Limbaugh of American Anglicans), can fight any mention of the "human rights" dimension of the legislation by saying that Chane's op-ed was just a personal attack against Archbishop Akinola.

Liberal Anglicans, of course, can do nothing substantive.

In the meantime, people like me (a non-Anglican) start to think that conservative American Anglicans are the devil. Fr. Jake echos that concern, when he says, "we also have to pay closer attention to the perspective of those who are outside the Church, who do not always trust our words, because our actions, our witness, is often viewed as being contrary to the message we claim to profess."

It has occurred to me, given what appears to be an imminent schism within the Anglican Communion, that that very same schism might, in fact, be the way forward. Freed from the political dimension of having to defend Akinola against liberal criticism, the civil libertarians among conservative American Anglicans (if there are any) would be able to cajole and pressure Akinola to withdraw his endorsement. Akinola will only listen to those within his "communion," anyway.

But let's be realistic. By the time conservative Anglicans find their conscience, the legislation will already have passed. And will they ever find their conscience, or will they just remain on the wrong side of a human rights debate?


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Swedish saying, directly translated: You are going from clarity to clarity!


Daniel said...

You may be correct, schism may the only way forward, both for the conservatives and liberals.

But I doubt if conservative American Anglicans will be trying reign in Archbishop Akinola. More likely they’ll be trying to figure out how to export his brand of Christianity to America. What a coup that would be if they could ban the media in America from talking or printing anything about homosexuality, ban gay pride parades, ban all public displays of homosexuality, and ban homosexual thoughts from anyone’s mind!

Matt said...

I think I know what you mean by that saying, but I'm not sure. What would be an "indirect" translation?

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Getting better all the time.