Sunday, April 30, 2006

Archbishop Peter Akinola among Time's top 100 most influential world figures

Time magazine has selected my favorite Anglican cleric, Archbishop Peter Jasper Akinola, Primate of all Nigeria, as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Megachurch pastor, and author of "The Purpose Driven Life," Rick Warren lays down some very thick demagoguery in his description of the Primate (emphasis mine):
Akinola personifies the epochal change in the Christian church, namely that the leadership, influence, growth and center of gravity in Christianity is shifting from the northern hemisphere to the southern. New African, Asian and Latin American church leaders like Akinola, 61, are bright, biblical, courageous and willing to point out the inconsistencies, weaknesses and theological drift in Western churches.

... Akinola has the strength of a lion, useful in confronting Third World fundamentalism and First World relativism. He has been criticized for recent remarks of frustration that some felt exacerbated Muslim-Christian clashes in his country. But Christians are routinely attacked in parts of Nigeria, and his anger was no more characteristic than Nelson Mandela's apartheid-era statement that "sooner or later this violence is going to spread to whites." I believe he, like Mandela, is a man of peace and his leadership is a model for Christians around the world.
According to Peter Boyer's New Yorker article two weeks ago, Warren was present at the 2005 meeting in Pittsburgh at which Akinola called on conservative Episcopalian to "s#!& or get off the pot" (my paraphrase; pardon the French), and pick the Network or the Episcopal Church. Warren made a similar call, saying "[w]hat’s more important is your faith, not your facilities ... The church is people, not the steeple. They might get the building, but you get the blessing."

I wonder if he knows about the famous legislation (pdf) that Akinola has endorsed? If not, he is directed here.

(photo lifted from Time article on Akinola)

Friday, April 28, 2006

Following the Money

(updated below)

Jim Naughton, the communications director of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington just published a two-part series of short articles on his investigations of the money trail in conservative Anglican cirles in the US.

You can find the series here. Thinking Anglicans has also posted on the article -- I'm sure the comments section there will be quite active over the weekend.

At the moment, I have no opinion, as I don't yet have time to read it (or write about it). Tomorrow ...

UPDATE: Political Cortex covers Jim Naughton's piece in The Washington Window.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

If anyone still had illusions about the political slant of the IRD ...

Mark Tooley, recently of White House Easter Egg Roll fame, and the director of the United Methodist Committee at the Institution on Religion and Democracy (a religious front group for Republican politicos), penned the following in FrontPage Magazine (emphasis mine):
The Episcopal Church, at its upcoming General Convention in June, will consider whether to endorse reparations for 250 years of American slavery.

The two-million member Episcopal Church is the embodiment of the declining and aging Protestant denominations whose elites prioritize left-wing politics. And, like the other "mainline" denominations, it is largely white and upper-middle class. To compensate for their failure to attract racial minorities, Religious Left prelates often adopt radical race-related causes. It is the perfect issue for anti-American religious elites. Obsess over a social sin of past centuries that will portray the United States and Western Civilization in the most sinister light. Meanwhile, ignore or minimize the personal sins and spiritual needs of leftists. Mainline prelates feel "prophetic" and "relevant" when they adopt causes such as reparations for slavery.


The Religious Left, on slavery reparations, as on most issues, misses the point. Slavery was endemic to every culture at some point. The universalization of the Jewish God through the Christian Church fueled to [sic] the slow but inexorable demise of slavery. Human equality before a sovereign and loving deity made slavery morally impossible.
"Slow but inexorable," my ass. It took at least 1700 years before the Church, in its official capacity, even brought it up, and we're still struggling with its aftermath to this day.

Two things I know for certain: that the issue of reparations deserves honest debate from both sides, and that this guy needs help.

Analysis from PINR on the Niger Delta

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has scaled up attacks on oil facilities in the Delta in recent months. They have signaled their intention to continue their efforts to regain enough local control of the vast mineral under their feet. Their aim is to lift themselves (predominantly ethnic Ijaws) and others (such as the Ogoni further east) out of the poverty that has plagued the Delta for as long as anyone alive can remember, poverty that is effectively enforced by Nigerian government policy in its close financial relationship with oil companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, and others.

The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) released a new "intelligence brief" on the crisis in the Delta that I found factually balanced and a good primer on the problems (although any serious student of the Delta should definitely get their hands on two books, "The Next Gulf" by Andrew Rowell, et al., and "This House Has Fallen: Nigeria in Crisis" by Karl Maier).

The risk, as I see it, is that the Delta's signficance in world oil production (crude prices have probably gone up $5 a barrel in the last month or so just because of violence there), its relative proximity to the US, and the new thinking spawned by the Bush Administration that all local conflicts are essentially terrorist, will all persuade big Oil Consumers, like the US and China, to enact the simplistic response of condoning, if not supporting, continued oppression -- or worse, seeing armed intervention in the Nigeria as a necessity without treating the basic injustices that led to the conflict in the first place.

As PINR puts it:
Security conditions in Nigeria show no sign of improvement. A new Ijaw tribe militant group in the Niger Delta, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (M.E.N.D.), is tallying up the number of successful attacks against government security forces and multinational oil companies. M.E.N.D. is a shadowy organization that first came to prominence on January 11, 2006 when it kidnapped oil workers based at Royal Dutch Shell's offshore EA oil rig. While the workers were released, M.E.N.D. has proven to be a capable, armed organization. For instance, since January, M.E.N.D. has killed at least 24 soldiers and police, kidnapped 13 oil workers and caused severe damage to several critical oil pipelines.
It's all too easy (and simple) to paint MEND as a just another terrorist group, lined up like ducks in a row in the Global War on Terror. But to those who are immersed in the Delta and its conflicts, it looks very different. On Democracy Now! (April 19), Amy Goodman interviewed Nigerian Nobel Laureate playwright Wole Soyinka about the conflict in the Delta (emphasis mine):

AMY GOODMAN: And the Niger Delta, we talked about it in our first part of the interview, but the level of militancy, the anger at the oil companies coming into the Niger Delta, this organization called MEND, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, can you tell us who they are?

WOLE SOYINKA: They're very young, mostly, very highly motivated people who, however, have links with some of the elders, the progressive elders in the region, in Bayelsa, for instance, in Ijaw region, many belong to the Ijaw ethnic group, and from all indications, they're very articulate. The ones whom I’ve spoken to asked me to intervene in a number of ways in Nigeria, very articulate, and at the same time, they're reluctant rebels. Take, for instance, an email which one of them sent to me, said, "Prof, listen. We are people who would rather be with our families raising our children, sending them to school. We’re not happy sort of carrying out operations in the creeks. We want to be home. We want all this to be over so we can return to our families, but what future do our children have? There are no schools, there are no clinics. All the wealth in this region is going to Abuja, is going to sustain the rest of the nation, so it's about time that we took a stand. We want you to understand this." This is the kind of language which they use. It's not bravado; it’s not crude, thuggish kind of people, at least the ones whom I’ve spoken to.

AG: The way it's conveyed in the United States is kidnappers, thugs, people who blow up oil pipelines.

WS: Well, it's unfortunate that they have that image. I've discussed this with them also. I’ve tried to persuade them, for instance, that hostage-taking will be counterproductive and will actually alienate lots of supporters, that they should -- they must learn not to follow a particular pattern of condemnable violence. And I have a feeling that once the negotiations, which have yielded a certain result at the Yenagoa Accord, once the conditions, the conditions of those accords are fulfilled by the government, once the international community actually supervises and compels the federal government to, you know, abide by those agreements, I have a feeling that we will – and once a greater deal of autonomy is conceded to that region, in other words, the right to control their own resources, to pay a tax to the center and to determine the priorities of their own development, whether it’s education, health, to actually develop that entire degraded area. Once these just demands are met, I have a feeling that we'll see the end of unrest in the Delta region.

AG: And the responsibility of the oil companies, what do you see it as?

WS: Oh, that's part of the conditions also. The oil companies are expected to pay compensation for the damage they have done to the environment. Yes, that’s one of the conditions they’ve written there.

Should the crisis in the Delta escalate, we in the West must be very careful to avoid seeing our higher gas prices vis-a-vis Nigeria as a result of terrorism.

PINR is close to making this leap (emphasis mine):
These factors demonstrate why instability will continue in Nigeria, primarily in the country's Niger Delta region. The frequent instability has already cut Nigeria's oil exports down about 20 percent; on April 25, for example, ExxonMobil announced that it evacuated non-essential staff from Nigeria's Qua Iboe oil facility, the country's largest export terminal, over concerns that an attack was imminent.


Expect Ijaw militants to continue, and probably escalate, their attacks against government and multinational interests, and watch as energy companies, and government security forces, struggle to adapt to this pervasive threat.
No mention from PINR of how the Nigerian government and the oil companies might see a way forward through good old-fashioned conflict resolution.

Remember, our navy is already there.

China now has skin in the game

After his coming-out visit to the US, Chinese President Hu Jintao made the following deal with the Nigerians (Boston Globe):
Nigeria agreed to give China four oil exploration licenses in exchange for a commitment to invest about $4 billion in refining and power generation in Nigeria, in one of seven deals signed on Wednesday.

Hu also agreed to $500 million in export credits on concessionary terms to Nigeria.

Rising world oil prices, which hit a record $75 last week, have stoked fierce competition between Asia and the West over access to new reserves.

China and other Asian countries have snatched some valuable concessions away from Western multinationals by offering soft loans or combining oil deals with non-oil investments.

That's a guaranteed veto on any Security Council resolution on human rights in the Niger Delta.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Abstinence-only requirement hurting HIV/AIDS fight in Africa

(updated below)

Read it here. Money quote:

The United States Government Accountability Office recently concluded U.S. health field teams are less effective than they could be because they must heavily promote abstinence as a primary means to stop the spread of AIDS.

The guidelines—imposed by Congress and enforced by the Bush administration’s Global AIDS Coordinator—require that field teams spend 33 percent of their prevention funds on programs that advocate abstinence or monogamy within marriage. AIDS activists have long criticized such messages because marriage is not an option for gays.

Field teams interviewed for the GAO report dated April 4 said the requirement precludes them from using their prevention funds in more effective ways, like delivering comprehensive messages that include information about condom use.

According to the report, 17 of 20 country teams said the spending requirement challenges "their ability to respond to local prevention needs." The requirement also is impeding work in certain "focus countries," where the epidemic is most severe.

UPDATE: The original GAO report, dated April 4, 2006, can be found here (pdf, 93 pages).

Vatican flinches on condom use in fight against HIV/AIDS

According to the Washington Post (Tuesday), the Vatican has commissioned a study on whether "condoms can be condoned" in the effort to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS:
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, who heads the Vatican office for health care, was quoted over the weekend in La Repubblica daily as saying his office was preparing a document on the question of condoms and AIDS, and that it would be released soon.

But on Tuesday, he clarified that his office was merely studying the issue at the request of Pope Benedict XVI as part of a broader "dialogue" with other Vatican departments.


While the Vatican has no specific policy concerning condoms and AIDS, the Roman Catholic Church opposes the use of condoms as part of its overall teaching against contraception. It advocates sexual abstinence as the best way to combat the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The issue was reignited last week when a one-time papal contender, retired Milan Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, said in comments published in the news weekly L'Espresso that condoms were the "lesser evil" in combatting AIDS. [emphasis mine]

I can't speak to the theological question, but I can point the Pope to lessons learned in Uganda. After initiating a comprehensive "ABC" (Abstinence / Being Faithful / Condoms) HIV/AIDS prevention program in 1990, Uganda saw a massive drop in the HIV prevalence rate from nearly 31% in 1990 to just over 5% in 2004 (although a report by the NGO National Guidance and Empowerment Networt estimated the prevalence rate that year to be closer to 17%, showing just how difficult it can be assess prevalence in developing countries where not everyone has access to health care facilities). [Source]

Whatever the actual rate, frustration is growing in Uganda over the insistence in Bush's PEPFAR program that 1/3 of its HIV/AIDS prevention budget go to abstinence-programs. According to

In 2004 the Ugandan government issued a nationwide recall of the condoms distributed free in health clinics, due to concerns about their quality. Although tests showed there was nothing at all wrong with the condoms, the government said that public confidence in the brand had been badly dented, so they would not redistribute them. By mid-2005 there was said to be a severe scarcity of condoms in Uganda, made worse by new taxes which made the remaining stocks too expensive for many people to afford.

Some have said the US is largely to blame for the shortages. According to Stephen Lewis, the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, "there is no question that the condom crisis in Uganda is being driven and exacerbated by PEPFAR and by the extreme policies that the administration in the United States is now pursuing".

Mr Lewis has also said that PEPFAR's emphasis on abstinence above condom distribution is a "distortion of the preventive apparatus and is resulting in great damage and undoubtedly will cause significant numbers of infections which should never have occurred".

However, speaking in August 2005, Uganda's coordinator of condom procurement at the Ministry of Health denied there was any shortage of condoms, and said that new stocks would be distributed soon. She also said the government was committed to promoting all three parts of the "ABC" strategy: Abstinence, Faithfulness and Condoms.

Lest you take what the Ministry of Health says at face value, consider that abstinence-only programs are growing in strengh in Uganda (

Uganda receives significant amounts of funding from America, and much of the PEPFAR money is being channelled through pro-abstinence and even anti-condom organisations which are faith-based, and which would like sexual abstinence to be the central pillar of the fight against HIV. This money is making a difference - some Ugandan teachers report being instructed by US contractors not to discuss condoms in schools because the new policy is "abstinence only".

Small community-based organisations are increasingly shifting the emphasis of their prevention programmes to comply with the agenda of PEPFAR's favoured donors. This change is also being encouraged by evangelical churches within Uganda, and by the First Lady, Janet Museveni. Around the country dozens of billboards have sprung up promoting only abstinence to prevent HIV infection, with no mention of condoms.

I'll leave it here, but if you want to read more, I suggest checking out Human Rights Watch's 2005 report on abstinence-only programs in Uganda, Planned Parenthood's short 2004 article on those programs,'s summary of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the US, and Population Action International's fact sheet on the ABCs of HIV/AIDS prevention.

What public financing of elections in the US would cost me

Let's assume for the moment that permitting campaigns to be financed largely by donations from wealthy people leads to an agitated political economy, and that public financing of elections would alleviate much of that agitation.

How much would public financing cost?

Let's start with the amount of money raised by candidates for all federal elections in 2002 and 2004.

In 2002, Senate candidates raised $369.9 million, and House candidates raised $637.8 million. In 2004, the numbers were $542.7 million for the Senate, and $696.4 million for the House. Congressional races in 2002 and 2004 raised a total of $2.25 billion (source

In 2004, presidential candidates raised $880.5 million (source

Total receipts for 2002 and 2004 were, therefore, $3.13 billion.

This sounds like a lot of money, but consider that, in 2003, 88.9 million taxable returns were filed. Of these, 39.7 million were filed as "married, filing jointly", raising the total number of taxpayers represented by these returns to 128.7 million (source IRS). Divided among all taxpayers, the money raised in the 2002 and 2004 elections comes to $24.31 per taxpayer.

When split over the four years covered by the 2002 and 2004 elections, the cost of public financing would be on the order of $6.08 per person.

Now, consider that Medicare Part D will probably cost American taxpayers $200 billion. This comes out to $1555 per taxpayer over 10 years, or $156 per year over 10 years.

Which would you rather pay? $156 per year to have your elected officials make stupid decisions, or $6 per year to have them screw on their thinking caps?

Sullivan's decaying defense

I wrote on Monday about Andrew Sullivan's increasingly stretched rationale for having supported the Iraq War: that the War was a good idea, but those executing it were incompetent. This allows him to have been "academically" correct about the war's chances while being able to blame its outcome on the failure of our leaders to properly execute it.

A reader responded to his post, somewhat echoing my complaint:
I think you go too far -- the problem isn't only Rumsfeld, but the war itself. Pinning all the blame on one person is simply a way for people who supported the invasion from the beginning to get themselves off the hook for not anticipating the wars failures.
To which Sullivan responds (my emphasis):
Some good points. Iraq was always going to be extremely tough. We under-estimated the appalling damage Saddam had already wrought on Iraqi civil society (which makes removing him even more morally defensible). However brilliantly we conducted the war and occupation, the deep ethnic divisions would have emerged, and the psychic wounds of the past revived.
This is interesting. Not only is Sullivan admitting that Rumsfeld and Bush's execution of the war was incompetent, but that we always knew the war would be difficult.

He's given on every major point. He now admits that the war is going badly, that our leaders are incompetent, and that the war was always "going to be extremely tough." Now all he has to do is admit that it was a bad idea in the first place. Only fantasy bars this last admission.

Here's hoping for Mea Culpa #2.

UPDATE: Sullivan has just posted a quote from Joe Scarborough echoing his own rationale for support of the war / hatred of Rumsfeld that kind of made my stomach turn.

The question that ends the debate?

For some time now, the Church of Nigeria's (Anglican Communion) Communications Director, Canon AkinTunde Popoola, has participated in discussions in the comment sections of posts to Thinking Anglicans on the relationship between the Church and Changing Attitude Nigeria's Director, Davis Mac-Iyalla (see here, here, and most importantly here, for examples -- the Canon goes by Tunde). Answers to Canon Popoola's disclaimers regarding Mr. Mac-Iyalla, namely that he is a thief, not gay, not Anglican, and that his recent travel to Europe was to trick the UK members of Changing Attitude into helping him seek asylum in the EU, are answered on Changing Attitude's news page.

Davis is the gay Anglican Nigerian, and leader of the Nigerian branch of Changing Attitude, who in the last year bravely (some would say naively) challenged the Anglican Church in Nigeria to accept its homosexual congregants. For more on Davis, see one of my previous posts.

In the latest exchange on Thinking Anglicans, Canon Popoola inadvertently revealed that he did not know the content of the legislation (pdf) that his boss, Archbishop Peter Akinola, Primate of All Nigeria (Anglican Communion), had publicly endorsed in early March. The Nigerian bill, as many have pointed out, forbids not only public and private ceremonies of same-sex marriage in Nigeria, but also bans the participation of any party in those ceremonies -- the language fails to define "participation." Violators would be subject to five years' imprisonment. We in the US are having an ongoing debate about gay marriage that prevents us from making an unequivocal admonition of the exercise of this ban in Nigeria, but there are other provisions in the bill that are far more worrisome. Also subject to five years' imprisonment are speech, assembly, and the press in advocacy of gay marriage and homosexual relationships, as well as public show or procession of homosexual relationships.

In the comment's section of the April 19 post on Thinking Anglicans, entitled "Nigeria: latest developments," Canon Popoola made the following statement addressed to me:
In 46 years of independence, there had been laws in Nigeria that will punish a confirmed homosexual with either death or 14 years in jail. I am yet to be aware of anyone being so punished and wonder at Davis’ fear. A new law is being proposed to (as I personally see it) reduce the term to 5 years and also avoid imposition of a practice the Church terms to be sinful upon the unsuspecting populace. I am still amazed to read that the same church should kick against such a law.
In other words, a relatively mild jail sentence of 5 years in a prison such as this is necessary to prevent the spread of homosexuality. Yet, in an earlier comment, he said:
The Church of Nigeria is a God fearing body of believers. I repeat we disturb no intending worshipper, turn away no one, persecute no one, and unashamedly maintain the sanctity of the Holy Scriptures.
The contradiction between these statements is plain. On the one hand, he and the Church in Nigeria persecute no one; on the other, they advocate prison sentences for those to whom they wish to minister. Furthermore, the legislation does not reduce the sentence from 14 years' to 5 years', but rather adds 5 years' for show of homosexuality to any 14 year sentence for private homosexual acts.

The Canon does not appear to understand what implications such legislation would have, or what the legislation calls for. Several people, including myself, challenged the Canon to state plainly some variant on the following statement: that the Church in Nigeria does not support the imprisonment of gay men and women for their speech or for the organizations they establish. Colin Coward, Director of Changing Attitude UK, posted a press release challenging Canon Popoola to find his way back to the facts. A response is not yet forthcoming.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Sullivan's escape hatch

I know I'm not the only one out there to find Andrew Sullivan's ongoing discussion of the Iraq War tendentious. A long-time supporter of the effort, he still believes it was "noble"; but now, in what is all to easily interpreted as a face-saving measure, he has assumed, like so many others, the posture of the noble but wronged neocon, whose only error was to believe that Bush and Rumsfeld knew what they were doing.

To paraphrase Stephen Colbert, he did the right thing, but he was wrong to do it.

I can't fault him for no longer trusting Bush and Rumsfeld, or for thinking that the first step in regaining our composure in Iraq is to let Rumsfeld go, but I am frustrated that he has spent so little time re-analyzing why he thinks the war had the potential for success -- that it could have been what it was sold to be. His has always been a mission of idealism, holding that "a tipping point" really exists and that the Iraq War was it. In fact, this "reverse domino" theory of democracy has never been demonstrated.

His apology in early March reminds us of so many these days, no better than "I'm sorry if I offended anyone," or "I'm sorry, but I'm still right because ..."

So, as long as Sullivan continues to allow himself this escape hatch, it's going to be hard to take anything he says about Iraq seriously ever again.

Obasanjo's convoy stoned by crowd in Kano

From News24 in South Africa:

Obasanjo's convoy was pelted with stones by protesters as it passed through the northern city of Kano, a hotbed of opposition to his party's bid to change the constitution to allow him to run for a third term.

As the cars accelerated to escape at least three moped taxi riders were run over. Meanwhile, several of the vehicles in the convoy were damaged by sticks and stones thrown by a mob waving opposition placards and posters.


Monday's protest appeared to have been coordinated, and many demonstrators arrived at the scene in buses emblazoned with posters of Kano's Islamist state governor, Ibrahim Shekarau of the opposition All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP).

Members of the crowd shouted: "We don't support tenure elongation" and "Kano is an ANPP state, PDP has no place here".


International observers, including the US director of intelligence John Negroponte, have warned that any attempt by Obasanjo to cling to power could trigger widespread violence and destabilise Nigeria's fragile region.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Nigeria clears its foreign debt

This as of Friday, April 21, from Reuters (emphasis mine):
Under an agreement reached last June, nations belonging to the Paris Club of creditors wrote off $18 billion they were owed by Nigeria, which is using windfall earnings from high oil prices to pay off $12.4 billion in arrears and debts.


Nigeria is the world's eighth biggest exporter of crude oil and its earnings have soared thanks to high prices on world markets, allowing it to build up $36 billion of foreign reserves.

But it is also one of the world's poorest countries, with the majority of its 140 million inhabitants getting by on less than $1 a day.

Offers of new highway jobs in Niger Delta not enough

According to CNN (read the whole thing):
Nigerian militants whose attacks on the oil industry have cut exports by a quarter said on Wednesday they were not satisfied with the government's proposals to speed development in the Niger Delta.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) repeated a threat to launch further attacks against the world's eighth-largest oil exporter and told oil workers to leave the delta.
If we really want to help Nigerians and alleviate the pressure on the oil market from high demand at the same time, we must see to the Delta. But to do so, such that problems never arise again, will require more commitment from the US and UK governments than Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron are likely to allow.

Getting arrested for attending a meeting, or not?

The Globe and Mail has the following from Botswana (my emphasis):

It was the bimonthly meeting of Legabibo — Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana — and just attending this gathering, in a drab conference room on the edge of the city, was an act of courage. Homosexuality is illegal in Botswana, as it is in most other sub-Saharan African countries. And while no one could get arrested for attending a meeting (you'd have to be caught having sex for that), just showing up at Legabibo is enough to risk ostracism and family shame. The threat of physical violence is pervasive, too.

"People say things to us like, 'Are you crazy, do you think we have such people in Botswana?'" sighed Prisca Mogapi, 25, who heads the group. "They say, 'Being homosexual is something you adopt from people in European countries.' And I have to tell them that it has been in Botswana through history. That you have always had women forced into marriages, but they have had secret relationships. That it's nature and they have to accept these people."

When Ms. Mogapi and her partner invited friends to a party to celebrate their relationship a few months ago, a local newspaper reporter sneaked in with a camera, then published a lengthy exposé about how they danced, drank and ate cake. The word "disgusting" appeared in almost every paragraph. "I wasn't surprised someone could be so horrible," Ms. Mogapi said.

It's still legal to have these meetings in Botswana, whether they're "disgusting" or not. But in Nigeria? Well, not if the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) has its way.

Dada and Max Ernst

Many of Ernst's works can be found in a special exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Gallery in DC. I visited the exhibit yesterday with my wife and parents. One of the pieces, energetically entitled The Gramineous Bicycle Garnished with Bells the Dappled Fire Damps and the Echinoderms Bending the Spine to Look for Caresses, is pictured below:

Dada sought to recast the rules of art, or to break them entirely -- in doing so, the movement revealed its artists' perception of the giddy unreality and inhumanity of the First World War and its aftermath. The obviously incomplete clockworks of Francis Picabia remind me of proto-Rube Golberg Machines, and The Gramineous Bicycle, above, puts me in mind of Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur and its astounding drawings of microscopic organisms, here recast as cogs in what is merely a machine.

If you're in the DC area, visit this exhibit! You have until May 14.

3rd term agenda backfiring?

Reuters thinks so:
National Assembly lawmakers return to Abuja this week to debate a proposal by his supporters to rewrite the constitution allowing him to stand for a third term in elections next year.

This has prompted comparisons by critics with old-style African despots clinging to power.

Analysts say his foot soldiers are damaging his legacy of reform amid widening accusations of blackmail and bribery.

"One of the biggest problems with the third term is the perception that the government, which staked its reputation on anti-corruption, has become a big instrument of corruption to push the agenda," said John Adeleke, an independent analyst.

"It is a dangerous game that is backfiring."

Analysts and lawmakers say it is unlikely that the proposed amendment can attract the two-thirds majority it needs in the national and state assemblies to pass into law.

But even if it does get through, observers say the process has become so discredited that the resurgent opposition may not accept the outcome, leading Africa's most populous nation towards a violent implosion.

President Obasanjo himself has stayed quiet -- I would too if I weren't yet sure the constitution could be successfully changed -- although he has stated clearly that he would stand for a 3rd term if the constitution were in fact amended.

The plan by the President's supporters in his People's Democratic Party to extend his administration into a 3rd term has led to significant unrest in the Niger Delta, the source of a good chunk of our oil in the US, whose exports have been cut by 1/4 following violence over the economic and environmental injustice the Ijaw and Ogoni peoples have suffered in the Delta over the last 50 odd years, which has in turn led to a dramatic increase in the price of crude oil over the last two months, including a $5 jump just this week (see here also), and whose oil output I am quite convinced our country would be willing to send our military to protect.

No one from the Delta has ever held the presidency.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The CofE voice in the House of Lords

Same debate as before, now the Bishop of Coventry on Nigerian religious tensions and violence:

Eight years ago the diocese of Coventry set up a formal link with the diocese of Kaduna. Noble Lords will be aware that Kaduna is almost unique among Nigerian states in being a 50:50 split between Christians and Muslims. I first visited the city of Kaduna in 1999, just two days after a vicious attack on a Christian procession which left 600 Christians dead on the streets. Any sense of self-righteous anger on my part was very soon put into perspective when, a few weeks later, the Christians retaliated, leaving many more dead Muslims.

The presenting cause was, of course, the introduction of Sharia law, but it is rarely quite as simple as that. It has been well said that there is almost nothing one can say about a country as rich and diverse as Nigeria which does not end with the words, "But, of course, it is more complicated than that". Our history as a nation in bringing together the north and the south under Lord Lugard and our record of colonial rule—which, of course, included some exploitation of natural resources—suggest a need for us to have a certain care and humility in saying what ought to happen in Nigeria.

Much is made of the religious conflict in Nigeria. We in Coventry are well served in our International Centre for Reconciliation by a number of people who have committed themselves wholeheartedly, not only to working in the country but to researching it as well. ... They have concluded—and I think I share their conclusions—that religion is often used as a pretext to provide a simplistic hook on which to hang complex ethnic, social and economic problems. The difficulty, of course, is that if the hook is used frequently enough, it becomes the problem. [emphasis mine]

The "War on Terror" and Nigeria

This from Lord Lea of Crondall (Labour) about the Niger Delta (April 18, House of Lords):
I want to say only a few words about the Niger delta. Shell and the other companies are committed to making further investments, but I want to make the point that President Obasanjo has to become much more involved in the political economy of the delta region than he has been hitherto. The share made by the delta states, the pollution states, to national revenues is due to rise from 13 per cent to 18 per cent. It is important that we do not get into a situation where the Americans, who take half the oil, declare the Niger delta to be part of the war on terror. We do not want some crazy assistant in the White House defining it as being part of that war. However, that could be the direction in which things go. [emphasis mine]
I don't think it's quite that bad in the White House just yet, but don't think that Nigeria isn't emerging as a major nexus in the West's 21st Century oil economy.

Another Science-and-Policy car crash

A 1999 review by the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences here in Washington found that the use of medical marijuana is "moderately well suited for particular conditions, such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and AIDS wasting."

Today, the New York Times reports that the FDA, under pressure from a Republican Congress, the US "drug czar" and the Drug Enforcement Agency, report that there are "no sound scientific studies" to support the IM's findings.

John Benson, the co-chairman of the original IM study in 1999, says that the Federal government "loves to ignore our report." Dr. Jerry Avron, a medical professor at Harvard, says that "this is yet another example of the F.D.A. making pronouncements that seem to be driven more by ideology than by science." Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D-NY) called the F.D.A.'s statement a strong indication of how much influence the DEA has over national drug policy. Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), thinks that attempts to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes are just a front for the legalization of all uses.

While the FDA says that state initiatives to legalize marijuana for medical use were "inconsistent with efforts to ensure that medications undergo the rigorous scientific scrutiny of the F.D.A. approval process," scientists who study the use of the drug for wasting disorders and other medical problems claim that they are actively discouraged from performing the necessary research.

Yet, the scientific community is unified in its support of the drug's use. When are we going to stop having these science-and-policy car crashes?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Interview with Archbishop Akinola regarding violence in Onitsha

Christianity Today has the scoop.

3rd term fun from the AP

The AP has a good review today (read the whole thing) of the status of the 3rd term debate in Nigeria (via the New York Times). Here's the meat:
The United States is strongly opposed to a third term, while Britain has indicated support for the idea. Both are close to Africa's most prolific oil producer, the world's eighth-largest producer of crude and fifth-largest supplier to the United States.
The split in opinion between the US and the UK is interesting, and probably won't last for long. John Negroponte voiced concern over a 3rd term agenda some time ago, and according to the AP report the State Department said this week that "executive term limits should be respected in the interests of institutionalizing democracy and opening political space ... (through) a regular turnover of power." [I can't find the source for this quote.] But there are clearly mixed statements coming from Washington, prompting this analysis from Nigeria's Vanguard newspaper:

United States Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, was recently quoted in a Nigerian daily as saying that President Olusegun Obasanjo had said nothing about seeking a third-term, and as such, this was not an issue. Falip-flop. Just a few weeks before Campbell’s earlier statement, angry voices were coming from Washington, denouncing Obasanjo’s third-term agenda. True, initial statements came from a former Under-Secretary at the State Department, but you don’t get to make such noises in Washington unless you have been cleared to do so.

On the other hand, the Brits, who are more savvy at these things, had Jack Straw saying that they do not get involved in issues like constitutional debates which were purely internal affairs, especially when it came to their relationship with friendly countries.

But the message from Parliament seemed to contradict the Vanguard's impression of Washington's equivocality. Lord Waverley, speaking on Tuesday in the House of Lords made a long statement on Nigeria. It's worth quoting this excerpt [emphasis mine]:
The intricacies of Nigeria's internal affairs require a more resolute appreciation by external decision-makers. Stability is paramount and the promotion of accountability is essential, but respecting parliamentary due process is in the best interests of Nigeria, the region and beyond. International pronouncements about constitutional change unleashing turmoil and conflict are somewhat premature. While international friends have a duty to ensure fair play, intervention would be neither useful nor welcome. It is exactly such interference, which derives from a dearth of nuanced cultural and political understanding, which encourages upheavals. The State Department and the White House in particular have recently signalled their acceptance of the proposed amendments, and it would be helpful if the Minister clarified the Government's position tonight. [what?] I can tell the House that senior representatives of the [Muslim] north and east, whom I called on two weeks ago, were far from critical of these amendments and now believe them to be in the best interests of Nigeria and the international community.
Are the US and UK for corrupting Nigeria's democratic institutions (remember, it is broadly believed that Obasanjo massively rigged the 2003 elections) or against it? The process of constitutional change in Nigeria occurs in the National Assembly, not in a referendum.

Lest you think this is a good-faith debate over the nature of constitutional democracy, it's important to remember that the headquarters of Royal Dutch Shell, the oil company with the longest standing in Nigeria, and the one to have initially developed Nigeria for oil export, is in London, across the Thames from Westminster.

Gas prices higher this week because of Nigeria

The financial news gets it, but so far the front pages of most US papers are too focused on Iran. I mean, hey, what with "All-Options-Are-On-The-Table" Bush in charge, with good reason, right? (nervous laughter)

The US price of light, sweet crude oil has just topped $72 a barrel, and has now set all-time records for three days in a row (though the inflation adjusted price of barrel of crude during the 70s oil crisis was $80). [See also a report from the BBC]

Unfortunately, Iran fetishism has diverted attention away from the source of the latest "rally" in the oil market: Nigeria.

According to Bloomberg:
Crude oil rose to a record after a car bomb exploded in the capital of Nigeria's oil-producing region, renewing concern of militant attacks on rigs and pipelines that will disrupt supplies from Africa's largest producer.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, whose assaults have already shut down about a fifth of the country's output, said it detonated a car bomb yesterday at a barracks in Part Harcourt in the Rivers state. MEND struck Royal Dutch Shell Plc's facilities in February and yesterday called for oil workers to leave, threatening further sabotage.

"The car bomb news pushed the price up again,'' said Kevin Blemkin, a broker with Man Financial Plc in London. "The market is very nervous.''


The claim of a bombing at the Bori military barracks followed a statement yesterday by the militants rejecting a plan announced by the Nigerian government to boost development in the Niger River delta. That statement threatened new attacks on oil companies. About 500,000 barrels of day of Nigeria's output remain shut down, Oil Minister Edmund Daukoru said on April 18.
If you doubt that Nigeria has the potential to be the next "squirmish" in the "war on high oil prices," remember that the US Navy is already there (March 21, emphasis mine):
Admiral Ulrich arrived in Nigeria on Monday from Ghana, where he attended a conference between the Gulf of Guinea nations and the US on ways of securing the region, at the Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Institute in Accra.


Admiral Ulrich also confirmed that the US has two ships in the region - one in Accra, Ghana and the other in Congo - to help the region's navies in "terrorism training".

With the situation in the Middle East, the US is looking more and more to Africa - especially the Gulf Guinea - for its oil supply, necessitating increasing interest in the security of the area especially amid rising terrorism in the world.

And by "terrorism" he means the rather complex struggle for local autonomy in the Niger Delta. Obasanjo better work out something quick, and hope, next time, that the militants in the Delta don't reject it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Things fall apart

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
- excerpt from The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats

Peter Boyer's New Yorker article on the trouble brewing in the worldwide Anglican Communion is not online. (UPDATE -- actually, it now is, and it can be found here. That's what I get for taking too long to write this.)

This is a shame. Without actually going out and buying a copy (my wife and I get a subscription), the hopeful reader must rely on an online interview with the author by New Yorker staffer -- and website and softball team manager -- Matt Dellinger. Comments from conservative Anglicans in response to the article, though generally positive, have actually referenced the interview (see here, for example), not the article.

The article is significant, both for what it includes and for what it leaves out. While Boyer accurately and informatively describes the current crisis within the Anglican Communion over orthodoxy, he does not discuss one of the more interesting and frightening byproducts of that crisis -- the uncomfortable behavior of arguably the most powerful Anglican in the world, Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola.

Akinola has received criticism for a wide variety of activities within the Anglican Communion that are not really problems for anyone on the outside, such as myself. But when he endorsed a bill (pdf) last month that would have serious civil rights implications for homosexuals living in Nigeria, he effectively thrust the problems of the Anglican Communion into the public domain.

The legislation is itself curiously written. It is ostensibly a ban on gay marriage (the short title of the bill is the "Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2006"). Without reading it, one might assume that it is similar in scope and intent to the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) proposed in the US House of Representatives in May of 2003 by Colorado congresswoman Marylin Musgrave, and re-introduced by Senator Allard (R-CO) in January of 2005, in response to the entrance of gay marriage into civil law in Massachusetts. The superficial similarity of the FMA and the Nigerian legislation makes it difficult to push our current leadership to do anything about it -- how can we call for the legislation to be withdrawn if we ourselves are having a similar debate?

However, banning gay marriage is moot in a country where there is already a far more strict anti-sodomy law (a colonial era law calls for 14 years' imprisonment). In fact, the real impact of the legislation is two-fold. First, by banning gay marriage, even in entirely private ceremonies, the legislation is an infringement on religious liberty, and possibly an effort to ban church organizations that support homosexual rights from operating within Nigeria's borders (discussed below).

But far more problematic is that the legislation calls for a penalty of five years' imprisonment for anyone who is involved in a gay marriage (whether that marriage occurs within or without Nigeria is not specified) or for anyone 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" (Section 7c). In essence, the bill outlaws "being" gay in Nigeria, codifying the overwhelming taboo among Nigerians (and most Africans) against homosexuals in a law that would give license -- in a country with one of the most corrupt governments in the world -- to harrass, imprison, torture, and possibly kill members of a growing sector of Nigeria's population: the openly gay.

Akinola is not the only Nigerian cleric to support this legislation; it has broad support from Nigerian Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, and Pentecostals.

Prior to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo's visit to the United States two and a half weeks ago, a variety of international human rights organizations called Obasanjo to withdraw the legislation. Since then, calls have been made by Obasanjo loyalists within his People's Democratic Party (PDP) to expedite the passage of the legislation through the Nigerian Federal Assembly.

The benefit of the doubt

Boyer's article is one part history, one part character study, and one part systems research. What appears to interest him most about the crisis in the Anglican Communion, as he says in his interview with Dellinger, is how this crisis has come about, and what structural elements within the Communion have made the crisis possible:
Unlike the Catholic Church, there is no Pope, no overriding single authority, and this is the source of the tension that is finally threatening to tear the whole thing apart.
Boyer's article closely follows this train of thought. In response to the consecration of openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson, of New Hampshire, he says in his interview with Dellinger, "You would think that the question would be 'What does the Church say about this?' But, in this particular church, because of its nature, it's a difficult question to answer. Liberals say that the Bible might seem as though it’s condemning homosexuality, but that it's not, really; the conservatives say that there's a plain meaning of the Bible when it says homosexuality's a sin."

Boyer leaves us with the strong impression that this is a religious struggle that will be fought in the courts, "jurisdiction by jurisdiction, and parish by parish", that the struggle within Anglicanism, the struggle between the Gospel of transformation and the Gospel of affirmation, the struggle between "reasserters and reappraisers" is a local struggle between conservative American Anglicans and politically charismatic Africans on one side who believe that acceptance of homosexuality violates the Gospel of transformation, and an aging Church with no center that has long accommodated members who hold that homosexuality is a facet of human sexuality, which, like heterosexuality, is sanctified only by marriage.

In other words, what do I care? Isn't this an Anglican issue?

I'm willing to give conservative Anglicans the benefit of the doubt. While I actually have the positive belief that homosexuality is just another facet of human sexuality, and that it is therefore perfectly normal and good for homosexual couples to want to marry (and therefore solemnify, sanctify, and stabilize their relationships with vows), it is not my place as a non-Anglican to have an opinion on what the Anglican Communion teaches or believes, even if there is, according to Boyer, "no overriding single authority" to tell me what those teachings might be. Ultimately, what Anglicans decide will have little if any impact on my life.

Of course, participants in this crisis within the Communion are not so sanguine. When Robinson was consecrated in 2003, the moderator of the conservative Anglican Communion Network, Bishop Robert Duncan, of Pittsburgh, was in shock (New Yorker article):
When Robinson was elected bishop, his seminary classmate Bob Duncan offered his prayers but not his congratulations. To Duncan, it was an occasion for grieving; his church had just taken a turn to heresy. "I was a seminary classmate of Gene Robinson's," he says. "I knew Gene. I knew his wife, his children. But that's what's so terrible, you know? What kind of church is this?"
At Robinson's affirmation at the 2003 General Convention (New Yorker article):
... twenty bishops, led by Robert Duncan, of Pittsburgh, rose in protest. "I will stand against the actions of this Convention with everything I have and everything I am," Duncan said. "I have not left, and will not leave, the Episcopal Church or my apostolic role as Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh. It is this Seventy-fourth General Convention that has left us, betrayed us, undone us. May our merciful Lord Jesus have pity on us, His broken bride." With that, Duncan and the others walked out.
Archbishop Akinola is equally clear (New Yorker article):
Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria, has been outspoken on the issue declaring that the Western church has so assiduously accommodated trends in the secular culture that it has betrayed the faith. "What is written of God is for all time, for all people," he told me this winter. "But when you take what is convenient for you, and you hold on to that, and that which is not convenient for you, you throw it away -- then there is a problem."
And Dr. Henry Luke Orombi, Archbishop of Uganda, makes a similarly strong stand (New Yorker article):
They [the Africans] regard with dismay the progressive turn of the Western church, its willingness to rethink the fundamentals of the faith, and its apparent doubt about the plain meaning of Scripture. "The Bible doesn't make as much sense to them as it used to, to their ancestors," Henry Luke Orombi, the Archbishop of Uganda, says. "The interpretation of the Bible is no longer what it was before. And that's why the church life in America is anemic and feeble."
For conservative Anglicans, this is on the face of it a struggle over the nature of the Gospel. In broad terms, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ signifies to the Christian, in Paul's words (Galatians 2:20), that "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." It is the Gospel of Transformation. Dr. Orombi's Easter Message (quoted on TitusOneNine) states the sentiment better than I can:
Death is the most destructive force in the world and no one else in the whole world except Jesus has overcome death by rising from the dead! That means that those who are “in Christ” can also overcome death and all the other destructive forces at work in the world today. In Christ, we can have victory over negative attitudes, over self-destructive behaviours and habits, over hurtful experiences, over damaging relationships, and over devastating circumstances. ... We are not powerless to deal with these issues in our lives! Jesus has conquered death; He is victorious. And, through Him, we too can be conquerors and victorious.
As Boyer tells it, the affirmation of Bishop Robinson at the 2003 General Convention was a denial of the Gospel of Transformation, for a Gospel of Affirmation -- or, as Canon Kendall Harmon has coined it, "reappraisal" of the Gospel message instead of "reassertion" (New Yorker article):
The consecration of Gene Robinson pains Duncan because of its implicit denial of the core elements of the Christian faith: sin and redemption. "If sin isn't sin, you don't need a Saviour," he says. Like many conservative Episcopalians, Duncan says that his battle is not with Gene Robinson, or even over the issue of homosexuality, but with what he considers a radical reinterpretation of the faith by the liberal church. "I'm not in a fight over sexuality, gracious sakes," he says. In his earlier career in campus ministries, he often ministered to young gay and lesbian people. "I loved them and cared for them," he says. "We brought them in and helped them understand that God loved them. And actually not all of them came out of their same-sex affection, but they grew a lot toward God. We just made it clear we can't bless the relationships. Everybody's a sinner; you've got to break yourself."
Duncan and most of his colleagues are quite clear that they welcome homosexuals in the church, but that they will not bless or condone homosexuality. I know this to be true from my own observation.

However, these statements constantly beg the question. Why was Robinson's consecration the tipping point? Wasn't there already plenty of "heresy" in the Anglican Church to make just cause? Indeed, Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, retired of Newark, made his bones with the publication of the "12 Theses." I would have thought that these would be enough to signal to conservatives in the Communion that, provided it countenanced statements like these, ECUSA (the Episcopal Church USA) was long gone as an organization centered on the Gospel of Transformation. However, unlike the affirmation of Robinson, the "12 Theses" were never adopted at a General Convention. Conservative members of ECUSA were deeply unhappy with them, as well as with movements within the Church that trended in that direction, but they were willing to let Spong rant in his corner provided it did not become the official stance of the Church.

Robinson's consecration provided both a real crisis (in terms of the broad adoption of a position that strongly implies a non-Orthodox stance on the Gospel) and the opportunity for those within ECUSA who felt deeply uncomfortable with long-time trend toward "The Gospel of Affirmation" to take a stand.

The political wheels turned. Knowing that they had strong (in fact, majority) support within the broader Anglican Communion, conservative members of ECUSA chose to align themselves with Anglicans outside the US, casting liberal ECUSA as the splinter group. With that, they were in a position to pressure both ECUSA to "repent" and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to keep the Anglican Communion together along orthodox lines.

Any political analyst will tell you that if you create a crisis, you create enemies, and political movements are won and lost by who those enemies are. Pick your crisis well, and you win -- at least in the short term. In the long term, the nature of the associations created in crisis is just as important as the fight itself. Republican Barry Goldwater's loss in the 1964 presidential election led to a dramatic realignment of the Republican party, with alliances formed of northeastern and western money interests and anti-civil rights southern Democrats. The realignment has been an incredible success, making possible such electoral college landslides as Nixon's 1972 and Reagan's 1984 victories. However, the realignment of the Republican Party in the 1960s galvanized the Left, made the Democratic Party the party of African Americans by a very large margin, and helped generate the broad sentiment that the Republican Party has no interest in civil rights (recent political developments in immigration and wiretapping have borne this out).

Boyer wishes to treat the crisis within the Anglican Communion as a slowly evolving explosion facilitated by a lack of ideological leadership at the top. But it's really a realignment precipitated by a crisis over homosexuality, and there are radical implications for how the different factions will be viewed from the outside. Should there be a serious schism within the Anglican Communion, with the Global South and their North American and UK allies eschewing all ties to ECUSA, the Anglican Communion will become -- in the eyes of the world -- an anti-gay (or "pro family") religious organization. And, by aligning themselves so tightly with Akinola, they cast their lot with his endorsement of Nigerian legislation that would essentially ban gay and lesbian Nigerians from "being" in Nigeria. The realignment makes conservative American Anglicans ethically responsible for that legislation -- but however tweaked their conscience might be, their need for political solidarity makes them unlikely to act until the realignment is complete and schism is already a fixture of the Anglican Communion.

Homosexuality and the African Church

While the motives of conservative Anglicans in this crisis may be as pure as those of Pilate's wife, one can't escape the conclusion that, at least in Africa, the realignment is to a very large extent about homosexuality.

As Boyer writes (New Yorker article -- man, I hope I don't get a phone call for all this quoting):
Akinola is the acknowledged leader of the church in the Global South, and as such he is possibly the most powerful figure in Anglicanism. He is, of course, subject to the prejudices of his own culture, in which homosexuality is taboo. Akinola has been quoted as saying that he cannot fathom the sexual union of two men, and that "even in the world of animals, dogs, cows, lions, we don't hear of such things." [this quote has been denied by Akinola]
I would add that many Westerners are similarly burdened by such prejudices. This needs no documentation.

That churchmen such as Akinola "hate" or "fear" gay people is a difficult thing to prove, and I hesitate to use the term "homophobia," since it implies that the kind of fear one has of homosexuals is of the same order that one might have of spiders or open spaces (I've never been "homophobic," so I don't know). Yet, it is not difficult to document the deep difficulties homosexuals face in Africa.

Nigeria and Uganda, two important centers of African Anglicanism, are on a top-ten list of the world's worst places to live if you're gay. Nigerians are deeply prejudiced against homosexuals, and are willing to forgo all pretense to civil and political rights to get rid of them. An editorial in the Tide Online (a Nigerian newspaper) makes my case (March 22):
For the society, the presence of the homosexuals -- some of whom are reportedly high profile citizens -- is a continued threat to moral rectitude and social re-engineering. It is also an enhancement to gross moral depravity on whose throes our society has tottered for too long.

In fact if the odd reports that homosexuals planned to constitute an association to protest against stigmatisation and denunciation, is anything to go by, then Nigeria is into another dimension of moral bankruptcy.

We seem to live in a society where unpredictable moral ills thrive succinctly in tandem with the spirit of free society, an euphemism for a bestial human setting, there is therefore a premonition of trouble that this monster, the so called "free society" has created could wax stronger in Nigeria.
The current Bishop of Okigwe South, David Onuoha, wrote the following on the Church of Nigeria (Anglican) website [all emphasis mine]:
Recently a group of social deviants claiming to be gays in Nigeria [Changing Attitude Nigeria] came together in order to attract recognition. There is no doubt that they were misguided and influenced into taking the action they took because asking for recognition to same sex relationships is clearly alien to our culture.

Those who have been affected by this religious virus should endeavour to channel their thoughts aright to things that are profitable and mutually edifying. Of a truth, both the apostles and disciples of this movement of those who have passion and lust for same sex union are perverts. Perversion is a psychological disorder that can be corrected.

There is no doubt that advocates of gay marriage are motivated by the need to preserve the rights of those who are inclined to live perversely. There is nothing wrong in preserving ones rights. Human rights ensure that man lives as he ought to and not as he likes to.
Leaving aside the Bishop's misunderstanding of the importance of human rights for the health of civil society, it is quite clear that the Nigerian Church is dead-set against the acceptance of homosexuality in Nigeria, on all levels.

On the Church of Nigeria website, Archbishop Akinola claims both that homosexuality is a sin, and that it is against nature. The latter is not an obvious argument (I'm a biologist, and while I could explain how it is that many species engage in homosexual mating, a conservative could simply argue that it's a Fallen World, and I lose the argument ... I guess). But by making the "against Nature" argument, Akinola is putting a philosophical veneer on what is otherwise just personal (or cultural) prejudice -- often times stated in terms of Africa's colonial past (New Yorker article):
To the Global South primates, such acts as the consecration of Gene Robinson without the broad assent of the whole church reflect an arrogant indifference to the consequences. "If you want to be very blunt about it," [Archbishop] Orombi says, "it's a form of neocolonialism."
Bishop Duncan, in a response to an op-ed in the Washington Post by the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, makes a similar point:
It is jarring, to say the least, to see church leaders, who claim to champion the primacy of local understanding and culture, demanding that foreign sister churches give up their own local understanding and culture and be judged by an American understanding of individual rights. There is a word for the one-way imposition of values -- colonialism.
Of course, in his op-ed, Bishop Chane was defending the rights of individuals in a free society, regardless of which Gospel he happens to preach -- if Duncan thinks that Chane was being inconsistent, then he misses the distinction between questions of orthodoxy and questions of human rights. Be that as it may, to use "colonialism" as a means of protecting conservative Anglicans in Africa from criticism serves not just the immediate end of defending a colleague, but further defines the African Church as a kind of de facto Anglican papacy -- infallible and authoritative, untainted by Western decadence -- something for which, according to Boyer, conservative Anglicans are desperate.

(It is ironic that conservatives use "postmodern" concepts of "local understanding and culture" to defend the "postmodern" invasion of liberal ideas in the church -- it is also ironic that Bishop Duncan should cry foul when Akinola himself calls for a "one-way imposition of values" on ECUSA. And I'm very disappointed to see that Duncan believes that our standards of human rights are simply "American" -- they have in fact been adopted by every international governing agency on the planet.)

African Anglicans are particularly sensitive to the flow of "values" from the West, not just because of old wounds, but also because of the way it makes them look to those to whom they wish to evangelize. Boyer writes (New Yorker article):
There is also a practical aspect informing the views of churchmen like Orombi and Akinola, whose churches are in competition with Islam. In the Islamic areas of Nigeria, for example, homosexuality is punishable by death, and Anglicanism's countenancing of gays complicates their evangelical mission. "Instead of proclaiming the grace of God, you have to justify that which God says should not be done," Akinola says. "Instead of putting your energy into the work of mission, you're spending your time defending the indefensible. It makes things much more difficult."
Are possible converts from Islam really balking at the thought that Nigerian Anglicans have some association with "gay" ECUSA? I don't know. Neither do I know how fast the Nigerian church is growing, or whence their converts come.

Nevertheless, it seems clear that if homosexuality has indeed become the albatross they say it has, then it would be very bad indeed if homosexuals turned up within their ranks.

Changing Attitude Nigeria

On September 1 of last year, Mr. Davis Mac-Iyalla (pictured left), a gay Nigerian, announced the launch of Changing Attitude Nigeria, a branch of the UK organization within the Anglican Communion devoted to reaching "the day when the Anglican Church fully accepts, welcomes and offers equality of opportunity to lesbian, gay and bisexual people."

On October 17, 2005, writing in the Nigerian paper, the Daily Sun, Mac-Iyalla called Archbishop Akinola's threat to sever ties with the Church of England over civil parternships "more political than religious," further arguing that:
Jesus’ teaching is about love and care. If Jesus treated the converts this way, he would not have converted Matthew, the tax collector and Mary the harlot. What the Archbishop should have done is to meet with us, know our feelings and appreciate us for whom we are. That way we can be well integrated into society. ... Let society change their attitudes towards gays and lesbians. You have them in every sector in Nigeria, even in government. It is just that they are hidden because of the contempt the society has for them and it is the church that can lead the campaign for the change of attitude towards us.
Five days later, Mac-Iyalla and eight associates in Changing Attitude Nigeria were arrested in Abuja (the national capital, and the location of the Anglican Church's headquarters) and held without food or water for three days.
They were stopped by night police who asked to check the nine of them. The police didn’t discover any guns or knives but picked an object that looked like a gun from the boot of the driver’s car. They asked who it belonged to and the driver said it was his. The police sent a radio message that they had caught criminals. More policemen came, beat Davis and the other eight and took them to Wuse police station. At the station they searched Davis’s pocket and discovered his identity card for Changing Attitude. They wanted to know if he was the author of the story in the previous week’s paper. He said that he was. They didn’t comment but took the nine to an open cell, beat Davis again, but never gave a reason. ... None of them was allow to communicate with anyone, including members of their families. No one knew where they were and there a lot of confusion outside. They were kept without food and water.
Undaunted, but with thinner wallets, Changing Attitude Nigeria held its first General Meeting on November 26, 2005 [emphasis mine]:
According to Davis, the Archbishop of All Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, has been telling the other Primates and Provinces an untruth when he says that gays and lesbians do not exist in Nigeria and are not part of the Anglican Church. Davis said contrary to Archbishop Akinola’s claims, that most of the members at the meeting were born into the Anglican Church and that some of their parents held responsible positions in the Church.

Davis Mac-Iyalla said, "We are creating a group of lesbian and gay members of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, lay and ordained. We are also prepared to be open and visible within the Church with the aim of meeting together to develop ideas, aims and objectives. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people are called by God to express their sexuality in loving, faithful and committed relationships. Therefore the Church should stop colluding with cultural repression and discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people in all parts of the world."

At this point, the interest of leaders within the Anglican Church of Nigeria had been sufficient peeked. In late December, 2005, the Church's communications director, Canon AkinTunde Popoola, released two disclaimers. One warned the general public of "fraudsters" who:
... exploit Christian love and the good name of the Church all in a bid to defraud unsuspecting people especially foreigners of money. ... We have even seen a situation where a supposed knight [of the Church, referring to Mac-Iyalla] collects money to organise homosexual meetings that only take place on sponsored news reports.
Of course, one need only turn to Lydia Polgreen's New York Times article on Mr. Mac-Iyalla's organization, dated December 18, 2005, to see that Popoola's claim that the meeting was a fabrication is pure nonsense (LexisNexis):
At one end of town on a fall Saturday morning, in a soaring cathedral nestled in a tidy suburb, dozens of Nigeria's most powerful citizens gathered, their Mercedes, Porsche and Range Rover sport utility vehicles gleaming in a packed parking lot. The well-heeled crowd was there to celebrate the Eucharist with the leader of Nigeria's Anglican Church, Archbishop Peter J. Akinola.

At the other end of town, in a small clubhouse behind a cultural center, a decidedly more downscale and secretive gathering of Anglicans got under way: the first national meeting of a group called Changing Attitudes Nigeria. Its unassuming name, and the secrecy accompanying its meeting -- the location was given to a visitor only after many assurances that it would not be revealed to anyone else -- underscored the radical nature of the group's mission: to fight for acceptance of homosexuals in the Anglican Church in Nigeria.

''We want to tell the bishop that it is our church, too,'' said Davis Mac-Iyalla, a 33-year-old former teacher who founded the group, which claims to have hundreds of members. ''They do not own the word of Jesus. It belongs to all of us.''
If that's not enough to make you worry that Akinola's sometimes less-than-straightforward communications director is being less than straightforward, read his even more important second disclaimer, which denies that Mr. Mac-Iyalla is even an Anglican:
The general public is hereby warned of the activities of a person who goes by the name of Davis (David) Mac Iyalla. He claims to be a homosexual member of the Anglican Church but extensive searches revealed that he is NOT registered in any of our over 10,000 local parishes as of the past two years. None of our over 6000 priests recognise him as an active member in any of their parishes.

He has finally been traced to be the same person who defrauded the then dying Bishop of Otukpo under the guise of marrying his daughter. Iyalla then closed down his own C & S church and took up an appointment with his then proposed father–in-law from whom he fraudulently obtained some church documents. On the death of the bishop mid 2003, Iyalla broke off the engagement and made away with large sums of money including salaries due to some staff. Since then, he has not been seen in Otukpo where he is wanted by the Police. He claims he was sacked and victimised for his homosexuality and uses that guise to further defraud unsuspecting foreigners.
Changing Attitude provides a thorough and credible defense of Mac-Iyalla's character (here, here, here, and here), answering all points made in Canon Popoola's statements.

Two weeks later, in mid-January, Justice Minister Oyo presented the legislation (pdf) in question to the Federal Assembly.

In a letter dated April 1, Mr. Mac-Iyalla claims that "Canon Popoola and Archbishop Akinola initiated the idea of the bill and persuaded the government to take it forward." It should be noted that while this claim is based on knowledge purportedly gained from Mac-Iyalla's contacts in the Church office in Abuja, it is totally unsubstantiated. However, it is not improbable. Akinola has shown himself to be an establishment figure, unused or unwilling to criticize the Nigerian President. Akinola has yet to voice opposition to Obasanjo's bid to gain a constitutionally barred third term in office, despite an earlier comment that he would voice an opinion "if the man comes out and asks Nigerians to give him another chance."

And I can say from what limited personal communication I have had with Canon Popoola that there is a great deal of unwillingness to discuss the contents of the legislation per se. He has never responded to the question of whether he thinks it would be appropriate for Nigerians to be locked up for five years for advocating gay marriage or homosexuality. And his boss, Archbishop Akinola, has unambiguously endorsed the legislation. Perhaps the Church office in Abuja is unclear about its contents -- if so, then they should clarify their position -- if not, then they are advocating a clear violation of every rational concept of civil rights ever voiced. Canon Popoola's own comments relating to this issue, along with responses from Mr. Mac-Iyalla and Colin Coward, the director of Changing Attitude UK, can be found in the comments sections of posts to ThinkingAnglicans on April 1.

It seems unlikely that they don't know what they're doing. Like Boyer points out, they have Islam on their backs, as well as the monkey of hypocrisy. Better to lance the boil now, by making that "boil" illegal under Nigerian Federal law, than have to deal with "schims" within their own Church later. Of course, the "threat of Islam" should never be an excuse to curtail civil rights.

[Another press release from Changing Attitude's Davis Mac-Iyalla dated April 17]

Anglican authority

Like it or not, the seemingly benign scuffle within the Anglican Communion over the status of homosexuality within Anglicanism has spilled over into an issue of civil and political rights. Paul Zahl, Dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, argues that the crisis, as it currently stands, is for want of clear leadership (New Yorker article):
This whole crisis has revealed a very serious deficiency in the character of Anglicanism. ... It's a severe deficiency in Anglicanism because there isn't really a church teaching in the same way that there is in the Church of Rome. ... I would say there is a constitutional weakness, which this crisis has revealed, which may in fact prove to be the death of the Anglican project -- the death, at least in formal terms, of Anglican Christianity. We've always said that we've had this great insight, and I used to think that we did. But I'm not quite sure whether we're not on very sandy ground. ... It's at the edge of the abyss. It's about to be extinguished, and that's not histrionic.
Deperate for a "falconer" and a "centre," conservative Anglicans have looked for "a voice of one calling in the desert," as Archbishop Orombi seems to argue (New Yorker article):
A hundred or so years ago, the fire was in the Western world, and many of their great people went over to the countries in the Southern Hemisphere, and reached out there, and planted seeds there. And then things changed in the Northern Hemisphere. ... It now looks like the Western world is tired and old. But, praise God, the Southern Hemisphere, which is a product of the missionary outreach, is young and vital and exuberant. So, in a way, I think what God has done is he took seeds and he planted them in the Southern Hemisphere, and now they're going to come back, right to the Northern Hemisphere. It is happening. It is happening.
It is indeed. Last year, Archbishop Akinola announced CANA (Convocation for Anglicans in North America), an ecclesiastical mission established within another Anglican province. Akinola writes:
We see this as a creative way to provide pastoral and episcopal care for those alienated by the actions of ECUSA. As we said in our letter of April 7th, 2005, "Our intention is not to challenge or intervene in the churches of ECUSA or the Anglican Church of Canada but to provide safe harbour for all those who can no longer find their spiritual home in those churches." While CANA is an initiative of the Church of Nigeria it is our desire to welcome all those who share our faith and vision for the Church.
During a recent visit to the US (late March, 2006), Akinola wrote the following to Bishop Iker, of Fort Worth:
As you know one consequence of this has been the isolation and alienation of a growing number of Nigerian and other Anglicans. In response to this the Church of Nigeria has established CANA (a Convocation for Anglicans in North America) to provide pastoral care for those Anglicans who are unable to find a spiritual home in the Episcopal Church during these difficult times. I was pleased to hear your enthusiastic support for this endeavor and especially gratified by your willingness to fully recognize and work in close partnership with the episcopal leadership that we expect to elect and consecrate in the coming months.
Coupled with his missionary effort in the US and Canada, Akinola has also strongly advocated the complete split of conservative parishes from ECUSA, regardless of the cost to property and benefits, taking a hard line against the creeping liberal threat (New Yorker article):
Akinola and others called on Rowan Williams to withhold a Lambeth invitation from the American church "unless they truly repent." The Global South primates, in short, did all that the American conservatives could have asked, and more. When several of the primates appeared at a network convention in Pittsburgh last November, they were greeted like rock stars by the twenty-five hundred attendees. Akinola betrayed a hint of impatience with the American conservatives when he said in sharp, clipped tones, "Many of you have one leg in ECUSA and one leg in the network. With that, my friends, comes disaster. While that remains, you can't have our support. Because, you see, as we speak here, we have all broken communion with ECUSA. If you want Global South to partner with you, you must let us know exactly where you stand. Are you ECUSA? Or are you network? Which one?"
Now, the realignment of conservative American Anglicans with the Global South has exposed a new question. Are you for civil and political rights, or against them? It seems entirely probable that the new, redrawn battlelines of orthodoxy versus inclusion has put most, if not all conservative Anglicans on the wrong side of that question.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The clearest article yet on the "3rd Term"

Reuters' AlertNet has this:
Opposition to a third term is particularly strong in the predominantly Muslim north, which had expected to take over in 2007 after eight years of Obasanjo, a Christian from the southwest.

The campaign has also infuriated many ethnic Ijaw, the dominant ethnic group in the Niger Delta in the far south, because they have not produced a president in Nigeria's 46 years of independence despite being home to all the oil wealth.

Militant attacks on the oil industry there have cut exports by a quarter.
The move has been broadly denounced by religious groups throughout the country, even by Christian Association of Nigeria Vice-President Dr Mike Okonkwo. Yet, Obasanjo supporter, and President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), has hedged his bets:
For me, that's an illusion. People are talking about third term but has the President ever said he was going for third term? He has even denied it several times both at home and abroad.

The Constitution does not allow it. And he is not just a Nigerian leader but a world leader. So, you think he will want to tarnish his own image? He is a force to be reckoned with in the affairs of the world today. Those who are talking about it are gaining from it. There are many Nigerians who specialize in fomenting trouble. And they feed fat in chaos. To me it's a non-issue. He has denied it several times. If the man comes out and asks Nigerians to give him another chance, that is when I can comment. For now, I have no comment about third term. Other than to warn those orchestrating it to be careful.
True, Obasanjo has, according to Reuters, "studiously avoided saying whether he wants to stand for election again next year," but some day the President will have to say something, and we will have Akinola's comments to look forward to.

But, of course, if the constitution is changed with no public urging from President Obasanjo, then Obasanjo will be eligible to run in the 2007 elections without being accused of exceeding his lawful powers. I kind of think that's what's going on.

In that case, if Akinola is the establishment figure I have come to believe him to be (I am becoming increasingly of the opinion that the Archbishop asked for the Gay Marriage legislation (pdf) to be drafted, as alleged by Davis Mac-Iyalla of Changing Attitude Nigeria), then he may make little more than a peep.