Sunday, June 11, 2006

Where things stand now - a resource for newbies and oldbies

[Constantly updated -- permalink here]

[UPDATE February 28, 2007 -- If you are reading this post for the latest news on the Nigerian gay marriage bill, then your information will be out of date. Please visit the top of the blog here for the latest information, as well as info on what you can do now to speak out against this terrible legislation. The bill could pass by the end of tomorrow, March 1, 2007 -- do something now!

However, everything you read below is still accurate and is a good introduction to the history and background to this legislation.]

In late February, 2006, John Bryson Chane, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, DC, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post. In it, he revealed to the WaPo's readership one of the many awful consequences that decades of conflict have brought to the Anglican Communion over the issue of homosexuality. Just days before, one of Chane's fellow bishops in the Anglican Communion, the Primate of All Nigeria and leader of the Anglican Communion's largest Province, Archbishop Peter Akinola, endorsed legislation that would ban most basic civil rights for gay and lesbian Nigerians, and enforce that ban with a 5 year prison sentence.

The Global Anglican Communion is in crisis mode (events in Columbus, Ohio, suggest it may be about to implode), struggling to salvage a broad though loosely affiliated organization from self-destruction under the pull of two strong forces. On the one hand, northern Anglicans in the US, Canada, and the UK are committed to a liberal stand on homosexuality, and to a Gospel of Inclusion (i.e., "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You"). On the other hand, the Provinces of the Global South, along with splinter organizations in the North (see the American Anglican Council, or AAC, and the Anglican Communion Network, or Network) are "orthodox" on the issue of homosexuality, and consider their purpose to be far more evangelical than that of the Episcopal Church, USA (ECUSA), or of other Northern Anglicans. The Provinces of the Global South claim moral authority because of their great and increasing numbers, while parish registries in ECUSA and elsewhere are stable or in decline.

The "splinter organizations" that have organized the conservative movement within ECUSA, and in the process have forged deep alliances with their Global South brethren, have their roots deep within the Republican Party. Jim Naughton of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington expertly outlines that relationship in his series "Following the Money." The AAC -- an umbrella group for American conservative Anglicanism -- has historical and present ties with the Institute on Religion and Democracy (or IRD), a deeply conservative group devoted to supporting politically consonant forms of Christianity within mainline Protestant denominations. The historical relationship between the IRD and the AAC is clear -- at one point, their websites were identically formatted, and their offices were in adjacent suites in an I St. office building in northwest Washington, DC. (The AAC is now headquartered in Atlanta.) The IRD has received considerable support ($4,679,000 between 1985 and 2005) from The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Richard Mellon Scaife via the Carthage Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundaiton, and the Scaife Family Foundation, the Randolph Foundation, the Castle Rock Foundation (the Coors family), and others. The IRD board is populated by such conservative luminaries as Mary Ellen Bork, Fred Barnes, author of "Rebel in Chief", Richard J. Neuhaus, Michael Novak, and is advised by conservative radio talk-show host Michael Medved. A source in the AAC tells me that a still large share of the AAC's budget comes from Howard Ahmanson, Jr., a major funder of Intelligent Design "research" at the Discovery Institute.

Support from the IRD has helped the AAC and the Network (the "orthodox" wing of ECUSA) get their feet on the ground, and establish ties to Global South Provinces, where the Network's brand of Anglicanism has found a far more sympathetic audience.

The groundwork was laid, then, for a massive right-wing reaction to the elevation -- at the ECUSA 2003 General Convention -- of V. Gene Robinson, an open and partnered gay priest, to be Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. Since then, it has been open warfare against the "creeping influence" of Western liberalism, with Archbishop Akinola leading the charge, and conservative American Anglicans more than eager to follow.

It is in this context that we must interpret the significance of the Nigerian gay marriage bill that Archbishop Akinola endorsed and Bishop Chane discussed. As much as Archbishop Akinola and the Church of Nigeria would like us to think otherwise, the bill is a direct reaction to the conflict over homosexuality in the Anglican Communion, and specifically a reaction to the presence of a gay and lesbian Anglican advocacy group that formed in Nigeria last year.

It is also in this context that we must interpret the inability civil libertarians among conservative Anglicans in the US to take action against what I know many of them believe to be a bad piece of legislation. One highly-placed cleric associated with the Network has been quite clear with me that he is very uncomfortable with the legislation -- he believes it is no longer ministry when you put gay and lesbian parishioners in jail over a theological disagreement. Because of clergymen like him, and because of his continued silence, I have become convinced that only a schism in the Communion could rescue gay and lesbian Nigerians from prison. That is, only when conservatives are freed from having to fight their liberal brethren and defend their hero Peter Akinola will they able to see the forest for the trees.

While the bill would affect millions of Nigerians (assuming conservatively that the background "homosexuality" rate among Nigerians is 1-3% out of a population of 120 million), the legislation's story begins and ends with Changing Attitude, an Anglican group in the UK determined to achieve full acceptance for gay and lesbian Anglicans. The following timeline will help illustrate why Changing Attitude and its Nigerian branch Changing Attitude Nigeria (see CA website for sources) are so important, and why it was that their presence in Nigeria precipitated the legislation's introduction:
  • March 2005 -- The ECUSA House of Bishops adopts a "Covenant Statement," which says, in part:
    We express our own deep regret for the pain that others have experienced with respect to our actions at the General Convention of 2003 [the elevation of Bishop Robinson] and we offer our sincerest apology and repentance for having breached our bonds of affection by any failure to consult adequately with our Anglican partners before taking those actions.
  • April 2005 -- Archbishop Akinola responds to the "Covenant Statement," saying:
    While the statement issued by ECUSA's House of Bishops expressed a desire to remain in the life and mission of the Anglican Communion, I was disappointed that the only regret offered was for their failure to consult and the effect of their actions instead of an admission that what they have done has offended God and His Church. [emphasis mine]
    Two days later, Archbishop Akionola announces the planting of a Nigerian Anglican church in North America, called the Convocation of Anglican Nigerian Churches in America (or CANA). In doing this, the Archbishop crosses "Provincial" borders, signifying to the rest of the communion that, in his soon-to-be very ironic words:
    If ... the measures proposed ... to protect the legitimate needs of groups in serious theological disputes prove to be ineffectual, and if acts of oppression against those who seek to uphold our common faith persist, then we will have no choice but to offer safe harbour for those in distress.
  • 1 September 2005 -- Changing Attitude (CA) launches in Nigeria. Its director, Davis Mac-Iyalla writes of their first meeting:
    It was a big joy to start the group here with 35 persons in attendance on the day of our first meeting. More people keep showing interest and our numbers increased each time we met. I have called on friends from other Dioceses who are very active to help start the group in their respective churches. Most of the people I speak to on phone want me to reach them in person and to tell them what to do so that they can start the group in their parishes.
    CA's goal is to:
    make lesbian and gay Anglicans visible and heard in every Nigerian diocese. Groups are already meeting in Port Harcourt, Lagos and Abuja, where the headquarters of the Church are located.
  • 17 October 2005 -- Davis Mac-Iyalla, director of CA Nigeria, publishes an article in Nigeria's Daily Sun [no longer available online]. In it, he
    confronts the Primate of All Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, with the reality of gay and lesbian worshippers in Anglican churches across Nigeria. [He] reminds the church of the commitment made by the Primates, including Archbishop Akinola, to listen to the experience of homosexual persons in each province and reflect on these matters. [emphasis mine]
    It is this "listening" that Archbishop Akinola himself agreed to at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, under the I.10 Resolution (I.10c).

  • 22-24 October 2005 -- Director Davis Mac-Iyalla and eight fellow members of Changing Attitude Nigeria are arrested. Mac-Iyalla believes that the arrests were in response to his Daily Sun article. Davis is beaten twice, as are his companions, and they are kept without food or water for three days.

  • 25 November 2005 -- Undaunted, Changing Attitude Nigeria holds their first General Meeting in Abuja, as covered by the New York Times' Lydia Polgreen (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.''
    About the meeting, Davis says:
    I am full of joy at the end of the Meeting. God is great. About 360 people were at the opening on Friday afternoon. More than 800 people came for the second meeting later on Friday and the meeting lasted until 4am. We worshipped, ate and prayed together. The meeting was held openly so that we can now tell everyone that gay Nigerians met together and came out of their closets.
  • 28 December 2005 -- Clearly alarmed by the presence of Changing Attitude Nigera, and surely more than a little annoyed, Archbishop Akinola releases a statement to the Nigerian public, warning them of the "activities of a person who goes by the name of Davis Mac-Iyalla." The statement can be found here at the Church of Nigeria's website. An accompanying press release warns the public of "fraudsters."

  • 31 December 2005 through 16 January 2006 -- Changing Attitude responds to these charges vociferously, here, here and here.

  • 18 January 2006 -- Justice Minister Oyo presents the legislation in question to the Nigerian Federal Assembly (discussed in detail below). The bill goes out of its way to ban any sort of organization that advocates homosexuality within Nigeria. The bill's emphasis on "organizations" is suspiscious, and, of course, were the bill to pass, Changing Attitude Nigeria would be illegal, and members would be subject to 5 years' imprisonment were they to continue to meet.

  • 25 February 2006 -- Archbishop Peter Akinola explicitly endorses the legislation in his "Letter to the Nation" following their Standing Committee meeting, as found on the Church of Nigeria website.
Davis Mac-Iyalla believes the Church of Nigeria is behind the bill. Other human rights workers in Nigeria have confirmed this, saying that Archbishop Akinola has "spearheaded" the campaign to pass the legislation prior to the runup to next years' presidential elections.

Conversations between Church of Nigeria officials (notably Canon Akintude Popoola) and Changing Attitude occasionally pop up on the website Thinking Anglicans (for example here, here, and here; Canon Popoola goes by "Tunde"). Typically, Canon Popoola claims that homosexuals do not exist in Nigeria or that they exist in very small numbers (to which CA responded in the Church Times, posted here), and that Davis is defrauding his foreign supporters and attempting to trick them into sponsoring his asylum in the EU. The most recent defense of Davis by CA can be found here.

I will publish a compendium of Canon Popoola's comments (in context!) sometime in the near future.

Since the publication of Chane's op-ed -- which you must read if you haven't already -- the issue has only grown in strength. The US State Department has denounced the legislation. Nearly 20 human rights organizations have called for President Obasanjo -- historically a friend of Peter Akinola -- to drop the bill. Sixty members of the European Parliament have condemned the legislation. While currently in committee, the legislation is expected to go up for a vote in July, 2006.

When reading the bill, it is important to keep in mind that sodomy is already illegal in Nigeria. Chapter 24, Section 214 of Nigeria's criminal code penalizes consensual homosexual conduct between adults with fourteen years’ imprisonment (Human Rights Watch). Sharia, as practiced in northern Nigeria since 1999, calls for death by stoning for "sodomy" violations.

A copy of the "Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition)" bill can be found here. The bill has not yet passed. A summary of bill follows (I've emphasized those parts of the bill that, in my view, "cross the line"):
  • Sections 1 and 2 - Definitions
  • Section 3
    • Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in Nigeria.
  • Section 4
    • Same-sex marriage and adoption are prohibited.
    • Foreign same-sex marriages are void in Nigeria.
    • Same-sex marriages are not entitled to the benefits of valid marriages.
    • Contractural rights between same-sex married couples by virtue of those marriages are void in a court of law.
    • Nigerian courts will have no jurisdiction over such divorce, separation, and maintenance orders with respect to same-sex marriages.
  • Section 5
    • Again, same-sex marriages from outside Nigeria are not recognized within Nigeria.
    • No arm of the government, in its official capacity, will recognize same-sex marriages.
  • Section 6
    • The celebration of same-sex marriages is prohibited in any place of worship.
    • No marriage license can be issued to partners in a same-sex marriage.
  • Section 7
    • Registration of gay organizations by the Nigerian government is prohibited.
    • "Publicity, procession and public show of same sex amorous relationship" in the media is prohibited.
    • Gay organizations are prohibited, as is "procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private". Violators are subject to 5 years' imprisonment.
  • Section 8
    • Any participant in same-sex marriage is subject to a penalty of 5 years' imprisonment.
    • Any person who performs, witnesses, aids or abets a same-sex marriage is subject to the same penalty.
Sections 1-5 of the Nigerian bill would formalize restrictions on gay marriage that are similar to what are found in many states in the US. Twenty-one states still have sodomy laws on their books, and most ban gay marriage or civil unions either constitutionally or by statute. If the Nigerian bill had stopped here, it would have imposed a situation no different than that found throughout the US.

But this bill goes much further. Sections 6-8 above restrict the right to free speech, free press, free assembly, and the free exercise of religion, and enforces that restriction with a jail sentence.

This week, the Episcopal Church heads into its General Convention. I hope that anyone reading this will use it as a resource when speaking to the press, or working to convince our Conservative friends that abridging basic civil rights is not the way to minister to sinners.

Please send me any links to other resources you would like to have posted here. I don't have time to be exhaustive on my own -- I need help.

I recommend the following "talking point" when discussing the legislation with its supporters:
Don't let ministry turn to persecution.
Most conservatives I've spoken with either have nothing to say in response to this, or become quite willing to say all sorts of awful things in order to save face.

The following is a summary of Political Spaghetti posts in order of advancing date (I would be interested in linking to posts from other bloggers -- please send those links if you have them -- I will post them!):

March, 2006
  • My first post on the central role of Archbishop Peter Akinola in endorsing the gay marriage bill, and in doing worse than nothing to quell reprisal violence by Nigerian Christians against Muslims following the "cartoon riots" of February.
  • Comments on the "Absurdity of Same Sex Unions" by the Rt. Rev. David Onuoha.
  • A collection of quotes by Nigerian religious leaders of all persuasions on the same-sex marriage bill.
  • A call for Akinola's conservative colleagues within the Anglican Communion to denounce Akinola's endorsement of the legislation.
  • A letter by the Rev. Martyn Minns of Truro Parish, Fairfax, Virginia, defending Archbishop Akinola. Minns, incidentally, is a good friend of Akinola, has hosted Akinola's visits to the US, and is believed to be on the short list for the episcopacy should Akinola succeed in establishing an Anglican Province within the US.
  • Some clarification on our obligations to protect basic civil rights everywhere.
  • A summary of the relevant human rights documents, including sections of the Nigerian Constitution.
  • Comments on a letter by a local American Anglican Council (AAC) group in the Washington, DC, area to Bishop Chane in response to his op-ed. Their objections were easily dispelled, though we've heard nothing more from them on the subject.
  • A summary of a conversation I had with a commenter named "John" over at titusonenine, and my responses to his arguments, regarding Martyn Minns letter.
  • The US State Department denounces the legislation.
  • Archbishop Akinola formally endorses the legislation. I make suggestions for compromise changes to the bill.
  • Stephen Bates at the Guardian (UK) comments on conservative Anglicans' fear of crossing Archbishop Akinola.
  • Andrew Sullivan asks when Christian religious leaders will start using Islamists' calls of Western decadence to start calling for restrictions of our basic freedoms. I suggest that Martyn Minns already had.
  • I suggest that the Institution on Religion and Democracy might not deserve the word "Democracy" in their name if they are only willing to defend democratic institutions -- like the right to free exercise of religion -- when those institutions protect "orthodox" Christians.
  • Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, the moderator of the Anglican Communion Network in the US, responds to Bishop Chane's op-ed in the Washington Post. His letter is a weak response, and like most others fails to address the substance of Chane's op-ed (see here).
  • I note that by taking part in a schism of the Anglican Communion on the side of an Archbishop who endorses putting gay and lesbian Nigerians in prison for their speech, conservative American Anglicans are painting themselves as anti-civil libertarians.
  • Uganda and Nigeria among the ten worst places to live if you're gay.
  • An example of how the concept of a "civil society" has not yet reached poverty and war-ravaged Nigeria.
  • Human Rights Watch and 15 other human rights organizations call for Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to withdraw the legislation, in advance of Obasanjo's visit to the White House in late March.
  • A roundup of responses to the Human Rights Watch letter.
  • The Afghan Christian convert, sentenced to death by Muslim courts, set to be released. I discuss the implications for the IRD.
  • I muse over whether Schism in the Anglican Communion would be the best way to get conservative Anglicans in the US to look critically at the actions of their hero, Archbishop Akinola.
  • More reactions to the Human Rights Watch letter.
  • More on the "benefits" of Schism.
  • A missed opportunity by conservative Anglicans in the US to exercise the consciences.
  • Mark Harris responds to Bishop Duncan.
  • The Nigerian solar eclipse (late March)
  • My response to the Rev. Luke Mbefo's letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Bishop Chane's op-ed to the Washington Post.
  • Nigerian President Obasanjo calls for the Federal Assembly to expedite the passage of the Gay Marriage ban.
April, 2006
  • Nigerian President Obasanjo makes it clear that he will run for a third term as president if the Federal Assembly is able to change the constitution to permit him to do so. This is widely considered to be an orchestrated move, originating from Obasanjo, though he denies that to this day. The subsequent furor over "Third Term," as it came to be known in Nigeria, put the gay marriage legislation on the back burner.
  • Archbishop Akinola makes a low profile visit to the US.
  • What 5 years in a Nigerian jail might look like.
  • More human rights organizations come out against Nigerian gay marriage bill.
  • I wonder aloud about how religious voices can be melded into civil society with minimal conflict. I choose the example of Paul at the Areopagus as found in the Book of Acts.
  • The New Yorker covers the crisis in the Anglican Communion.
  • The Muslim News incorrectly reports that the gay marriage legislation had already passed. This becomes a common misconception, especially among gay activist magazines, web pages, and journals in the West.
  • A brilliant op-ed by Gary Wills in the New York Times on liberal religious leaders working to develop a political movement of their own. I have problems with such movements, regardless of whether they come from the left or the right. So does Wills.
  • An Easter message from Akinola.
  • A long piece I wrote, called "Things Fall Apart" (clever, huh?), to fill in blanks left by Peter Boyer's otherwise fascinating piece in the New Yorker about the crisis in the Anglican Communion.
  • Being gay in Botswana.
  • A post on the long-term involvement of Archbishop Akinola's Communications Director, Akintunde Popoola, in discussions on the liberal Anglican website, Thinking Anglicans. I tried to get Canon Popoola to declare that he was OK with putting gay and lesbian Nigerians in jail for their advocacy of homosexuality. He declined to answer. And no one heard from him again. For the record, he has never explicitly answered that question. Neither has Archbishop Akinola.
  • The damage done by the abstinence-only program within President Bush's PEPFAR campaign to HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa.
  • Jim Naughton, at the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, posts a two-part article on how the right-leaning elements of the Episcopal Church is funded, called "Following the Money."
  • Archbishop Akinola named one of the world's top 100 most influential people by Time Magazine.
May, 2006
  • More on Jim Naughton's "Following the Money." I balk at making a comment.
  • I post briefly on the denouncement of Akinola's endorsement of the gay marriage ban by Canada's Anglican bishops.
  • Andrew Sullivan works hard to coin the word "christianism." Lucky him.
  • The IRD's Mark Tooley uses Ahmadinejad's letter to Bush to criticize liberals, showing us only that he's a tool of the Republican-controlled IRD.
  • The liberal blogosphere organizes against the IRD.
  • I predict that with the end of "Third Term", the gay marriage ban will shortly be re-introduced to the Nigerian Federal Assembly.
  • South African Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane comments on the influence of Western liberalism on his thinking, showing that not all of African Anglicanism has a totalitarian streak.
  • David Virtue posts randomly on Bishop Chane's op-ed, perhaps as a toss of red meat to his readers.
  • Why conservative Anglicans are wrong to support Akinola's endorsement.
  • The Guardian's Peter Tatchell puts pressure on the oddly silent Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to speak up on the issue of the gay marriage legislation.
  • Northern Nigeria and sex education.
  • The Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Nigeria, Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, has room in his head for democratic politics in the face of a third-term run by President Obasanjo, but no room for the most basic of civil rights for gay and lesbian Nigerians.
  • Africans, sex, and the internet.
June, 2006
  • A coalition of Nigerian human rights groups forms around defeating, or at least changing, the gay marriage ban prior to its passage.
  • Just to show that I don't think Akinola is all bad, this post covers his denouncement of corruption in various Nigerian government agencies. (Of course, talk is cheap when corruption is so rampant.)
  • News finally reaches me of the gay marriage legislation. IT IS NOT DEAD.
  • In an interview to Newsweek, Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, and the moderator of the ACN, lays out exactly the argument I have consistently advanced for why Archbishop Akinola should withdraw his endorsement of the "same sex marriage" legislation.
  • A Nigerian priest returning to Nigeria from a 3-yr stint as a theology student in Canada admits that "anyone who is a gay in Africa will not come out openly to claim that he is a gay because he is going to be an outcast in the society."
  • The Episcopal Church elects its first woman Presiding Bishop, signalling the beginning of the end of its involvement in the global Anglican Communion. In other words, schism is near. As I have argued here, an end to the standoff between liberal and conservative Episcopalians could be a good thing for getting conservative American Anglicans to push Archbishop Akinola to withdraw his endorsement of the anti-gay Nigerian bill.
Here is a list of relevant news on the gay marriage legislation, going back further than my time blogging on the subject.

[Image of Archbishop Peter Akinola, left, and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, right, from Jim Rosenthal/Anglican World]

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