Wednesday, September 20, 2006

No guilt by association

The most serious charges (or criticisms) I've seen yet against my last two posts about the Nigerian anti-homosexuality bill (see here and here) have come from a commenter on Jim Naughton's Daily Episcopalian, who says that I am out to get the Anglican Communion Network (which is theologically closely aligned with Archbishop Akinola) and that I wish to cast guilt by association on Akinola's US bishop, Martyn Minns, or on the Network's moderator, Bishop Robert Duncan, for not denouncing the legislation. The commenter points out, quite rightly, that while both of these church leaders have commented on the bill, neither has endorsed it. In fact, their comments leave bread crumbs to the conclusion that they in fact do not support it at all.

My claim is actually that American conservative Anglicans are not taking the legislation seriously, and that, as their leaders, both Minns and Duncan have a responsibility to do so, and to react accordingly. While trying to think of a verbal explanation as to why the Akinola-endorsed legislation is so totally out of bounds, I came up with the following illustration (here, black and white have no moral significance):

(Please note that "divine" discourse is defined very broadly to include the core beliefs of agnostics -- yes, even agnostics have strong moral beliefs).

Both sides of the church-state debate have a disturbing tendency to want to claim the entire gray area for themselves. American evangelicals now have a history of attempting to make gay marriage an impossibility for all Americans regardless of their faith. Civil libertarians (including many in the Episcopal Church) now have a history of attempting to rewrite the central message of Christianity to accommodate what is, in fact, a rather derived notion of tolerance (i.e., "tolerance" means to accept the behavior of others, rather than simply to tolerate it). Like the religious right, the new "religious left" has its own version of the Gospel, one that is heavily influenced by civil libertarianism and social justice (two things to which I am quite partial), that it wants to impose politically on everyone else.

In reality, neither side can claim the "gray area" for themselves without asking the other side to compromise their own "divine discourse." The issues in the "gray area" relate to both important civil liberties (which are important) and core moral issues (which are also important). The direction that society takes when resolving these issues must therefore accept input from both sides as the result of a rational, if spirited, debate: the co-equal importance of civil and divine discourse (insofar as we all want to live together in peace) must not be denied.

It is here that the Nigerian bill and Archbishop Akinola's endorsement of that bill have crossed the line. What the bill asks of the debate surrounding homosexuality (let alone same-sex marriage, which this bill is not about) is that one side be completely shut out; that is, that the importance of civil discourse be ignored. I am not saying that gay marriage should be made legal in Nigeria, nor am I saying that there shouldn't be a debate about homosexuality. But with this legislation, there would be no debate at all, only 5 year prison sentences.

For this reason, and this reason alone, I have repeatedly called on Minns and Duncan, and their associates, to make a clear denunciation of the legislation -- for their own conscience, for the sake of the reputation of the emerging conservative Anglican Church in the US, and for the sake of the perhaps 1 million Nigerians whose voices would be silenced.

With his endorsement, Akinola has shown a desire to impose his God's Dominion on the lives of all Nigerians, regardless of their core moral beliefs. He has Nigerian colleagues in other faiths and denominations that agree with him, but that only makes his movement to outlaw "gayness" just another form of mob rule. There are dominionist Christians in the US who have made similar desires known. Are American Anglicans now among them?

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