Monday, September 18, 2006

What kind of black eye are Minns and the ACN hoping for?

This is getting ridiculous.

From the Church of Nigeria's (Anglican) Message to the Nation, dated 15th September, 2006 [my emphasis]:
The Church affirms our commitment to the total rejection of the evil of homosexuality which is a perversion of human dignity and encourages the National Assembly to ratify the Bill prohibiting the legality of homosexuality since it is incongruent with the teachings of the Bible, Quran and the basic African traditional values.
Since this same sentiment was expressed in an earlier March "Message to the Nation", it isn't anything new, but I have to say that it doesn't get clearer than this. The Anglican Church is calling for homosexuality to be made ILLEGAL. Not just in terms of gay marriage (which isn't recognized in Nigeria), not just in terms of "sodomy" (which is already subject to a 14 year prison sentence), but in terms of the basic rights of a minority group to speak out on its own behalf.

There's no room for nuance. In calling for this legislation to be passed, the Primate of All Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, is explicitly calling for the end of one group's lawful participation in civil society.

We have heard his arguments, and the arguments of his supporters, before:
  • They argue that the Archbishop must call for this legislation to be enacted lest he appear weak in front of Nigerian Muslims. Of course, the consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson in 2003 was personally embarrasing to Archbishop Akinola, as there were Muslims in Nigeria who criticized the Anglican Church for being morally degenerate, but there is no Christian moral or political principle to which Akinola and his allies can hold when calling for a ban on civil discourse among and by homosexuals because "Muslims made them do it." If, as our President says, this century is to be characterized by a grand idealogical struggle between Western and extremist values, this is hardly the time for the cool heads in the Anglican Communion to start giving in to or -- more than that -- encouraging extremist behavior. Also, religious conflict in Nigeria is commonly made to look like it is more than it really is. While the violence that has erupted between Nigerian Christians and Muslims is all too real, political leaders on either side (but especially on the Nigerian Muslim side) have a disturbing tendency to foment civil unrest to consolidate their "victim" status among their own people.
  • They argue that gay marriage is not recognized here in the US, and that there is nothing wrong with banning it in Nigeria. First, there is no state government in the Federal Republic of Nigeria that is planning to institute civil recognition of same-sex marriages or partnerships. Neither are such unions federally recognized. Thus, there is no current threat to Nigerian marriage law that this bill would redress. Second, the bill would do so much more than ban gay marriage. It would make it illegal to perform a private same-sex marriage ceremony -- even without civil recognition. Violators of this law, who in this case would be acting on their personal convictions in private, would be subject to 5 years' imprisonment. The bill would make it illegal to hold meetings or organize in the hopes of reversing the law, should it pass. The bill would make it illegal to depict homosexuality in any way in the press. It would make it illegal to display same-sex affection in public (I hope straight Nigerian male friends don't hold hands like they customarily do in Iraq). It is because of these extra steps taken by the Nigerian bill that the Rt Rev Martyn Minns' argument in his response to Bishop John Bryson Chane's February 2006 Washington Post op-ed rung so hollow, when Minns said that
    ... I am very much aware that even in the Commonwealth of Virginia there are still laws that deal with various 'Crimes against Nature' and in particular homosexual practice and adultery. The continued existence of these laws is a reflection of our own society’s struggle to find a way to support and protect heterosexual marriage while at the same time acknowledging the human rights of all persons.
    This is not just about gay marriage or about "crimes against nature" -- it's about silencing a minority.
  • They argue that the idealogical left's concern for protection "speech" is all so much hypocrisy so long as there are "hate crime" laws in Sweden, the UK, and Canada that prohibit the Church -- or anyone for that matter -- from speaking out against homosexuality. The simple rejoinder to this argument -- and by the way I'm not totally comfortable with those laws, whatever their details -- is that those laws limit the right of a majority to speak out against a minority, whereas the Nigerian law abolishes the right of a minority to speak out for itself. Now, tell me there's any shred of moral equivalency here!
Enough is enough. Not commonly known by many Americans is that the same Nigerian church leader (Akinola) who is calling for the extermination of the civil voice of a sizeable minority within his own country is now ecclesiologically empowered to act in the US through his new Missionary Bishop, the Rt Rev Martyn Minns (see here). Conservative Christianity has already taken a very hard right turn into some very dark political corners, but I am sure that conservative Anglicans in the US and elsewhere would agree with me that this is not how they want to represent themselves to their fellow citizens.

I'm going to leave aside all issues of "church law" and what the future of the Anglican Communion is to make a simple, declarative statement, one that has no bearing on their theological position with respect to homosexuality (about which I care very little): Bishop Minns, and his allies in the Anglican Communion Network, have no moral alternative but to call for this legislation to be withdrawn (as the US Department of State has done), or at the very least make a clear statement of disassociation. If they can't do this now, then from here forward let them never again declare their support of the rights of the minority in the face of a majoritartian, idealogical onslaught (are you hearing this, Institute on Religion and Democracy?). They will have impeached themselves utterly.

Hat tip to the Daily Episcopalian and Thinking Anglicans in re: the Church of Nigeria letter. Mark Harris has further coverage (here and here).

PS. Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney (Anglican) had these words to say -- out of the blue -- about a supposed Akinola quote regarding homosexuality (hat tip to an anonymous commenter):
I'd like to add something else to that last point before I go into that, and that is to say that and if Archbishop Akinola ever did say something like that [that "gay men and women are lower than pigs"], which he may or may not have, I would utterly repudiate it and next time I see him, not that I see him very often, perhaps twice I've met him, I would certainly tell him so in no uncertain terms. It is reprehensible that he should speak like that. And that's as clear as anything. I just want to make that clear, because sometimes it's felt that one might associate with such speech, and I certainly don't.
Hopefully, Jensen has the same position on the Nigerian bill. At least, he should. I should point out that in late June of this year, it looked as though Bishop Duncan, the moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, might make such a disassociation himself.

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