Today's Falls Church News-Press has a story on the upcoming vote by the nearly 300-yr-old Falls Church Episcopal on whether to leave the Episcopal Dioces of Virginia for the Anglican District of Virginia, under the oversight of Primate of the Anglican Province in Nigeria, Archbishop Peter J. Akinola. At the risk of oversimplifying the situation, this vote is nominally over the issue of whether The Falls Church can any longer countenance what they consider to be the permissive position of the Episcopal Church regarding homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and Biblical orthodoxy.
Regular readers of this site are familiar with this story, and with the Nigerian question, so I most certainly won't bore you with details, but the coverage of the vote, written by News-Press staff writer Nicholas F. Benton, is skittish about some of the facts [my emphasis]:
In the Falls Church Episcopal’s case, if the congregational vote goes the way the vestry wants it to, the church will depart the Episcopal denomination in favor of an alternate configuration known as the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA).First, there is no question that Archbishop Akinola supports prison sentences for engaging in homosexual activity. However, that ship has already sailed -- "sodomy" laws have been on the books in Nigeria since before independence in 1960. No "allegedly" about it, but it's irrelevant.
... The CANA structure the church would affiliate with, should the vote to secede pass, will be under "under the spiritual authority and protection" of Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, described as the "chairman of the Primates of the Global South," according to a letter from Yates to the congregation on Dec. 2.
Archbishop Akinola allegedly supports legislation in Nigeria that calls for prison sentences for homosexual activity. According to a comment on his popular blog this week entitled, "Slouching Toward Nigeria," conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan remarks that the Falls Church Episcopal will be aligning with a bishop "who believes that gays should be incarcerated for the crime of adult consensual sex and that free speech should be curtailed."
Second, the issue is not whether Archbishop Akinola supports "sodomy" laws, but that he supports legislation, which has not yet passed, that would curtail the right of gay and lesbian Nigerians to advocate on behalf of same-sex marriage or their sexuality. It would effectively ban the press from discussing homosexuality in a positive light (not that it does now), and it would ban groups from organizing on behalf of changes to the law that would restore those civil rights.
In short, it would do more than simply ban gay marriage (which is not recognized by the state anyway) -- it would remove the basic speech, assembly, press, and free expression of religion rights of a small and vocal minority. It would make gay and lesbian Nigerians "shut up."
But most seriously, the legislation -- which has been endorsed by Archbishop Akinola not once, but twice -- would effectively outlaw a new Anglican gay and lesbian church group in Nigeria that calls for the acceptance of homosexuality within the Church. The legislation, which was introduced just after a series of public excoriations of this new group's leader by Church of Nigeria officials, would effectively silence the Church's political opposition on the issue of homosexuality. While the Church is under no obligation to recognize homosexuality as Changing Attitude would want it to, it is not in the Church's best interest to be perceived as simply gagging its opponents.
Nor is it in the best interest of the congregation of The Falls Church to vote to associate itself more closely with the Church of Nigeria without serious consideration on how Archbishop Akinola's actions will reflect on them and their parish.
To whit, do they wish to be perceived as silencing a gay and lesbian churchgoing minority, and with a prison sentence of 5 years?
Nicholas Benton does a good thing by bringing in Sullivan's short comment, but like many journalists covering this tough issue, he is both too careful, and not careful enough. On the one hand, he uses words like "allegedly" when describing attitudes and actions that are well documented. On the other hand, he follows Sullivan's lead too closely, thinking that the pitfall for The Falls Church is Akinola's opposition to gay marriage, rather than his endorsement of legislation that would put his political opponents in prison just for speaking their minds.
UPDATE: Discussion of the Falls Church story and general issues relating to the Nigerian legislation can be found here on Titus 1:9.