Thursday, December 21, 2006

No, but seriously ...

[edited twice for style early one morning]

... here's the serious post.

I am stunned by the PR corner Bishop Minns and Archbishop Akinola have put themselves in. They both know that Akinola can't back down on this legislation. It would make him look weak, and it would further his embarrassment among his Nigerian co-religionists about the consecration of Bishop Robinson (Diocese of New Hampshire).

But if they stay where they are, they have to weather the increasing hail of bad press Truro and The Falls Church have received after their votes to leave for the rather sordid "civil rights" pasture of the Church of Nigeria.

The two letters in the CANA release, while artful, avoid what's really at stake in this PR disaster: has the Archbishop, in fact, endorsed the legislation (twice), and does he now recant his endorsement or has he in any way softened his stance toward the wording of the legislation?

But it's best to proceed with their actual quotes (since I butchered Archbishop Akinola's in the last post). Here's what Bishop Minns had to say [my emphasis]:
I want to address one recurring untrue accusation concerning our attitude towards homosexual persons. Our vote was not an "anti-gay" vote. We affirm that as Christians we believe that every person, regardless of their sexual orientation, is made in the image of God, and deserving of the utmost respect. ... I have attached a recent letter from Archbishop Peter Akinola that addresses this same issue from his perspective. Please notice the difference between what he actually says and believes and the dismissive tag lines that are often attributed to him.
Well, that sounds great, and I wish I could stop there, but here are Archbishop Akinola's words on the matter:
Sadly, I have also heard that some are suggesting that you are now affiliated with a Church that seeks to punish homosexual persons. That is a distortion of our true position.
This is tough to swallow. The "distortion," as Akinola calls it, began with his own press releases (he implies that his Standing Committee is responsible for these, even though he signed his name to both -- Fr. Jake has more.) The Archbishop goes on, regarding the legislation [my emphasis]:
We recognize that there are genuine concerns about individual human rights that must be addressed both in the framing of the law and its implementation. I am glad to inform you that while the Honorable Speaker of the House, a Moslem, wanted the immediate and outright passage of the bill, the Deputy Speaker, an Anglican, persuaded his colleagues to allow full public debate on it.

I am troubled, however, by the silence of outside commentators concerning the rights of the clergy, Christians, and particularly converts to our Church whose lives are threatened and too often destroyed because of mob violence. I see no evidence of compassion for those whose rights are trampled on because of the imposition of unjust religious laws in many parts of the world. There seems to be a strange lack of interest in this issue.
With all due respect to the stature and importance and worthiness of the Archbishop's other ministries, this is a dodge. In fact, it's two separate "dodges".

The first is to suggest that the worst provisions of this bill are the Muslims' idea. While he's not happy with those provisions, he suggests, there's just no denying Nigerian Muslims what they want. Thank goodness, we should be saying, that there's an Anglican in the House of Representatives able to stand up to these Muslims and protect us Christians from their radicalism!

Small problem: if Archbishop Akinola had had these same reservations about this bill back in February, or back in September, why didn't he say so? Why let the debate go to the House of Representatives before "recogniz[ing] that there are genuine concerns about individual human rights"? If it is truly his position, today, that the bill goes too far in its particulars, and that it would violate the human rights of Nigeria's gay and lesbian population (he never says this explicitly), then he should provide suggestions for specific changes -- perhaps the removal of Sections 6 and 7? That way, the bill would still ban gay marriage, but not speech and all those other pesky civil rights necessary to a democracy.

Second dodge: Archbishop Akinola seems to be saying that the silence of his detractors when a church or cathedral is burned or a cleric is wounded or killed at the hands of Muslim extremists (a myth) bars them from any further discussion of the Archbishop's behavior, beliefs, or ministries.

This is not credible for two reasons. First, we who have ties to western Churches like the Anglican Communion are far more capable of affecting those institutions than we are capable of changing public opinion among Nigerian Muslims. We want our church and our institutions to be immaculate and beyond reproach. Of course, we would also like Islam in northern Nigeria to operate within the confines of civil discourse. We would like Shari'ya to be pushed back and for civil law to predominate. We recognize the dangers of Shari'ya, and we have been yelling about its abuses long before 9/11 and long before Archbishop Akinola began to endorse this legislation. There is, in fact, no "lack of interest" on that issue. If the Archbishop thinks otherwise, it might be because his would-be abuses -- as close to home as they are to so many of us -- have overshadowed those of Islam in our eyes, and that he has found this to be a bit of a shock.

But in an evaluation of the place of the Church of Nigeria in this "recent unpleasantness" in northern Virginia, it really doesn't matter what Islam does, which brings us to the second reason why his statement about "mob violence" is a dodge. Regardless of the troubles in Nigeria regarding Shari'ya, there is no consistent philosophical or theological position one can take that would allow a cleric as highly placed as Akinola to state that persecuted Christians in northern Nigeria should be protected as they do missionary work among their Muslim brethren, while at the same time stating that gay and lesbian Nigerians should lose their chance to speak out on their own behalf.

From a purely PR perspective, there are only three ways through this pickle. One, ignore the bad press and push on as usual, stopping every once in a while to shift the weight of the growing burden of bad public perception that CANA carries as it moves to Nigeria. Two, have Bishop Minns publicly denounce the legislation, saying that it should never have been endorsed by Akinola in the first place. I do not believe that Minns will do this, but it's an option. Three, have Archbishop Akinola withdraw his endorsement, or modify it.

There is no middle path here, even though they seem to want it both ways. The second and third options would alleviate much if not all of the bad press, but would damage Akinola's credibility, either here or in Nigeria. The first, which is the course most likely to be chosen, would represent a path of principle. Minns and Akinola would be saying, "we believe in what we are doing, now leave us alone." It would require that they stop defending Akinola's endorsements; they would have to own them. The position that they don't support the legislation, but actually do, is no longer tenable.

But PR isn't everything. How one bishop looks relative to another is ashes in the wind compared to the real suffering of gay and lesbian Nigerians that we can all expect should this legislation pass (and it will). Let's not forget that. Apparently these two have.

And Merry Christmas!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm just mostly disappointed by the lack of courage and consistency shown by Minns' spin.

Frankly, I think there is an arguement (not one that I'd agree with) and a very consistent one: homosexuailty is one of the very worst of sins, corrosive to culture, unnatural, etc, etc,
(but we love people anyway so we're not homophobic, yeah right) and so it is quite right that legal sanctions against it are very strong!

The US has (or has had) laws against discussing or promoting terrorism, booze traffic, child p0rn, and communism; the UK and EU have laws against advocacy of Nazism, racism (and homophobic violence too),

Nigeria certainly consiers that homosexuailty is as bad for a society as much of the west considers homophobia or Naziism would be. Why don't Minns and co just come out and say this: in the US you can't watch child porn or hunt for children to abuse: in Nigeria you can't talk about gay sex.

Let me guess: such a blunt avowal of their theology might just upset some of the Washington and Virginia donors to Truro & Falls Church?