Saturday, December 16, 2006

Not whence but whither

[updated below]

Personally, the question for me has never been whether Episcopal parishes like The Falls Church or Truro in northern Virginia have the right to leave the Episcopal Church, nor do I particularly care if they fight to keep their property, or give it up to their diocese as they leave. In other words, I don't dispute the whence of their decision -- I'll grant them that they have just cause to leave the Episcopal Church, since I will challenge neither the courage nor the need for their decision.

What I will challenge is the whither. Why go to Nigeria, of all places? Well, Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times doesn't go into too much detail on the subject, and I must confess that I'm not sure I could adequately explain the historical reasons myself. But in her mention of the imminent departure of The Falls Church and Truro, she makes mention (but little more) of the primary reason one might object to Nigeria [my emphasis]:
In Virginia, the two large churches are voting on whether they want to report to the powerful archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, an outspoken opponent of homosexuality who supports legislation in his country that would make it illegal for gay men and lesbians to form organizations, read gay literature or eat together in a restaurant.
It is this paragraph that should give the greatest pause to those within the Episcopal Church who wish to realign with external Anglican provinces like Nigeria. Readers of the Times might well agree with the departing parishes' reasons for leaving -- i.e., the perceived non-evangelical character of much of the Episcopal Church and its countenance of homosexuality -- but would then go on to question why these parishes would wish to swing entirely to the other end of the spectrum and join the Church of Nigeria, whose highest church official has publicly called for the passage of legislation that would put gay and lesbian Nigerians in prison for just about anything.

What is obvious to some is not as obvious to others. It is possible to be against both homosexuality and jailing homosexuals. The Church of Nigeria (Anglican) has yet to discover a way to do both (for a variety of reasons detailed elsewhere).

In leaving the Episcopal Church for the Church of Nigeria, these parishes send two equally important, but distinct signals to the rest of the world and to their brothers and sisters in other denominations: first, that they are true to their principles and are no longer able to tolerate what they believe to be heresy within the Episcopal Church; and second, that their principles guide them to desire oversight from a Church that would take away the speech, assembly, press, and free exercise of religion rights of gay and lesbian Nigerians.

This NYT story reveals something very important about the emerging character of the press coverage of the conflict within the Anglican Communion. Now that the NYT has brought it to the light of day, descriptions of ecclesiastical departures from the Episcopal Church for Nigeria will henceforth always mention Archbishop Akinola's endorsement of that crap-tastic Nigerian legislation. I guarantee it.

The congregants of these parishes should know that. Sadly, few do.

[edited slightly for style, 23:39, Saturday, Dec 16]

UPDATE Dec 17, 15:33. The Falls Church and Truro have voted to leave the Episcopal Church and keep their property. All votes were in the affirmative and in the 90s%.

And, as expected, the press coverage in the Washington Post mentions the legislation [my emphasis]:
The churches voted to align themselves with a new group that hopes to eventually be home to thousands of dissident Episcopalians, the Convocation for Anglicans in North America, which is led by the Rev. Martyn Minns, the last rector at Truro. CANA is formally under the Church of Nigeria and Archbishop Peter Akinola, who supports a proposed law in Nigeria that would outlaw public and private gay activity. The American dissident churches have not been pushing to outlaw gay activity.
Good on Bill Turque and Michelle Boorstein for making it clear that leaders of these Episcopal parishes have denied support for that legislation (even if those leaders' denials have been more defensive and accusatory that one would hope), but it's going to continue to follow them around so long as it's on the verge of passing (or if it passes), and so long as Archbishop Akinola endorses it.

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