Friday, March 02, 2007

Canon Harmon drops the "Shar'iya" bomb

[updated below]

Canon Kendall Harmon, the proprietor of the right-leaning Anglican blog Titusonenine, was just interviewed by Voice of America's Howard Lesser about the meeting in Tanzania, and also about the legislation before the Nigerian Federal Assembly that would radically abridge basic civil rights (like speech, press, assembly, free exercise of religion) for gay and lesbian Nigerians.

In light of recent news developments (see here, here, and here), Canon Harmon's words, which echo the arguments made by other conservative American Anglicans, and by Archbishop Akinola himself -- that the legislation may be necessary given the threat of Shar'iya -- ring very, very hollow:

As for this week’s indications that Nigerian legislators plan to criminalize same sex relationships and all promotion of a homosexual lifestyle, Canon Harmon says he hopes the Nigerian diocese and its leaders will strike a balance that respects the region’s cultural history and the personal rights and freedoms of Nigerian citizens.

“Nigeria is closely divided between Islam and Christianity. So you have Sharia law in the minds of a lot of legislatures. From an American perspective, it looks very, very punitive relative to American legislation. So I think the hard part is the degree to which the Church can push back in a compassionate way and still try to uphold the teaching of the Church in a society where Islam and Christianity are competing strongly,” he said.

I have a great deal of respect for Kendall Harmon, and I don't want this come across as a personal attack.

But he "hopes that the Nigerian diocese and its leaders will strike a balance"? Too late! That ship has long since sailed. The very imminent passage of this legislation is rapidly turning into a serious PR disaster for anyone who continues to blame Shar'iya for this legislation, or who fails to recognize the implications this would have for potentially millions of Nigerians.

Here's an appropriate "balance" for Canon Harmon. Call for Archbishop Akinola to revise his endorsement to leave intact those parts of the legislation that state that gay marriage is not to be recognized by the Nigerian government, and strike those parts that would put a gay or lesbian Nigerian in prison for 5 years for disagreeing.


UPDATE March 2, 2007, 12:29. Canon Harmon, via email, has indicated that he did in fact condemn the legislation, but that it did not make the tape, and that the interview with Lesser was intended to be about Tanzania. I believe him. He also said he would never support legislation like this.

However, I don't believe that I should be the one clarifying his position. One shouldn't have to take it from me.

UPDATE: I'm currently engaging Canon Harmon's readers on this subject on Titusonenine. Come by and check it out.


Anonymous said...

I know it looks as if the Nigerian Church is trying to out shari'a the muslims. This is not the case.

I want to bring up another issue. Most of the world's anglicans live in areas where radical islam is a living and present danger. We are not talking of people like Omar Brookes or the "hook hand", we are talking about people who can and are actualising their threats.

The question is; before those of you in the West criticise us for being too radically "islamic" - have done as much as to lift a finger in support of your persecuted brethren? What has the Archbishop of Canterbury (or any senior Church man for that matter) done about close to 100,000 people murdered (many of them Anglican) over the past ten years in Nigeria alone?

The people who are actively following the religious situation in Nigeria and making sure our voices are heard like Baroness Caroline Cox and Rev. Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo are firmly in the evangelical camp. Akinola is much villified but he is a much more useful leader in these circumstances than say, Rowan Williams.

Many of us doubt the usefulness of our brethren in the West since they are one-track people (homosexual rights), who could not be bothered to even study the tense religious situation in sub-saharan Africa. They carry on is if priests are not being killed and churches are not being razed in Northern Nigeria.

Matt said...

I am honored to have a Nigerian voice on this blog. I wouldn't dare to instruct you on your own country, yet I have many questions. More soon.

Matt said...

OK, I am back.

Words cannot express how horrified I have been to hear over the years of the violence that has raged between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. I do not wish in any way to belittle the suffering that has been caused by inter-religious conflict, nor do I wish to say that Archbishop Akinola is not right to want to protect his flock from harm.

However, it has always been my impression that these conflicts are, at their root, more political, ethnic, and economic than religious. Non-indigene Igbo living in Maiduguri or Sokoto (are there still any?) are more likely to be the subject of violence that is not purely "religious" in origin, but tainted by the history of the Biafran civil war.

Muslims living in Onitsha are likely to be the subject of violence by Igbo long bitter over the genocide perpetrated against the Igbo during the Biafran civil war by a heavily Muslim Nigerian army.

When an Anglican bishop is attacked in Katsina, it is not simply because he is Anglican, but also because he "represents" non-Hausa cultural traditions.

I may be deeply mistaken about all this, but is it not true that much of the conflict in Nigeria bears the mask of religion, but that it reflects much deeper conflicts, especially with regard to control over the Niger Delta?

Second, if we grant that Shar'iya represents a serious threat (and I do), does Archbishop Akinola believe that he will be able to assuage that threat by endorsing legislation that would curtail the civil rights of a common enemy? (Isn't the major complaint of most Muslims about Christians that they proclaim the divinity of Christ?) Is it morally justified to throw one group (gay and lesbian Nigerians) under the bus in order to save face in front of another?

In other words, is it right to let Shar'iya dictate the standards of decency for all?

My response is no. Archbishop Akinola has a stern and difficult task ahead of him, but he must prove to the world that his is the nobler path. Endorsing legislation that would put gay and lesbian Nigerians in jail for disagreeing with him shows only that he seeks the lowest common denominator.