Saturday, February 25, 2006

Nigeria Today May Be the Christian Right of Tomorrow

The Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane, Bishop of Washington, has written an editorial that will appear in tomorrow's Washington Post entitled A Gospel of Intolerance. The issue the bishop addresses is Nigeria's outlawing of same sex relationships, which we have previously discussed here. Bishop Chane identifies Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola as a prominent leader behind the passage of this new law:

...Meeting last February, the primates who lead our 38 member provinces issued a unanimous statement that said in part: "The victimization or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us."

We now have reason to doubt those words.

Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, primate of the Church of Nigeria and leader of the conservative wing of the communion, recently threw his prestige and resources behind a new law that criminalizes same-sex marriage in his country and denies gay citizens the freedoms to assemble and petition their government. The law also infringes upon press and religious freedom by authorizing Nigeria's government to prosecute newspapers that publicize same-sex associations and religious organizations that permit same-sex unions.

Were Archbishop Akinola a solitary figure and Nigeria an isolated church, his support for institutionalized bigotry would be significant only within his own country. But the archbishop is perhaps the most powerful member of a global alliance of conservative bishops and theologians, generously supported by foundations and individual donors in the United States, who seek to dominate the Anglican Communion and expel those who oppose them, particularly the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Failing that, the archbishop and his allies have talked of forming their own purified communion -- possibly with Archbishop Akinola at its head...
Bishop Chane then identifies one of these supporting foundations, the Institue on Religion and Democracy:

...Because the conflict over homosexuality is not unique to Anglicanism, civil libertarians in this country, and other people as well, should also be aware of the archbishop and his movement. Gifts from such wealthy donors as Howard Ahmanson Jr. and the Bradley, Coors and Scaife families, or their foundations, allow the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy to sponsor so-called "renewal" movements that fight the inclusion of gays and lesbians within the Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches and in the United Church of Christ. Should the institute succeed in "renewing" these churches, what we see in Nigeria today may well be on the agenda of the Christian right tomorrow...
The IRD is an organization that most Episcopalians should be familiar with by now. If you need to refresh your memory, here is some background info. To summarize, the IRD began as an anti-communist organization that was involved in clandestine operations in Central America during the Reagan era. When they ran out of communists, they turned on the mainline churches. Just a taste of their involvement in the current tensions within the Episcopal Church can be seen here. When the American Anglican Council was first organized, they shared office space, the same mailing address, board members and wealthy contributers with the IRD. Some background on the IRD's attack on the Methodist Church can be found here. An example of their work within the United Church of Christ can be seen here.

Bishop Chane returns to his focus on Archbishop Akinola, and asks his supporters an important question:

...The archbishop's support for this law violates numerous Anglican Communion documents that call for a "listening process" involving gay Christians and their leaders. But his contempt for international agreements also extends to Articles 18-20 of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which articulates the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, association and assembly.

Surprisingly, few voices -- Anglican or otherwise -- have been raised in opposition to the archbishop. When I compare this silence with the cacophony that followed the Episcopal Church's decision to consecrate the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, a gay man who lives openly with his partner, as the bishop of New Hampshire, I am compelled to ask whether the global Christian community has lost not only its backbone but its moral bearings. Have we become so cowed by the periodic eruptions about the decadent West that Archbishop Akinola and his allies issue that we are no longer willing to name an injustice when we see one?

I also feel compelled to ask the archbishop's many high-profile supporters in this country why they have not publicly dissociated themselves from his attack on the human rights of a vulnerable population. Is it because they support this sort of legislation, or because the rights of gay men and women are not worth the risk of tangling with an important alliance?
I'd like to hear an answer to that final question as well, but I won't be holding my breath.

Bishop Chane did not address another reason why we should be holding Archbishop Akinola accountable; his role in the recent violence in Nigeria. In a recent statement, Abp. Akinola had these words to offer:

...May we at this stage remind our Muslim brothers that they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation. Nigeria belongs to all of us – Christians, Muslims and members of other faiths. No amount of intimidation can Change this time-honoured arrangement in this nation. C.A.N. may no longer be able to contain our restive youths should this ugly trend continue...
That sounds to me like a threat of violence. Some news reports are suggesting that the Abp.'s statement was simply stating that reprisals are now inevitable. Ok. Then how about, as a christian leader, a word of condemnation regarding such violence? Without such a condemnation, it certainly sounds like an implied threat.

Those who study such things have suggested that the center of Christianity is shifting from the West towards the South. Does Archbishop Akinola represents the future of Christendom? If so, do we really want to be part of it?


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