Monday, March 27, 2006

Why Peter Akinola Must be Challenged

Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria is a man who I challenge quite often here. Having never met him, my challenge is not based on any personal knowledge. If Akinola had not decided to stride onto the global stage and claim to speak for Anglican Christians, I'd probably never mention the man. But, since he has chosen the limelight, he must be held accountable for his most unChristian pronouncements. His words do not fall into a vacuum. They effect all Anglicans.

As an example, consider a segment from this article by Andrew Sullivan entitled World War on Gays:

...Meanwhile, in Nigeria, Anglican archbishop Peter Akinola has put his full support behind a new proposal that not only makes gay sex a crime but also criminalizes speech in favor of gay equality.

It will soon be a crime to petition the government to change the laws against homosexuality, and for churches to allow same-sex unions. Akinola is part of a global communion that includes Episcopalians in the United States.

Gays around the world right now are up against many terrifying forces of religious fundamentalism. Gay teens are hanged in Iran; Islamist terrorists are trying to destroy the fragile posttotalitarian society in Iraq. The virulently antigay Taliban and al-Qaeda keep up the pressure in Pakistan. Radical Muslims suppress free speech in Denmark and intimidate freedom of expression everywhere. In Holland, defenders of gay rights and women’s equality now live in fear of Muslim violence: One gay man who stood up to Islamist homophobia and one straight film director who backed our freedom were murdered in the streets. You may not even recognize the names Theo van Gogh and Pim Fortuyn, the two most recent martyrs in this war against religious brownshirts. And if you don’t, you should feel ashamed for your ignorance...
In case you missed it, the implication here is that Episcopalians are marching with the "religious brownshirts".

Anyone who had done a little background research regarding the Episcopal Church would know that that is an unfair and quite erroneous implication. Yet, I am not surprised by it. It is exactly what I thought would eventually happen; Episcopalians would be lumped together with the rest of the religious fanatics.

How can I stay "in communion" with such a leader as Peter Akinola and those who defend such bigotry? I'm not sure I can.

If we sell out our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ for the "sake of unity" (which it appears the House of Bishops is preparing to do), we will have bowed to the threats of the brownshirts, and joined their ranks. We will have also abandoned the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We will have ceased to be the Church.

I will conclude with an excerpt from an essay written by the Rev. Marilyn McCord Adams, Regius Professor of Divinity and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford:

...Certainly, conservatives have been "wise as serpents" in setting up the dilemma. But in trying for the "innocence of doves", liberal leaders have betrayed their own cause. Liberal beliefs - that conservative positions on gender and sexuality evidence the grip of oppressive taboos - are also conscientious. Sacrificing such beliefs in order to hang on to already impaired communion with those who will remain only if you do what they tell you sends the message that dividing the church is more sinful than misogyny and homophobia, and more important than first-class ecclesial citizenship for women and for homosexual Christians. Conservatives thereby win a double victory: not only do they co-opt the church's institutional structures; they confirm the widespread suspicion that liberals do not have enough backbone to be conscientious at all.

There is no health in this, because "going along to get along" is not the gospel. The synoptics virtually guarantee: because the reign of God stands in judgment over any and every human social system, its coming by successive approximations is sure to violate our socially constructed identities repeatedly. Our part is to discern for all we're worth and to live up to the light that is in us. Because we are fallible, we are not entitled to make undermining other people's lifestyles our ends or chosen means, but we have to accept that it may be a known but unintended side-effect of putting our conscientious convictions into effect. Refusing to do so shows no charity to the oppressed whose cause we feel called to sponsor. Nor can we consistently believe that it shows charity to those who are dug in against us, because our considered opinion is that they are imprisoned by illogic and taboos.

Finally, liberals must not make an idol of unity. In institutions, as in biology, differentiation and division may be in service of richer and more mature integration. John's Jesus prays for unity, but the Jesus-movement precipitated a schism within Judaism. It was not his first choice, but it is how the gospel spread.

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