Archbishop Of Canterbury Appeases Nigerian Homophobia
Courageous US Bishop condemns Nigeria's anti-gay repression.
Anglican leader of Nigeria backs savage homophobic law.
Fear grips the lesbian and gay community in Nigeria.
London - 24 April 2006
"We are stunned by the failure of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, to condemn Archbishop Akinola's support for Nigeria's savage new anti-gay legislation," said Peter Tatchell of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights group OutRage!.
"Dr Williams would not appease a racist or an anti-Semite cleric. Why is he appeasing a boastful homophobe like Archbishop Akinola?" added Mr Tatchell.
"With the blessing of the Nigerian Anglican Church and its leader, Archbishop Peter Akinola, the government of Nigeria has tabled in parliament one of the world's most comprehensive and repressive anti-gay laws.
"The new legislation will strip lesbian and gay Nigerians of their already limited civil rights and outlaw almost every expression, affirmation and celebration of homosexuality, including same-sex marriage and blessing ceremonies. It will also prohibit gay organisations, gay churches, gay safer sex education, the advocacy of gay human rights, and sympathetic advice and welfare support for lesbians and gay men.
"It widens Nigeria's already draconian anti-gay laws, to criminalise any expression, public or private, of same-sex affection or relationship. The mere attendance at a gathering to support the gay community or to learn about HIV prevention for gay people will become a crime.
"Violations will be punished with an automatic five year jail sentence.
"Even before this new legislation, homosexuality was punished with a 14-year jail term under civil law, and by the death penalty those parts of the country that are governed by Sharia law.
"The new legislation is backed by Archbishop Akinola and the Anglican Church in Nigeria. They are endorsing the state oppression of their gay countrymen and women.
"The Archbishop of Canterbury is silent about this major threat to the human rights of gay members of his Anglican Communion in Nigeria. The new law will criminalise gay Christian gatherings, blessings and celebrations. It is a direct attack on both the Christian and gay communities of Nigeria.
"It contrast to Dr Williams's shameful silence, Bishop Chane of Washington DC has courageously exposed the persecution of gay Nigerians by Archbishop Akinola and Anglican Church of Nigeria.
"We salute Bishop Chane's defence of lesbian and gay human rights. Unlike the Archbishop of Canterbury, he is a true Good Samaritan to the suffering gays and lesbians of Nigeria.
The full text of Bishop Chane's condemnation of the Nigerian church, and its right-wing US evangelical backers, follows below.
"Bishop Chane's support for the human rights of gay Nigerians accords with a gospel of love and compassion, while Archbishop Akinola's homophobia embodies hatred and ignorance," added Mr Tatchell.
"Under attack by both Church and State, we fear for the safety of our gay brothers and sisters in Nigeria.
"Akinola's harsh, merciless Christian fundamentalism poses a grave danger to the spiritual and physical welfare of gay Christians and non-Christians in Nigeria," said Mr Tatchell.
The full text of Bishop Chane's article in the Washington Post follows below.
It is followed by a new story from The Living Church magazine.
A gospel of intolerance
By Bishop John Bryson Chane, Episcopal bishop of Washington DC
The Washington Post - 26 February 2006
WASHINGTON DC - It's no secret that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are engaged in a bitter internal struggle over the role of gay and lesbian people within the church. But despite this struggle, the leaders of our global communion of 77 million members have consistently reiterated their pastoral concern for gays and lesbians. 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 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.
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.
Many countries have laws restricting marriage on any number of grounds. Some of these, such as age, kinship and marital status, for instance, are prudent, while most of us believe other sorts of restrictions, including race and religion, are oppressive and indefensible. Our global community has certainly achieved no consensus on the issue of same-sex marriage or the related issues of civil unions.
But the Nigerian law has crossed the line in several important respects. Its most outrageous provision deals not with marriage but with "same-sex relationships" and prohibits essentially any public or private activity in any way related to homosexuality. It reads in part: "Publicity, procession and public show of same sex amorous relationship through the electronic or print media physically, directly, indirectly or otherwise are prohibited in Nigeria."
Any person involved in the "sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly" is subject to five years' imprisonment.
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?
As a matter of logic, it must be one or the other, and it is urgent that members of our church, and citizens of our country, know your mind.
John Bryson Chane is Episcopal bishop of Washington DC, USA
Washington Bishop Condemns Proposed Nigerian Law, Primate's Role, The Living Church magazine, 27 February 2006
The Bishop of Washington, the Rt. Rev. John B. Chane, has lambasted the Primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria for endorsing a revision to Nigeria's sodomy laws which Bishop Chane said will deny "gay citizens the freedoms to assemble and petition their government."
Writing in the Washington Post on Feb. 26, Bishop Chane also called on conservative Episcopalians to disassociate publicly from the Most Rev.
Peter J. Akinola's "attack on the human rights of a vulnerable population."
The "Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act" before the Nigerian Federal Assembly would bar "marriage between persons of the same sex" and the
"adoption of children" by same-sex couples. The act forbids churches and other ecclesial communities from performing same-sex marriages or
blessings and would also ban "gay clubs" in schools and in government-affiliated institutions.
The "publicity, procession or public show of same-sex amorous", or erotic homosexual literature would also be banned under the proposed law. If enacted, violators could face penalties which include a term of imprisonment of up to five years.
Bishop Chane said Archbishop Akinola's support for this proposed law breached the primates' February 2005 communique that condemned the
"victimization or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex."
Calling Archbishop Akinola perhaps the most powerful member of a global alliance of Church leaders opposed to the normalization of
homosexuality for Christians, Bishop Chane said "civil libertarians" and others in the U.S. should be aware of and opposed to "the archbishop and his movement."
The proposed Nigerian law "prohibits essentially any public or private activity in any way related to homosexuality" Bishop Chane alleged, and Archbishop Akinola's "support for this law violates numerous Anglican Communion documents that call for a "listening process" involving gay Christians and their leaders as well as the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights
Bishop Chane challenged conservatives in the United States to repudiate Archbishop Akinola over the proposed legislation. Failure to do so, he said, "as a matter of logic" could be explained by one of only two theories: "[either] 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."
A spokesman for the Church of Nigeria, Canon Akintunde Popoola, disputed this characterization, arguing Bishop Chane misconstrued the text of the bill and Archbishop Akinola's role in the legislative process. "Archbishop Peter to my knowledge is yet to comment [publicly] on the bill. I have said we welcome it because we view homosexuality as'against the norm'."
While banning'gay clubs' in "institutions from secondary to the tertiary level or other institutions in particular" and "generally, by government agencies," the proposed law is silent as to the status of private gay clubs.
The proposed law should also be seen in light of the wider conflict between civil law and Shariah law in Nigeria, Canon Popoola said. Under existing "Islamic law" in effect in "some parts of the country," the acts covered by the proposed law currently "stipulate the death penalty," he said.
Speaking to delegates at the World Council of Churches on Feb. 17, the Archbishop of Canterbury declined to defend or condemn the proposed Nigerian legislation, saying "there is a difference between what might be said theologically about patterns [of behavior] and what is said about human and civil rights."
It is a "real challenge" to "give effect to the listening process in situations where gay people are actively persecuted," the Most Rev. Rowan Williams said. However, "the primates have said, more than once, that they deplore such activities, corporately."
The "question is whether their churches" can find "ways of acting on that recognition on the wrongness of persecution," he said.
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