Leaving is one thing, Nigeria another

Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post has story on the impending vote by Truro and the Falls Church to leave the Episcopal Church. I wish they wouldn’t, but if they must, I hope it happens with a minimum of drama. There is one point I’d like to pick up on, though.

Boorstein writes:

Some members of the two Fairfax churches say they are comfortable with the arrangement because Minns is their “missionary bishop.” However, they know there are questions about a suburban Washington congregation technically under the leadership of Akinola, who has supported a new Nigerian law that penalizes gay activity, whether private or “a public show of same sex amorous relationship,” with jail time.

Jim Pierobon, a member of The Falls Church serving as a spokesman for both Fairfax churches, said he believes Akinola is trying to ease tensions between Nigerian Anglicans and Muslims by supporting the law. That doesn’t mean the leadership issue doesn’t weigh on Pierobon’s conscience.

“I can’t ignore what’s gone on,” he said Friday. “It gives me pause. But I understand it well enough that it’s not a show-stopper.”

Mr. Pierobon understands less than he thinks he does, as readers of Matt Thompson’s comprehensive coverage of this issue on Political Spaghetti well know. There is no evidence that Muslims had any role in the legislation that Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria is supporting, or that his support of the legislation means anything to Muslims one way or the other. (As a side point, what if there were? It would be a good thing that he is willing to infringe the civil rights of gay people and their allies to have better relationships with Muslims?)

The inconvenient fact is that the Nigerian legislation violates basic human freedoms, and that numerous human rights organizations–Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc., have said so. Our own State Department, not a hot bed of left wing radicalism, has criticized the bill. So have the authors of this piece, both of whom are prominent in groups that oppose the inclusion of non-celibate gay people in the ministries of the Church..

The Anglican right in this country and in England have struggled with their response since news about this bill first broke. First, they denied that the Nigerian Church supported it. Presented with statements from Akinola’s spokesman, they denied that Akinola himself supported it. Once Akinola made his support undeniable, they denied that the bill was actually repressive. Once that position became untenable thanks to the close analysis of human rights groups active in Nigeria, they moved to Mr. Pierobon’s position–blame the Muslims.

To me this dance of evasion indicates (I hope) a deep unease with the nature of the Nigerian bill, coupled with the recognition that criticizing Archbishop Akinola for his attitudes toward homosexuality would be politically unwise, especially now that Truro’s rector Martyn Minns has become a bishop in the Nigerian Church.

Unfortunately, the folks at Truro and the Falls Church seem to be preparing to choose on the side of expediency. It is one thing to leave the Episcopal Church and another to ally one’s self with a province that favors using the machinery of the state to silence and imprison its political and theological opponents. There are numerous other Anglican provinces that are in agreement with the majorities at Truro and The Falls Church on homosexuality. Why must they choose Nigeria?

Finally, I am wondering if the future Church of Nigeria members at Truro and the Falls Church would favor American legislation similar to the legislation their Church is supporting in Nigeria? If so, what is your strategy for rolling back the First Amendment? If not, can you help me undertand the theological justification for criminalizing the practice of certain human rights in one country, but not in another?

Past Posts