Why won’t ACNA say it is wrong to put gay people in prison?

Archbishop Robert Duncan was given an opportunity yesterday by Cathy Grossman of Religion News Service to say that he did not support Uganda’s harsh new anti-gay law, which not only penalizes people involved in same-sex relationships, but also people who have knowledge of same-sex relationships and do not report them to the authorities.

The U. S. government and every major human rights group have publicly opposed the bill, but Archbishop Duncan, leader of the Anglican Church in North America couldn’t bring himself to do it.

Instead, along with some of the African archbishops who supported the Ugandan bill and others like it, he recently signed a statement decrying the western backlash against the legislation.

The Anglican Church in North America is led by a man who was so deeply offended by the ordination of a gay bishop that he decided to break away from the Episcopal Church and take tens of thousands of other people with him, but who is comfortable with church leaders who have successfully urged their governments to round up LGBT people and their supportive friends, and put them in jail.

For years, breakaway Anglicans have tried to downplay the role that simple anti-gay bigotry has played in their movement. They’d say that they didn’t hate gay people, they just didn’t think they should be able to be ordained or married. Or they’d say that homosexuality was just one symptom of the Episcopal Church’s drift from Biblical truth. Duncan’s unwillingness to say in a simple and straightforward way that he doesn’t think gay people and those who do not inform on them should be put in jail gives the lie to these arguments, as does the obsession with homosexuality evident in statements from the GAFCON primates council.

What we are seeing now is a comfortable white American religious leader who cannot bring himself to say that it is wrong to throw LGBT Africans in jail because he doesn’t want to offend the African archbishops who have been his allies.

Duncan is in a bind. On one hand, the bogus claim that the Anglican Church in North America is part of the Anglican Communion depends entirely on its relationships with Anglican provinces led by archbishops who support anti-gay legislation. On the other hand, ACNA’s leaders in this country know that their church won’t survive if its homophobic roots and willingness to countenance human rights violations that advance its institutional interests become widely known. His strategy at the moment seems to be to sign on to homophobic documents that circulate widely within the Anglican Communion while hoping that the U. S. media and the wider public doesn’t notice.

It is important, especially in places with strong breakaway movements such as Pittsburgh (Duncan’s former diocese), Fort Worth and South Carolina, that Episcopalians make it clear just how extreme Archbishop Duncan is willing to be.

It is also important that LGBT people and their allies keep asking ACNA and its leaders whether they would support an American version of the anti-gay laws that are supported by their allies in Uganda and Nigeria. If they do not support imprisoning LGBT people and those who refuse to inform on them in the United States, why do they refuse to say that they oppose the imprisonment of such people in Africa?

(For background on the ways in which African archbishops have worked with Duncan and other clergy who broke away from the Episcopal Church, read the “Barfoot memo” of 2004, Stephen Bates’ 2004 reporting on the strategy of anti-gay Anglicans to break up the Episcopal Church and force it out of the Anglican Communion and my 2006 article Following the Money.)

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