The roots of African "hetero-nationalism"

Mary-Jane Rubenstein, an assistant Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University, was Scholar in Residence at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City in 2005-06. She's written one of the most thoughtful, comprehensive essays on the intellectual roots of the Anglican crisis that I've seen anywhere for Killing the Buddha. What follows is a taste, but by all means, read it all.

The question that divides the Anglican leaders of the Global South is, How do we go about accessing the non-Western essence of the Gospel? For Orombi, Akinola, and the rising Archbishop of Nigeria Nicholas Okoh, purifying the Gospel of its Western influence is simple: all we have to do is to look at Scripture itself. The “tradition” and “reason” through which Western Anglicans typically read Scripture are cultural accretions: “Scripture-alone” gets at the uncolonized essence of Christianity. For Njonkonkulu Ndungane, former Archbishop of Southern Africa, the opposite is true the insistence upon Scriptural “purity” is the Western innovation. It is Calvinism—in particular, an American-style Calvinism—that has allowed bishops from Fort Worth and Uganda to agree on the interpretation of Scripture—not some shared, a-cultural access to the Gospel itself. There is no a-cultural access to the Gospel itself. So the only way to de-Westernize the Gospel, Ndungane argues, is to use African culture and tradition to interpret the Bible—that is, to Africanize the old Anglican Three-Legged Stool.

The problem remains that even if leaders as different as Akinola and Ndungane were to agree that all access to Scripture is traditionally mediated, they would disagree over what constitutes “African Tradition.” Is it the heterosexual family values that Akinola brandishes against the Muslim incursion? Or the discourse of human rights that has emerged from South Africa’s history of apartheid? Is “African Tradition” the sexual conservatism born out of the Rwandan genocide? Or the ideological liberalism born out of the Burundian genocide? Or is it the sexual libertarianism of a reconstructed pre-colonial past? That world of male daughters and female husbands that Amadiume insists was not “homosexual,” but to which gay and lesbian activists in Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, and Zimbabwe nonetheless appeal in order to show they have always been there? Before the Christians, before even the Muslims, as Nigerian activist Davis Mac-Iyalla argues, there were men who slept with men, women who slept with women, women who lived as men, men who became women. Is this the African tradition through which Scripture should be read, perhaps with strategic emphasis upon the eunuchs who inherit the kingdom, or the asexuality of all Christians in Christ?

Comments (2)

This may be one of the most fascinating pieces that I have ever read on the "African Connection" aspect of our current woes over full inclusion of LGBT persons. I must admit that I can let go of a little of the anger that I feel towards the African primates who have been our vociferous opponents by understanding them a little better. It makes me wonder if they/we would not be better off if we were not "one communion" suggesting that perhaps the "Anglican Covenant" is not the best way to go--How about the "Anglican Divorce" instead?
At the root beyond the colonial/African/Non-African source of this problem is, however, the fact that heterosexism/homophobia appears to be alive and well in many of these African countries. Whether it was an imported colonial product or home-grown does not excuse it, nor does it suggest that we need to do otherwise than we are doing.
If homosexuals are perceived as "weak" and "inferior" then we need to show them strong LGBT people who are neither. It is easy to see someone as weak s/he is running from an angry mob. It is quite another to see the "weakling" in a position of power and influence. (Making it perhaps clearer how "impossible" it may seem to them that an LGBT person could be placed in a position of power--in that logic like arguing for round squares) The very examples of persons such as +Gene and perhaps soon +Mary are living witnesses against the prejudice and evidence of another truth. I believe that we owe it to our oppressed LGBT brothers and sisters in Africa to provide that witness for them and to point out the lie in the homophobic pseudo-Gospel in which they are being drenched.

Too many African bishops think they are the church. Too many Europeans and North Americans, including Rubenstein, act as if they are. A huge swathe of African Anglicanism is to be found in the doings of the Mothers' Union, but no visiting academics or journalists ever seem to talk to the women of the Mothers' Union. What's their take on the Gospel? Who knows. No one's asking.

My guess is that a lot of them regard as irrelevant, self-important, useless men bishops who trumpet about the "homosexual invasion" instead of raising money for mosquito netting to protect children from malaria.

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