Complicity is too mild a word


Yesterday, the Observer carried an editorial that could have been taken from the pages of The Café. Headlined: The church must not be complicit in gay persecution in Africa, it began:

Homosexuality is not a sin or a crime. There is no caveat or quibble that should be added. The repression of gay men and women by legal means and public intimidation is an offence against the basic principles of a free and just society. Where it exists, which it does to varying degrees in many countries around the world, it must be confronted and defeated.

The editorial was occasioned by a prison term of 14 years with hard labor given to a gay man and his transgendered partner in Malawi, but it could have been written at any time since the Christian right began its attempts to globalize the North American culture wars by pouring gasoline of the fire of African homophobia. For much of that time, the leaders of the Anglican Communion in the United Kingdom have been all but silent about the persecution of homosexuals in Africa, while lamenting the fact that the Episcopal Church permitted gays and lesbians to become priests and bishops. The Observer finds this approach morally wanting:

“… A particular obligation falls on the Anglican church, which counts in its communion clergymen who preach venom and hatred. The Anglican bishop of Uyo in Nigeria, Isaac Orama, has described homosexuals as “inhuman, insane, satanic and not fit to live”.

The Anglican hierarchy in Britain has avoided speaking out too frankly on this matter to avoid a schism, but the church’s quiet diplomacy has done nothing to help the victims of homophobic repression. Increasingly, it looks like complicity.”

The authenticity of the quote used in the editorial has been called into question, but it isn’t hard to find others almost as bad. The judgment of the editorialist is, if anything, rather mild. As Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has not only been complicit in the persecution of gay and lesbian Africans, he has actively abetted the cause of the Anglican Communion’s most virulently bigoted prelates, and twisted the Communion’s moral calculus beyond recognition.

Legitimate questions have been raised about whether Peter Akinola, the retired primate of Nigeria had foreknowledge of a massacre of 700 Muslims in the town of Yelwa in 2004, but neither Williams nor any other leaders in the Anglican Communion thought it important to get to the bottom of whether the leader of the Communion’s largest province was potentially a mass murderer.

Henry Orombi, the primate of Uganda, allowed church officials close to him to support that country’s notorious “death of gays” legislation until it became politically untenable to do so, at which point he supported softening the death penalty, but passing other cruel provisions into law. Archbishop Williams, after much urging, suggested in an interview with a single reporter, that the bill was inconsistent with Christian teaching, but never criticized Orombi by name.

Bernard Malango, the retired primate of Central Africa, protected the Nolbert Kunonga, the now deposed bishop of Harare, despite considerable evidence that Kunonga’s ardor for Robert Mugabe had led him to commit various crimes, including incitement to murder. Archbishop Williams never publicly criticized Malango’s handling of this situation. Indeed, he rewarded him with a seat on the panel that wrote the Windsor Report, the document devoted to stopping the further consecration of gay and lesbian bishops in the Episcopal Church.

Emanuel Kolini, the archbishop of Rwanda, is so deep inside the pocket of the president of his country that he does not allow men whom the president does not like, including Paul Rusesabagina to speak from his church’s pulpits, even outside of Rwanda. If Archbishop Williams has a problem with a church that is the maidservant of the state, he hasn’t said so. Nor has Williams raised public objection to the fact that the Church of Rwanda now has more bishops in the United States than in Rwanda.

Williams’ silence on these issues would be less troubling had he not so frequently and publicly criticized the Episcopal Church for treating gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered Christians as full members of the Church. He used an invitation to the Church’s General Convention last summer to urge worshipers—during a sermon—not to pass legislation making it more likely that a gay or lesbian candidate would be elected to the episcopacy. When then-Canon Mary Glasspool, a lesbian, received sufficient consents to be consecrated as suffragan bishop of Los Angeles, Williams expressed his displeasure in a press release emailed far and wide at the crack of dawn (in stark contrast to his tepid criticism of the Ugandan legislation). And he continues to warn about the “consequences” that the Episcopal Church will face for Glasspool’s consecration.

Williams’ behavior suggests that there is only one sin for which an Anglican leader can earn public condemnation, and only one act that merits exclusion from the councils of the Communion: repenting of the Church’s age old homophobia. Calling him complicit in the persecutions of LGBT people in African suggests that he acquiesced in the creation of a climate of intolerance within the Anglican Communion. But in reality, he is one of its architects.

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5 Responses to "Complicity is too mild a word"
  1. Would it be at all a bad thing if Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori spoke a few words about the case of Steven and Tiwonge? I realize that the official actions of the Episcopal Church speak in favor of justice and equality, but it seems to me that a statement from our PB regretting Malawi's type of "justice" for LGTB persons wouldn't hurt.

    June Butler

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  2. This is a strong and eloquent post, Jim. I agree with Mimi; I think that TEC needs to speak out strongly against the persecution of LBGT people in Africa (and anywhere) in tandem with standing up for our internal policy of treating LBGT folks as full members of the church. TEC can and should make the connection and call for justice both within the church and everywhere else, too.

    Penny Nash [name added by ed.]

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  3. Jim, you really are taking it too easy on Rowan Williams. Don't be afraid to say what we all know: The ABC's actions speak more loudly than his words. He is a partner in hate, more comfortable with a potential mass murderer than a lesbian bishop. Maybe we can exclude him from the next Lambeth Conference, or ask him to voluntarily step down from the Anglican Communion's governing bodies. Maybe it's time for Rowan Williams to "walk apart" from the Communion for a season.

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