Schismatic VA Episcopalians OK With Anti-Gay Laws Worse Than Pre-WW2 Nazi Anti-Gay Legislation ?
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Dec 18, 2006 at 11:29:01 AM EST
Yesterday, seven Virginia Episcopal churches including two of the largest and wealthiest in the American Episcopal Communion voted to break away and, as a New York Times story written prior to the vote put it, "report to the powerful archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, an outspoken opponent of homosexuality who supports legislation in his country that would make it illegal for gay men and lesbians to form organizations, read gay literature or eat together in a restaurant." Jim Naughton, former Washington Post and NYT reporter and author of a study on how covert right wing agencies are undermining the Episcopal Church, noted "this no longer seems to be a debate about the proper role of gay and lesbians Christians in the Church, but about the moral legitimacy of rolling back human rights for minorities" ; in fact, the Virginia Episcopal Churches had voted to put themselves under an Archbishop, Peter Akinola, who supports Nigerian anti-gay legislation even more extreme than the pre-WW2 anti-gay laws of Hitler's Nazi Party, including the notorious 1935 revisions to Paragraph 175, that preceded the Gay Holocaust ( see Nazi Persecution Of Homosexuals 1933 To 1945 from the US Holocaust Museum, and the extensive Wikipedia entry on the subject. )
The Nazis took power in January 1933 on a platform of law and order, "traditional values," and an ideology of racial purity that included virulent antisemitism and the persecution of unwanted social groups. Among its first steps to create the "New Order," the regime shut down homosexual gathering places, organizations, and publications in a broad attack on "public indecency." The Nazi assault on homosexuality had begun. - From "The Nazi Persecution Of Homosexuals 1933-1945"

Recently, a Mid-Atlantic US AM talk radio host Jerry Klein provoked a minor scandal with a hoax show in which Klein suggested American Muslim citizens should be forced to wear "identifying markers" such as armbands with crescent moon shapes or even branded with crescent moon tattoos on their hands or foreheads [ mp3 recording of the show ] ; Klein's show was flooded with calls from listeners, many of whom agreed with his proposals or suggested Klein's suggestions did not go nearly far enough. But the tacit endorsement, by the renegade Virginia Episcopal churches, of draconian anti-gay legislation worse than that of  pre-WW2 Nazi laws, goes farther than individual expressions of bigotry ;  it gives hateful anti-minority views institutional and religious sanction and lends support to Archbishop Akinola's claims that homosexuality represents a "satanic attack on the church of God".

A Comparison Of Nazi-Era Anti-Gay Legislation, Paragraph 175, vs. The "Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition)" bill Supported by Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola

Matthew Thompson has perhaps given the most extensive coverage to be found concerning the proposed bill, at his blog Political Spaghetti and writes:

"Sections 1-5 of the Nigerian bill would formalize restrictions on gay marriage that are similar to what are found in many states in the US. Twenty-one states still have sodomy laws on their books, and most ban gay marriage or civil unions either constitutionally or by statute. If the Nigerian bill had stopped here, it would have imposed a situation no different than that found throughout the US.

But this bill goes much further. Sections 6-8 above restrict the right to free speech, free press, free assembly, and the free exercise of religion, and enforces that restriction with a [ 5 year ] jail sentence." but, adds Thompson, "When reading the bill, it is important to keep in mind that sodomy is already illegal in Nigeria. Chapter 24, Section 214 of Nigeria's criminal code penalizes consensual homosexual conduct between adults with fourteen years’ imprisonment (Human Rights Watch). Sharia, as practiced in northern Nigeria since 1999, calls for death by stoning for "sodomy" violations."

By contrast, 1935 revisions to Paragraph 175 of the German penal code that applied to homosexuality established penalties for homosexual acts ranging from three months to 10 years. These could include any "lewd act" that involved no physical contact such as two men masturbating next to one another:

Article 6 Indecency between Men 1. §175 of the Penal Code contains the following wording: §175 A man who commits indecency with another man, or allows himself to be misused indecently, will be punished with prison. In especially minor cases the court can refrain from punishment of a participant, who was not yet twenty–one years old at the time of the time of the criminal act. 2. The following rule shall be added after §175 of the Penal Code as §175a: §175a [The following] will be punished with a penitentiary sentence of up to ten years, or under extenuating circumstances with a prison sentence of no less than three months: * A man who compels another man to commit indecency with him, or to let himself be misused indecently, by force or by threat of imminent danger to life and limb; * A man who induces another man to commit indecency with him, or to let himself be misused indecently, by means of the abuse of an official or professional relationship, or one of seniority; * A man over twenty–one who seduces a male person under twenty–one to commit indecency with him, or to let himself be misused indecently; * A man who on a professional basis commits indecency with men, or allows himself be misused indecently by men, or offers himself for such purposes.

As indicated in the previously cited quote above from the US Holocaust Museum, Nazi repression of ""homosexual gathering places, organizations, and publications" were quite real but sanctions against free speech, free press, and free assembly on the part of gays were unofficial and not actually written into law as the Akinola supported legislation would do .

So, together with already existing Nigerian laws against homosexual acts, the proposed Nigerian anti-gay marriage bill would add to cumulative Nigerian legal sanctions against homosexuality more severe than comparable legislation promulgated prior to World War Two by the Nazi Party.

By affiliating with Akinola, The Falls Church, in Falls Church Virginia, and Truro Church in Fairfax City, Virginia have chosen a leader who proposes the criminalization of sexual identity and so raised the profile of hate speech in contemporary America to what may be an unprecedented new level. How many members of these two churches that have aligned themselves with Akinola are aware that the archbishop Akinola supports laws more severe even than the pre-WW2 Nazi laws targetting gays or that Akinola supported Nigerian anti gay marriage legislation would establish criminal penalties for gays who simply ate meals together ?

The spectacle of these unfortunate schisms should go on for quite some time : The Falls Church and the Truro Church, reports Laurie Goodstein for the New York Times previously cited, are "large, historic congregations that minister to the Washington elite and occupy real estate worth a combined $27 million, which could result in a legal battle over who keeps the property". Stay tuned.

For extended discussion on the VA schisms see Truro and Falls Church Vote in Favor of Bigotry from Father Jake Stops The World

For extensive background coverage, see the following Talk To Action story: Orthodox Anglicans' Akinola: 'Five Years in Jail if You are Gay in Nigeria' that begins with the following paragraphs:

In late February, 2006, John Bryson Chane, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, DC, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post. In it, he revealed to the WaPo's readership one of the many awful consequences that decades of conflict have brought to the Anglican Communion over the issue of homosexuality. Just days before, one of Chane's fellow bishops in the Anglican Communion, the Primate of All Nigeria and leader of the Anglican Communion's largest Province, Archbishop Peter Akinola, endorsed legislation that would ban most basic civil rights for gay and lesbian Nigerians, and enforce that ban with a 5 year prison sentence.

The Anglican Communion is in crisis mode, struggling to salvage a broad though loosely affiliated organization from self-destruction under the pull of two strong forces. On the one hand, northern Anglicans in the US, Canada, and the UK are committed to a liberal stand on homosexuality, and to a Gospel of Inclusion (i.e., "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You"). On the other hand, the Provinces of the Global South, along with splinter organizations in the North (see the American Anglican  Council, or AAC, and the Anglican Communion Network, or Network) are "orthodox" on the issue of homosexuality, and consider their purpose to be far more evangelical than that of the Episcopal Church, USA (ECUSA), or of other Northern Anglicans. The Provinces of the Global South claim moral authority because of their great and increasing numbers, while parish registries in ECUSA and elsewhere are stable or in decline.

For yet more background, see this November 2003 Atlantic article: Defender of the Faith: Why all Anglican eyes in London are nervously fixed on a powerful African archbishop:
....An uncompromising traditionalist, Akinola presides over the most vibrant and almost certainly the largest Anglican community in the world—at a time when the Anglican world's true center of gravity has shifted to Africa. ....Commenting on the decision of the Canadian diocese of New Westminster to approve the blessing of gay unions, Akinola declared that the diocese had in practice seceded from the Anglican world. ....Akinola thundered, "This is an attack on the Church of God —a Satanic attack on God's Church." And during the buildup to the U.S. Episcopal Church's controversial ordination of Gene Robinson as the bishop of New Hampshire, he announced, "I cannot think of how a man in his senses would be having a sexual relationship with another man. Even in the world of animals, dogs, cows, lions, we don't hear of such things."

And, it can be expressed even more bluntly : "Schismatic Episcopalians Endorse One-Upping Nazi Anti-Gay Laws".

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Dec 18, 2006 at 11:53:00 AM EST

Unfortunately, he's not alone. I'd raised some concerns in an earlier post about Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini of Rawanda who was speaking at Warren's wonderful AIDS conference where Obama was also a speaker. Kolini has been seeding dissent in American, Canadian and British churches (and perhaps looking to appropriate funds from divided churches). The MO made me suspicious that he might be involved with the IRD. Further checking revealed that indeed he was.

One of the clearest pictures I've found of the history and development of the relationships is in an older paper by Daly. Thought it might be helpful to post it here for those like myself who are less familiar with the history than the front pagers. The cast of characters is rather amazing. Recommend reading the full paper but a few clips:

Wootton and Campanelli were joined as incorporators of the AAC [American Anglican Council] by Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) [before she died], who also joined the AAC's founding board of directors as treasurer.
[   ]
Knippers is a member of Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, Virginia. Truro is an historically evangelical parish that grew to 3,000 members, with a strongly revivalistic emphasis, under the leadership of then rector John Howe (1976-89), formerly John Guest's assistant at St. Stephens in Sewickley and a pioneering leader of the Episcopal renewal movement.
[   ]
In the 1980s, Truro and its charismatic sister church, The Church of the Apostles, became an important religious hub for the political right wing in Washington, including Oliver North and Clarence Thomas. Howe supported Pat Robertson when he ran for president in 1988 and, more recently, he participated in a charismatic "re-ordination" service for Robertson held at Regent University.
[   ]
This strong Washington axis centered on Truro and IRD sets the AAC apart from previous renewal efforts, along with the heavy involvement of bishops.
[   ]
Ahmanson is also a major funder of Republican political campaigns and right- wing referenda movements.... He has also been an important backer of Marvin Olasky, the architect of President Bush's faith-based initiative. In a more recent development, Ahmanson's wife, Roberta Green Ahmanson, has joined the board of IRD--a strong sign of the Ahmansons' growing commitment to the religious right's assault on mainline denominations.
[   ]
Kolini and Tay are part of a growing network of evangelical primates (heads of provinces in the Anglican Communion) and bishops from the developing world (mainly Africa and Asia), as well as Australia and New Zealand, that has begun to work closely with ECUSAn conservatives. ... On June 24, 2001, four more priests were consecrated as AMiAbishops in Denver's Colorado Community Church with nearly 1,000 participants.
[   ]
This strategy has political implications that go well beyond the church, and it is important to understand how Anglican evangelical networks overlap with political and social policy objectives in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere. To cite just one notable alliance, AMiA leaders Emmanuel Kolini and John Rucyahana recently helped to form the Rwandan affiliate of Charles Colson's Prison Fellowship International....

Naughton's point about "the moral legitimacy of rolling back human rights for minorities" is well taken. Important as they are, this is about more than the rights of gays and lesbians. Ethan Vesely-Flad addresses some of the complex racial issues involved. I'm particularly concerned at this point in time because many people seem to be giving Warren the benefit of the doubt about his strong right leanings. It doesn't bode well as he tackles AIDS in Africa if these are his cronies.

by Psyche on Tue Dec 19, 2006 at 12:02:29 AM EST

I am a Virginian and was raised Episcopal.  I am really saddened by this out of nostalgia for my old home church, and embarrassed that this could have happened.  

However, I read an LTE (IIRC) in the Washington Post about this, where the writer made two very important observations:

  • the diversity of voices in the Episcopal Church is hurt by this.

  • It is unsurprising given the recent stance of the priests involved.

I was struck by the very small size of five of the seven parishes that voted to leave.   In this sense the schism will not have a large impact.  I also expect that it will ultimately be the death of these parishes - though they may have deep enough pockets to last a while yet, even with tiny membership.  It frees the remainder of the church up to continue evolving - even more rapidly.  They may yet achieve something like John Spong's non-theistic understanding, or they may just dissappear.  

However, I think there are massive underlying cognitive inconsistencies in the various 'comprimises' worked out to keep the Episcopal coalition together for a long time now.  I don't believe that served anyone's interests.  The reactionary, 'traditionalist' approach does stand in contrast with the rationally-informed theology of the mainstream Episcopal Church.  

by montpellier on Tue Dec 19, 2006 at 05:52:01 PM EST

There are significicant fracture lines around gay marriage and abortion - but why are those seen as pivotal issues ?

Why not Global Warming, war ( in Iraq even ? ) or poverty in the US and around the world ?  

How about access of women around the globe to birth control technologies that might enable them to limit family size so they could work to lift their families out of poverty ?

This American Episcopal right push for the restriction of human rights seems to address no identifiable global crisis I'm aware of.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Dec 19, 2006 at 10:16:49 PM EST

Seems like this crisis has been brewing for a long time. There's been a battle royal over the ordination of women - ongoing. Some countries still don't ordain women, some only as deacons and some only to the level of priests. Then there's the issue of gay priests, then gay bishops, then election of a woman as presiding bishop in the US. On the religious right, it doesn't seem to matter what the denomination is in the US. Straight white men rule and everyone else should take a back seat. One of the ironies of this whole mess is that these dissenting congregations are going under the protection of black African bishops. Want to take bets on how many African Americans there are in those congregations?

by Psyche on Wed Dec 20, 2006 at 03:43:12 AM EST

That must be painful. Do appreciate the added background.

I wonder if part of the problem in dealing with these issues in the ECUSA is the hierarchical structure. When churches are relatively independent, as they are in the UCC, a church leaving, although sad, doesn't cause an earthquake. From what I've read, the finances are a big problem since many of the ECUSA congregations are quite wealthy.

Jefferts Shorri's election as presiding bishop seemed such a hopeful sign of progress. Hope this doesn't undermine her efforts. Of course, from the perspective of the right, I'm sure she's a big part of the problem. She seems pretty tough - let's hope tough enough.

by Psyche on Wed Dec 20, 2006 at 03:16:11 AM EST

Some clarification on the personal: It's not my home parish - that is an equally old (nearly) parish near Scottsville, VA - where the discussion of such matters is in bad taste (so the elephants will remain in the room indefinitely).  I meant "home" in terms of denomination.  I was raised Episcopal (and secular humanist scientist) but married into a (very post-Vatican II) Catholic church.  Rather than convert, after much soul (and theology) searching, I 'succumbed' to creeping atheism.  

The observation that ECUSA parishes being disproportionately wealthy is spot-on.  And for that reason, I doubt much if the overall church will be harmed.  The real harm is that the mainline church has to deal with falling membership for three reasons:

  • attrition by death of parishoners
  • atheism/agnosticism (people like me)
  • social reactionaries (who become Catholic or "Anglican").

I think the schism of the ECUSA frees the mainline church to pursue the kind of theology advocated by John Spong or Paul Tillich.  Is that really viable?  Is religion really inherently and necessarily 'revealed truth' - there are other approaches to understanding morality.  I don't know.

I think the question of mores based on 'revealed truth" (basically the prejudices expressed by authority) is difficult - what is the source of authority - because I say so and I have power over you, or because you can independently reason out desireable attributes for certain prejudices.  Spong suggests the writing is on the wall for traditional "because an authority figure (mommy or daddy or the priest/bishop in moral loco parentis) says so"...that such systems of morality and belief will not survive the onslaught of reason.  Most of the social-reactionary right is obsessed with authority based morality.  The abortion issue is really just a subset of the morality of sexuality - and sex is the ultimate issue in terms of control and liberation (personal autonomy) - atheistic evolutionists like me would say it's no accident that the activity associated with the survival of the species would be so preoccupy us.  

by montpellier on Thu Dec 21, 2006 at 07:57:19 AM EST

perhaps in part because I'm a psychologist/bioethicist (and ex-biologist). The better polls certainly support your breakdown of the reasons behind the "dwindles" of mainline churches. What's remarkable is that we hear lots about the migration from mainline to evangelical churches (and there has been some of that) but what we don't hear about is that the fastest growing group is the seculars. Suspect we're trending like Europe - if slowly - and that, at base, is what freaks out the religious right. Authoritarians need control to feel secure.

Nonetheless, I wish the mainline churches well and think they have a lot to contribute. In addition, in spite of clergy like Spong, a lot of folks will continue to want a home in traditional religion and the mainline churches tend to be a lot more rational and reasonable than the right. Without mainline denominations, there would be no group large enough to take on the right. I just hope theyll become more active in the battle.

by Psyche on Thu Dec 21, 2006 at 06:40:11 PM EST

I have to say that I am not surprised with anything that comes out of Nigeria these days.

On one hand you hear of Islamic Sharia Courts in the north that carry out the stoning of female adulterers. On the other, In the south you hear of Anglican Bishops hell-bent on making the Christian part of Nigeria as backward and hateful as the Muslim parts.

I have done some research on Pragraphs 175 and 176. Over and above the bigotry of these paragraphs, in 1936 Nazis established the bureaucracy "THE REICH CENTRAL OFFICE FOR THE COMBATING OF HOMOSEXUALITY AND ABORTION". Scary! Sounds "fundy" of Christianity and Islam.

If you would like to see my take on fundamentalists and Nazi persecution of gays see

(Lets not forget Stalin's mandatory 9 year prison sentence for gays)

Oh, did I forget? In Cuba, homosexuality is decriminalized but homosexuals aren't "moral enough" to join the Communist Party.

Pinochet, Franc and Mussolini were no different than the religious fanatics o the issues of sexual orientation and family planning.

by James Veverka on Wed Dec 20, 2006 at 06:58:14 PM EST

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