The Anglican Antigay Agenda
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Mar 09, 2007 at 09:07:36 PM EST
You can tell a lot about a political or religious faction by its leaders. That is why it is so interesting, and concerning, that the rightwing Episcopalians that are busy breaking away from the American church are joining the Anglican faction led by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria.  

Indeed, Akinola may soon be better known as a notorious persecutor of gays and lesbians than for his role in fomenting schism in the Episcopal Church in the U.S.  He is a prominent advocate for a bill that The New York Times recently called a "poisonous piece of legislation" that would criminalize all "amorous" same sex relationships and ban political organizing on behalf of gay rights: all subject to 5 years imprisonment. One probable side effect would be to undermine efforts to curb the spread of AIDS.

The Times writes:

Nigeria is Africa's most populous country and one of the most politically influential. If it passes a law that says human rights are not for every citizen, it will set a treacherous example for the region and the world.

The stakes are certainly high -- and ought to transcend "theological" differences over homosexuality. The time has come for the breakaway American Anglicans to decide whether they stand on the side of human dignity and human rights, or whether they choose to be agents and enablers of ancient bigotries, hatred and persecution. From this distance, I would say that these leaders are well aware of the stakes and have made their choices -- but I would be happy to be proven wrong.  But as it stands, the international religious right seems to be headed in a very ugly direction -- and Anglican Americans are going along for the ride.  

The Times editorial continues:

A poisonous piece of legislation is quickly making its way through the Nigerian National Assembly. Billed as an anti-gay-marriage act, it is a far-reaching assault on basic rights of association, assembly and expression. Chillingly, the legislation - proposed last year by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo - has the full and enthusiastic support of the leader of Nigeria's powerful Anglican church. Unless the international community speaks out quickly and forcefully against the bill, it is almost certain to become law.

Homosexual acts between consenting adults are already illegal in Nigeria under a penal code that dates to the colonial period. This new legislation would impose five-year sentences on same-sex couples who have wedding ceremonies - as well as on those who perform such services and on all who attend. The bill's vague and dangerous prohibition on any public or private show of a "same sex amorous relationship" - which could be construed to cover having dinner with someone of the same sex - would open any known or suspected gay man or lesbian to the threat of arrest at almost any time.

The bill also criminalizes all political organizing on behalf of gay rights. And in a country with a dauntingly high rate of H.I.V. and AIDS, the ban on holding any meetings related to gay rights could make it impossible for medical workers to counsel homosexuals on safe sex practices.

The blog Political Spaghetti which has followed the politics of all this over the past few years has much, much more -- including the text of the bill.

All this is being played out in a way that could hardly be more symbolic.

Truro Church is the largest of a dozen Virginia churches to join Akinola's faction. The rector of Truro is Akinola's "missionary Bishop" in North America. Truro was once the church of George Washington and George Mason -- author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, a forerunner to the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution.

The Declaration, passed in 1776 on the eve of the American revolution, contributed greatly to the permanent disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Virginia -- which had long brutally repressed other religious groups, notably Baptists and Quakers. The Virginia Declaration was an early articulation of the ethos of religious freedom which has since become one of our most deeply held values as nation -- and one of the vigorously defended traditions in the democratic western world. Without the underlying freedom to believe as you will, there is no free speech or freedom to politically organize.

That members and leaders of the very church attented by George Mason would allign themselves with an advocate of monstrous persecution, would no doubt sadden, although probably not entirely surprise one of the architects of American ideas of the meaning of the rights of the individual. Mason, and all of the leaders of the time knew that rights were fragile and subject to backlash by authoritarian and theocratic elements that will always find ways of regrouping to drive for power, as we are seeing in our time on many fronts.

The Voice of America has an interview with Davis Mac-Iyalla, a leading Nigerian gay rights activist:  

"As long as that bill, same sex bill is on debate....if it is passed, many of us will go on exile. And I don't know why any government will want to send its people, harmless people, vulnerable people, on exile," he said. "So, I think everything should be done. That is why we are seeing it as a debate, but the government and the church are seeing it as a war and that is why we are worried. I am not comfortable in Nigeria. I'm into hiding.... What I want them [the international community] to do is to put pressure on the Nigerian government to withdraw that bill. And to advise the church leaders to seek advice. The church and government are in to rush, to wipe us out," he said. "The international community has to put more pressure on them."

There is probably much that the leaders of Truro and other Akinolaites could do to change the outcome. And Political Spaghetti has pointed out that some of them do differ on the criminalization of homosexuality. But this is a distinction without a real difference. Silence, as we all know, is complicity.

The implications for human rights, and more broadly, for democracy in Africa, as the Times observes, are profound.  If Nigeria, with the full-throated support of the Anglican Church, "passes a law that says human rights are not for every citizen, it will set a treacherous example for the region and the world."


And and the implications go beyond the Anglican-American protestants to other mainline Protestants (Methodists, Presbyterians, and the United Church of Christ) who are being induced into adversarial relationships with their own churches by schismatically inclined factions aligned with the neoconservative Institute on Religion and Democracy. They may want to take a closer look at these groups and their leaders in light of  the current crisis that is drawing global concern and condemnation.

what does this say about the antigay agenda of the Anglican-American "renewal" groups?

What do they think of a leader who wants to set in motion the police power of the state to persecute gay people?

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Mar 09, 2007 at 09:28:58 PM EST

This is sickening. Too many people find themselves aligned with these extremists only because they are opposed to homosexuality, and that only because religious leaders whom they trust teach them that the Bible forces compliance in this matter. But those same leaders are never fully honest about the extremes to which they are willing to take their ideologies. Because of that, otherwise well-intentioned and good people are duped into thinking they are supporting something in good faith and for good reason - and it takes a good deal of work from folk like you to uncover the hidden agendas and motivations of these extremists, and to provide better information to those well-intentioned people so that they can make good decisions about whether or not they want to support those hidden agendas.

This is truly frighening.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Fri Mar 09, 2007 at 11:03:34 PM EST

Akinola is making common cause with the most theocratic elemtents of Islam to push this through. Moderate Muslims in the Nigerian parliament oppose this draconian legislation.

I know that there will be those who will dismiss this as an exception: One "extremist" who is unrepresentative of the renewal movement. I think, however that this would be a hard case to make. The American Anglicans have worked with Akinola for years and chose him as their leader. Akinola is the epitome of what the IRD-alligned Anglican renewal groups are about.  

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 01:45:59 AM EST

My neighborhood in Little Rock, Arkansas contains an Anglican parish that had broken away from the Episcopal Diocese several years ago over issues like women's ordination and gay participation in the church; in fact, a new parish is being built right now. Sometimes I wonder if the people who broke with the church over those "pesky" gays have any idea what they're getting into in the long run, especially the women. My experience with far right leaders like Akinola is they don't stop with just condemning same sex relationships and female church leadership. No, sooner or later they are telling the women of the church that they need to be more submissive to their husbands, stay at home and have large families, all under male authority. It seems that gender and sexuality issues are interrelated. In the Episcopal Church of my childhood over half a century ago women couldn't be altar servers or lectors, much less priests, and all females had to wear a head covering anytime they went into church. At the same time, i don't remember the women being particularly submissive in the Protestant fundamentalist tradition, or even hearing any preaching from the Bible passages used to justify the subjugation of women. It may be a surprise to these women of St. Andrew's (which is under Akinola's leadership, by the way) that fundamentalism usually leads to further keeping women "in their place." Maybe it would be better to put up with women pastors and same sex couples than to keep traveling down the road they are surely headed.

by rambuckle on Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 01:22:06 PM EST
Our presiding bishop has the interesting notion that Akinola's real priority, despite the hoo ha about homosexuality, is to get women out of the priesthood in order to take his followers into the Roman Catholic Church.  The priesthood of women in the Anglican Communion is the major hurdle to the Vatican allowing full Anglican communion and inclusion in the currently male dominated Roman Catholic Church.  I haven't chased this whole thing down yet, but her  thesis is reasonable since the IRD is lead by right wing Roman Catholics.  Penny Lernoux, who knew a thing or two about the right wing of the Roman Catholic Church, lists the IRD as one of the five most dangerous Roman Catholic organizations.

by tikkun on Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 11:28:42 PM EST

Both the Falls Church and Truro Church have information circulating that is deliberately misleading about their historic status ands leads most people to think that George Washington was a member of their congregations.  The plain facts are that the Falls Church congregation organized in 1836.  That congregation was able to claim and restore a colonial era church that had been abandoned for over 50 years.  Truro Church began life in 1843 as a mission of Falls Church.  It was then called Zion Church.  Not until 1934 did that congregation change its name to Truro Church.

So how do they manage to wrap themselves in the history of the founding fathers?  In the colonial period the legislature set parish boundaries.  Parishes were arms of the local government and every square inch of the colony was assigned to one parish or another.   The land  the modern Truro Church and the Falls Church occupy was part of colonial Truro Parish, which generally had the same boundaries as Fairfax County.  In 1765 the legislature divided the parish into Fairfax Parish and Truro Parish.  George Washington served as a vestry (parish governing board)  member of Truro Parish before and after the division. After the division, Fairfax Parish build two identifical church buildings, one at Falls Church and one in Alexandria.  Truro Parish also built/rebuilt two churches to serve its members.  Washington paid for pews at both Truro Parish buildings, and at Christ Church, Alexandria.

After the American Revolution, the Episcopal Church struggled to organize and find funds since its tax support had ended.  The Fairfax vestry abandoned Falls Church and concentrated on keeping Christ Church, Alexandria going.  Thus Christ Church is the heir to the colonial Fairfax Parish.   Truro Parish almost went dormant in the early 1800s.   All efforts of Episcopalians in Truro Parish focused on saving "Washington's Church" (i.e. Pohick Church).  

The Falls Church thus has a colonial building in which Washington did not have a pew, and no institutional ties to the earlier parish.  Zion Church built a copy of one of the colonial buildings in 1934 and changed its name to honor the colonial parish.  That's it.  That's Truro Church's only connection to the colonial parish.  

Read their own web sites VERY carefully and you will see this, but both begin by talking about the colonial Truro Parish and George Washington as though there were a direct line from the colonial parish to their own congregations.  There isn't.  It's just smoke and mirrors designed to give their more status.

For those who would like to see references and citations, see

by jrgunder on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 08:56:41 PM EST

I am glad you took the time to sort that out for us and to explain that the modern Truro Church's connection to the original Truro Parish is distant at most.

That said, my larger point still stands and in some ways is amplified by your historical analysis.  

The follower of Akinola are a throw back to a time when the Anglican Church was an institution of persecution. Washington, Mason and indeed, Thomas Jefferson, Anglicans all, threw off the corruption of the established church and stood for freedom.

The Episcopal Church of today is in the tradition of religious freedom and separation of church and state that those revolutionary Anglicans stood for.

Peter (The Persecutor) Akinola and his followers, in my opinion, are not.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Mar 12, 2007 at 02:37:16 AM EST

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