Anglican Primates’ Meeting: Role of US Evangelicals

The latest edition of the BBC World Service’s Reporting Religion discusses the recent meeting of Anglican Primates in Tanzania, which ended with a commiqué giving the American Episcopal Church seven months to “clarify” its position on same-sex blessings or to face being kicked out of the global Anglican communion. Journalist Stephen Bates (at 7mins 27seconds) describes the role of American evangelical organisations in supporting conservative figures such as Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola:

They’ve been subsidising and paying for an awful lot of activities and an awful lot of air-flights for African archbishops and bishops like Akinola over the last decade or more. In the Lambeth conference in 1998 they had a pretty sophisticated American-organised lobbying operation that succeeded in making homosexuality a key issue in the Anglican church which it never had been before, and since then at international conferences the Americans do things like paying for mobile phones for developing world Archbishops who don’t have them of their own, so that they can keep in touch and make sure they’re on message as it were.

And certainly in the last week in the Dar Es Salaam primates’ meeting similar things were going on. The developing world bishops met to discuss strategy and tactics for two days before the meeting even started. And I have to say this is a very unusual thing because primates’ meetings have traditionally been social, theological, Bible-study type occasions. They’ve not been politicised meetings at all until the past few years and this one I think was the most-politicised yet.

Bates goes into further detail in the latest edition of The Tablet, a UK Roman Catholic weekly:

…It is a cause of frustration to several [delegates], especially meeting in one of the poorest countries on earth, that the world leaders of Anglicanism should spend their time discussing what middle-aged American Christians get up to in bed rather than issues of poverty, disease and hunger, but that is what a number of the African primates themselves wanted, spurred on by American and English conservative evangelicals dancing attendance upon them from the fringes of the meeting.

At the Dromantine Catholic seminary in Northern Ireland, at their last meeting two years ago, the lobbying was surreptitious: one American conservative bishop turned up complete with diamond-patterned jersey claiming to be on a golfing holiday in nearby Newry, in February. This time, all pretence was dropped. The conservative faction moved en masse into the next-door hotel for two days in advance to discuss their demands and the strategies they needed to achieve them.

One subject that does not appear to have been raised during the meeting was Akinola’s support for extremely repressive anti-gay legislation soon to be passed in Nigeria. I reported on this just over a year ago; Bruce Wilson went into further detail for Talk to Action back in December. A few days ago, Doug Ireland posted an update on the situation:

Homosexual conduct among consenting persons in Nigeria is already a crimepunishable by 14 years in prison, a 19th century penal provision that is a legacy of British colonial rule. But the new legislation goes much, much further in terms of curbing fundamental rights of expression, association, and communication. Among the proposed new law’s many noxious provisions, it would, under penalty of a stiff prison term of five years:

— outlaw membership in a gay group, attending a gay meeting or protest, donating money to a gay organization; or even advocating gay equality in any way, shape, or form;

— outlaw hosting or even visiting a gay Web site;

— outlaw expressions of same-sex love in letters or e-mails;

— outlaw attending a same-sex marriage or blessing ceremony, screening or watching a gay movie, taking or possessing photos of a gay couple, and publishing, selling, or loaning a gay book or video.

Even mere socializing by two or more gay people, like having dinner together, is likely to be interpreted as illegal.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals would be targeted not only for specific acts but also for simply existing under this proposed law, and even heterosexual people who “promote” the lifestyle of homosexuals, for example by selling them a house, would be criminalized.

Akinola is particularly close to a group of churches in Virginia that decided to split from the Episcopal Church a few months ago, forming the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. CANA accepts oversight from Akinola through their Bishop, Martyn Minns. According to the Washington Post, while at least one CANA church is distressed at the idea of a “church that advocates the loss of basic human rights”, Minns himself is untroubled:

Minns said he’d rather live with the Church of Nigeria’s compromises than those of the U.S. church. “The Church of Nigeria has made it clear that as long as we hold firm to the tenets of classical Christianity, we have considerable flexibility,” Minns said in an e-mail from Tanzania.

Meanwhile, a recent report from South Africa has a bit more on what’s happening in Africa more generally:

In Nigeria the parliament is considering a bill to prohibit gay and lesbian people from marrying or even politically organising themselves. Rwanda and Zimbabwe are another two countries which have strengthened their anti-homosexual legislation. In Uganda and Kenya a “homosexual act” can land someone in jail for 15 years.

After police harassment of lesbian and gay activists in Uganda, a campaign was run to “out” lesbian and gay individuals by publicising their names. Numerous activists, including the leader of Sexual Minorities of Uganda Juliet Victor Mukasa, have fled Uganda fearing for their lives.

(I blogged on the Ugandan situation here.)

However, interestingly:

…The nongovernmental organisation The Rainbow Project, which fights for lesbian and gay human rights in Namibia, has organised meetings between religious leaders and the LGBT community.

Liz Frank, a former chairperson of the Coalition for African Lesbians (CAL) and editor of the magazine “Sister Namibia”, told IPS that the advances in South Africa and Namibia had a lot to do with the spirit of democratization that swept through these countries from the late 1980s onwards.

(Cross-posted to Talk to Action.)