An unheavenly silence on homophobia
Clerics at the Global Anglican Futures Conference have been slow to condemn violence against gay people. It's incredible, and unchristian
By Riazat Butt
Monday June 23, 2008
Barely 24 hours into the Global Anglican Futures conference (Gafcon) in Jerusalem and the assembled leaders have already exhausted every synonym for schism, without uttering the word itself, to describe the impact of actions taken by the US Episcopal church and the Anglican church of Canada. The meeting, lasting eight days and costing £2.5m, is the climax of ultimatums and summits, spanning a decade, about the ordination and consecration of gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions.
Last night, the Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, said the Gafcon movement would liberate people from religious bondage and would offer a spiritual haven for those who could not live under a 'revisionist leadership'. It sounds appealing to the millions of Anglicans disillusioned with western churches. But a press conference revealed acute differences of opinion between the bishops, especially, and most worryingly, on the subject of raping and torturing homosexuals.
A question from Iain Baxter, a media representative from the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, aroused expressions of disbelief and outright denial from the primates. The name of his organisation raised a discomfiting titter. Homosexuality is illegal in Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya and is punishable by a fine, imprisonment or death.
Archbishops from these countries were on the panel. They said they could not influence government policy on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) legislation, nor could they condone homosexual behaviour because their churches would be shut down. They added one could not break the taboos of African society without suffering the consequences.
Presumably, these cultural constraints justify the punishment meted out to Prossy Kakooza, Baxter's example of someone tortured because of her sexual orientation. She was arrested, marched naked for two miles to a police station, raped and beaten.
Akinola did not condemn these acts. Neither did the other African archbishops. Orombi said he had never heard of people being tortured because of their homosexuality, that when he learned about incidents – from the western media – he was at a loss to understand why he had not heard of them. He refused to accept that persecuting and torturing gay people was done openly in Uganda.
It was clear they failed to grasp how homophobic rhetoric from the pulpit led to violence and intimidation, as described by Colin Coward from Changing Attitudes. Still no condemnation was forthcoming. As a follow-up I asked whether the lack of condemnation meant they condoned torture of homosexuals. It took the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, to articulate opposition to all acts of violence towards all people. The Africans didn't even nod in agreement.
Their muteness – either because they did not understand the question or did not understand why they had to issue a condemnation – is a harrowing glimpse of a dogmatic and draconian narrative that has not been explored thoroughly; least of all, it seems, by those who have allied themselves with the populous Anglican churches in Africa.
Failure to condemn acts of torture is inhumane, incredible and unchristian. Three characteristics that no Anglican movement should be proud of.