Friday, March 13, 2009

The New Colonialism: Ganging up on Nigeria

The Anglican blogworld (or a certain part of it, at any rate) is alight with outrage about a law that has been proposed for passage by the National Assembly of Nigeria, and that makes it a crime for two persons of the same sex to come together (in some sort of ceremony, presumably) "with the purpose of leaving together as husband and wife". The bill also criminalizes all who aid or abet in performing any such ceremony uniting two people of the same sex. (A press release from Amnesty International USA quoting parts of the law, and speculating on ways in which it might violate parts of the Nigerian Constitution, as well as international treaties to which Nigeria is a party, may be read here.)

What has some Episcopalians, as well as the bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada, and the liberal and gay-rights bloggers, in such an upset is that the Anglican Church of Nigeria has issued a five-page statement in support of the bill under the authority of its Primate and Metropolitan, the Most Rev. Peter J. Akinola. The statement quotes passages from the Bible in support of its arguments against same-sex marriage, and condemns homosexual practice, as well as those who support making it legal in Nigeria. (Existing law in Nigeria already makes criminal sex between two males, or between two females, with a punishment nearly three times as severe as that proposed for same-sex marriage. So in one sense, I suppose one could say that the proposed bill improves existing law, by encouraging same-sex couples to marry in order to reduce the time they have to spend in jail.) 

My purpose in commenting here is not to join this fray, but to note that it is a campaign mounted mostly by those on the liberal side of the Church, and as such may possibly lack a certain degree of consistency---or, as I shall now say more frequently, it may exhibit a certain fuzzy logic.  Consider these points, if you will:

1. Nigeria is just one country out of many in Africa in which same-sex cohabitation, to say nothing of marriage, is unlawful. Indeed, there is only one country thus far in all of Africa which has legalized same-sex marriage: South Africa (scroll down to that country).

2. There is nearly as much opposition to same-sex marriage in some European countries as there is in Africa. The January 2009 report of a study by the Pew Forum linked above shows that in heavily Catholic Poland and Lithuania, for example, the percentage supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage is just 17%. And in Greece, of all countries, the percentage of support is just 15%. So why pick on Nigeria?

3. Laws in Nigeria are notoriously passed, but just as notoriously are not enforced. One native supporter of the legislation has this to say (he is surprisingly quoted at length on an African  site that says it "strives . . . to change negative attitudes towards homosexuality . . . in Africa"):
Finally, banning of same-sex marriage on paper is one thing; enforcement of the ban is another thing. In this country most of our laws are not enforced let alone obeyed. Our Criminal Code and other laws are replete with dead laws that are never enforced. For example, abortion is illegal Nigeria but some hungry medical doctors are still busy procuring abortion for quick money. Even Nigeria is a signatory to an international Convention prohibiting child pornography. But go to Cyber Cafes and Business Centres and see children browsing raw pornography. The tragedy is that policemen who ought to prosecute offenders are busy extorting money on the highways. Therefore the ban on "same-sex marriage" will not be complete unless the Federal Government devise ways of enforcing the new law otherwise it will be a dead law.
4. The clergy who are among the most vociferous opponents of Archbishop Akinola are graduates of seminaries like the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, who even as these protests are being registered is offering courses like this one:

Imperialism, Mission, and the American Frontier

..."imperialism" means the practice, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan center ruling a distant territory; "colonialism," which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements on distant territory.

-Edward Said. Culture and Imperialism, 9.

Colonialism/Imperialism: The main colonial players in the 19th Century are Britain, France, Germany, the Nether Lands. Spain continues to lose territories (e.g. Mexican Independence War). France cedes large territories in the Americas to the U.S. under the Louisiana Purchase. The U.S. expands its territory through moves Westward, by the annexation of Texas.
On the wings of this territorial expansion, travel church men and missionaries, believing that they are helping to expand the kingdom of God.
. . .
Theological Challenges of Mission under Empire:
To what degree do missionaries aid and abet the expansion of empire? Is the expansion of empire seen as compatible with, even as the fulfilment of God's work in history? What if the impact on the peoples encountered is not as desired, but is destructive rather than indicative of the coming of God's kingdom? What if a missionary gets caught in between the church/ empire and the people encountered on the "mission field"?
What sense of mission might Anglicans/Episcopalians embody today?
Indeed: just what sense of "mission" might those Anglicans/ Episcopalians embody who want Archbishop Akinola to reverse centuries of African culture and tradition on a dime, and to come out recklessly in his country in support of practices which he sincerely believes the Bible condemns?

Why is he being singled out for such opprobrium? Where are the condemnations of Catholic leaders in Poland and Lithuania, or of Orthodox archbishops in Greece? 

Moreover, half of Nigeria's population are Muslims. Where is the evenhanded condemnation of that religion's well-known views about same-sex relations? Where are the charges hurled at Nigeria's leading imams and Muslim scholars who are also backing this legislation (and who hand out capital punishment for gays in their own states in northern Nigeria)?

The same African LGBT website I linked to above has two previous posts describing how a Briton was jailed for having sex with two men in Morocco, and how the editor of a weekly newspaper was sent to prison for defaming a Moroccan Minister for having alleged homosexual sex at a resort. (It makes no sense to me, either, unless the mere accusation of being homosexual is deemed a criminal libel in Morocco.) For some reason, I must have missed the anger and outrage expressed on liberal Anglican blogs against the repressively anti-gay environment in Morocco. 

And, perhaps even more to the point: where were the liberal condemnations of Hamas when it reinstituted the punishment of crucifixion for traitors who help the IDF in any way? Isn't that somewhat worse than being sentenced to jail? Or is it just that, because Hamas did not single out gays, then it's just another expression of native Palestinian culture, which all true multiculturalists are bound to honor and respect?

In short, until those Episcopalians/Anglicans who are refraining from condemning their fellow Nigerian Anglicans over this secular legislation see even a smidgen of consistency in the volume of opprobrium and righteous indignation hurled at Nigeria in general, and at Archbishop Akinola in particular, they will beg to be pardoned for ascribing ulterior motives to those who are behind it.

(A gentle warning to any new commenters: please read the Comment Policy at the right before posting.)


  1. The Rev. Akinola's suggested ammendments garnered some of the attacks from what I have seen thus far.

    What was the original wording of the penalties for these crimes to be?

  2. 1. The law has not necessarily been “improved”; for all we know, gay couples could be prosecuted for both sexual relations and marriage, with their sentences running consecutively.

    2. The fact that Nigeria actually criminalized gay marriage ceremonies, in addition to gay sexual practice, is worthy of condemnation. It’s one thing if a state does not recognize gay marriage ceremonies (something, in my view, that should be recognized); it’s something entirely different if a state actually prosecutes those who participate in such a ceremony.

    3. Public opposition to gay marriage in Poland, Lithuania and Greece is not the same as hauling Poles, Lithuanians and Greeks behind bars for participation in a ceremony.

    4. The fact that laws are not obeyed in Nigeria has nothing to do with whether a law is justifiable in the first place.

    5. If there are clergy of any faith who oppose this law and who also offer courses examining their tradition’s complicity with imperialist exploitation of indigenous populations, then I commend them for their sense of justice, their conscience and their honesty.

    6. If Muslims in Nigeria are handing out capital punishment in their states to gays and Hamas has reinstituted crucifixion, both should be vehemently condemned. Not to do so is indeed inconsistent. Granted, those wrongs are worse than outlawing a ceremony. Regardless, they should be protested along with this new, unjustifiable law in Nigeria.

  3. UP, according to the Amnesty International press release, the bill proposes to punish people engaging in same-sex marriages with prison sentences of up to three years, while people who aided or abetted (i.e., performed) them could be sentenced for up to five years. The statement by the Anglican Church of Nigeria proposes to switch those maximum penalties around, so that the aiders and abetters would receive three years, but the principals themselves up to five years (see page five, discussing sections 4 (a) and (b) of the proposed law. I am not certain from the Amnesty statement what section 4 (c) punishes, but it would seem to be people or groups who get involved with the public lobbying or advocacy for same-sex marriage. (There is no First Amendment equivalent in Nigeria.) I have not been able to find the text of the proposed law on the Web. Wikipedia has an article on the bill here, but the link to the supposed full text is broken.

  4. Jeff Tone, thank you very much for your counterpoint. It is always a pleasure to have you comment in reaction to some of my more outlandishly conservative posts.

    I do not believe that anyone short of a real Nigerian barrister is qualified to tell us what the effect of the later statute on the earlier would be. My comment was ironic only, intending to point up the fact that Westerners' ignorance of Nigerian ways and laws does not stop Westerners from opining about them.
    (Maybe a Nigerian barrister will read this, and enlighten us.) This same observation applies to your next point, as well. Given the volatile mix in the Nigerian population between Muslims and Christians, and that it will take both of those groups acting together to enact the law, we who are used to our freedoms in the West simply cannot say what their respective motives are.

    Sodomy remains a crime in practically all countries in Africa, parts of Asia, in Oceania, and in the Caribbean islands. The Wikipedia article on the subject asserts that it still receives the death penalty in eight countries, and life sentences in ten others. I think these facts are telling about the cultural divide that exists between the West and the East, and am pointing out only that singling out just one of these eighteen countries, and making such a campaign now about a law that has been under consideration in it for over two years, strikes me as driven by ulterior motives, that's all. A "sense of justice, conscience and honesty" would compel one to mount a campaign against all these countries, and not just one. Sufficient unto our own country are the injustices thereof.

  5. UP, an update: I note that The Lead has published a .pdf of what it says is the text of the bill (just two pages). However, since there is no section 4 (c), it would appear that all the blogs who have picked up on this version of the bill are not commenting on the same version as the Anglican Church of Nigeria was.

  6. Thanks for the research. It does appear that the proposed law has the government involved in "solemnization" in Churches and mosques in Nigeria, but forgot to list "temples," stone circles, etc.

    Two questions for you and Jeff.

    Given our lack of background in Nigerian law and issues, are we being culturally insensitive in applying our "enlightened" western values to their situation?

    And when does an issue leave the realm of cultural relativism and enter the court of universal truth?

  7. Those are great questions, UP. The first expresses my point that all this left-wing umbrage against Nigeria and Archbishop Akinola has not so much to do with this particular bill (which has, after all, been under consideration since 2006) as it has to do with their making ++Akinola a stalking horse for their "gay-rights" campaign.

    Were I to become as incensed about unjust laws as they say they are, I would research and then do a post about each of the laws in all eighteen of the countries, and compare their features with some of the West's outlandish parallels, such as in Arkansas, where you can be sent to jail for thirty days for "flirting on the street" in Little Rock, or all of the other loony US laws collected here. But I don't have the time; let someone on the left do it. (And please don't get on me for equating a 30-day sentence with one for life; as I say, the Arkansas law was the product of just a quick search; I'm sure far worse ones exist.)

    Oh, yes---we are so enlightened here, we are, and so superior to those primitive Africans (hah!).

  8. I wonder how criticism of the actions of a brother or sister in Christ can be called the new colonialism. Does that mean that the criticism of ECUSA is colonialism? If so, then let's stop any criticism.

  9. Father Weir, as I state in my post:

    1. The criticisms come only from the same fellow Christians who support what the Church of Nigeria does not: reading the Bible as being consistent with ordaining practicing homosexuals to be bishops.

    2. Such a reading of the Bible also supports regarding homosexual marriage as an institution instituted by God, contrary to the overwhelming majority of Nigerian Christians.

    3. This "criticism" is disproportionately directed at Nigeria, when all other African countries but one do not allow gay marriage.

    4. It is not even a criticism of the law itself, but only of the Church's support of the law. In other words, Christians who fully support the ordination of active LGBT persons to the episcopate are saying that the Church in Nigeria should change its entire agenda from one of opposing any kind of same-sex marriage to coming out in support of it.

    5. Imposing one's own "enlightened" views on a third-world country in disregard of the tenets of that country's own native culture is a form of colonialism, and doing so after that country has achieved independence is a form of neo-colonialism.

    So, yes---if criticism of ECUSA means that those with a more advanced understanding of the Bible are urging the primitives in that Church to abandon their ill-formed and uncouth reading of what it says, then I would have to conclude with you that criticism of ECUSA (at least from outside it) is colonialism as well.

    Did I go wrong in my reasoning anywhere? Somehow I don't think that is the conclusion you had in mind, but it is the one that follows from the given assumptions.

  10. Mr. Haley,
    I don't see criticism as the equivalent of imposing one's views on our sisters and brothers in Nigeria, any more than you would see criticism of ECUSA as imposing someone else's views on ECUSA. If we can't speak honestly to one another, then we should give up trying to be any kind of Communion. Shielding Arbp Akinola from criticism does not help and might even be viewed as a tad paternalistic. He is, by all accounts, capable of defending himself, although that probablky can't be said about LGBT Nigerians.

  11. Father Weir, if it were just a matter of "criticism", I could agree with you. What my original post was responding to was calls such as these to expel the Church of Nigeria from the Anglican Communion, which were echoed on countless liberal blogs.

    Criticism is one thing; ganging up on a co-member of the Communion for not being in the avant-garde is something of a different order.

  12. Mr. Haley,
    May I assume from your latest comment that you do not agree with those who have called for the expulsion of ECUSA from the Anglican Communion?

  13. You are right, Father Weir, I do not support any such move. Not only is there no central Anglican body with the authority to expel any other member, but I think that the assumption behind any such call is that it is perfectly all right to make up bills of attainder and similar ex post facto measures, which I abhor.

    Even the Windsor Report called on ECUSA and ACoC to act voluntarily, and until there is a Covenant by which all agree on the procedures that will be followed in the future, that is the most that can be done in the current situation.