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Send Not To Know For Whom The Bell Tolls


Protestors demonstrate against Nigeria's anti-gay law.‘A far-off country of which we know little’, was the shameful excuse of Chamberlain as to why Britain should not go to war with Germany over the invasion of Czechoslovakia. But we are no longer islands, entire of ourselves (if we ever were) thanks to modern mass communications.

Unless you have been hiding under a rock without access to the internet  for the last week you will know that Nigeria has just passed a law which:

outlaws “gay clubs, societies and organizations, their sustenance, processions and meetings,” or anyone who helps them, imposing jail time of up to 10 years for offenders.

Homosexual acts were already illegal in Nigeria, but the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act… means ...anyone married to someone of the same sex can get up to 14 years. The law was met with condemnation from the United States, Britain and Canada, with US Secretary of State John Kerry saying it “dangerously restricts freedom” of expression and association of all Nigerians. And UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said: “Rarely have I seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights.”

And what crime is it that is being targeted? What canon of jurisprudence is offended?  As A E Housman wrote bitterly (but, as he thought, satirically):

Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after that they groan and shake their fists?
And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
Oh they're taking him to prison for the colour of his hair.

'Tis a shame to human nature, such a head of hair as his;
In the good old time 'twas hanging for the colour that it is;
Though hanging isn't bad enough and flaying would be fair
For the nameless and abominable colour of his hair.


In the face of this offence against natural justice, Christians will ask what the Anglican Church in Nigeria has to say. After all, even if you accept that homosexual physicality is a sin (which most of us don’t), Christ was happy to sup with all. The depressing answer is:

Aloysius Agbo, the Anglican Bishop of Nsukka said Tuesday, “Every Christian in Nigeria is happy about the development … especially when he did that contrary to the pressure from the western world.” Being gay is “unnatural, unwise and ungodly,” he said. “If our forefathers have done that [same-sex marriage], many of us would not have been born.” On Monday, the Presbyterian Prelate Emele Mba Uka also praised the new law. “Homosexuality as one of the greatest human deviant behaviours has been with man from earliest times. Man has fought it for a long time but it refuses to die,” he said. Uka equated gay sex with “incest, rape and adultery” and said that such a “perverse sexual lifestyles attract God’s punishment” which is “hell.”


And what has the Anglican Communion to say on the subject, in particular the Archbishops of Canterbury and York? Nothing. Nothing at all. Pin-drop silence.

Now, Nigerian Christians are our brothers and sisters in Christ. So it behoves us to allow for their interpretation of Christianity to differ from ours. BUT the Nigerians apparently do not play by the same rules, they feel perfectly self-righteous in creating a civil law to make it illegal to, as it were, have red hair, and despise those who disagree with this interpretation of the words of Our Lord.

1,101 people have signed a petition asking our Church leaders to give a lead, and make it clear that this legislation does not conform with Christianity. There has been no statement from Cantuar or Ebor. It is possible that we are running into the same problems that Cantuar had over the Anglican Covenant (in which there was a strong undercurrent of anti-LGBTQ attitudes). A liberal, ‘bien-pensant’ Westerner finds it very difficult to take issue with someone who is black: it is a problem of inverted racism.  And in the case of Archbishop Justin, this is doubly hard because he has spent so much time in Nigeria, and his experiences when captured led, in part, to his work in reconciliation. He is in a genuinely difficult position.

But ++Justin has asked members of the Church of England to undertake a concerted programme of ‘conscious evangelism’. Sorry, but I doubt that I am alone in lacking enthusiasm for this task at a time when our Church refuses to stand up for our Christian beliefs.



Savi Hensman has written a clear-headed and incisive piece for Ekklesia about the situation which I urge you to read. She says:

In this context, some overseas religious leaders may fear that anything they say may be twisted to try to show that local defenders of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights are following a western agenda, hence making matters worse. However silence allows untruths to take hold, including the notion that God is on the side of those who hurt and vilify those made in the Divine image.

Truth is of vital importance in the New Testament (e.g. John 8). No human can be confident that he or she knows the whole truth. But sharing what one knows or believes to be true on important matters, and listening to others’ responses in order to adjust or build on this, can help to create a world where destructive forms of untruth are exposed.

Church leaders could perhaps point out that human rights are by no means a purely western concept – indeed the United Nations and international human rights organisations criticise European and North American as well as other governments when they act in cruel and unjust ways. In this interconnected world, not challenging injustice in another country may result in bolstering the power and prestige of those mistreating others. This is not about ‘the West’ standing in judgement but Christians everywhere being ready to come to the aid of the needy and oppressed.

How did Niemoller’s poem go again?

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Photograph courtesy of LGBTQ Nation

18 comments on this post:

Erika Baker said...

I am completely puzzled by the lack of official comments from the church and the comparative lack of comments from the blogsphere about this.

Those who repeatedly assure us that they don’t approve of gay marriage but that they are, of course, not homophobic, would have most to gain from distancing themselves from this outrage. And whatever feeble excuses they use for not commenting, even if those excuses are valid in one or the other individual case, the only public impression they give is that they either really don’t care or that they quietly support these laws. They are not doing themselves any favours at all.

There are those who believe that the Archbishops are probably doing all they can behind the scenes. In which case we have to say that they are not having any effect and that it might be time to try another tack.

And then there are those who believe Westerners should not comment because it would only make the situation for lgbt people in Nigeria much worse. And there I have to ask just how much worse anyone thinks it could possibly get?

Why this silence from within the church? Does anyone understand it?

Phil Groom said...

Why this silence from the church hierarchy? In a word, I think, fear. Fear of the fundamentalists, fear of the conservative evangelicals, fear because they’re the ones who make all the noise and grab the media’s attention … who also, alas, happen to have a lot of money… and you can’t serve both God and money.

Perfect love, of course, drives out all fear; but our bishops and archbishops have yet, it seems, to discover that perfect love. Sad beyond words 🙁

23 January 2014 09:29
23 January 2014 09:12
Erika Baker said...

Phil, but how could any evangelical, even those who are fundamentalist about gay relationships in the CoE, object to the church mentioning the imprisoning people for 14 years and those who knew about them but did not inform the authorities for 10 years, that hanging and stoning people for being gay, not even for having gay sex is not acceptable?

Are we really saying, then, that our usually noisy fundagelicals really do support this? I find that very very hard to believe.

George Waite said...

Religion is a freak show.
And who the heck are “Cantuar” and “Ebor”; could the author please refer to people by their real names instead of this pre-Raphaellite affectation?

Lay Anglicana said...

Pre-Raphaelite? Interesting…
Sorry about this, but it was for stylistic reasons to avoid the endless repetition of the phrase ‘Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop of York’.
Affected, moi? :>)

26 January 2014 20:24
26 January 2014 19:14
23 January 2014 10:02
Caroline Mercer said...

I have been aware of the situation in Uganda and have, as far as I have been able, supported the work and petitions organised by Amnesty International to persuade the President to Veto the evil law presented to him by Parliament. This, I’ve been told he has done, but on grounds that Gay people are “sick” unwell ??
I was not aware of the situation in Nigeria, is that just me not being observant. or has it crept under the general radar? I am horrified, and angry that the C of E hierarchy are not in there fighting for these people. The Bishops in Nigeria and other senior church figures have no right to call themselves Christians and even less right to continue their role of Shepherds to Christ’s flock. Why can’t they be dismissed??
This is an appalling state of affairs
Caroline Mercer

23 January 2014 11:55
Joyce said...

If you’re not observant,Caroline, then I’m not either. It’s the first I’ve heard of any of this and I don’t live under a rock. Neither am I deprived of communication via radio,television or internet.
I grew up in a country where homosexual acts were punishable by imprisonment. Like most people I knew, I believed at the time that homosexuals were suffering from a sickness or disability and that therefore the law was unfair. From the Church’s point of view it would have been a sin,although not illegal by the law of the land, for me to have had sexual intercourse with a man so it wouldn’t have occurred to me that the Church would ever have thought it was all right for a man to do so.

25 January 2014 01:37
Erika Baker said...

Joyce, the governments of Britain, Canada and the USA have spoken out against these laws. And while I can accept that Christians can disagree about the morality of same sex relationships, there are Christian guidelines of how we are to deal with sinners and with our enemies. Throwing gay people in prison for 14 years even if they haven’t had a sexual relationship is not acceptable. Imprisoning people who meet with them knowing they are gay and who don’t inform the authorities for 10 years is not Christian either. One of the first men rounded up and given 20 lashes was someone who had been asked for sexual favours by his teacher when he was 13. He gave in, once. And he was given 20 lashes for it 7 years later. We would call him a victim of child abuse! And when he was interviewed by the BBC he said he was grateful that he wasn’t stoned to death.

And what we hear from our gay friends in Nigeria and Uganda is that they are scared now. Many have lost their jobs, their families have begun to deny them to keep themselves safe, their support networks have been smashed. Their church is supporting the laws against them. They are lonely and frightened. They really really need to hear that the Anglican Communion has not abandoned them, that God has not abandoned them.
We really need the Archbishops to speak out.

Joyce said...

Sounds rather as though they’ve chosen a convenient group to single out for oppression and persecution. Draconian retrospective legislation is the worst kind of trap.
Do you think leaders who enforce any law in that way,whether their church opposes or supports the law,are likely to pay any attention to what foreign churchmen say ? If they are then certainly Archbishops everywhere should chime in. Would sanctions help ?

26 January 2014 22:17
26 January 2014 20:27
Erika Baker said...

Joyce, I don’t know. I am not active in politics, I am not lobbying politicians so I don’t really know about sanctions.
My concern is the church, our Christian response and I am lobbying the Archbishops because I believe that our gay brothers and sisters in Africa need pastoral support right now, especially because their own church has abandoned them.
I would like to hope that the Archbishops could also make a political difference but I don’t know how far their influence really stretches.
But I do believe that silence in the face of this tragedy is not appropriate.

Caroline Mercer said...

Erika, I couldn’t agree more, silence in the face of such un christian adversity is totally unacceptable.
Caroline Mercer

Joyce said...

My memory has been going on holiday lately. I have been trying to remember occasions when C of E archbishops have been reported as speaking out about oppressive law enforcement in other countries.
I recall hearing ++Runcie referring to persecution of Christians when he was giving an address around 1974 in the USSR but apart from that nothing else springs to mind. Can somebody remind this presbycephalic please ?

Caroline Mercer said...

I would like to thunk that I too am suffering a simular lack of recall. Truth is I suspect, that neither of us are !
The “Church” always appears to regard maintaining a pretence of unity or blind denial as more important that being open, principled, and facing painful truths. Wasn’t it the same over the scandal of paedophilia, it’s there but let it not tarnish the reputation of the “Church”. One thing the C of E must recognise, is that if it has pribcipals, and one of them should be to take a firm stance against the attitudes adopted by Bishops and Clergy, in Churches in Nigeria and Uganda, affiliated to the Anglican Union. Then they should be prepared to take an uncompromising stand, even at the expence of those Countries Churches, breaking away from the Union. Very sad, but better that than to appear to acquiesce with a situation with which one cannot agree.

Joyce said...

That makes me wonder whether there is a convention that principals of the C of E don’t speak publicly on foreign matters unless it is likely to be useful. If that’s the case I can see where it comes from. They’d be doing little else if they commented on every persecution around the world. Sad and horrible but true.
As for speaking about paedophilia : I was a schoolgirl in the fifties and sixties when the word meant no more than someone who liked children. In those days we used to take The News of the World to school and pass round the court reports of the sex scandals therein. (They say that as one gets older the memories of what one did fifty-odd years ago are clearer than what happened yesterday.)
Every week,it seemed, although it was probably not that often, there was some vicar or other charged with interfering with a child or children. The Church would unfrock ( not ‘defrock’ in those days ) him if he was found guilty, thus doing something about it rather than hiding it or making a song and dance. That newspaper is no more and I’ve not read it for many years anyway, so how much unfrocking of paedophile vicars still goes on, I have no idea. As so many of the church’s leaders are men I suppose they prefer to deal with the problem and get on with it rather than talk about how dreadful it is. Better than the other way round,perhaps.

28 January 2014 20:13
28 January 2014 14:36
28 January 2014 13:18
27 January 2014 08:22
26 January 2014 22:50
Lay Anglicana said...

Important PS:
The Archbishops have responded to pleas as follows:

Archbishops recall commitment to pastoral care and friendship for all, regardless of sexual orientation

Wednesday 29th January 2014
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have today written to all Primates of the Anglican Communion, and to the Presidents of Nigeria and Uganda, recalling the commitment made by the Primates of the Anglican Communion to the pastoral support and care of everyone worldwide, regardless of sexual orientation.
– See more at:

31 January 2014 06:29
Erika Baker said...

They have responded, Laura, and they have said in a BBC interview that they have responded because people have asked them to. So thank you so so much for helping to bring this about!

Lay Anglicana said...

I am very glad at the outcome – I think it is the most that we could hope for at this point. I am glad I lent my voice to many others asking for the Archbishops to speak out :>)

01 February 2014 21:18
31 January 2014 16:25
Joyce said...

I was unaware of or had forgotten this statement. I think it’s a sad thing that anyone needs to be reminded that God cares for everybody. If it helps to repeat it, one can only be glad they’ve done so.

01 February 2014 16:56

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