WASHINGTON — Leaders of the conservative wing of the worldwide Anglican Communion equate the experiences of Ugandans who support a new anti-gay law with those of victims of an earthquake or a terror attack.
The Global Anglican Future Conference — made up chiefly of Anglican archbishops in Africa, Asia and Latin America — concluded a two-day meeting in London on Saturday (April 26) with a statement that expressed concern for violence in South Sudan and Northern Nigeria. It then said:
“We are equally concerned for the affected communities in Chile from the recent earthquake, terrorist attacks in Kenya, and the backlash from the international community in Uganda from their new legislation.”
That legislation, signed in February by Ugandan president President Yoweri Museveni, specifies life in prison for some homosexual acts. It also outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and requires citizens to report to the police anyone suspected of being gay.
President Obama has called the bill “odious,” and the U.S. Embassy staff has avoided meetings and events with any Ugandan government agencies since the signing.
But despite the GAFCON statement’s equation with catastrophes, the archbishops’ response seems more concerned with finances than outright support for the Ugandan law. The “backlash” line could be a reference to the loss of $140 million in financial aid and project support from the World Bank, the U.S. and other countries. According to IRIN, which covers humanitarian issues, this included $6.4 million intended for the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, which backed the legislation.
Yet in 2004, conservative Anglicans in Africa willingly cut aid and development assistance from the Episcopal Church after the election of an openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, in 2003. “We will not, on the altar of money, mortgage our conscience, mortgage our faith, mortgage our salvation,” then-Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria said.
Pittsburgh-based Archbishop Robert Duncan, the founding leader of the breakaway Anglican Church In North America, signed the GAFCON statement. Duncan and the ACNA are not on the public record supporting the Uganda legislation, and both Duncan and an ANCA spokesman declined to speak on the record about it.
When the ACNA formally launched in 2009 as a shelter for Episcopalians who objected to the Episcopal Church’s pro-gay policies, its strongest ties in the worldwide Anglican Communion were with churches in the Global South, particularly in Nigeria and Uganda.
On Monday, the Rev. Lowell Grisham, an Episcopal parish priest in Fayetteville Ark., called the GAFCON statement “almost bizarre and disproportional.”
Supporters of the law, he said, are not the ones suffering in the backlash, said Grisham, who was one of the organizers of the Chicago Consultation — a group within the Episcopal Church urging equal rights for all to the rites of the church.
“The people who are being hurt and killed and jailed are LGBT people in Africa. And they are not the only victims. Anyone who knows and loves someone who is gay is under threat. The whole nation has been turned into snitches,” said Grisham.
Already, people who work with Africans with HIV are afraid, said a South African professor with friends in Uganda.
“You just don’t physically threaten and punish people with whom you have theological differences,” said Gerald West, a professor in the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. South Africa has laws that protect people regardless of sexual orientation, and also allows same-sex marriages.
“What this Uganda law does is make it extremely difficult for the church to work with any integrity in any area,” said West. “I speak as an African and a South African when I say as a church, we have to fight such laws.”
The GAFCON release also decries the new recognition of same-sex marriage in England. But, the leadership said, while they look to the Church of England for “clear leadership as moral confusion . deepens,” they don’t trust that they will get it.
The statement said that guidance from Church of England bishops that “those in same sex marriages should be admitted to the full sacramental life of the church is an abandonment of pastoral discipline.” It was unclear if the statement was referring to the ordination of gay priests or access for gay and lesbian Anglicans to receive the sacrament of Communion.
Indeed, they alleged that British clergy are openly disregarding a ban on same-sex marriage for priests in the Church of England. Earlier this month, a Church of England chaplain defied the ban and wed his partner in a civil ceremony.
However, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has “suggested that Christians in Africa could be killed if the church accepted gay marriage,” according to The Guardian.