Colin Coward – Please stop this before it’s too late

Let me get something clear right before I begin this post. I like Colin Coward. I’ve met him on a number of occasions, formally and informally and I genuinely like him. Unlike some of the GLBT lobby in the Anglican Church he is kind and gentle and rarely a harsh word ever comes out from his lips. if there were more people like him on both sides of the debate we’d get on far better.

So it pains me to have to say it, but the latest press release from Changing Attitude, (a reissue of a 24th March news item, which was until today withdrawn for safety reasons) whether authorised by Colin or not, demonstrates a disturbing lack of judgement. Here is the opening paragraph (emphasis added):

The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) has stepped up its campaign against Changing Attitude Nigeria (CAN) and England. Davis Mac-Iyalla, Director of CAN, received a text message threatening his life on Holy Saturday, 22 March. The Reverend Colin Coward, Director of Changing Attitude England, received an intimidating text on Easter Monday, 24 March.

Now stop and think for a moment. The first sentence claims that the Church of Nigeria is engaged in an active campaign against Changing Attitude Nigeria. The second and third sentences say that there were threatening text messages sent to the leaders of CA in Nigeria and the UK. There can be no other interpretation of the opening paragraph then that the Chuch of Nigeria was behind these threats. If not, then why have the opening sentence?

But where’s the proof? Where’s the demonstration of evidence that the Church of Nigeria was involved? It doesn’t exist. That’s why, responding to the recent open letter to the GAFCON leaders Chris Sugden had this to say in response:

A letter from the Bishop of Portsmouth and others to some  of the GAFCON Leadership has been posted on Thinking Anglicans. This was received earlier this week and draws attention to alleged incidents in Nigeria.  It is not made clear on what basis the work of GAFCON is connected with whatever may have happened in Nigeria. No details are given in the letter whether these regrettable events were in any way connected with Anglican or any other church or religious group. The basis of these claims is currently being investigated by GAFCON leadership in Nigeria

But wait, there’s more. The people who made the threats weren’t very clever because both Coward and Mac-Iyalla have the Nigerian mobile phone numbers of the people who sent the threats. So it should be an easy issue to go to the police, for them to find out who sent the text messages and to prosecute on that basis.

Yet here we are two and a half weeks later and nothing. Not a sausage. Still, Changing Attitude continues to make the allegation that the Church of Nigeria is behind this, an allegation for which Changing Attitude has produced absolutely no evidence. Proof would entail something like, "these were the mobile phones used and we can show that this one was owned by Archdeacon XYZ". That would be proof, but instead all we have is a smear and little else.

And it’s a shame, because by all acounts Mac-Iyalla has had a narrow escape recently in quite a vicious attack:

Davis Mac-Iyalla was attacked on Sunday morning, 30 March 2008, near the post office in Lome. He had travelled there on the back of a motorbike, and doesn’t know if he had been followed from his flat. There were many witnesses to what happened. Two men and a woman in a car drove up. One of the men got out, approached Davis and called him brother in English. He asked Davis for his passport and Davis said he didn’t have one. He then asked Davis who is his contact in Abuja and Davis said he didn’t have a contact. He then asked if Davis could give them the documents and Davis said What documents?

At that moment the man produced a knife and slashed Davis’s hand, and then a syringe with which the man tried to inject Davis. Davis managed to defend himself and knock the syringe away. The man ran back to the car and the three drove off. Davis retrieved the syringe, took it to the police station and reported the attack. The police analysis of the contents of the syringe is awaited. Davis then went to the hospital where his hand was dressed. He was given a strong sedative and went the house of lesbian friends to recover in safety.

This is the kind of homophobic assault that needs to be dealt with properly and deserves to be condemned by all Anglicans, of whatever theological persuasion. But how is Changing Attitude going to convince conservatives to take this violence seriously when in the same press release vapid allegations are made about the Church of Nigeria’s involvement without any evidence provided? As Greg Griffith points out in a new post on Stand Firm, the lack of any evidence, photos, police reports or medical records connected to the alleged funeral attack is a major major problem:

I find it impossible to believe that if this "attack" did indeed happen, three weeks later none of these details have emerged: Not a police report, not a statement from a single eyewitness, or a doctor who treated the "victim’s" wounds, or a photo of his wounds, or the name of the town, or the name of church, or the time of day the "attack" allegedly happened, NOT EVEN THE NAME OF THE "VICTIM" HIMSELF.

If it can be proven that members of the Church of Nigeria were involved, or even that they were given a green light by those in authority, then I will be the first to stand up and demand that Peter Akinola gives an account. But so far we have just groundless assertions of complicity with no evidence provided whatsoever at all.

So hence the title of this blog post. Colin, please stop this at once. Most of us conservatives are as interested as you are in stopping this kind of violence, but why would we want to work with you in stamping it out when with every second breath you practically accuse us of orchestrating it? I mean, it’s not that hard to approach someone close to Akinola and to say "Look, we have these mobile phone numbers. Can you find out if anybody you know has those phones? I’m sure you would want to call those to account who have made such threats?" Frankly, such an inquiry would probably meet a positive response (though don’t take my word for it) but I’m betting such an inquiry hasn’t been made. Instead, a press release has been reissued which makes unsubstantiated allegations of complicity, which with every passing day where such complicity is not even vaguely demonstrated makes the allegations look more fantastical.

And that unfortunately reflects badly on those who are responsible for the allegation.

Colin Coward – Please stop this before it’s too late

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