Changing Attitude Pass the Buck

So Colin Coward has produced a response to blog posts on this and other sites, challenging him and Changing Attitude on the various allegations made in the two press releases of the past few weeks. This third press release is disappointing and fails to address the issues raised in conservative blogs.

Shall we have a look?

Over the past 36 hours, the Reverend Colin Coward, Director of Changing Attitude England and Davis Mac-Iyalla, Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria, have been subjected to a sustained attack on conservative Anglican web sites. We have been accused of being detestable, liars, inventing stories, undertaking works of the devil, perpetrating a hoax. Some people believe we have committed a crime because we falsely claimed an attack happened and have accused the church in Nigeria in general and Archbishop Peter Akinola in particular of carrying out the attack. We have been told we are practically accusing conservatives of incitement to hatred and violence and that we constantly use language that is intended to demean and belittle the conservative position by force of emotion rather than argument.

I think it’s fair to say that some of the adjectives Colin uses ("detestable, liars") refers more to comments on the blogs rather than the bloggers themselves. But I’ll grant you, Greg Giffith at Stand Firm has come out as near as you can get it to claiming Mac-Iyalla is lying.

As for being accused of using language the belittles by force of emotion, well, hmmm…..

The reaction to the Open Letter to GAFCON leaders has been violent and sustained in some quarters of our Communion. Why do some conservatives feel so threatened by our witness of death threats and violence against lesbian and gay Anglicans in Nigeria and the UK? Why are they moved to bear false witness against us?

The thrust of the conservative argument is:
We don’t believe your witness.
These attacks don’t ring true.
Produce evidence to convince us.
Prove the church is complicit in these attacks and threats.

There’s a good word – "violent". That’s not emotive is it Colin?

I think Colin misunderstands the thrust of the conservative argument. It would be better to outline it as this:

  • You have accused us of being indirectly involved in inciting violence against homosexuals
  • You have made insinuations that some in the leadership of the Church of Nigeria are directly responsible
  • You have, however, at the same time provided no material witness (local news reports, police reports, medical reports) that these attacks took place, beyond word of mouth
  • On the basis of this, we wonder why you want us to act, especially considering all of us would quite happily publicly condemn any form of violence against homosexuals (or anybody for that case)

See? It plays a bit different when you actually report what the blogs are saying.

Shall we continue?

Davis Mac-Iyalla and Colin Coward and the CAN leader in Port Harcourt are people who know their own truth and integrity. The two Nigerian leaders have met the trustees of Changing Attitude in London. Davis Mac-Iyalla is known by Archbishop Peter Akinola and Bishop Martyn Minns. Both have had the opportunity to question him and verify the truth of his evidence.

Colin Coward and other friends of Changing Attitude Nigeria resident in England have lived through the events of the past three weeks in close contact with those who have been attacked. We know from their own witness and reactions that they have told us the truth. As the events unfolded, none of us thought about the need to gather evidence. The priority for all of us was to ensure the safety of those who had been attacked. This also meant not making the news of the attacks public for fear that it would put them at even greater risk in West Africa.

The first of these two paragraphs is disingenuous. As far as I am aware, subsequent to these attacks and threats Mac-Iyalla hasn’t offered to be available to either of the two bishops mentioned. As for the second paragraph, while we can sympathise that when one is threatened one needs to get out of the way fast, in the case of the assault there should be police records and medical records. Nigeria is not a country stuck in the middle ages – it has many of the same systems and processes that European countries do so if an assault took place and it was reported OR if there was any medical treatment, it should be easy to demonstrate that.

The fact that it still hasn’t been demonstrated is not addressed by Colin.

We have been asked to produce evidence to demonstrate that the events we reported actually happened.
I, Colin Coward, have the evidence of my own text messages, phone log and electronic communications, evidence submitted to the police and logged by them.
We have the evidence provided by Davis Mac-Iyalla of the text messages he has received and is still receiving.
We have the memory of the terror in the Port Harcourt leader’s voice when he reported the attack.

This is simply disingenuous and just repeats stuff that nobody is arguing about. No-one has doubted that Mac-Iylla and Coward have received threatening text messages. After all, we know from which Nigerian numbers they came from (and if the Nigerian telecoms company were worth any salt they would already know who sent the messags). The thing we have doubted is the alleged assault, the event which is notable by its absence in the list of evidence provided by Changing Attitude.

We have been asked to prove that there is a relationship between these threats and attacks and the GAFCON leadership team and in particular, Archbishop Peter Akinola and the Church of Nigeria.

So let’s address that shall we?

One web site accuses us of publishing the Open Letter and press release as part of a ‘smear campaign’. Smear campaign is the name Davis Mac-Iyalla gave to the Disclaimer published by the Venerable (then Canon) Akintunde Popoola on the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) web site on 28 December 2005

Nope, I thought not.

The Disclaimer was designed to discredit Davis Mac-Iyalla. It made accusations about events which happened in 2003. Canon Popoola disclaimed Davis as a gay man and a member of the Church of Nigeria and accused him of theft and lies. Davis provided ample evidence to disprove the claims, evidence published on the Changing Attitude web site. The smear campaign waged against Davis and Changing Attitude Nigeria has continued.

At the Primates’ meeting in Dar es Salaam in February 2007, Colin Coward asked Bishop Martyn Minns to contact Canon Popoola and ask him to stop publishing false information about Davis Mac-Iyalla. Bishop Martyn agreed to do so. I have no evidence that Bishop Martyn did what he had promised. The Disclaimer is still posted on the Church of Nigeria web site. It was used by David Virtue in January 2008 to repeat the accusations against David Mac-Iyalla and attack the reputations of both Davis and Colin Coward. David Virtue engaged in long conversations with both of us in Dar es Salaam. David met us as Christian brothers and yet has attempted to destroy our reputations. Davis has met bishops (including Nigerian bishops) and senior church leaders in the UK, USA and Tanzania. They have all had the opportunity to question him and challenge or verify his own truth.

The Popoola statement is interesting because it makes some direct claims about the behaviour of Mac-Iyalla. In particular, it alleges that he attempted to defraud the Bishop and Diocese of Otukpo. The difference between these allegations and the more recent ones about assaults is that in this case there is definite evidence of police involvement in the fraud allegation.

That said, Changing Attitude does have some photographic evidence that contradicts some of the claims of Popoola. On this page CA shows a number of pictures that demonstrate that Mac-Iylla was involved in the diocese and even entered into a lay order ("A knight of the diocese of Otukpo"). It’s obvious though that after he fled the diocese and began Changing Attitude Nigeria he hasn’t been welcome in the Church there.

Back to the recent piece

The Open Letter was sent electronically to the GAFCON leaders on Sunday 6 April 2008. Canon Dr Chris Sugden acknowledged receipt of the letter and promised to forward it to the GAFCON leadership team. Not one of the leaders has replied to the letter nor issued any comment or statement condemning the violence perpetrated against Davis in Togo and the CAN leader in Port Harcourt. They may believe with other conservatives that we have invented the attacks and threats. Neither have they issued a statement condemning violence in general against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. We are grateful for the statement issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Dr Rowan Williams.

Believe it or not, one is not under any obligation to answer correspondence. Indeed, one of the best ways to ignore a letter that you don’t like is not to reply. But one thing that the GAFCON leaders definitely haven’t done is condemn the violence against Davis and the CAN leader in Port Harcourt and that’s probably because they, like us, are waiting for the proof they happened.

And so is Rowan, because if you read his press statement carefully you’ll see that he doesn’t recognise that the specific attacks happened either:

"The threats recently made against the leaders of Changing Attitudes are disgraceful. The Anglican Communion has repeatedly, through the Lambeth Conference and the statements from its Primates’ Meetings, unequivocally condemned violence and the threat of violence against gay and lesbian people.  I hope that this latest round of unchristian bullying will likewise be universally condemned."

See what he says there. He outright condemns the text message threats, because he, like all of us, recognise that they happened. Interestingly though he makes absolutely no mention of the alleged assaults. Doesn’t talk about them. Not a hint. Nada. What he does say is to remind us all that the Primates (that includes Peter Akinola of Nigeria) have roundly condemned violence and threat of violence against homosexuals.

So if Colin Coward accepts this statement from Rowan he must accept that Peter Akinola also condemns such violence and threats of violence.

We have been asked to say categorically whether we believe the GAFCON leadership team is directly of indirectly responsible for attacks on gay leaders in West Africa. No, we do not believe they are directly responsible. Yes, we do believe they are indirectly responsible. So are all bishops and Christian leaders who fail to condemn threats, violence and false witness against LGBT people. We respect those bishops and leaders who hold different opinions from our own. It is difficult to respect those who for various reasons will not publicly condemn violence against us.

That doesn’t make sense. We’ve already established that Akinola, as one of the Primates has categorically condemned such violence, so why do you want him to say it again? Akinola hasn’t "failed to condemn threats" – Rowan Williams’ statement makes it perfectly clear he has done the opposite along with all the other Primates.

In October 2003 the Church of Nigeria issued a statement which read: "We totally rejected and renounce this obnoxious attitude and behaviour [homosexuality], it is devilish and satanic. It comes directly from the pit of hell. It is an idea sponsored by Satan himself and being executed by his followers and adherents who have infiltrated the church. The blood and power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth will flush them out with disgrace and great pains."

Statements such as this provide members of the Anglican churches of Africa with the rhetoric which they take as encouragement to threaten and attack gay people. When GAFCON and global south Primates, bishops and leaders remain silent in the face of such attacks, those carrying out the threats believe their action is condoned.

No they don’t. Statements like that express the gospel of grace in language appropriate for Nigeria. The statement clearly states the biblical position on sexuality, shows that Jesus’ death is powerful enough to heal any wound and warns that a life that continues in sin will only reap the reward of its actions (which is what Paul is arguing about in Romans 1).

It must be me, but I missed the section where Akinola says "So go and kick their heads in". I did however spot the press statement issued a day ago or so where Rowan reminded us that Akinola has publicly denounced such threats of violence.

Changing Attitude apologises to the GAFCON leadership team if any section of the Open Letter to them or the press release which accompanied it implied that they are directly responsible in any way for the threats to murder Davis Mac-Iyalla and Colin Coward or the violence inflicted on Davis and the gay leader in Port Harcourt. We repeat categorically that we do not believe this to be true.

So why the above? Why claim that the Church of Nigeria and others do this kind of stuff, but then issue an apology when we all go "show us the proof?"

Those Primates, bishops and priests who are members of the GAFCON leadership team have an authority and stature among their own constituency. They are able to communicate to their followers and church members and be heard with respect. We ask them to speak now and break their silence. We ask them to state categorically that any Christian who threatens or attacks a person because they are lesbian or gay comes under the judgment of God and disobeys God’s law. We ask them to condemn those individual church members who are continuing to threaten Davis Mac-Iyalla and other Nigerian lesbian and gay leaders.

Akinola beat you to it. Rowan’s reminded us that he has done exactly what you wanted, condemning violence and threats of violence. However, what hasn’t been done yet is the provision of any evidence that there are "individual church members who are continuing to threaten Davis Mac-Iyalla and other Nigerian lesbian and gay leaders".

In fact, what’s extraordinary about this piece is that a whole press statement trying to explain why Changing Attitude hasn’t been making unsubstantiated allegations concludes in its final sentence with another unsubstantiated allegation. Beggars belief.

Foot in mouth or what?

Let me finish though by quoting a paragraph from a column in today’s Church Times in the UK:

On the other hand, some gay Anglicans are wicked manipulators, keen to appropriate the power of faith so that their own lust for authority can exist beyond rational contradiction. Often, this latter group exploits those for whom homosexuality is emotional and existential security.

Pro-gay Anglicanism is a 20th century invention, in many ways a response to the rapid social change brought about by modernity. It is a perversion of religion, and in no way the real thing.

By golly that’s offensive stuff isn’t it? Problem is, the column was written by Giles Fraser, that bastion of all things inclusive, and actually reads:

On the other hand, some fundamentalists are wicked manipulators, keen to appropriate the power of faith so that their own lust for authority can exist beyond rational contradiction. Often, this latter group exploits those for whom fundamentalism is emotional and existential security.

Fundamentalism is a 20th century invention, in many ways a response to the rapid social change brought about by modernity. It is a perversion of religion, and in no way the real thing.

Violent rhetoric. Sauce, goose, gander.

I’m done.

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