We remember the last round: They came for the Jews, the Queers and the Gypsies. That was then, in the 1930's. There was a world depression then. It was called Great. Formerly "great" European powers had seemingly lost their way. Amazingly stupid and senseless wars had exhausted some and sent others into overly extended empire building.
So when they came to exterminate Jews and Homosexuals and Gypsies almost no one wanted to bring up the fact that the jack boots tromping through the streets of Europe were part of a great Lie. The Great Lie took many forms, but one was that everything would be alright just as soon as the world or nation was purged. Speaking out against this turned out to be very difficult and a remarkable number of church leaders found themselves silent at a time when voices needed most to be raised.
That was then, and now is now.
The word was out, towards the end of the 20th Century, that there was a New Europe in the making and a new post-racist more globally conscious America and even a global economy that would lift the worst of the underclass to at least less marginal economic levels. Eastern Europe would turn the corner and find greater acceptance in Western Europe, the North American Free Trade scheme would even help solve US immigration problems and a tolerance for difference would generally arise and end Antisemitism, Xenophobia and Homophobia. The word was that the New Europe was in the making and there was hope that the US might work its way through its racism to a new place.
That was then, and now is now.
Then 9/11 happened and cut short these dreams. The US and others embarked on a "war against terrorism," a war with no end in sight and which suspiciously looked like imperial war. A whole administration in the US was build on the base of fear, and fear breeds fear elsewhere, everywhere. The world has become fearful. Meanwhile a world wide depression has come back now caused by serious greed heads and the greed in each of us.
So the volatile mix of fear, endless war, economic ruin are at the ready once again. And of course there was the globalization of greed, fear and the great lies. The breeding ground is ready, and now a new spring for totalitarianism may be in the offing. 1984 is still a vision for the future and the boot slamming into the face forever is still a possibility.
Tolerance for hating Jews, queers and gypsies (read those damn foreigners) has returned full force and unabated by memory of "then." What, if anything, has the Church to say about the rule be fear? (And here I mean most particularly the Episcopal Church or any other church member of the Anglican Communion, but more generally the "church" as the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace that is the Body of Christ.)
Ruth Gledhill has run several stories on the rise again of Antisemitism. In particular read "Anti-Semitism: 'New, virulent and lethal" and "The 'new' anti-Semitism." Some of her stories have concerned the willingness of the Church, in this case the Roman Catholic Church, to promote someone who claimed the holocaust never happened. Some of these articles concern the broader issues of Antisemitism in England, Europe and the world. Other essays have appeared as well, in particular "The writing is on the synagogue wall" a Times of London op ed piece. The author, Denis MacShane, writes,
"The periodic crises that have shaken world capitalism in the century and a half since Marx wrote Das Kapital are marked by a common political phenomenon. It is the rise of political anti-Semitism. Attacks on Jews and Jewishness constitute the canary in the coal mine that tells us something is going seriously wrong."
"Jews are again made to feel they are not full citizens of the countries of their birth because they refuse to support the right of Hamas and Hezbollah to use terror attacks against Israeli civilians. The canary in the coal mine seems in danger of its life once again."
In an earlier blog, titled Beating up the Archbishop is just the beginning, I tried to speak to some of the issues that link Antisemitism to Xenophobia and racism and the efforts of the Archbishop of Canterbury to address them..
The popularity of blaming the Jews for all our economic troubles is doubled up with blaming the foreigners for ruining the job market (for example, the Turks, or Latinos or the Africans) and Homosexuals for ruining the family and family values. There are growing instances of graffiti being drawn on the walls of religious houses of worship, beatings of people in the streets who are identified as part of a suspect group, broad hints that "of course" its the Jews who control the money, all Arabs are terrorists, all foreign workers are ripping off the countries in which they work, and homosexuality "is a perversion, a deviation and an aberration that is capable of engendering moral and social holocaust in this county."
This last is from Archbishop Akinola's remarks on the current bill before the Nigerian legislature.
The Archbishop of Nigeria argues that objections by outsiders to the proposed law - legislation that would make or continue criminal status for gay and lesbian persons, anyone who supports them, anyone who celebrates pledges of fidelity and love by them or speaks out for their rights - is just another attempt by former colonialists to tell Nigerians what to do.
The Archbishop's statement to the Nigerian Legislature stated:
"The family is the nucleus of any society and its destruction will lead inevitably to the destruction of the society. Same sex marriage is out to foist on the world a false sense of the family which will bring disastrous consequences to mankind." "...we must take note of the various stages of pernicious western influence in our nation and continent. The slave trade dehumanized us, the political colonization humiliated us while neo-colonization has continued to exploit us through imperial institutions/agents like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The present clamour for unrestricted human rights especially in relation to same sex union is yet another ploy to unleash more mayhem on this nation."
Left unchecked by international objection by conservatives and liberals alike, the efforts by Nigeria, backed by the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), will provide support "on the ground" to separating out homosexuals along with the Jews and the hated foreigners of choice and marking them as the source of all that has befallen the virtuous. "They" are the problem and everything would be better if "they" were all put away. We know how the Archbishop feels about Gay and Lesbian people, and about American and the West.
Hate is always near at hand and living in strange fantasies makes it easier to turn hate into a virtue. In the 1930's the hate 'package' was bundled together by Hitler and company and carried out without much opposition until people woke up to discover that all of Europe was being rummaged through in a sweeping effort to clean house of Jews, Queers, Gypsies, Commies, and whatever else seemed counter to the fascist vision.
Now in this post modern era, where there is little trust in great meta-narratives, the narratives of hate become parceled out - some antisemitism here, some homophobia there, some xenophobia elsewhere. What bundles it all together is unclear. There are lots of questions: Does antisemitism in Europe have a connection with racism in the US? Is a legal bill in Nigeria a matter of concern for the world, or is it simply an internal matter for one country? Why, in the beginning of the Obama presidency, did some commentators talk about the US becoming "french" - meaning socialist (a word not to be spoken)? Is that just a joke or the use of xenophobic labeling to cover a greater fear?
Some years ago I was considered for a position in Europe and was asked what I might write about if I took the post. I responded that I was fascinated by the notion of "the New Europe." I noted that our son was in Germany and our daughter was Romanian and I found their experiences very informative. From talking to them I was not sure that there was a "New Europe" and that I wondered if the old one was simply sitting out the moment until ancient practices found their way forward again. It was not a popular thing to say. I still wonder, however, whatever happened to the "New Europe"? Perhaps fear got in the way, and hate found its way back in.
Across the waters we are no better, of course. Racism, Antisemitism, Homophobia and Xenophobia are all close to the surface. We may have an African-American President, a gay Bishop, and people in high places with strange sounding names and faces of other color than pasty gray/ pink, but that's not all. In the dark night of our fears the America for Americans crowd lurch forward, ready to set things right by getting back at those awful people who are the source of all their fears. It is all too easy for Americans to slide back into racism and into anti-gay and antisemitic ideologies as well.
The churches of the Anglican Communion have been contributors to these fears and hatreds on some occasions, and on others prophetic voices calling their respective societies to a place beyond their own cultural practices. We have learned positively from one another at times, as in the witness of the church in South Africa. At other times we have been a reminder of the fallen state of whole peoples, the church included, as in the US where the churches for too long have contributed to the sins of racism and bigotry. There is opportunity in this particular moment for the leaders of the Anglican Communion, the Primates in particular, to speak out in criticism of the Archbishop of Nigeria's stance regarding HP 150 now being considered.
There are many reasons to be disturbed by the support of the Church of Nigeria for the legislation "HP. 150, A bill for an act to Prohibit Marriage Between Persons of Same Gender, Solemnization of Same and for Other Matters Related Therewith." Among the reasons for protesting this support is that The Church of Nigeria, through the Archbishop's voice, makes the strong claim to both be part of the Anglican Communion and to champion the Communion's core values while at the same time arguing for its support of the HP 150 by using fear tactics. This must be countered by others in the Communion lest it be assumed that this is the voice of the Communion. The Archbishop supposes that
"Same sex marriage apart from being ungodly is also unscriptural, unnatural, unprofitable, unhealthy, uncultural, un-African and un-Nigerian. It is a perversion, a deviation and an aberration that is capable of engendering moral and social holocaust in this county. It is also capable of existincting [sic] mankind and as such should never be allowed to take root in Nigeria. Outlawing it is to ensure the continued existence of this nation. The need for doing this is urgent, compelling and imperative. The time is now."
The arguments involve, in addition to matters of some dispute among Christians concerning "ungodly and unscriptural," certain judgements concerning natural law and social judgment (unnatural, unprofitable, unhealthy and uncultural) and xenophobic patriotism (un-African and un-Nigerian).
The Archbishop's argument in support of this legislation is accompanied by considerable (and perhaps justifiable) anger against colonial rule and the accusation that acceptance of same-sex marriage is being foisted on Nigeria by western forces. He says,
"Nigeria is a sovereign state and has the right to make laws that will regulate the life of her citizens. It will amount to reducing her status as an independent nation if laws made in other lands are imposed on her. Again our law courts as a creation of our constitution are also made to interpret the same. They cannot therefore interpret or enforce any law or right that is not recognized by our constitution.
Furthermore, we must take note of the various stages of pernicious western influence in our nation and continent. The slave trade dehumanized us, the political colonization humiliated us while neo-colonization has continued to exploit us through imperial institutions/agents like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The present clamour for unrestricted human rights especially in relation to same sex union is yet another ploy to unleash more mayhem on this nation."
So this "clamour for unrestricted human rights" is a ploy by "them" - western pernicious influence, neo-colonialists, and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This gives the Archbishop every chance to say that in addition to being pro-Nigerian and anti-gay he is also against international monied interests, which in some parts of the antisemitic world codes antisemitism.
Two matters that remain unclear: Just who is providing the "clamour" in Nigeria for same sex unions such that this bill is necessary? If the Archbishop is indeed to claim he is Anglican and meet head-on his Islamic critics then he must show that he is not taken in by British and American Anglo attitudes. He must be Anglican without being in any way un-Nigerian. Additionally, if he is to claim Anglicanism as high moral ground, equal to Muslim high ground, he must show that he is opposed to gay rights, something that other Anglican communities seem to support. So it makes sense to vehemently oppose gay marriage and any organization of gay interests. He has to be able to speak out against rights for homosexuals.
Perhaps the legislation has been at the instigation or sponsorship of Nigerian Anglicans just so that the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) can forcefully show that it is indeed Nigerian and morally equal to or superior to Islam in its condemnation of Western decadence. I do not know this to be so or not, but the question is, I submit, worth the answering.
Well, two out of three's not bad. The Archbishop has shown himself to be against those foreigners and their pernicious ways, he has shown himself as pure as his Muslim counterparts. It remains to be seen just what he has to say about Jews and Israel. But there is little to hope for there.
Every Anglican community has its problems being part of a culture, a society and a country. We all know the costs and we are all fallen. At the same time we are called to be better than that. Our friends have every business asking when and how The Episcopal Church engages culture, society and nation when matters of Christian values and morals are at stake. We in the U.S. don't come up with a very good score card. So we have little business making accusations from the high ground.
From the belly of the beast, however, it is still necessary to call one another to account lest the old linkages of national purity, claimed high moral ground and religious prejudice wrap themselves together in a fearful and terrible union. We do not need the tyranny of fear in the Anglican Communion or in the world. Homophobia and Xenophobia support such fears and it is too easy for antisemitism to join them as the circle of fear grows and totalitarianism
finds nurture and new soil.
For this and other reasons there needs to be clear and nuanced response from leaders in the Anglican Communion, response that provides a counter to the global warming of fear and hate.