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Isn’t genocide sexy enough?

9 January 2016

Someone posted a link on Facebook to an article that I think deserves closer examination, because I think it reveals a lot about clashing cultures and clashing civilizations: The Anglican schism over sexuality marks the end of a global church | Andrew Brown | Opinion | The Guardian:

As 38 leaders from Anglican churches around the world prepare to meet in Canterbury next week to decide whether they can bear to go on talking to one another, or whether to formalise their schism over sexuality, it’s worth asking whether they have any larger message for the world. Apparently they do. It’s that genocide is more biblical than sodomy. The hardline African churches preparing to walk out of next week’s meeting are disproportionately involved in wars and in immense civilian suffering. In northern Nigeria and northern Kenya, the fighting is with Islamist militias; in South Sudan and Congo the truly dreadful civil war is fought between largely Christian ethnic groupings. In Rwanda, the war is over, but the genocide was committed by Christians against other Christians, and Uganda, while itself at peace, is involved in both Rwanda and Congo.

The article raises many issues and many questions, and there are many ways of looking at it and interpreting it.

The first thing that struck me, in the bit quoted above, is that it is disingenuous. It is trying to compare chalk and cheese. “When six African religious leaders walk out of Canterbury next week, they will not be leaving the Anglican communion, but walking out of its funeral”.

That might be so, but if it were making a fair comparison, the article would have to show that those six African leaders believed that genocide was just and right, and that only evil and unjust people would believe it was not. The article does not say that, but it implies it by innuendo. And behind that one can perhaps discern a racist and Western imperialist sub-text — Who are these ignorant upstart African leaders to lecture us enlightened Westerners on morality?

And if the West wants to lecture African church leaders about genocide, what about the invasions and destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan? If you want to compare apples with apples, then compare violence with violence, not violence with sex. And as Samuel Huntington so pithily put it,

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of other civilizations were converted) but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.

So Andrew Brown’s pointing a finger at African church leaders about violence and genocide is more than a little disingenuous.

But Huntington seems to have got it wrong in one respect: though Christianity is a non-Western religion, many parts of Africa were converted to Christianity through Western missionaries, and the Anglican Communion itself is one of the results of that. And this points to another factor.

Estimates of the importance of religion in different countries differ according to different estimates. There’s a Wikipedia estimate here, and, here’s one from a more recent article:

religimport

Whichever set you choose, the countries whose religious leaders are most likely to walk out of the Anglican gathering are those where 80% or more of the population think religion is important, and those whom those African leaders most strongly disagree with are mostly from countries where fewer than 60% think religion is important.

And this, it seems to me, would make it likely that the African church leaders would be less inclined to take what Western church leaders say seriously, because they might see them as lacking faith, and speaking from the secular point of view of many of their compatriots. As long as such differing perceptions persist, the two sides are less likely to be able or willing to communicate.

Westerners generally take theological questions less seriously, because they are so secularised that they no longer think they matter. I recall that a black Lutheran theologian in South Africa once wrote that theological questions such as the two natures of Christ were purely Western concerns, and were not of much interest to Africans. I pointed out that most Western theologians don’t understand it, and don’t think it matters much. It started as an African issue, and remains one. He didn’t quite believe me, until he visited Egypt a couple of years later, and on his return remarked to me, “You know, those Egyptians really think the question of the two natures of Christ is important. Everyone wants to know where you stand on it.”

Anglicans have sometimes expressed themselves willing to drop the Filioque from the Symbol of faith, not because they no longer find it acceptable, but because they don’t think it important enough to make a fuss about, and see it as an irenic gesture towards the Orthodox. But when it comes to issues they do feel strongly about, like the ordination of women, or the moral rightness of same-sex fornication, they are less willing to be accommodating towards the Orthodox.

One Orthodox friend wrote of this “Lets hope for a split. The European and American “churches in communion with Canterbury” are committing slow suicide by standing for nothing that secular public opinion opposes strongly. The African and Asian parts are what may still be salvageable.”

My prayer would be somewhat different.

My prayer would be that the Orthodox Church, especially but not only in the West, should not make a similar capitulation to secular culture, and be seduced into providing a watered down “civil religion” like the one Sergei Chapnin talks about in this interview on Orthodoxy without Christ. The Anglican obsession with and splits over sex is paralleled by Orthodox disputes and splits over old and new calendars, and they have salvaged very little.

Sex is of course more sexy than calendars, and more sexy than genocide and violence in the world. But the obsession with sex is a convenient distraction from more serious problems. There was a little spark when Archbishop Justin Welby started making noises about restraining loan sharks, and that got the media on his case, just as they have been after Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. And so it was back to sex. It’s safer. Just repeat after me, safe sex, safe sex, safe sex.

 

 

 

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 9 January 2016 10:31 pm

    Anglicans have sometimes expressed themselves willing to drop the Filioque from the Symbol of faith, not because they no longer find it acceptable, but because they don’t think it important enough to make a fuss about, and see it as an irenic gesture towards the Orthodox. But when it comes to issues they do feel strongly about, like the ordination of women, or the moral rightness of same-sex fornication, they are less willing to be accommodating towards the Orthodox.

    This paragraph in particular grabbed my attention. It is a very odd display of comity to say, “Of course we are willing to adopt your theological statement, friends, because that particular statement that you hold so dear is one we actually do not care about.” The refusal of comity in the more secular issues (forgive the wordplay) seems to proceed from precisely the same callous spirit as the willingness to compromise on the other.

    Your link to the Sergei Chapnin interview is not functioning, by the way.

    Nice post.

    • 10 January 2016 5:11 am

      Thanks for the heads-up about the broken link, I think it’s fixed now.

  2. 9 January 2016 11:19 pm

    I was talking the other about how American Christians were broadcasting ideas like Complementarianism into Africa not realizing what they were doing was the equivalent of pouring gasoline on fire. I’ve spoken with South Africans, a person from Malawi, and a few Ugandans in the past few months and I paid attention during the Oscar Pistorous trial and learned about the high rates of death by domestic violence in the region; the more Americans broadcast gender roles, femininity, masculinity, the more we’re making it easier for them to discriminate their outliers who fall outside of the narrow norms for gender and sexuality. That chart shows how much more likely it is that they take it much more seriously than we do. I just wish there was a way to change the message before it’s too late – we’ve done enough damage and it’s time to heal these wounds, not cause them.

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