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Plea to silent church leaders: Oppose 'Jail the Gays' law

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

Why have Christian leaders in the West kept silent about Nigeria’s new anti-gay law?

Nigeria native and gay rights activist Davis Mac-Iyalla started asking that question soon after the “Jail the Gays” law was enacted earlier this month.  He has continued to ask while Nigeria’s tally of reported arrests of alleged homosexuals has grown to 68.

Mac-Iyalla left Nigeria for England in 2008 because, as an LGBT rights activist, it was unsafe for him to remain. Now a member of the Church of England, Mac-Iyalla is seeking supporters for an online petition urging the archbishops of Canterbury and York to speak out against the law, which provides prison sentences of 10 years for Nigerians belonging to a gay organization, supporting same-sex marriages, or displaying same-sex affection in public, as well as 14 years in prison for any Nigerian who marries a member of the same sex.

Mac-Iyalla has the same question about Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church in the United States and other LGBT rights supporters in the American church.

“More sadly,” he said, “I have not seen any statements or comments from retired Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion over the situation in Nigeria.” He added:

Davis Mac-Iyalla (Photo courtesy of LGBT Asylum News)
Davis Mac-Iyalla (Photo courtesy of LGBT Asylum News)

“I grew up thinking the gospel and human rights are universal. Since when did archbishops and religious leaders need special diplomacy before they can speak out against injustice and human rights abuses?

“Every progressive development like civil partnership, same-sex marriage and others in England have attracted a reaction and statements from the Nigeria Anglican church bishops, yet both archbishops of Canterbury and York are still silent over the human rights abuses … taking place in Nigeria, which are supported by their Nigerian brother bishops.”

In Nigeria, conservative Christian and Muslim leaders have not kept silent about their enthusiasm for the new law.

Aloysius Agbo, the Anglican bishop of Nsukka, said, for example, “Every Christian in Nigeria is happy” about the new law.

Political leaders in the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada and elsewhere have spoken against the law.

Mac-Iyalla’s petition has attracted some support from progressive bloggers, including Tobias Stanislas Haller of the blog In a Godward Direction.

In a post urging readers to sign the petition, the Wounded Bird blog cited  Archbishop Óscar Romero (“Let those who have a voice speak out for the voiceless”) and Fr. Roy Bourgeois (“Silence is the voice of complicity.”)

The petition itself recognizes that “Anglicans have different points of view on whether it is morally acceptable to enter a sexual relationship with somebody of the same gender. But surely we can all agree that nobody should be locked up because of who they love and nobody should be locked up for organising against an unjust law?”

As of the publication of this article, the petition had attracted 1,083 signatures.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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