Friday, 11 January 2013

Let Gay Bishops Be!

"[The House of Bishops] confirmed that the requirements in the 2005 statement concerning the eligibility for ordination of those in civil partnerships whose relationships are consistent with the teaching of the Church of England apply equally in relation to the episcopate."
-Statement by Church of England

The Church of England must feel they have found a clever solution to a knotty challenge. Gay Bishops can now be ordained in the church, but they must be celibate. In a sense this decision of the House of bishops is the culmination of a decade of controversy that has threatened to tear the anglican church Worldwide apart.

From 2003, when Jeffrey John had to stand down his appointment as bishop of reading over his 
relationship with a long time partner, the issue of gay bishops was bound to eat away at the soul of the church. Indeed,  Rowan Williams, the erstwhile arch bishop of Canterbury, had in 2004 predicted that dark days lay ahead.
 So has the church of England finally put this all too contentious matter to bed? Certainly not. The decision that Bishops can be in gay relationships as along as they practice abstinence is ridiculously absurd! Rather than look at the Bible for direction, the Church decided to use human wisdom in tackling a matter that can simply not be treated as a social debate or rights issue. This has given rise to an inherent contradiction of practice. How can one be gay and celibate at the same time? Its like saying its alright to be a thief as long as you don't steal- bizarre to say the least.

The decision to ordain gay bishops, though not entirely surprising, will not sit well with the Anglican Communion in Africa, whose cause is being championed by Nigeria.

No doubt had the Church of England been more mindful of the Bible's warning in Romans 1, such an issue would not even have arisen:
"And the men, instead of normal sexual relationships with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men and, as a result, suffered within themselves the penalty they so richly deserved."
Romans 1:27(NLT)

 The Bible expressly condemns Homosexuality as sin with attendant consequences. Interestingly, the punishment prescribed for homosexuality is not immediately apparent as God will simply let them suffer within themselves the penalty the so richly deserve. Little wonder the first ever recorded case of AIDS was among homosexuals- and the HIV scourge has been prevalent among that community ever since.

While I do not condemn allowing homosexuals into church, there is a marked difference between coming to God's presence as-you-are and being God's priest while doing something he so clearly abhors. Of course the argument among liberals will be that even the most pious of priest have their own flaws and even sin. The simply answer I have is that we still recognize those failings as sin. Sin which can be forgiven when we go to God in contrition.

By allowing the ordination of Gay bishops in the church, what the Church of England is essentially saying that homosexuality is not a sin, its just being different!

In the coming days there will be rigorous attempts to either affirm or denounce the Church of England's decision. The Anglican church in Africa will probably make good their threat to breakaway. But no matter what happens next, the Church of England will emerge worse of than when this issue first broke about a decade ago. Dark days certainly lie ahead.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Curse of Missed Opportunities

"The most potent weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed" Steve Biko.

Before January 1, 2012, I was a social recluse: I had never participated in any form of protest; had very few friends, my Twitter account had only 5 tweets, I was not on any chat group and visited Facebook sparingly. I devoted my time to work, family and church- I was completely at ease with the world. My reticence stemmed from the feeling that Nigerians were cursed to remain oppressed. A glaring example was the 2011 general elections where a unique opportunity to effect changes was lost to small mindedness and primordial sentiments.

The removal of fuel subsidy on New Year’s Day however became the catalyst needed to ignite my activism. Hence when I learned that some Nigerians had decided to ‘Occupy’ Eagle Square Abuja in protest, I immediately went there as well. The turnout was impressive considering the spontaneity of events. But Government was determined to not shift ground because shortly after we assembled, a detachment of soldiers and police descended on us, dispersed the crowd with tear gas and arrested a few people.

In the days that followed that incident, I attended meetings of Civil Society Groups planning street protests, engaged in public debate about my opposition to subsidy removal and became active on all forms of social media. I realised there were a number of Nigerians that did not know what or why we were against subsidy removal and I made it a sacred duty to inform them in every way possible.
 By the time the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) called for a nationwide strike, Occupy had been on the streets for a week and though I did not participate in the Abuja sit-ins at Eagle Square and eventually Ascon Petroleum, I supported the frontline troops through provision of drinking water, tea items and toiletries. For the period the strike lasted, I went out every single day, marching through the streets, united with other Nigerians. We had transcended religious, ethnic and regional fault lines and replaced them with a searing lava of anger against an arrogant, clueless and insensitive Government-the volcano was about to erupt! My excitement was palpable.

The unique thing about the Occupy movement was that unlike the NLC, which was merely responding to the fuel subsidy increase, we were simply taking advantage of subsidy removal to push home an agenda for reform and good governance. Thus we raised issues such as tackling the cabal, reducing the size of government, cutting needless spending etc. I was convinced that if the strike lasted for a month, Government would not only revert to N65 per litre but would also be more circumspect when taking decisions in the future. The signs were already beginning to appear: Hardly a day went by without one Government official or the other coming on air to address Nigerians. Indeed the President who only a few days earlier did not deem it necessary to personally announce the removal of subsidy, broadcast to the nation at least 3 times during the strike. He also had to cancel an overseas trip!

Consequently, when the NLC called off the strike on the basis that Government had reduced pump price to N97 per litre, I was gutted! What happened to ‘no retreat, no surrender?’ When did labour start speaking for all Nigerians? But at the end of the day, it was clear that all our effort was going to amount to nothing. It felt like I had been raped-Violently.

There are three things which I believe were responsible for the inability of OccupyNaija to carry on with our protest when the strike was called off. First, we did not have a critical mass. OccupyNaija was elitist; it consisted largely of educated, enlightened and intellectual Nigerians who, quite frankly, are an insignificant number when compared with a population of over 150 million. Thus the larger populations of Nigerians-the ones worse hit by the fuel subsidy removal- were nowhere near the protest grounds. Most of them, like traders and bus drivers, just stayed at home praying for the strike to end so they could come out and glean their daily peanuts! Had these set of Nigerians been on board, the role of NLC during the strike would have been insignificant.

Secondly, we were inexperienced. Most of the people that joined OccupyNaija were openly engaging Government for the first time, as such there was very little knowledge of how to coordinate, organise, mobilise and keep the overzealous in check.

Finally, the movement lacked leadership. OccupyNaija was a spontaneous response to a national problem. Nigerians were united in purpose but needed some kind of leadership that would have helped articulate the peoples grievances and engage the authorities if need be. It was this lack of leadership that led to opportunistic politicians attempting to steal the limelight and malicious insinuations by Government that the protests were sponsored by the opposition. These problems notwithstanding, the Occupy Movement has clearly demonstrated that all power derives from the people and the moment the people realise this fact, they can determine their future. Subsidy presented us with a better great opportunity for change but we were not prepared and as a result, our collective resolve was betrayed by Labour. It is my firm belief that the Occupy movement should establish a structure- a rallying point that would easily summon the troops. The Government needs to know we are still alive, we are watching them and most importantly, we are legion. Through OccupyNaija, I have made great friends and met some amazing people, we must not allow this network become yet another missed opportunity.