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.
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.
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.
I, Colin Coward, have come to know West Africa well over the past 11 years. I have experienced at first hand prejudice against gay men. I know how frightening it is to be accused of being gay, let alone of being physically assaulted.
Some of those who have written over the past 36 hours do not understand African culture. They write as if European and North American cultural and social norms apply in Africa. They don’t understand African funeral customs, the nature of family compounds, the prejudice of much Christian teaching, the fragility of electronic communication systems, power supplies, transport, the corruption endemic at every level of society and its corrosive effect. Neither do they understand the resilience of Africans and the ability of ordinary people to think independently of their church and state leaders, in the privacy of their own minds and hearts.
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.
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.
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 http://www.anglican-nig.org/disclaimer_iyalla.htm.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.