Colin Coward reflects on the implications of Bishop Orama’s reported remarks

The news about the homophobic remarks made by Bishop Orama of Uyo continues to develop. The Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed deep shock at the remarks and urged the bishop to apologise.

An apology has not been issued. Explanations are all that have been issued to date.

Archdeacon Akintunde Popoola has told The Living Church the quote attributed to the Bishop of Uyo was false. Tunde reveals in an email that the comments on which the report was based were made in an address to his diocesan synod in which he spoke about the issue of human sexuality dividing the Communion, and the Church of Nigeria’s position on these issues. Tunde said the bishop “did not say that [gays and lesbians] are to be hated, nor that they are insane or unfit to live.”

Stand Firm published an email from UPI saying the story was generated by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) and they couldn’t vouch for its accuracy. UPI noted that there are reports of a statement from a spokesman for the Episcopal Church of Nigeria that Bishop Orama has denied making the statements attributed to him, and that the reporter concerned has offered a verbal apology and promised to publish a retraction. You would have to contact NAN as to whether the information about the retraction is true.

The original UPI report of the bishop’s comments, based on a News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) report, has now been removed from the UPI website.

Bloggers have suggested that internet communication in Nigeria is less easy than in the UK or the USA and this explains why a denial took time to emerge and an accurate report of the bishop’s original remarks has yet to be published.

I have visited The Gambia, Ghana, Togo and Tanzania, but not yet Nigeria. I have experienced parts of Africa at first hand. I know how difficult communication can be sometimes, and also how remarkably easy at others. Cybercafés and cell phones enable people living in towns and cities to communicate with ease, despite the fragility of the power supply – there are always generators.

Inability to access the news can’t be the reason why it took two days for the Church of Nigeria to produce any response to the report of Bishop Orama’s comments. They were being widely reported online. We know Archdeacon Tunde is an avid reader of Thinking Anglicans. It is unthinkable that he hadn’t read the report.

It is safe to assume that the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) office in Abuja and the Director of Communication for the Church, the Venerable Tunde, read the bishop’s remarks as reported by the News Agency of Nigeria on Wednesday. It is safe to assume they were in communication with Bishop Orama on Wednesday and that the whole office new about the remarks and were discussing them.

It is then clear that they didn’t know how to respond to the report, nor how serious the bishop’s remarks would prove to be. Therefore the Venerable Tunde must have decided that it wasn’t worth commenting on nor worth issuing a press statement clarifying the position of the Church of Nigeria in relation to the attitudes expressed by the Bishop.

I think this is because the comments accurately reflect the opinion about lesbian and gay people held by Akinola, Tunde and the other bishops who are part of the global south pressure group.

Members of Changing Attitude Nigeria have been writing personal stories as a contribution to the Listening Process. The stories describe the violence, brutality, bullying, isolation, abuse, and shootings that gay and lesbian people in Nigeria commonly and tragically experience. The conservatives don’t understand how extensive is the abuse of LGBT in Africa and the direct relationship between this abuse, their adherence to a particular interpretation of the Bible, and the legal status of homosexuality in Nigeria. The conservative belief that the Bible condemns homosexual activity means that in their attempts to justify their position, they fail to understand the permission people believe they are given to abuse and murder gay people in Nigeria.

Bishop Martyn Minns, born in the UK, living in the USA, knows that hostile attitudes to lesbian and gay people are intolerable. It is sadly revealing of his lack of true authority in the Church of Nigeria that he has been silent this week. He has not publicly condemned the remarks made by Bishop Orama.

The violence and abuse will not stop until the law is changed and the attitude of conservatives changes. This is why Changing Attitude holds the global south conservatives directly to account.

Our work towards the full inclusion of LGBT in the whole of the Anglican Communion will not stop until change has been achieved, to the point that church and society respect and protect their LGBT members.

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