Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Who Is Davis Mac-Iyalla And Why Is He Here?

Photo of Nigerian Anglican Gay activist Davis Mac-Iyalla in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, during the Anglican Primates' Meeting February 17, 2007. He was there to confront Peter Akinola, the Anglican Primate of All Nigeria, who has pressed for the world's most sweeping anti-Gay law. (The Rev. Scott Gunn)
Do not attempt to become Buddha.
Resolve to be thyself; and know that he who finds himself loses his misery.
---Matthew Arnold
The more deeply we are our true selves, the less self is in us.
---Meister Eckhart
The simple answer to the question is he has made his first visit to the United States from Togo, where he is in exile, to tell his story. It is the story of a young man born in the south of Nigeria (an important geographic distinction following civil war there some 40 years ago) who happened to get asked to run a church school and accepted. He did so with some fear because at age 14, he realized his sexual desires were for other males. In Nigeria you could go to jail if you acted on such impulses. His work at the school was so successful that it came to the attention of the Anglican bishop of the area at the time, who invited him into his administration. In 2003 Bishop Ugede died suddenly of tuberculosis. The new administration, appointed by Archbishop Peter Akinola, fired Davis and removed any priests who supported him. Within 2 years, Davis had become the center of a growing movement of gays and lesbians in Nigeria demanding rights for their way of life. Archbishop Akinola responded with support for legislation, currently pending, that will make it a crime for any citizen to associate in any way with someone identified as homosexual. The term of imprisonment will be 5 years.
That story is the simple answer. At the same time, the American branch of the Anglican Church, known as the Episcopal, consecrated a bishop in New Hampshire who is openly gay and has a partner. Within hours, Peter Akinola in Nigeria declared the overwhelming majority of archbishops and primates in the area known as the Global South would not recognize Gene Robinson as a bishop. He said the church now was in a "state of impaired communion" and declared he refused ever to be in the same room with a homosexual person. Conservative Episcopal churches in the United States have moved to support Akinola financially and even explore ways to join his diocese in Nigeria. It is possible the entire Anglican church, numbering millions of members worldwide, will divide over this issue. The Archbishop of Canterbury will make his first visit to the States since all this blew open at the end of the summer...around the time Davis will conclude his tour in California. Can this one man have any impact on the situation?
When Davis became convinced he should make himself available in the US for a speaking tour, naturally there were problems getting a visa from this country to allow him in. A call went out for individual churches to extend a formal invitation to him to speak. Among the first---and maybe the first---was from my rector, Bill Carroll, from Good Shepherd Episcopal Church here in Athens, Ohio. So it was that Davis Mac-Iyalla presented the first address of his tour here on Sunday. My personal reflections on the talk, those of my 15-year-old daughter, and press coverage of the event will follow in comments. I wanted to get something up and out right away though because of the urgency surrounding this whole situation.
He was in Columbus Tuesday and continues to Cleveland today. His itinerary still is open for invitation. Accompanying him is a writer named Josh Thomas, from Cincinnati I believe. His account of Davis' story is here [link] among other places on the Internet. A new interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury is reported here [link]


jazzolog said...

I mentioned earlier that my daughter had been particularly moved by hearing and meeting Davis last Sunday. She had begun work on an honors history assignment in which she needed to interview a participant in a newsworthy event and write a report on the results. She had planned to talk with someone in the media at the time of Watergate, but decided to ask Davis instead. She's 15 and, with her permission, here is her account~~~

Davis Mac-Iyalla Fights for his Rights
Ilona Carlson

Imagine a life in which you do not have the lawful right to openly express your lifestyle, primarily your sexuality. You must live your entire life pretending to be something you are not and for that you must learn to be able to sacrifice your happiness to escape legal imprisonment. You may not speak to those you share interests with and are denied the right to love whom you wish--you may not even speak of your lifestyle. Even your religion is denied you because it is that religion that has placed you in such jeopardy. This is the life of a homosexual in the African nation of Nigeria.

One man is determined to stop the criminalization of homosexuality in Nigeria and thus change the lives of thousands of LGBT (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender) people who face religious persecution and legal prosecution. His name is Davis Mac-Iyalla. He is the leader of a movement to “open doors for change and bring equality for [his] brothers and sisters.” This is no easy task. He has already received death threats and been forced to take exile in Togo, and even there he has been followed.

It’s important to know the religious argument of the Church of Nigeria to understand why this is taking place. The Church of Nigeria is part of the Anglican denomination---the so-called “Anglican Communion“, a loose confederation of national churches with full autonomy in communion with of the Church of England and its Archbishop of Canterbury. The archbishop (and primate) of the Church of Nigeria is Peter Akinola. Following the election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as bishop of New Hampshire in the Episcopal Church (the United States’ Anglican church), Akinola declared “that a satanic, secularist, materialistic, self-centered spirit was behind the acceptance of homosexual practice and its promotion by certain Western Christians.” In fact homosexuality is “an assault on the sovereignty of God,” and furthermore “a Satanic attack on God’s church,” according to Akinola. He said that Western corruption was what caused people to be homosexual---that it came over with the slave trade, colonization and missionaries. (And South Africa, which just recently passed a series of bills that support homosexuals, is not part of Africa, according to Akinola). It is thus not a surprise to see that Akinola has tried to push though a poisonous piece of legislation outlawing homosexuality, making same-sex relationships a crime, but also a crime for gays and lesbians to gather together or to talk about gay rights punishable by five years’ imprisonment. It is a surprise, however, to learn that Western conservatives are financially supporting and praising Akinola like the Second Coming. He has gained power by taking wealthy conservative American (Episcopal) churches under his jurisdiction, causing a possible split in the Anglican Communion. This began with the 1998 Lambeth Conference, which discussed homosexuality and concluded in an atmosphere of enmity and prejudice that the bishops gathered would “commit [themselves] to listen to the experience of homosexual people.“ Unfortunately, they rejected homosexual practice as “incompatible with Scripture.” Furthermore they were, and continue to be, unable to “advise the legitimizing or blessing of same-sex unions, nor the ordination of those involved in such unions” (from the resolution written at the conference).

Davis Mac-Iyalla is working hard to change this. He founded the Support Project in Nigeria, which was the first gay organization in Nigeria. This later evolved into Changing Attitude Nigeria (CAN) which took notes from Changing Attitude England and has expanded to five thousand members throughout Nigeria. This threatened Akinola, who denied the existence of the group as well as denied that there were any homosexuals in the Church of Nigeria altogether. When Mac-Iyalla was finally able to get his story published, it “opened the door for battle.” Akinola published a press release denying that Mac-Iyalla was a member of the Church of Nigeria and that “anyone relating to Davis (David) Mac-Iyalla does so at his or her own risk.” He also summarized Mac-Iyalla’s life as the following:

“[Davis] has finally been traced to be the same person who defrauded the
then dying Bishop of Otukpo [(Ugede)] under the guise of marrying his daughter.
Iyalla then closed down his own C & S church and took up an appointment
which his then proposed father-in-law from whom he
fraudulently obtained some church documents. On the death of the bishop
mid 2003, Iyalla broke off the engagement and made away with large
sums of money including salaries due to some staff. Since then he has not
been seen in Otukpo where is wanted by the Police. He claims he was
sacked and victimized for his homosexuality and uses that guise
to further defraud unsuspecting foreigners.”

That is, of course, a complete fabrication. Davis Mac-Iyalla said that this disclaimer actually, in fact, helped him. “Without the disclaimer, people wouldn’t know that the archbishop is lying,” Davis said with a laugh.

Mac-Iyalla met Bishop I Ugede of Otukpo at a meeting in 2001 of the Church of Nigeria. Ugede told Mac-Iyalla about his dying congregation at the cathedral of Otukpo because the congregation disliked Ugede as “not the bishop of their choice.” Ugede invited Mac-Iyalla to come and aide him in Otukpo. Mac-Iyalla asked his mother and she told him that it was the right thing to do---to go and help. Davis was subsequently licensed as a lay leader and then began to work for the bishop. When the bishop died, Davis was forced to leave the school that he had created during his work in Otukpo because of quite a few serious allegations of which he was accused by the diocesan board, which asserted he had too much power for a lay leader. He was later removed along with all of the other clergyman that were appointed by the late bishop. Mac-Iyalla then began work for “total inclusion of LGBT people in church and society.”

Mac-Iyalla is now doing a tour of the United States, which began at The Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He says that the most important thing now is to bring awareness to the fact that LGBT people do exist in Nigeria and that they have nowhere to turn. They cannot go to their government, nor to anyone else because they fear being arrested for being homosexual supporters. “Once you try to speak for yourself, that is when you start to be targeted,” Mac-Iyalla told me in an interview he granted following his talk here.

The parish held an afternoon gathering at which he spoke last Sunday, May 20th. He stood at the lectern reading from his text---warning us before hand that he might speak quite quickly, as is the culture of Nigeria. He spoke of how he realized his sexuality at the age of fourteen. He had noticed that he was attracted to his friends in school, and when he tried to be with girls, it didn’t work. He told his mother and she was supportive, although she knew what he would face because of it. His first real job was at a primary school which he soon left to begin work in Otukpo. After he lost his job in Otukpo, he began to work for human rights for LGBT people.

Davis got together with a few others and decided to “start something.” They formed Support Project in Nigeria and began to have meetings. This grew into CAN which he directed. He worked hard to get recognition as the archbishop denied the existence of gays, himself, and the group. His story was finally reported by the Nigerian newspapers, the Vanguard and the Daily Sun in 2005. The archbishop worked even harder to get rid of him. Davis’ response? “I will not quit, the harder it gets the more motivated I am. I refuse to stop or quit.”

After their first meeting of CAN, Mac-Iyalla was cornered, beaten by police and thrown into a jail cell without food or water for three days. Because he was the leader, he was allowed to leave and find someone who would be willing to pay his bail. This infuriated him further. He hosted another meeting for what was growing to be 1,600 gays and lesbians. Nigerian newspapers covered the meeting as did a surprise visitor: a reporter from the New York Times! When a legislative bill banning even the mere mention of homosexuality was introduced, Mac-Iyalla became more mobile---and is now in the United States. “This bill makes us outcasts in our own church and society. I must bring total inclusion of my LGBT brothers and sisters in our church and our society,” he said, bearing a somber face.

Mac-Iyalla hopes his time in the United States will bring aid to his ailing brothers and sisters in Nigeria who cry for rights. He wants people to realize it is not purely religious anymore. “Those who don’t want to listen don’t understand that is it more political than religious [now].” In fact, he said, “Money, politics and power control the Church of Nigeria, not faith.” Perhaps his story will help to stop the power-hungry archbishop and bring an end to this discrimination. He also hopes that people here will begin to do things to help. What can we do? He says we can help by simply opposing homophobic violence here at home (in school and in town). We can write letters to human rights organizations and to newspapers, bringing awareness to others. We must all become peacemakers, and then we can bring the fundamental rights promised in the Nigerian Constitution to the LGBT citizens of Nigeria.

jazzolog said...

ologFrom: Josh Thomas
Date: May 26, 2007 10:41 PM
Subject: Re: one more reason to love my youth group
To: "R. William Carroll"


Ilona did a fantastic job. Please tell her that Davis has read it and thought it was very, very good.

And congratulate her parents for us. They have a wonderful girl.



On May 26, 2007, at 7:00 PM, R. William Carroll wrote:

> A fifteen year old member of our youth group interviewed Davis for a
> school assignment and took notes and listened to the audio tape of his
> talk.
> Here is her perspective. I have her permission and her father's
> permission to share it broadly.
> Peace,
> Bill
> --
> Seeking and serving Christ in all persons.
> The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd.
> The Rev. R. William Carroll, Ph.D., Rector
> 64 University Terrace
> Athens, OH 45701
> 740-593-6877

jazzolog said...

I hope you had the chance to watch Bill Moyers Journal last night, whether or not you got word Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katherine was going to be on. (Yankee Episcopalians use that term "presiding bishop" to further differentiate from England's "archbishop." Presidents mean things are supposed to be more democratic, doncha know.) The interview was quite long (20 minutes) and the setup for it seemed to indicate Jefferts Schori had just testified before Congress about global warming or was about to. She was a marine biologist before becoming a priest. At any rate for that reason or some other, she didn't seem entirely comfortable before the cameras. Of course too the issues discussed were among the most difficult for a representative of any religion to field: the ongoing challenge of science, the history of women in spirituality, same sex involvement, and the possible breakdown of inclusive unity within a church. Her answers, however, were absolutely amazing and true inspiration, whatever your spiritual path I think. It's all at Bill Moyers' site, with a profile of Katherine, a history of Episcopalian response to Anglican dogma on sexuality, and links to the transcript and video~~~

BILL MOYERS: What can you and Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria, your counterpart, what can you all collaborate on?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: I think with the help of our colleagues, we can collaborate on more than either of us might expect. He has said quite clearly that he doesn't want the help of the Episcopal Church in any kind of mission work in Nigeria, which is incredibly sad. It also removes us from being able to learn about his context-- to learn about Christian evangelism in a-- in a culture where Islam is so present and vocal. It- prevents both of us from being converted by the conversation.

BILL MOYERS: Do you see any hope of that changing?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: God has a way of keeping us at things like this. Even when some of us would find it more comfortable to depart.

BILL MOYERS: What is God asking you to do?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: I think God is asking us to build a society where people can live together in peace with a sense of justice. Where people can develop their gifts to the fullest, where people can, in some sense, recover their presence in the garden.

Meanwhile, Davis Mac-Iyalla continues his tour of the United States. This past week he's been in Chicago, and the Tribune gave him a writeup Monday.,1,373878.story?coll=chi-newslocalwest-hed

Mostly however this doesn't seem to be the stuff for media attention, and so it's necessary to turn to the blogs or other sites for how things are going. Josh Thomas continues to write for his Daily Office, even though he's guiding Davis around at the same time. Here's an update from Tuesday that even includes a photo from our meeting with Davis in Athens. That's our priest, Bill Carroll, in the maroon T-shirt. "The goofy fellow in the middle is Josh Thomas of"

Next week Davis heads for New Jersey where the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church will be holding 4 days of meetings to consider the relationship with the Anglican Communion. "He will be an invited guest of the Council's National Concerns Committee." The full schedule of Davis' tour is a pdf here