Nigerian leaders protest

Two Christian groups have called on Nigeria’s federal and state authorities to make sure those in charge in the northern part of the country investigate attacks they say are carried out by Islamic extremists, on Christians in the region.

The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria has urged the federal government to ensure an end to attacks on and discrimination against Christians in northern Nigeria, while the ecumenical Christian Association of Nigeria [CAN] has rued a lack of response from police in states in the north, where sectarian violence has taken place.

The head of CAN in the northern Zamfara state, which was the first state to introduce Islamic Sharia, said there had been no reply to requests to officials to take action after attacks by young Muslim extremists on Christians, and the burning down of churches.

‘It is unfortunate that there has been no response from the police, and even the state governor has refused to meet with us,’ said the acting chairperson of CAN in the state, the Revd Edwin Okpara. His comments followed the circulation of a petition by Christians to government officials that expressed concern about their plight in the north of Nigeria.

On 25 January fire, said to be the result of arson, damaged the building of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Tudun Wada in Zamfara. Previously, the Christian Faith Bible Church and the Living Faith Foundation Chapel, both in Gusau in the same state, had been set on fire.

The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria expressed its concerns in a full-page advertisement in the national newspaper, The Nation. The text read, ‘It is important to note that Christians, including those indigenous to northern Nigeria, have been forced to live in perpetual fear, and for the most part are treated as second-class citizens in their own country.’

Nigeria’s 149 million people are almost evenly divided between Christians and Muslims, with Christians in the majority in the south but outnumbered by Muslims in the north.

CAN and the Pentecostal fellowship point out that since 1980 the West African country has recorded many cases of religious clashes, especially in the northern areas, where many Christians have been killed and their property destroyed.

In January 2009, a clash reportedly triggered off by some Muslim youths in the city of Jos, in Plateau State, led to the death of more than 500 people, with many churches and mosques destroyed. The Pentecostal group’s newspaper advert expressed concern at the failure of successive governments in the country to stop the, ‘terror inflicted on innocent Nigerians with predictable regularity in northern Nigeria’.

The Pentecostals also decried a situation in which they say it is sometimes impossible for churches to gain the correct legal documentation in certain northern Nigeria states in order to hold services of worship.

‘There seems to be an unwritten law that churches are not welcome in some states in northern Nigeria,’ said the fellowship in their newspaper advert. ‘We appeal to our national assembly to act now. We appeal to the governors’ forum to act now.’

Lekan Otufodunrin


Gays against Rome

Robèrt Cooijmans, a Roman- Catholic gay man, has filed a charge of discrimination against priest Luc Buyens. He wants the priest to be prosecuted for discrimination, because he refuses Holy Communion to practising homosexuals.

Cooijmans seeks a principled decision from the judiciary. ‘My Church is not allowed to exclude anybody. There is no justification anywhere in the Bible to do that.’ His complaint fits the swelling protest of homosexuals against the rule of the Roman Catholic Church, that regards practising homosexuality a sin. The current stumbling block is the recent refusal by Pastor Buyens to hand out the Holy Sacrament during the Carnival Mass to the gay Prins Carnaval.

Cooijmans feels humiliated and speaks of unequal treatment. For years he attends another Roman Catholic Church in Cuijk where he is able to receive the Sacrament without any problems. ‘This means that there doesn’t have to be any problem when everybody just acts normally. But such a pastor as Buyens brings us back to the stone-age.’ Henk Krol, chief editor of Gaykrant, thinks that the pastor is in a minority within the Roman Catholic Church. ‘In 2001 we did an enquiry amongst priests. Then, more than 94% did not see any problem in communicating practicing homosexuals.

Gay organisation COC and Emprace Pink have begun to muster as many members as possible to attend the High Mass next Sunday in the Cathedral Church of Den Bosch. That action follows a demonstration last Sunday, when a few dozen of homosexuals attended the mass in Reusel, by pastor Buyens, and wanted to go to Holy Communion. Consequently, Buyens was advised by the Bishop Hurkmans not to administer the Holy Communion, for the risk of desecrating the Sacrament was to big with so many open sinners in the church.

Because Buyens was acting on the advise of Bishop Hurkams, the revolt is now replacing itself to the Cathedral Church in Den Bosch. ‘We want to see whether our presence there will also cause the Holy Communion not to be administered,’ says the director of Emprace Pink. ‘It is in the general public interest that the Church acknowledges that homosexuality is natural, and cannot be made subject of moral judgments.’

The protesters plan to continue coming until the Roman Catholic Church changes its policy. ‘We are going to bring them in to a big state of confusion,’ says Nijenhuis. The diocese has supported Buyens, saying that the celebration of the Eucharist is not the place for demonstrations. ‘The Diocese asks all to respect the belief of the Church that those who practise homosexuality are to abstain from receiving the Holy Communion.’

Peter Boswijk


Restoring Sundays

A German politician has launched the European Union’s first international citizens’ referendum, demanding the restoration of Sunday as a day for rest and family life. ‘This is the right time to show that, as European citizens, we want to involve ourselves, not only through elections, but also in other ways,’ Martin Kastler, a European Parliament member for Germany’s co-governing Christian Social Union, explained on the petition web site, .

‘The work-free Sunday is part of our European culture. We need time for our families and relationships, for civil society and religion,’ said Kastler. A‘ life full of working days is unlikely to be fulfilling.’ The statement was published after the launch of the campaign, ‘Mum and Dad belong to us on Sunday,’ which is the first European Citizens Initiative under the December 2009 Lisbon Treaty. It said the treaty had given ordinary Europeans an ‘opportunity to stand up for their concerns,’ and urged sympathisers around the continent to ‘strengthen direct democracy’ by signing the petition.

‘This campaign should build up huge public pressure. In this way, no one will be able to ignore us,’ said the 35-year-old Kastler, a father of two. ‘Europe should be the most child-friendly region in the world, so people from different political and social backgrounds should rally behind the protection of Sunday.’

Calls for the preservation of work-free Sundays have increased in the 27 countries of the European Union, where many shops and businesses now routinely require staff to turn up on weekends without extra pay.

In February 2009, lawmakers in the European Parliament from France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Slovakia tabled a declaration with backing from European church leaders urging Sunday to be protected in future EU legislation to safeguard ‘workers’ health and the reconciliation of work and family life.’

At the same time another German representative in the European Parliament, Thomas Mann, is co-organising a conference in Brussels on 24 March to re-launch the debate on work-free Sundays, which will be addressed by the parliament’s Polish president, Jerzy Buzek, and Laszlo Andor, the European Union’s Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.

The spokesperson for the Commission of EU Catholic Bishops Conferences, Johanna Touzel, said a clause in the EU’s 1993 Working Time Directive, describing Sunday as a weekly day of rest had been withdrawn for legal reasons in 1996.

‘Sunday rest is important for the health and wellbeing of working people – this is a social, rather than religious, issue which affects much of the population,’ Touzel told Ecumenical News International in an interview.

Jonathan Luxmoore


Welcome to Glasspool

The responses to the affirmation of the election of a second ‘out’ gay bishop have so far offered no surprises to Episcopal Church watchers. Conservatives are outraged and liberals ecstatic, with predictions that an end or a new age has dawned for the Anglican Communion now that Canon Mary Glasspool is to become a bishop.

Following the March 17 announcement that a majority of US diocesan bishops had joined with a majority of dioceses to endorse Canon Glasspool’s election as Suffragan Bishop of Los Angeles, the conservative American Anglican Council (AAC) was the first to respond.

AAC president, the Rt Revd David Anderson, stated the announcement meant that the ‘majority of the Episcopal Church’s leaders – down to the diocesan level throughout America – are exercising no restraint as requested by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the primates of the Anglican Communion.’

He said the vote had come as ‘no surprise’ as the General Convention last year voted to relax its ban on gay bishops and blessings. Bishop Anderson said that the consecration of a second gay American bishop would serve as no obstacle to the US church’s endorsing the proposed Anglican Covenant, as it ‘has shown time and time again that it will not abide by traditional Christian and Anglican Communion teaching on marriage and sexuality.’

Dr. Kendall Harmon, Canon Theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina said he too was ‘saddened but not surprised by today’s news. This decision represents not simply a change in doctrine, nor a single change in practice, but an established pattern of common life. It is contrary to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the mind of the church catholic.’

The Chicago Consultation, a coalition of liberal Episcopal Church organizations applauded the vote. ‘Mary’s qualifications were never at issue,’ said the Very Revd Brian Baker, dean of Trinity Cathedral in Sacramento. ‘This has always been a question of whether our Church had the courage of its convictions. We are delighted to find out that it has.’

‘We salute the people of the Diocese of Los Angeles who were wise enough to elect Mary, the leadership of Bishop J. Jon Bruno, who worked hard to get her confirmed, and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which passed the legislation that made this great day possible,’ Dean Baker said. ‘Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, said that the arc of history is long, but that it bends toward justice. Today, more than most days, we can see that he was right.’

The gay Episcopal pressure group Integrity stated it also was ‘celebrating today’s announcement’ and looked forward to the consecration and to ‘the work and witness they will offer on behalf of the Gospel, not only for the Diocese of Los Angeles but for the whole church.’

‘Integrity continues in its commitment to turn the resolutions of General Convention into realities on the ground for Episcopalians in every diocese,’ Integrity President the Red. David Norgard said, adding this had been ‘good news not just for those who work for the fuller inclusion of the LGBT baptized, but for the whole church.’

‘Today the Episcopal Church said ‘Amen’ to what the Holy Spirit did in Los Angeles in December when we elected Mary Glasspool,’ the Revd Susan Russell said. The conservative Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) was less sanguine about claims of a divine hand being behind Canon Glasspool’s election. Jeff Walton said her ‘election is unfortunate because she has unapologetically taken sexual expression outside of the God-ordained boundary of Holy Matrimony. In the view of the wider Anglican Communion, this practice makes her unqualified to serve in the role of a bishop.

‘Glasspool’s election is the next step in the Episcopal Church’s liberalizing trajectory,’ he commented, adding that ‘consent to Glasspool’s election by the Episcopal Church shows how little the US-based denomination cares about what other parts of the global Anglican Communion believe.’


Donor pressure

Churches in Malawi have begun to talk openly about homosexuality, with some clerics saying this is due to pressure from donor organizations who criticise human rights’ abuses, including the arrest of gays, taking place in the southern African nation.

The Malawi Council of Churches [MCC] on 16 March held a meeting of church leaders to discuss issues around homosexuality, plus HIV and AIDS, and the need for churches to take a position on the issues.

‘As the Church we need to unite and come up with a position on the issue of homosexuality,’ MCC chairperson Bishop Joseph Bvumbwe told the meeting in the capital, Lilongwe. ‘There have been so many complaints about homosexuality in the country and, as the Church, we have a role to play.’

Homosexuality is a criminal offence in Malawi, and people convicted under this law can be jailed for up to 14 years. Currently, an openly gay couple, Steven Monjeza, aged 26, and 20-year-old, Tiwonge Chimbalanga, are being held in prison after they got publicly engaged in late December.

Malawi’s chief justice on 22 February dismissed an appeal by the gay couple, and they are currently on remand in a high-security jail in Blantyre awaiting a court verdict to be delivered on 22 March. Lawyers believe it is likely the two men will be sent to prison.

International organizations that support Malawi financially have warned that continued abuses of human rights, especially gay rights, might impact negatively on the country’s ability to obtain foreign aid.

‘When we talk about human rights, we do not talk only about the majority but also minority groups, like the continuing issue of homosexuals which needs to be looked into thoroughly,’ said Frank Kufakwandi, chairperson of the Common Approach to Budget Support, a grouping of major donor nations and international bodies supporting Malawi.

Reports in Malawi, which has more than 40% of the country’s budget coming from aid, say that individual countries who belong to CABS, such as Britain and Norway, have cautioned Malawi for its handling of gay issues. The support group is made up of the African Development Bank, Norway, Britain, Germany, the World Bank, the IMF and the European Commission.

Frank Jomo ND