The New York Times has taken a lot of heat from liberals since the invasion of Iraq. But in the kind of coverage that makes me a loyalist, the Times has chosen Christmas Day to run a profile of Archbishop Peter Akinola, the notoriously homophobic leader of the Anglican Church in Nigeria who was tapped to lead the Virginia Episcopal churches that recently seceded over the appointment of an openly gay bishop.
The story begins with Akinola telling the story of the only time he has knowingly shaken a gay person's hand and how "he sprang backward the moment he realized what he had done."
But it doesn't lapse into crude caricature of Akinola. No, it puts his gay-hating in a post-colonial context. Akinola is using American churches' paranoid homophobia to fuel his grab for power in the global Anglican church, whose center is Canterbury, England. Church leaders from developing countries have long felt marginalized, the story says.
Indeed, Akinola's rabid intolerance of homosexuality is close to the cultural norm in Nigeria, a country that is debating laws that would punish any expression of gay identity—including two gay people sharing a meal in public—with jail time. The article quotes Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies saying the Christian church in Nigeria "is in the midst of Islam. Should the church in this country begin to teach that it is appropriate, that it is right to have same sex unions and all that, the church will simply die."
So homophobia is a weapon against the colonial power—which is itself fairly ambivalent on the issue—in a battle to hold onto the colonizer's faith. The seceding Virginia churches have allowed Akinola to colonize a little on his own. But those churches have a long, distinguished political history in the U.S. (George Washington attended one), and it seems quite obvious that Akinola's power over them will end as soon as it becomes inconvenient. But for now, they are more comfortable aligning themselves with Akinola's views of homosexuality than with the Episcopal church's.
This is the Times' Christmas coverage of religion. Peace on earth and goodwill to men. And women.