Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bishop Orama's Courageous Biblical Christianity [Bishop Orama and Others Say he was Misquoted]

Probably by now you have heard that Bishop Orama of Oyo in Nigeria claimed

[9/14: As it turns out, Bishop Orama was--to the best of our knowledge--misquoted. While one might wish for better knowledge of just what happened, what was said, etc, it seems reasonable to conclude he did not make the following derogatory claims. Thus, so far as I can tell, he will not do as an example of a Reformed reconstructionist thinker, as I had earlier presumed when I originally wrote this post.

It seems what information has been gleaned and squeezed out is largely due to the laudable labor of bloggers on the conservative end of the Anglican spectrum who took it upon themselves to do whatever could be done to find out just what was said and done. Official, mainstream news agencies did relatively little by comparison to defuse this situation.

As the underlying question--what principled objection to Leviticus 20:13 is available to those reading Scripture primarily for its plain sense--remains significant IMO, I'll leave this up.]

Homosexuality and lesbianism are inhuman. Those who practice them are insane, satanic and are not fit to live because they are rebels to God's purpose for man...

Though one hopes Orama was completely misquoted, still, one might reasonably suspect that this opinion is authentic to Nigerian Anglicanism and the Global South faction; it might well be that strong, international criticism will serve not to change the opinion, but merely silence it, driving it underground where it can continue to operate unseen and unheard.

I. Curious Conservative Reactions
While some Western conservatives might disavow Orama's comments, one might be forgiven for wondering why they would bother.

[Update: Father Harmon says that I have interepreted him completely wrong; moreover, he is both stunned and displeased that his words could be so miscontrued. OK--fair enough: my apologies for the error. My mistaken interepretation about the nature of his objection read his content in a way that minimized the basis of what turned out to be his substantial disagreement.

But wait: this gets even more interesting. In these matters--understanding one another in times of intense passion--we lack omniscience, and what might seem like plain sense turns out--in reality--to be a betrayal of the message intended. My reading of +Harmon is a case in point: he sees my reading of his own words as a complete distortion of what he wanted to say.

The way to make sure the intended message gets through? The only way it seems to me is dialogue. If the necessary conditions for communication are broken, there would be no correction, no admission of a mistake on my part, and a considerably darker hardening of the heart.

Which is not at all to say hearts are tender; they are already quite hardened with scar tissue. It strikes me that this is at the very outer edge of dialogue, dialogue at second or third hand, tendons and such stretched to their snapping point. Is it worth at all it to stay engeged this way in such conditions?

One has to wonder whether some demonic intelligence might constitute a community like this by minimally embodied communication. The threat of exchanges devolving into vice more easily on account of abstraction from the flesh--for instance, me becoming disposed to read what so-and-so says in a negative way b/c I do not actually hear and see him, but get to project what I think he must sound and look like as he says such-and-such--gets magnified into a massive, metastasizing, invasive spiritual disease afflicting a great mass of people much quicker than if there were no internet at all.

I'm going to italicize my comments--which seem mistaken to me now--on +Harmon's post so that those disposed to see for themselves what I am talking about will be able to still take a look.]
Here's Father Kendall Harmon of T19:

These words are to be utterly repudiated by all of us--I hope and trust.

Well, why is that? He wrote (beackets added):

[1]We are all in the global village now, like it or not, and the world is indeed flat. So what we say needs to take seriously the resonances that it may bring out in contexts other than our own. There could hardly be a worse statement in a Western context than to say of ANYONE that he or she is "not fit to live." [2] It immediately brings to mind the Nazi language of Lebensunwertes Leben ("life unworthy of life") and in flood images and activities too horrendous and horrific for any of us to take in even at this historical distance from the events themselves.

According to [1], the problem is that others will hear--we live in a global village after all, and comments like this will gain a wide enough audience to most likely hurt the Separatist cause. Why? Part [2] gives Father Harmon's answer: it will remind hearers of Nazi language. And of course he is right about that. Bishop Orama is not a Nazi or fascist so far as I know, but he has no trouble employing their Eliminationist rhetoric. Some bishop.

But I am utterly stunned by Father Harmon's reasons for repudiating Bishop Orama's rhetoric. There is nothing specifically Christian--no laudable Biblical principle--invoked in Father Harmon's words. And there is nothing significantly moral either. The trouble with Bishop Orama's words is strictly instrumental: it will hurt the cause by bringing to mind Nazi depravity. I suppose such an instrumental reason could have a moral resonance for Father Harmon: the end--Separation--justifies the means perhaps. He did not say that Bishop Orama was in error, or that Bishop Orama's words were unscriptural or anti-Christian. The problem? Bishop Orama could hurt the cause.

Here is Greg Griffith of Stand Firm (I do not know if he is ordained like Father Harmon: no disrespect intended):

[1] About the horrible nature of the remark, the injury to the Christian witness it does, and yes, even the "rhetorical violence" it commits... I agree completely.

[2]Describing homosexuals as "unfit to live," or implying that that sentiment is in any way part of the Gospel message, is where I get off the bus. "Life not worthy of living" is the phrase Nazis used to describe Jews, dissenting Christian clergy, the physically handicapped, the mentally retarded, and anyone else who might spoil their vision of a pure Aryan world.

[3]If being homosexual makes one unfit to live, then being the kind of sinner Bishop Orama is makes him similarly unfit to live; and of course, that is not the Gospel of Jesus, not the Good News we have been entrusted by Christ to carry to the world.

I think it is pretty clear that Griffith does alot better than Father Harmon in stating his reasons for repudiating Bishop Orama's remarks. The remark has a "horrible nature" perhaps due to its "injury" to Christian mission and its "rhetorical violence." On the latter count, Griffith invokes comparisons with the Nazis in [2]. He goes further than Father Harmon, saying explicitly that the Nazi message of Elimination is not part of the Gospel message: thanks for that. Finally, in [3] there is some kind of half-baked argument that Bishop Orama deserves to die if homosexuals deserve to die--and that this is not the Gospel message.

While Griffith's response has unmistakable specific moral content, and even refers to the Goispel message, still it leaves one wondering. What exactly in the Gospel message contradicts Bishop Orama's message? It is odd--even comic--to see biblical conservatives in the tradition of Barth and Childs run to secular notions of moral good when push comes to shove. Guys, one does not need to hear the Good news of Christ to condemn Nazis, their Eliminationist rhetoric, and rhetorical violence: one can do that on purely secular moral grounds.

II. Throwing Down the Gauntlet
When push comes to shove, and Bishop Orama's remarks constitute a shove, does the Gospel vision of these--or any--Separatist, Anglican, biblical conservatives have the resources to issue a specifically Christian moral repudiation? Can they do better on this count than, to choose another extreme, Borg and Crossan?

Show me. I do not think you can do it, because any sound, specifically Christian moral argument that implies the events of GC2003 are permissible for Christians counts as an utter failure of the Separatist biblical vision. In other words, to make the argument condemning the bishop's remarks, you will end up conceding too much, and if you do not conceed too much, you will not be able to condemn the remarks.

Where is the crux of the problem? The problem is that Bishop Orama has the Bible--as construed by responsible Separatist interpretation--on his side. Leviticus is clear:

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

All Scripture is of a piece, and Christ did not come to obliterate any part of the Law--not a single iota! Bishop Orama respects the Bible enough not to claim to be a biblical Christian and just pretend. His Bible says homosexuals must die--what does Father Harmon's Bible say? Or Griffith's? After all, Scripture is clear in Leviticus. The difference might be simply that Bishop Orama has the courage to be consistent and lift up his vision of Scripture for all the world to see, whereas other self-styled conservatives insist on hiding this unsavory part--ashamed--under a bushel.

Careful: an appeal to Authority, like the authority of a great old interpreter, is a fallacy. You 'd have to extract the authority's argument and let the argument stand on its own merits, and you had better hope it stands.


At 11:28 AM, Blogger bls said...

Griffith leaves out "homosexuals," I notice, too, from his list of victims of the Nazis. What a shock. And that statement about the Bishop being "similarly unfit to live" is revolting, I think. It's apparently considered part of a Christian conservative's business to decide who's worthy of life and to announce this verdict to the world. That's the horror that people will see.

I've heard the phrase "unequally yoked" several times of late, and I just now understood the meaning. I feel sick, literally; it's horrific.

They both suck, if you ask me. And BTW, we haven't heard any Bishops calling for the death of adulterers, so it's a very selective Levitical morality, isn't it?

It's anti-gay hatred, IOW, that calls for the elimination of the Scapegoat. Nothing new in the world, is there?

At 11:32 AM, Blogger Christopher said...

I wrote of my anger. Having toured Bergen-Belsen and seen the images of so many gay men worked to death, this hits home.

At 11:40 AM, Blogger bls said...

I'm glad the underlying truth has come to the surface at last. Now we know exactly what we're dealing with - which is exactly what we've been saying all along. The truth will set us free.

We really need to start a new healthy-minded church, IMO; this old one is vicious and full of hatred and violence. It's spiritually deadly; we can't live under this regime any longer. TEC is a wonderful church, doing all the right things - and its reward is being bashed and thrashed and beaten for doing them.

As I said, there's nothing new in the world. We have to keep the faith, though, and be strong and keep moving ahead. Thanks to you, Scotist, for what you've doing here all this time - you help more than I think you know - and for all the others in TEC who have braved this with us. My eternal gratitude.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thank you for your kind words and for being angry too. Yes--it is a very sad moment of revelation, and something to remember.

The rhetoric of total elimination on the right is meant for homosexuals and the Episcopal Church alilke.

At least some, the most high-placed on the separatist right, really mean it. Bishop Orama sounds ready to push whatever buttons and pull whatever levers are necessary to make the vision of Leviticus spring to life.

What surprises me is how weak and equivocal the right-wing disavowals are. And no wonder, seeing that their attitude to biblical interpretation may tie them closer to Leviticus with all its--now thankfuly out in the open--Nazi connotations than they may be comfortable with.

A couple more things: with bls, I think there is a Scapegoat mechanism in play in the AC (who can doubt it?), and this has no proper business in Christianity whatsoever.

And was there ever a clearer reductio ad absurdum for a church faction?

At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I challenge any of these conservatives to live by what they preach about every form of "sin", because the results will not be mere manslaughter...

...and when they find they can't live by it, stop preaching the hatred!

The "gospel" these people preach - incidentally, one *about* Jesus not the one *preached by* Jesus - normally includes some idea that God is great and capable of forgiving anyone and that we should take God's greatness/mercy/love/forgiveness and show it to others. Therefore a failure to do so is hypocrisy.

I have a friend fairly deeply steeped in paganism but very well read and fully understanding of what Christianity supposedly stands for. In a recent conversation, it was pointed out that Christians have a wonderful message of God in love sending His Son to take away the sins of the world, so why are they not running around waving extravagantly trying to persuade everyone of the super-abundantly positive message?

At 1:32 PM, Blogger Anne said...


The gauntlet is not that difficult. No one, except perhaps an uninformed hyper-Calvinist, denies the uiniversal presence of the imago dei. We are "totally depraved" in the sense that every faculty is corrupted and twisted. We are fallen. But though fallen, the imago dei remains.

For that reason, though as rebels we all deserve eternal death, God has, in his mercy, graciously sustained his creatures and his creation and provided, through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ, a way back to the Garden.

Taking the Way requires faith: repentance, sacrifice, and is the way of the cross. But it is also the way of life.

The bishops words were heretical because they deny the imago dei and set a certain sub-set of sinners apart from others when in truth all have sinned. Those who commit sexual sins must repent as must we all. But they are no more worthy of death than any other sinner.

Matt Kennedy

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Anne said...

Oh, I see, you are resurrecting the more virulent form of the shellfish argument...the scriptures are in fact not of one piece. As you know Christ did not simply say that no jot or tittle of the law will ever be erased. He said, no jot or tittle will be removed until it is fulfilled.

And then we see in Mark 7, Acts 10 and, in fact, the whole argument of Hebrews, that Jesus, as the new Temple has provided the one atoning sacrifice necessary for the cleansing of all who believe. Therefore the Ceremonial laws of the levitical code that dealt with temple purity are no more.

This is explicity shown in scripture itself. Moreover, the civil laws, those punitive measures described in lev 20:18 were given for the kingdom of Israel. Israel is no more. Christ has replaced the old Kingdom with the new kingdom and he has not abrogated the punative laws, but fulfilled them, bearing them on the cross in his own body.

The Civil and Ceremonial laws have been fulfilled. The only laws the NT retains are those sometimes called moral. While Leviticus 20:18, for example, certainly belongs to the civil code. Leviticus 18:22 does not. And, moreover, it is carried forward by the apostle Paul in the New Testament.

This threefold distinction in the levitical law is not something the Church made up and can change at will, it is manifest in the scriptures themselves and the principle is enshrined in Article 7 of the 39 Articles:

"The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore there are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet, notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral."

Matt Kennedy

At 2:52 PM, Blogger Dave said...

Matt Kennedy+:

Perhaps this question might seem very obvious to you, but to a new Christian it does not. Who determines if a commandment in the Pentateuch is civil, ceremonial, or moral? What are the criteria for so determining? And if the proscriptions in Leviticus at issue refer to cultic prostitution, why are they deemed moral and not ceremonial?

At 3:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is painfully obvious that the Harmons, Kennedys, and Griffiths of the world are really not ashamed of the Bishop's words, unless those words hurt their "cause". None of us should think, even for a moment, that even though these people may (ever so gently) distance themselves from Orama's words that, deep down, they agree completely. I can, at least, say that Orama has the courage to put forth his hatered boldly and unashamedly, whereas his American counterparts do a much better job of hiding their hate under a bushel.

At 5:01 PM, Blogger Anne said...

really anonymous. I just called him a heretic? I think he should be asked to recant and then defrocked. It seems you would rather simply harbor hatred in your heart.

As for the distinctions episcosours: Civil laws are, generally speaking, differentiated by their punative content. For example, some laws simply say don't steal. This is defines theft as a violation and would probably be classed as moral. Other laws say: if someone is caught stealing do this to him...and describe some punative measure. The punitive aspect to the law is the civil code in that it tells civil authorities how to handle violations of the divine moral law.

Ceremonial laws are generally concerned wiht ritual cleanliness and purity. Laws regarding mold and rashes and food laws would fall into this category. These are dealt with in Acts 10, Mark 7 and the book of Hebrews.

Finally moral laws have to do with behavior...what is considered good and what is considered evil without respect to punishment.

Matt Kennedy

At 8:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read this awful critique and wonder what can possibly be the source of your not getting the conservative point of view? Is it that you have no understanding of the traditional Christian meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ? That this is the narrow door we must ALL enter by, through faith, repentance, and forgiveness of our sins? (And yes the narrow door is more than that but it is no less than that.) Why can't you get that the faith we conservatives hold to preaches Good News for ALL sinners? Even if you disagree with it?

To disagree that a particular manner of life is sinful is one thing. We can debate that and even disagree amicably. But to completely mischaracterize the conservative point of view so disdainfully is incredible.

Just because Bp. Orama doesn't seem to get that the Good News of the gospel is just as available to the sexual sinner as it is every other kind of sinner, doesn't mean the rest of the conservatives do as well. It is like you go on listening without hearing or something. Sheesh.

And just to be plain with you, the biblical witness is clear. We are all deserving of death. That is why Jesus died -- to deliver us from death. If he could have done it any other way he would have.

At 8:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, despite this flurry of right-wing American criticism of Orama's statement: Akinola is dead silent.

Minns is dead silent. AMiA, Duncan, Iker, John-David SweetiePie, every one of them dead silent.

There is no limit to their Gospel perversions.

At 5:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob+ says: "Is it that you have no understanding of the traditional Christian meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ? That this is the narrow door we must ALL enter by, through faith, repentance, and forgiveness of our sins?"

No. Some of us understand this message, the one that starts out by telling everyone they're evil suckers but it's alright really, and we don't consider it viable. (It took an atheist friend of mine to point out that this is solving a problem of your own making. Therefore it is argument from assertion.)

Consider your phrase `the narrow door we must all enter by' and ask yourself where it comes from: AD30, AD95 or AD1870-.

At 12:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to Stand Firm, the journalist who wrote the story is issuing an apology and a full retraction, saying that the Bishop never made those comments.

The line for apologies starts to the left...Scotist, would you like to start?

At 3:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if Akinola got his pal Minns to write Orama's denial letter / speech. Akinola's forgery and fakery know no bounds.

At 4:56 PM, Blogger bls said...

Ah, yes. Stand Firm; I believe everything I read on Stand Firm.

In any case, it's going to be a bit tough to believe any "retraction." UPI is owned by the ultra-right-wing Washington Times, and both are owned by Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.

The original story will be more credible to most people, I'm afraid. And of course, we have a raft of other such statements - which is why it's so easy to believe a story like this, and will continue to be so.

I won't hold my breath on a "retraction," IOW....

At 4:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tim, you clearly disagree that the scriptures are the word of God. Fine. But at least represent conservatives as believing so. Go ahead and take whatever words or understanding you think are right and have authoritive for yourself, even preach them if you like and we conservatives will take the scriptures and interpret them the same way they have always been interpreted. Just don't misrepresent us as saying something we are not. Christ died for all sinners. He, his cross, his resurection and ascension are the narrow door to eternal life and the Father. No conservative denies this grace to the homosexual sinner.

At 12:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


UPI had pulled the story.
You are a liar and a snake.

At 7:42 AM, Blogger Anne said...

It seems that the story was incorrect. The bishop was misquoted. I was operating on the assumption that it was true above...something I had not done in my article or earlier posts. I apologise to the bishop and to anyone who reads this thread. The words as quoted are heretical and vile. But they were not, thank God, the bishop's words

At 7:43 AM, Blogger Anne said...

That was me, matt, again. sorry

At 11:06 AM, Blogger bls said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 12:23 PM, Blogger bls said...

I'll let your post stand as is, anonymous.

In any case, it doesn't take away from anything that's been said on this thread. As I said above, we have a raft of other such statements from Anglican "religious leaders" and their followers, and the reason this story is (I said "is," since we haven't seen any "retraction") credible is because - well, because the viciously homophobic attitudes in the Anglican Communion, and elsewhere, lend it great credibility. The statement that the "Bishop was misquoted" is simply an assertion for now. If he was misquoted, he is owed an apology; however, we haven't heard anything from the reporter yet, so there's nothing more to add right now.

At 4:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bls, according to the UPI, the reporter has apologized and promised a retraction. It's a little more than an assertion. Just because the retraction has yet to be published doesn't mean it isn't false. But, you're too thick to accept that.

You know, you're response reminds me of a joke from an old comedian. Bob Hope, I think. He would tell a story about how his wife got mad at him for something he did in a dream she had. He asked her how she could get upset over something that happened in her imagination, and she said "Well, it just seems like something you would do".

Your response is just as frustrating, just as pathetic, and just as much a figment of your own imagination.

At 4:43 PM, Blogger bls said...

Just because the retraction has yet to be published doesn't mean it isn't false.

Exactly my point.

At 4:55 PM, Blogger bls said...

(Just so you know, anonymous: The Archbishop of Nigeria has called the election of Gene Robinson "Satanic," and has compared gay people unfavorably with animals. The Catholic Church refers to us as "evil," and one of its leaders has written that gay unions will "lead to the destruction of the world"; the Church also says that gay adoption "does violence to children." Numerous other Catholic clergy say that our way of life "threatens society" and that we are "destructive to the common good." Islamic governments put us to death. Conservative clergy routinely and daily call our love for our partners "sinful."

So it's really not strange to think that a clergyperson would openly say that we are "not fit to live." That's what all the above implies anyway. That's what's "pathetic.")


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