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New York Times on gay Pakistan: Get Religion, November 14, 2012 November 15, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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World Ends Tomorrow: Women and Minorities Hit Hardest!

Mort Sahl is usually credited with coining this “fake but accurateNew York Times headline. Though offered as sarcasm, Sahl’s joke has survived for 25 years because it encapsulates the world view many critics see in the Gray Lady’s reporting. The Time‘s intellectual outlook, its weltanschauung, is of an insular urban American establishment. Though this viewpoint is often expressed in the espousal of liberal politics — that is but a surface manifestation of the problem of Times reporting. The deeper issue is of a lack of awareness of issues and beliefs outside the ken of its reporters/readers — an incurious provincialism.

Last week’s 1400-word story on gays in Pakistan is an example of this problem. The article entitled “Gay Pakistanis, Still in Shadows, Seek Acceptance” looks at efforts of the gay subculture of Pakistan to achieve acceptance. There is a great deal to recommend in this story in terms of its local color, characters, and quotes. The “on the spot” work is well done.

Here is the lede:

LAHORE, Pakistan — The group meets irregularly in a simple building among a row of shops here that close in the evening. Drapes cover the windows. Sometimes members watch movies or read poetry. Occasionally, they give a party, dance and drink and let off steam.

A street in bustling Lahore. Displays of affection between men in public, like hugging and holding hands, are a common sight.

The group is invitation only, by word of mouth. Members communicate through an e-mail list and are careful not to jeopardize the location of their meetings. One room is reserved for “crisis situations,” when someone may need a place to hide, most often from her own family. This is their safe space — a support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pakistanis.

“The gay scene here is very hush-hush,” said Ali, a member who did not want his full name used. “I wish it was a bit more open, but you make do with what you have.”

That is slowly changing as a relative handful of younger gays and lesbians, many educated in the West, seek to foster more acceptance of their sexuality and to carve out an identity, even in a climate of religious conservatism.

Homosexual acts remain illegal in Pakistan, based on laws constructed by the British during colonial rule. No civil rights legislation exists to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.

But the reality is far more complex, more akin to “don’t ask, don’t tell” than a state-sponsored witch hunt. For a long time, the state’s willful blindness has provided space enough for gays and lesbians. They socialize, organize, date and even live together as couples, though discreetly.

This is well written in the sense of nicely constructed story line, vivid language, and detail. The author’s sympathies are clearly with its subjects — which is not surprising given the Times‘ outlook.

But there is so much that is unasked or unexplored in this story. And coupled with its dubious philosophical underpinnings it means the story just does not hang together. Let’s deal with the low hanging fruit among my criticisms first. The news that there is a gay subculture in Pakistan is hardly new. Western media outlets have written about this for years. The Times article is a nice color piece on the current state of affairs, but is not groundbreaking. Not all stories can be original or fresh, but this one, unlike NPR‘s 2004 story, has missed the role of religion — Islam — in the debate.

It is true to say that Pakistan’s sodomy law was crafted by the British in 1860. Section 377 states:

whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than two years nor more than ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offense described in this section.crimes against nature.

Yes I too wonder about the Victorians at times. The penal codes of India, Malaysia, Singapore, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Maldives and Jamaica contain the same language in their sodomy laws as Pakistan and are even labeled Section 377, while the laws of almost all of the Commonwealth nations had or have sodomy laws based upon this language. What is missing in this throw away line about the British being responsible for Section 377 is the introduction of Sharia law in Pakistan.

There are two legal codes at work in Pakistan — the secular British based Section 377 which is hardly ever used — and the modern Sharia law code which is.

The 2010 edition of the Spartacus International Gay Guide, a guidebook for male homosexual travelers, states with regard to the legal framework pertaining to homosexual activity and the situation of LGBT persons in Pakistan:

Homosexual activity is illegal, punishable according to Islamic Laws which were re-introduced in 1990 and according to paragraph 377 with life in prison, corporal punishment of 100 lashes or even death by stoning. Despite the strict laws of Islam regarding moral standards, gay men, transvestites and transsexuals live relatively undisturbed from the police. On the other hand they cannot expect much protection from the authorities. (p. 98)

At the tail end of the story, the Times reports on the U.S. State Department’s foray into the sexual politics of Pakistan.

That clash of ideologies was evident last year on June 26, when the American Embassy in Islamabad held its first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride celebration. The display of support for gay rights prompted a backlash, setting off demonstrations in Karachi and Lahore, and protesters clashing with the police outside the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad. This year, the embassy said, it held a similar event but did not issue a news release about it.

What the Times omitted to say was who was protesting and why. Getting an anti-American crowd going in Islamabad is not that difficult, but the Associated Press story about the incident stated it was religious leaders who were leading the the “Death to the Great Satan” crowds this time round. The AP wrote:

The group, which included the head of Pakistan’s largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, claimed the meeting — the first of its kind held by the embassy — was the second most dangerous attack by the U.S. against Pakistan, following missiles fired from unmanned drones. … “Such people are the curse of society and social garbage,” said the statement issued by the Islamic officials on Sunday. “They don’t deserve to be Muslim or Pakistani, and the support and protection announced by the U.S. administration for them is the worst social and cultural terrorism against Pakistan.”

By omitting to discuss Islam and homosexuality, and by not presenting the opposing view (disagreeable as it may be for the author) the Times has failed to report accurately. It also missed the opportunity of addressing the question “how came there to be a tolerant attitude towards homosexuality in Pakistan given the Islamic culture of the country?”

The answer is … Islam in Pakistan has changed over the past generation. The tolerant Sufi-dominated Islam of the past has given way to a Saudi Wahhabist Islam. In sum, not only does the Times fail to address the role religion plays in current attitudes towards gays and lesbians in Pakistan, it also fails to address how and why the current attitudes arose.

There is also a missed opportunity to explore what is hinted at by the discussion of the gay and lesbian identity. The Times notes that the “younger gays and lesbians, many educated in the West” differ from the older generation — but also differ from the rural and less affluent or educated persons with the same sexual orientation or nature.

What we have here is the Times defining sexuality such that true gayness is found only in its Western version. Older, rural, less sophisticated persons with same-sex attractions need to evolve — to come up to the Times standards of conduct and thinking. At heart, this article fails because of its blinkered vision of human autonomy.

As journalism the story is weak — no contrary views, no context, no religion — as a moral/intellectual enterprise it is blue-stockinged, blinkered and bourgeois.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in GetReligion.

Bishop calls on Jamaica to honour people power pledge: The Church of England Newspaper, January 13, 2012 p 6. January 12, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of the West Indies, Politics.
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Bishop Robert Thompson

The Bishop of Kingston has called upon the newly elected government of Prime Minister Portia Miller-Simpson to honour its “people power” pledge and not turn its back on the poor now that it has returned to office.

At an invocation delivered at the first meeting of the cabinet on 9 January, Bishop Robert Thompson, the suffragan bishop of Kingston, reminded the government of its pledge not to treat the poor as objects, but to include them in the life of the nation.

Drawing upon middle class fiscal discontent Mrs.  Miller-Simpson’s People’s National Party (PNP) expanded upon its working class base to return to office for the first time since 2007.  Among its campaign pledges, the PNP promised to break its current ties with the UK and establish a republic in time for the 50th anniversary of independence celebration this June, and to repeal Jamaica’s “Buggery Laws”, de-criminalizing homosexual conduct.

The liberal PNP trounced the rule conservative Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) of Prime Minister Andrew Holness at the 29 December 2011 election.  While the swing toward the PNP was only 3.7 per cent, with only 60,000 votes separating the parties out of 800,000 cast, the PNP won the majority of closely contested districts, giving it 42 seats to the JLP’s 21 in parliament.

Unemployment is presently running at 13 per cent in Jamaica, and in the poorer neighborhoods of Kingston it climbs to 60 per cent among the young.  Approximately 43 per cent of the population lives on below the poverty line of $2.50 a day, the IMF reports, while Jamaica’s state debt has ballooned to $18.6 billion – accounting for a third of the country’s GDP.

The JLP was also hurt by its purported links to organized crime.  The former government of had opposed the extradition to the U.S. on narcotic charges of criminal kingpin Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, leader of the Shower Posse gang.  Coke was arrested in May 2010 after a combined police/army raid on his headquarters in Kingston left 70 dead.

In a widely reported sermon preached on 1 Jan 2012 at the Kingston Parish Church, Bishop Thompson noted that successive governments had courted the votes of the poor, but ignored them after taking office.

“It never fails to amaze me, that when successive governments speak about a social contract, the poor are usually excluded from the equation,” said the bishop. “We make a terrible mistake when we assume that the poor have nothing to contribute to the social capital.”

“History teaches us that when the gap grows between the rich and the poor, when the middle gets increasingly squeezed, and those at the bottom are almost completely forgotten, social bonds begin to unravel and resentment sets in,” the bishop said.

“The poor must not be seen as the subject of our benevolence, but as part of the social capital for national development,” he argued.

“When you don’t believe you belong, you are not likely to make sacrifices for the greater good. I hope our new prime minister will be someone who promotes the [common good] by being open and available to others while, at the same time, affirming their self-worth. Nothing short of that will work in the Jamaica of today,” Bishop Thompson said.

West Indian church rejects call to decriminalize homosexuality: The Church of England Newspaper, Aug 5, 2011 p 5. August 10, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of the West Indies, Marriage.
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Bishop Philip Wright of Belize

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Anglican Diocese of Belize has joined the country’s other Churches in opposing reform of the Caribbean nation’s sodomy laws.

Bishop Philip Wright of Belize, along with Roman Catholic Bishop Dorick Wright and the president of the Belize Evangelical Association, the Rev Eugene Crawford, have urged the government to stand fast against attempts to decriminalise homosexual conduct.

In May, the Belize Council of Churches stated it would seek to join as interested parties the case of Caleb Orozco and the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) against the Attorney General of Belize. The Orozoco case challenges the constitutionality of Section 53 of the Belize Criminal Code, Chapter 101 which prescribes 10 years imprisonment for “unnatural crime,” defined as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal.”

Gay advocacy groups along with the International Commission of Jurists, the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and the Human Dignity Trust are seeking to overturn the law, and have engaged the former Attorney General of Belize and the former British Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, to argue their case in December before the country’s high court.

In May, Anglican and Roman Catholic Bishops and the president of the Evangelical Association criticised the lawsuit as being “heavily influenced by foreign interests who seek to impose a worldview that directly contradicts the supremacy of God as reflected in our laws, challenges our national sovereignty, and threatens our very way of life, not least by targeting our children.”

Decriminalising homosexuality was the thin edge of the wedge that would see homosexual behaviour transformed into a “right” that would inevitably see it promoted as a morally neutral behaviour, the bishops said.

“This homosexual agenda insists upon the promotion of homosexual acts in the schools and society, undermining the rights of parents as primary educators of their children and targeting even grammar school children under the guise of ‘comprehensive’ sexual education programmes that promote sodomy and immoral behaviour. It also demands that same-sex marriage must be recognised, and that no group may object to this agenda on religious or moral grounds,” the bishops said.

“Let us be clear what is at stake here,” they said. “In every country that has granted a new ‘right’ to homosexual behaviour, activists have promoted and steadily expanded this ‘right’ to trump universally recognised rights to religious freedom and expression.

On 26 July, the Belize Council of Churches — representing the majority of denominations in the West Indian country — stated that homosexual practices were sinful and contrary to the natural order.

They stated the arguments put forward by UNIBAM “on sex and sexuality”, on “sexual orientation and behaviour,” on the “concept of the family and on human reproduction” and on the moral good of “same-sex marriage” were “biblically unfounded and theologically unsound.”

The laws of Belize “reflect God’s law,” the Churches said and “all changes in the Constitution of Belize that will not promote the sanctity of human sexual relations as established by God,” should be rejected by the courts, the Churches said.

Four U.S. Bishops Endorse Call for Repentance: TLC 9.21.04 September 2, 2004

Posted by geoconger in 74th General Convention, Central Florida, Dallas, Living Church, South Carolina, Southwest Florida.
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First printed in The Living Church magazine.

The bishops of Dallas, South Carolina, Central Florida and Southwest Florida have endorsed an international proposal calling for the expulsion of the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion unless it repents within two years of the decisions taken by the 74th General Convention.

The Rt. Rev James M. Stanton, Bishop of Dallas; the Rt. Rev. Edward Salmon, Bishop of South Carolina; the Rt. Rev. John W. Howe, Bishop of Central Florida; and the Rt. Rev. John Lipscomb, Bishop of Southwest Florida, were joined by overseas and U.S. bishops and other church leaders in endorsing a submission prepared by the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI) to the Lambeth Commission on Communion (LCC) titled “Drawing the Line.”

“Drawing the Line” calls for a “clear and publicly recognized distinction between the continuing Anglican Communion and those provinces whose witness diverges from the Communion.”

The Episcopal Church “must therefore be seen and known to be a quite separate church or denomination” from Anglicanism. The consequences of the August votes by the 74th General Convention affirming the election of a partnered homosexual priest as Bishop of New Hampshire and recognizing rites for the blessing of same-sex unions have become “too literally, a ‘life and death’ issue” for Churches in the developing world and in Muslim majority countries, the paper averred.

The document states that neither the Episcopal Church nor the Anglican Church of Canada should be permitted to “use the label ‘Anglican’ in a way that identifies them as part of the Anglican Communion.” The paper argues that should the two churches desire a continuing relationship with Canterbury, it “must be of a qualitatively different kind from that which Canterbury will maintain with (what will become) the continuing Communion.”

The signatories ask that a démarche be given by the primates to General Convention that declares the Episcopal Church has “entered a period of restorative discipline, the purpose of which is to provide time for your reconciliation to the larger Communion and its teaching.” This discipline “will come into force with immediate effect” for “up to 2 years” and failure to recant would be “taken as a clear and conscious signal that you yourselves are unwilling to continue as constituent members of the Anglican Communion.”

African Provinces Cut Financial Ties with U.S.: TLC 4.27.04 April 27, 2004

Posted by geoconger in CAPA, Living Church, The Episcopal Church.
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First printed in The Living Church.

The Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA) has called upon the Lambeth Commission to discipline the Episcopal Church for unilateral changes to church teaching on sexuality, and as a mark of its resolve, stated it would no longer accept financial assistance from American dioceses and organizations which seek to normalize homosexual behavior.

Meeting in closed-door session outside Nairobi, Kenya, April 13-14, representatives from 11 of Africa’s 12 provinces, with observers from six other provinces, debated the Global South’s continuing role in the Anglican Communion.

While making room in the agenda for a discussion of the humanitarian crisis in the Sudan, unrest in the Middle East, reconstruction in Rwanda, and a constitutional stalemate over the election of a new primate for West Africa, the bulk of the meeting sought to articulate a common African response to the American branch of the Communion.

While rejecting calls to break with the Anglican Communion at this time, CAPA did reaffirm its support for the Church’s traditional teachings on sexual ethics and morals. CAPA further asked the primates’ theological commission “to call ECUSA to repentance, giving it a three-month period to show signs of such repentance.”

If the Episcopal Church does not respond appropriately after the Lambeth Commission task force issues its report next year, “discipline should be applied.”

The president of CAPA, the Most Rev. Peter Akinola of Nigeria, noted that breaking the financial tether binding the African provinces to the Episcopal Church would sting as the bulk of CAPA’s support came from the U.S., but was essential to the Church’s health.

Archbishop Akinola noted that U.S. parishes which continue to uphold historic Church teaching on sexuality would not be affected, even if they were geographically resident in revisionist dioceses. “We are not against every church in the America. We are not against everyone in the West,” he said.

Historic day in New Hampshire: TLC 11.10.03 November 10, 2003

Posted by geoconger in Living Church, New Hampshire.
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First printed in The Living Church magazine.

Months of suspense, speculation and widely divergent predictions about the future of the Christianity reached a climax in Durham, N.H. Nov. 2 with the consecration and ordination of the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson as Bishop Coadjutor of New Hampshire.

Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold was the chief consecrator in a three-hour ceremony at the Whittemore Hockey Center on the campus of the University of New Hampshire before a congregation estimated at about 3,000. Almost immediately following the consecration primates from 20 of the 37 international provinces of the Anglican Communion said they would not recognize the ordination of a non-celibate homosexual person to the episcopacy and therefore a state of impaired communion existed between their provinces and the Episcopal Church.

In a fiery sermon that highlighted the current divisions, the Rt. Rev Douglas Theuner, soon to retire as Bishop of New Hampshire, compared the current discord over the morality of homosexual conduct to past arguments over slavery, divorce and remarriage. These arguments then were “about control, about power, about who is in and who is out, about who is right and who is wrong,” as were the current arguments that seek to deny a place in the Church to the outcast and marginalized, he said. The consecration of Gene Robinson, Bishop Theuner argued, was not a hindrance toward unity, but a mark of its fullness. Addressing his words to Bishop-elect Robinson, Bishop Theuner said, “Because of your presence, the episcopate will be more a symbol of unity than it ever has been.”

Numerous heavily armed police and additional security personnel were an unmistakable presence throughout the campus, and consecration planners took numerous precautions, which included restricting most protesters from campus property. Three formal objections did occur during the presentation of testimonials: the Rev. Earle Fox of Alexandria, Va., Meredith Harwood, of Orford, N.H., and the Rt. Rev David Bena, Bishop Suffragan of Albany. Bishop Bena, who spoke last, read a prepared statement endorsed by 36 other bishops from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada asking Bishop Griswold not to “put the future of the Communion in jeopardy.”

Bishop Griswold, who momentarily appeared flustered when Fr. Fox began with a graphic description of sex between men, interrupted during the reading of the first objection and asked the reader to make his point. After the last objection was read, Bishop Griswold thanked “our brothers and sisters in Christ for bringing their concerns before us” but noted the stated concerns already had been addressed.

The primates, Bishop Griswold said, believe that unity of doctrine is subsidiary to the desire for unity. The primates, he said, “register the deep sense upon them that the highest level of communion be maintained.” He added that the primates recognize that truth is not universal. It is specific to time, place and culture. “As Anglicans we are learning to live with the mystery of union at a much deeper level, below the level of civility; understanding one another’s contexts, one’s struggles to articulate the gospel in different places. I think that is precisely what we are doing here and therefore we shall proceed,” he concluded.

Addressing the congregation before the exchange of the Peace, Bishop Robinson sounded an optimistic note, thanking those present for their support while acknowledging the discord his consecration would cause. “There are people, faithful, wonderful Christian people, for whom this is a moment of great pain and confusion and anger,” he said. “Our God will be served if we are hospitable and loving and caring toward them in every way we possibly can muster.”