Akinola, Repudiate Anti-Gay Violence

July 29, 2008

UK Grants Asylum to Davis Mac-Iyalla; Now the Rest of the Story

Davis Mac-Iyalla wearing my Purdue sweatshirt, under my crucifix in my home office.

I am pleased to note that the United Kingdom has granted the asylum petition of Davis Mac-Iyalla, the Nigerian Anglican Gay activist, with whom I’ve had frequent dealings.

The decision comes smack in the middle of the Lambeth Conference, where bishops of the worldwide Anglican Communion are in the midst of an orchestrated crackup over homosexuality.

The British government’s asylum decision has been reported in The Times of London, among many other media outlets. The news has been greeted with howls of outrage by anti-Gay zealots eager to preserve a favorable image of Archbishop Peter Akinola and the Church of Nigeria (Anglican), who have persecuted Mac-Iyalla for years as an embarassment to their anti-Gay crusade.

I know Mr. Mac-Iyalla better than anyone else in the United States, having served as sponsor of his six-week, coast-to-coast American tour last year. We spent every day and evening together, living in the same hotels and homes, sometimes in the same room.

I believe the British Government has made the proper decision in his case. Now that he is presumably safe, I am free to tell what I know of this man, one of the “World’s 50 Most Influential Anglicans.”

I do not like Davis Mac-Iyalla, nor do I trust him. But I believe him.

Indeed, I brought him to the United States last year to save his life from Church-inspired violence.

I was present when he met with an immigration attorney at the offices of Episcopal Migration Ministries in New York. We were there to evaluate the case for Davis’s applying for asylum in the U.S. The attorney pronounced it a very winnable case, though the U.S., like the U.K., does not generally look favorably upon impoverished Africans with sob stories.

Davis was not particularly convincing during this meeting, for which he arrived late. We’d had a disagreement about how to get from Chelsea Square to 815 2nd Avenue. He insisted on taking a taxi, while I told him as a steward of Episcopalians’ money that a bus would be fast, efficient and cheaper.

Once he arrived, he began telling his story of persecution in Nigeria in his laborious, roundabout way. To save time, I provided the lawyer with numerous documents obtainable on the internet, including an eyewitness report in The New York Times of the first secretive meeting of Davis’s LGBT Anglican organization, Changing Attitudes. Other documents included the Nigerian Church’s written smear campaign against Davis, photographs of his first Communion, his commissioning as a lay minister in the Nigerian Diocese of Otupko and a copy of a written death threat. I also provided evidence of Archbishop Akinola’s promotion of a draconian bill in the Nigerian Parliament that would have criminalized with a 14-year term any public or private meeting of LGBT Nigerians or their friends; I called it the “No Gay Lunch” law. I showed that the U.S. State Department under Secretary Condoleeza Rice had denounced the proposed bill and warned the Nigerian government its enactment would be an abuse of human rights.

The American lawyer found these documents convincing. Meanwhile we were also pursuing a request for an investigation by the United Nations’ “special rapporteur” for human rights.

Despite the attorney’s favorable recommendation, Davis chose not to pursue an asylum request, which was entirely within his rights. Richard Parkins, the Episcopal Church’s director of Migration Ministries, had counseled me not to try to persuade Davis, but simply to lay out the case. No one, Parkins said, has the right to tell another person to uproot himself from his country of origin for an unknown future elsewhere. I disagreed with Davis’s decision, but I accepted it.

The U.K.’s asylum decision is for me the best possible outcome; Davis can live in freedom and I don’t have to put up with him in the United States.

I found his private behavior over the six weeks we were together to be rude, manipulative, arrogant, spendthrifty and destructive. He was continually sexually predatory, in ways both disgusting and laughable. Our tour nearly broke apart in Chicago after the first week; I had to seek the intervention of two Lesbian priests who were hosting us. I also had to warn Bishop Gene Robinson, who had consented to a joint appearance with Davis at a Pride Week Eucharist in New York, of the difficulties Davis’s behavior presented, so that the bishop would not be embarassed by the association.

Earlier in Cleveland, the Dean of Trinity Cathedral, Tracey Lind, had to send her curate the Rev. Judith Alexis to fetch Davis to attend a Choral Evensong, after which a dinner was held in his honor. Though I had warned Davis of the time, I could not pry him loose from an explicit Gay website (silverdaddies.com) offering dating and chats with “sugar daddies.” He was in mid-chat and he wasn’t about to lose a live prospect. Ms. Alexis, Caribbean-born, her hair in dreadlocks, finally dragged him into the nave.

The entire tour was like that, but we managed to keep it together. He “scored” twice, both times while we were resident at American seminaries.

He did manage to keep up his appearances, and though he never became expert at presenting an overview of Nigerian LGBT Anglicans’ experience, dawdling too long on his own story and failing to connect it with the larger, even global issues, he can be an eloquent and powerful speaker. He managed to “nail” his speech once in Tucson, Arizona, ironically in a large parish that was more indifferent to him than any of his other venues.

He was also moderately effective in two appearances before the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council in Parsippany, New Jersey—visits I arranged with the help of Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies. We sat together at dinner that night.

Davis is occasionally prone to hyperbole and exaggeration, though I never heard him say, in his public appearances, a single thing that wasn’t true. One can question some of his interpretations of events and personalities in the Church, particularly the role of Archbishop Akinola and his associates, but Davis is a credible, dedicated and self-sacrificing advocate for LGBTs in West Africa and in the Anglican Communion. For that I respect him and call him my brother.

It is immoral, wrong and sinful to persecute this man. Archbishop Akinola and his allies—African, British, Australian and American—must answer for their encouragement of anti-Gay violence, whether physical, verbal, written or ecclesiastical. It is the Church itself they are attacking, to enhance their own power and wealth.

Indeed, the maintenance of power and wealth are always the sources of homophobic bigotry. That’s why the Archbishop of Canterbury acts as he does at the Lambeth Conference, to maintain the power and wealth of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

All over Africa, politicians allied with religious leaders incite anti-Gay violence and scapegoating. From Nigeria to Zimbabwe, Ghana to Uganda and Kenya, the cooperation of Anglican Churches in transparent schemes with the local strongman is an international scandal.

Davis himself is very familiar with this system of corruption; indeed for the first 30 years of his life, until he came out as Gay, he benefited from it. He grew up amidst fabulous wealth as the son of a Nigerian Army colonel. When we stayed overnight in the lovely home of a Gay American couple, renovated with taste and class and overlooking the Hudson River near West Park, New York, Davis dismissed his surroundings as “no better than my father’s children’s quarters.”

That he managed to say this, while living in a hovel in Togo, took my breath away.

Davis unfortunately understands gifts and bribes as “the way the world works.” Remember his constant visits to that “sugar daddy” website in the U.S.? If he had met a wealthy older man here, he’d have applied for asylum last year.

But his decision to leave his father’s home, to enter into poverty and danger, to subject himself to international abuse, even to give up his beloved Nigeria, in order to advocate for LGBTs in Africa and in the Church shows just how authentic, believable and faithful his witness is.

I do not like Davis Mac-Iyalla, I do not want him near me—but I recognize the Christ in him.

I will go to my grave proclaiming that the Holy Spirit got Davis that U.S. visa in 2007, after he’d been denied entry two years ago by both the U.S. and U.K. Mr. Parkins advised, two members of Congress helped, Episcopalians gave donations and issued invitations and I did my part coordinating a thousand pieces, but it was the Spirit of God Himself that moved the bureaucratic mountain and brought Davis to temporary safety.

If God be for him, who can be against him?

Who else stands for Nigerian Gay people against the entire edifice of Anglicanism? No wonder Akinola and Williams are so afraid.

One could never know this from iconography or Renaissance paintings, but as often as not, saints stink. To which Gene Robinson advises, “Love them anyway.”++

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