August 24, 2007

Ghost in the Machine

It came as no surprise to me to see that, according to a report in The Church Times, Archbishop Akinola’s recent agonized public letter was apparently ghosted, or at least very heavily edited, by someone other than the Archbishop. That it seems to have been Martyn Minns also comes as no surprise. (He is, after all, the Archbishop’s North American Representative.)

The reason I was not surprised lies in the text itself. Anyone who has heard the Archbishop speak or read transcripts of interviews with him, or any of his doubtlessly authentic writings, could see the difference in style between those texts and the agonized letter immediately. One could easily say the same concerning Archbishop Orombi, whose ghost writer is probably much closer to him than Abuja is to Fairfax. It does not take computer analysis to recognize such differences or similarities in style.

However, it would be quite wrong to suggest that these archbishops are no more than sock puppets for an American conservative point of view. It may be that the holy ghost writers, far from putting words into the mouths of those for whom they perform this not-so-unusual editorial function, are helping to restrain some of the more exuberant language in which the archbishops have been known to indulge, and to help frame their ideas in a form more palatable to a broader audience. So there is no need to raise the specter of colonial imperialism to join the ghost of authorship. Doubtless Akinola and Orombi both agree with the sentiments and ideas expressed above their names, whether the words are their own or not. Theories of verbal inspiration aside, it is ultimately the meaning that counts.

And it is the meaning that is wrong. As I said in my previous post, The Episcopal Church is not going to hell in a handbasket. Erroneous or heretical views may be expressed by individuals from time to time — and this happens among self-styled reasserters at least as often as it does among reappraisers, and in churches other than The Episcopal Church. But in spite of the publicity — and book sales — attendant on these fringe episodes, they remain precisely that — the reflections of a “heretic fringe.” There is no doubt some overlap between those who favor a revised understanding of the moral status of same-sexuality with those who embrace the odd heretical view; but there is also significant overlap between those who are opposed to such a revision and those who embrace heretical views.

For example, some years ago in the early stages of discussion on sexuality, the House of Bishops Theology Committee issued a document that stated that the divine image in humanity is incomplete without both male and female. (Karl Barth and John Paul II both made similar statements in their arguments against same-sexuality.) This erroneous idea contradicts the doctrine of the Incarnation, which asserts that the divine image in humanity is complete in Jesus Christ, and present in every human being. (The Angelic Doctor addressed this error at I.Q93.6.) It should serve as a warning to all concerned to see how far from orthodoxy some can wander — apparently without noticing it — in their efforts to “reassert” the church’s tradition on sexuality.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter to me where bad ideas come from — or good ones for that matter. Whether the words come from Abuja or Alexandria, from the Vatican or Cape Town — or even from the Bronx! — their meaning and significance must be weighed for their concordance with the heart of the gospel as revealed in Jesus Christ, and in accordance with his teaching. He is the standard of Truth against which all our theories must be tested.

Tobias Haller BSG


Anonymous said...


I made a post on Jakes for you. It's not a criticism. I think knowing who's writing and pulling the strings is important. It might help us be more pro=active instead of reactive. You actually one of my favorite reads.

Peace, Bob

W said...

Tobias, I agree with your analysis here. I was thinking that perhaps Big Pete thought that Marty was the better writer. either way, no matter who wrote the documents, Big Pete signed off on them.

Thomas Williams said...

I love the expression "heretic fringe." Do I have to footnote you when I use it?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Bob, as I commented at Jake's, I don't think being aware of this process is unimportant. I think Minns' agenda, though, is more to make Akinola palatable to a wider audience; and also to pitch the whole case towards eventual compliance with the Virginia "division of denomination" law -- and the wider they can cast the net (by bringing in charges of heresy and "a different faith") the more they imagine they can make that case -- which for Minns strikes very very close to home.

In any case, it appears that Minns and Akinola are unrepentant homotextuals.

Thanks Weiwen. That is, in the long run, the most important point.

And to you, Postulant, I commend the use of the term, which I think sums things up.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Posted for Jim Naughton:

Tobias, as I said over at Jake's, I think you and others are overlooking an essential point. Much of Akinola's influence within the Communion is based on the erroneous perception that he speaks for millions of African Anglicans who believe that differences over homosexuality constitute a Communion-breaking issue. It is becoming increasingly clear that he does not, that, indeed, American and British voices outnumber African voices among his closest advisors. The point is not whether the sentiments expressed in the letter are his, but whether they are representative of the thought of anyone outside of a coterie of homophobic Primates (Akinola, Orombi, Kolini, Nzimbi) and the American and British evangelicals Minns, Sugden, Atwood, Barfoot, Noll) who support them with human and financial resources. To put it another way, it isn't a matter of whether we are hearing the voice of Akinola, but whether we are hearing the voice of Africa. And it is becoming increasingly clear, especially in the wake of the very productive gathering of American and African bishops in Spain last month, that we are not.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


I guess part of my reason for not seeing it this way is that I've never believed Akinola "spoke for Africa" -- or, indeed, that there is an "African" position on this beyond the spin of the "Global South." But I do beleive that Akinola speaks for a point of view that is well represented in Africa -- witness the votes at Lambeth 1998. So while I agree that a "coterie of Primates" is the main problem, they do represent a point of view beyond themselves and those who are bankrolling/influencing/assisting them.

As I've noted before, my own parish is about 20% Nigerian and 50% West Indian -- and my members have very little respect for Akinola or Gomez. But that homophobia exists in both places, and that it is not limited to episcopal palaces, is a reality I am all too sad to relate.