Tuesday, June 07, 2011

When Arm-Twisting Turns Evil

For the record, our tongue was in our cheek when we suggested, yesterday, that we would have enjoyed watching the Archbishop of Canterbury make somebody cry. A display of resolution is one thing; cruelty is another.

Speaking of Anglicans, gay people, arm-twisting and cruelty, we have the case of Nolbert Kunonga, the deposed and excommunicated bishop of Harare. Kunonga is a close ally of Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF, which means that he has enough political support to continue posing as an Anglican bishop, to muster a gang of supporters, and even to win a few legal judgments regarding property. Of course, being an ally of Mugabe also means that he is closely connected to a network of violent thugs, who will use any means at all, including murder, to achieve their ends. And in fact, Kunonga has been accused for many years of orchestrating violent crimes.

Among these is the rape, mutilation and strangulation of an octogenarian lay minister named Jessica Mandeya, as well as a series of death threats threats and home invasions directed toward other Anglicans who will not accept his authority.

To these accusations, Kunonga gives a chilling response:

“You must have a very good reason to kill people,” he said. “Being a political scientist, I know who to eliminate if I wanted to physically, and to make it effective. I’m a strategist.”

Mr. Kunonga added, “If I want to pick on people to kill, [the recognized bishop, Chad] Gandiya would not survive here.” As for allegations that he and his men were involved in Mrs. Mandeya’s killing, Mr. Kunonga retorted, “What would an illiterate 89-year-old woman do to me to deserve death or assassination?”

Brrr. This is from Celia Duggan's recent article in the Times. Between the lines, it seems to say "I admit nothing, but when I do kill people, I'm very good at it."

There is a sex angle here, too, although to our eyes it seems strained:

Mr. Kunonga often echoes Mr. Mugabe’s favorite themes, including the president’s loathing for homosexuality. This issue provided Mr. Kunonga’s rationale for withdrawing from the mainline Anglican church in 2007.

He claimed homosexual priests and congregants had gained influence in the church, though mainline church leaders here, as a matter of policy, do not conduct same-sex marriages or ordain gay priests. Bishops in the mainline church saw Mr. Kunonga’s move as a power grab.

So, let us get this right. Kunonga -- rather like poor Colin Coward, not to mention Tailgunner Joe of yore -- has a list of gay priests. And so, even though the church in Zimbabwe doesn't take a particularly soft official line on homosexuality, he used this to justify schism at the least and, well, murder at the worst? (If he didn't like the church's policy, weren't there some committee members he could have reduced to tears?)

Frankly, we're going to call bushwah on this gay thing. African Christianity in general is not especially hospitable to gay people; the divide seems to be between those who hate them and those who want to kill them. We expect that Kunonga is using "gay priests" as a bogey-man, so that, to a certain kind of socially conservative foreigner, he can look like "one of those Southern Cone Anglicans you hear about," when he's really more like Hermann Goering.

Like many less frankly evil political figures in other countries, Kunonga hopes to rally sympathy for himself personally, by making people think that he is their ally against the Great Lavender Satan. This would be merely callous and cynical if it were not, in context, also homicidal.

Over at GetReligion, Terry Mattingly complained about the Times article, but did himself no credit in the process. He proposed that the article was short on certain key details, which is true -- all newspaper articles are short of some details. We ourselves would like very much to know more about the church polity details, which are pretty complicated. When an Anglican diocese withdraws, as Harare did under Kunonga, the whole province apparently needs to be reconstituted. Did that happen here? Or did Kunonga's deposition moot that requirement? All of this is likely to bear on the church-property cases brought into Zimbabwe's civil courts.

But Terry, as he so often does, thinks that the important details are doctrinal -- what does Kunonga believe that Chad Gandiya does not? That seems beside the point to us, but okay. Our real concern is the way Terry went about posing the problem.

First, he points out that Kunonga has a degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, the Methodist school where Rosemary Radford Ruether teaches, Ruether being "an articulate Catholic feminist who is on the far left edge of the Vatican’s most fiery critics." (It helps to know that the use and abuse of the word "evangelical" is a regular GR theme. It also helps to know that many seminaries manage to employ professors with sharply divergent theological and social views, so that the presence of, say, Mark [Lewis] Taylor at Princeton doesn't mean that Bruce McCormack is either a Schliermacher fan or a Communist).

Then he poses two possibilities:
I think it’s possible that many if not most readers would do the following math — “evangelical” seminary plus opposition to homosexuality means that this rebellious bishop, who may or may not have blood on his hands, is another one of those crazy African Anglicans on the right that the Times has told us so much about.
Possible, although it seems like a stretch. It seems like more dots than most readers are likely to connect, especially wrongly. But then he asks ....
... is there another scenario? After all, this brilliant anti-colonialist political scientist with a doctorate from a high-quality liberal campus (who is fighting the conservative Anglican bishops on his conservative continent) may be something completely different. Might be be rather complex, some twisted combination of liberal beliefs and totalitarian tactics?

Do we know that for sure?

No, we don’t. Again let me say: No. We. Do. Not. Know.

You see, we don’t have enough information.

You see what he did there? First, he accused the Times of dropping dark hints, which we don't think it actually did, and then he dropped some dark hints of his own. Which we think he did on purpose. Kind of cheesy.

Now, Terry Mattingly didn't just declare that Nolbert Kunonga is a classic American liberal Christian, steeped in the doctrines of feminism and liberationism, and that it is just these liberal theological ideas which have led him to rebel against a traditionalist African church body. He didn't just attempt to blame Rosemary Radford Ruether for the death of Jennifer Mandeya.

But he didn't exactly not do it, either. He certainly provided a superficially plausible scenario, by which the sort of ill-informed and knee-jerkingly biased reader he imagines hissing at the word "evangelical" might begin to argue that liberals are all Stalinists. Let us repeat that: He. Did. Not. Say. It. But you can bet that somebody else will.

Anyhoo, our real point here is that Kunonga is a creep of the first order. The very fact that we at the Egg are whining about one of our favorite bloggers is a sign of how effectively his "blame the gays" strategy works to provide him with protective cover in the West. And the longer he keeps us thinking that the problems in the Zimbabwean church are about our favorite Western controversy, the longer he keeps us from looking closely at his own all-too-typically African moral turpitude.

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