Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fanning the flames of hatred...

I ran across this cartoon in the Guardian this morning, and it really has me pissed off. The picture depicts Rowan Williams being burned at the stake by an angry mob carrying homophobic and other hateful slogans. I'm assuming that these characters are meant to be the GAFCON attendees, considering that FOCA (Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans) is mentioned on one of the signs. The cartoon, however, is completely inappropriate in how it twists the truth. It only fans the flames of hatred by suggesting that conservative Anglicans want anyone to burn in hell, or want in particular to kill Rowan Williams as punishment for heresy. Steve Bell is miles out of line for saying as much.

It has been bad enough that news reports have mischaracterized the work of GAFCON as some schismatic venture, as well as the reporting on Williams' response to GAFCON that says he has accused the movement of breaking away from the Church. These are fabrications of what is really going on, usually by people who are entirely ignorant of what we talk about. But now we have a depiction of an actual burning at the stake, and I think this image could only be intended by its author to stir up hatred. The Church doesn't need this sort of intrusion from cartoonists bent on disrupting real dialogue, and someone from the Church of England should condemn it.


  1. Ummm... ok, I don't want to piss you off - that's never my intentions with these posts. But this seems a lot like the reverse of the Mohammed comics... they are comics and they are satire. Nobody is accusing GAFCON of wanting to kill Williams - you exaggerate things in comics - that's just the nature of that medium of communication. If they actually wanted to kill a public figure like Williams, it would be a national security/terrorism news story - not a comic.

    I also don't think they're twisting the purpose of GAFCON - in the statement made by the priests and bishops, they say: "We will inevitably be asking whether we can, in conscience, continue to minister as bishops, priests and deacons in the Church of England which has been our home." Now, the solution they offer is plausible and reasonable, and hopefully it'll be embraced at Lambeth - but its still clear they're meeting to discuss the conditions of a potential schism! they said as much in the message! That's not a bad thing - its just what it is.

    And nothing suggests they want homosexuals to burn in hell - but it does make clear that these bishops think they will burn in hell. Which was also very clearly stated in an official communication of the church of nigeria in 2003:

    "We totally rejected and renounce this obnoxious attitude and behaviour [homosexuality], it is devilish and satanic. It comes directly from the pit of hell. It is an idea sponsored by Satan himself and being executed by his followers and adherents who have infiltrated the church. The blood and power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth will flush them out with disgrace and great pains."

    So I think we can chalk the enthusiasm that Steve Bell uses in this comic up to the nature of the medium - the natural exaggeration of comics that we understand and live with in the West. Otherwise, I don't see anything wrong with this. Its no different than the Mohammed comics for me.

    A little distasteful? Of course. And I'm glad U.S. newspapers never carry comics that are that crude. And sure - the church should definitely issue a statement on it as well - a totally appropriate response.

    But to say that this is inciting hatred I think is a little much. It's satire, it doesn't twist what's going on as much as you would think, and it certainly isn't accusing GAFCON of ACTUALLY wanting to burn Williams at the stake - that's just looney.

  2. All points well taken, I suppose, but at a certain point I think it does put words in peoples mouths that simply aren't there. The conservatives may indeed believe that practicing homosexuals are sinning and on their way to Hell. But the lack of love and the hatred, perhaps not communicated explicitly, is there simply in references to "faggots" and "bitches". I mean, what sort of person uses those terms?

    Of course this cartoon is an exaggeration... we talk about "witch hunts" often enough without a real intention of equating them with actual witch hunts of the past. But I think, in how it inaccurately portrays the position of both Canterbury and GAFCON in this situation, it is fanning the flames, suggesting actions taken where there aren't any, etc. I see it as similar to the misreporting in the news that says GAFCON is creating a separate church, except that this is associating their actions with execution and bigotry. Perhaps his intent wasn't to incite hatred- I'm willing to revise that statement. But I think that the exaggeration has crossed the line to misrepresentation of a very serious kind, and the cartoon will certainly serve to polarize matters when there is no basis in reality for this.

    We've discussed a few unacceptable statements before, Orama's being one of them. The one you quote here I can't find in any Church of Nigeria statements... what I've tracked down is an April article in the Guardian, quoted by a number of blogs. It seems as if the statement was supposedly made by the Church of Nigeria in Oct. 2003 (right when Robinson was elected), but I can't find the original text of it (CoN very well could have pulled it since then). It might also be recalled that rhetoric from the Global South about homosexuality has also evolved... for many of them they simply hadn't dealt with this sort of issue head-on, and it's been a learning process for how to respond to it. There's also been agreement with the insistence of Canterbury that homophobic violence is uncalled-for.

  3. It was reported in the NY Times too - so not just out-there papers.

    I think schism is an obvious and real possibility. Its not that GAFCON wants it to happen, but can you really deny that that's on the table?

    Remember, also... that's the word they use for cigarettes over there...

  4. Its a political cartoon which is meant to be provocative.

    By the way I think Steve Bell is a cartoon genius.

    And yes, I would say that the Gafcon crowd are the direct historical heirs of the witch (and heretic) burners. They represent the same double-minded puritannical mind-set.

    Even the same mind-set as the Taliban.
    Fortunately for us we have laws (at least for the time being) to constrain their would be "moral" self-righteousness.

  5. Gosh, anonymous, all we're missing is a reductio ad Hitlerum! I'm not convinced by the genealogies you're drawing here- you'll have to supply more than just "puritanical mindset" and "moral self-righteousness" to tie GAFCON to this sort of persecution. I've been ready enough to express my concern about GAFCON conservatives, especially those from Nigeria, so as far as that goes I think we can comment on this in the same spirit. I also realize that cartoons are meant to be provocative sometimes, and I would want to recognize that fact. As I mentioned in response to Daniel, a line seems to be crossed when we move from mere provocation to outright slander of someone (and believe me, I'm quick enough to defend liberals against the same abuse by conservatives). I also recognize that one person's harmless provocation can be another person's slander- both work off of analogies, and it falls to interpretation to decide in what sort of earnest these analogies were presented.

  6. There is some evidence that the Nigerians especially incite violence against muslims... but I think that's just a good ol' fashioned pre-modern resort to violence. It's more akin to gang warfare than it is to a witch hunt. I'd side with evan on this. and whatever a few crazy nigerians do - that isn't the whole crowd at GAFCON, so GAFCON itself shouldn't be implicated.

    I still maintain my claim in the earlier post though - the cartoon is fine, and GAFCON is a nasty bunch all around... but probably not a nasty bunch of witch hunters...