How Christians love each other
Andrew Brown for Ian Jack.
It was a sunny day for a schism, and the television cameras were present too. Outside the sports hall of the University of Kent, a couple of decrepit white bishops who had finally managed to come out after enduring — while their wives were alive — lifetimes of episcopal respectability, were holding up a banner demanding an "inclusive church". About thirty yards from them the Bishop of Enugu was shouting at the general secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement:
"God himself has condemned homosexuality in the Scriptures; and the scriptures is the base for the faith of Christians. So if you are a Christian, why not go to what does the Scripture say about gay" — he mashed out the vowel of the word like a savoury curse — "and about homosexuality?"
"This issue was in the early church before and it was addressed in First Corinthian chapter six, verses9-10." The Bishop held his floppy black-eared bible in front of his chest, pushing stubby fingers across the page. "Romans chapter one, verse 27 says even those who support homosexuals and those who are involved in it — in lustful carnality of man with man &— will be punished!"
By now there was a ring of spectators around them. A television crew had pushed to the front and both men raised their voices to be heard more clearly by the reporters at the back.
"Look at the Old Testament! There in Leviticus it says those boys should be stoned to death. And also — Genesis, chapter two —"
"Would you be prepared to stone us to death?" It didnít sound wholly rhetorical question in the treacly heat.
"Would you be prepared to stone us to death?" Kirker asked again.
The Bishop pushed on with undiminished force: "Because of the grace of Christ, you would be counselled; you would be prayed for." His manner left no doubt that the justice of God demanded stoning, even if His mercy prescribed no more than exorcism: " Ö and you would be delivered out of your homosexuality. And Iím going to lay my hands on you and deliver you to become a total and dedicated Christian.
He reached forward to touch Kirkerís sandy, neatly bristled hair. "I lay my hands on you in the name of the Lord! Father., in the name of Jesus, I lay my hand on him!" His wife, paler, shorter, with her hair in long braids, began a steady melodic chant of alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, which continued for a while underneath the hoarser shouting of the contending men.
"Father, I tell you in the name of JESUS, deliver him"
Kirker tried pushing his hand away. The Bishop pressed it down and shouted louder. "I can deliver you! God wants to deliver you! in the name of JESUS! Father, I pray that you deliver him from homosexuality in the name of JESUS! Father, I deliver him out of homosexuality, out of gay,! That he become a Christian! A genuine Christian! a devoted Christian! In the name of Jesus! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia"
His wife panted along with him, "alleluias alleluia" as they came down from the climax of their ritual. There is always something deeply sexual about Pentecostal religion even at its most fraudulent: the effort, the ecstasy, the concentration. Think of James Brown as the preacher in the Blues Brothers. The bishop was nearly as intense and fiercely sweating. He had the Pentecostal way of crying JESUS! which turns the word into the invocation of a deity, a great breath-emptying shout with equal weight on both halves and the jaw falling like a trap door at the end so that the last syllable is not swallowed and slurred politely but delivered with a shout to rhyme with "bus".
But this was Pentecostalism without the props. There was no organ making whooshy space noises, such as any self-respecting preacher has to imitate the action of the Holy Spirit. There was no darkness from which the audience could gaze at a lit stage. There was no one present who was patient, poor or humble, waiting for a miracle. Instead, there was a ring of journalists, and some of them started to giggle.
Partly this was because of the tall and unfeasibly handsome blond from a television company who kept trying to get a story he could understand. He pushed his microphone between the two men and asked "Gentlemen, do you think there is any room for compromise on this issue?" Both men ignored him and continued to address the other.
Part of the reason for the giggling was Kirkerís counterattack which rapidly moved the conversation into areas beyond exorcism. First he confessed to a failed heterosexual relationship. "I want Jesus to change you!" cried the Bishop. "You said you tried to be — to marry. You couldnít sustain it. Why donít you try again?"
Then Kirker announced that he had been born and grown up in Nigeria, quite close to Enugu. For a flicker of a moment there seemed to be some possibility of human contact. The Bishop stopped looking at him as if he were a bird-headed demon, fouling the ground he stood on. But at that moment Kirker pecked. "And I had my first sexual experience with a Nigerian boy!"
The bishop shouted as if he had been struck in the eye. "No!". Kirker put his head on one side and pecked again. "That proves it is nonsense to say there is no homosexuality in Africa."
Shouting like Samson in agony., the Bishop cried "You brought it with you!" — and brought the house down. Hours later, the spectators were still laughing at the memory.
This was unfair Bishop Emmanuel Chukwama was as close as one would care to get to a real fundamentalist bigot. But he was not accusing Kirker personally of bringing homosexuality to Nigeria, which is what many of the laughing spectators believed. He was accusing the whites of doing so: the Europeans and the British specifically; and in this cry of anguish was the whole drama of one of the great historical splits in Christianity. For the Europeans had brought Africa the Bible with its fierce legalistic cruelties. Now they were bringing the unbiblical, and calling it Christianity too. They had brought both sin and the consciousness of sin, both writing and literary criticism.
The schism between East and West, which formed the Orthodox and Catholic branches of Christianity took place about a thousand years. Like all divorces it was a process as much as it was a succession of dateable facts. But it is not misleading to date it at around 1000AD. In the three weeks that the Lambeth Conference at Canterbury lasted, I came to believe that we were watching a split of equal moment, this time between North and South. Like the first great schism — and like the Reformation 500 years later — this one involves authority and sex; and it ends up with flatly incompatible creeds.
"I am an African. I donít believe in this stuff." Chukwama shouted at Kirker and the encircling press and stalked off. Later that afternoon he girded himself once more with his sandwich board to a confrontation with the tall, bespectacled bishop of Johannesburg, David Buchanan, which broke up in confusion when Buchanan explained that he was a happily married grandfather with no sexual interest in men at all.
That evening Chukwama and Kirker were taken to London in separate limousines to repeat their argument in three different television studios and with that, the Lambeth Conference effectively ended. The earthquake that is breaking Christianity apart had smashed it like a skyscraper. This wasnít what I had expected to find. The tradition of Anglicanism is to survive earthquakes with resilience and reliance on basic materials, like a Japanese house of lath and paper which can ride out shocks that bring a modern city down. But after three weeks in Canterbury I found that I no longer believed the idea of a basic Christianity made any sense at all, and that its practice was consistently revolting.