Jonathan Merritt has some strong words for the wordwide Anglican Communion and its sanctions against the Episcopal Church in the United States for its stand on homosexuality.

In his opinion piece at “The Atlantic” yesterday Merritt describes the stalemate that faces the Anglican Communion.

Jim Naughton, a communications consultant for the Episcopal Church said, “We can accept these actions with grace and humility but the Episcopal Church is not going back. We can’t repent what is not sin.”

But Merritt goes on to to accuse the Communion of what he perceives to be a deep strain of hypocrisy. Merritt claims that

the way in which the vote occurred is deeply troubling. It passed by a two-thirds majority and “included prominent voices among African bishops who have loudly condemned the American church for its liberal stance on gays.”

Here is the troubling part:

Africa is a continent that is regressive, even oppressive, in its treatment of LGBT persons. In approximately 70 countries, including 34 in Africa, gays and lesbians can be imprisoned for years or even receive life sentences. In Nigeria, it is illegal for LGBT people to hold meetings or form clubs. In countries like Somalia, they can be executed by the state under Sharia law. In Mauritania, men convicted of homosexual acts can be stoned to death. In Angola, cross-dressing will earn you jail time. And famously, Uganda offers life sentences for those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality,” whatever that means. An earlier version of their anti-gay bill allowed for the death penalty.

Anglicans maintain strong presences in many of these countries, and Christian religious leaders, including Anglicans, have supported the oppressive treatment of gays and lesbians there. Uganda’s anti-gay law, for example, was backed by its Anglican Church. Such laws are wildly out of step with any ethical code bearing the label “Christian.”

The public and private support of such laws by African Anglican leaders is inexcusable. But instead of being defrocked, these prelates have maintained full participation in the Anglican Communion and have even led the charge to single out the Episcopal Church for punishment. This year, African Anglicans celebrated the appointment of a Nigerian Bishop to the prestigious role of secretary general, despite his history of support for the criminalization of homosexuality.

These are indeed troubling realities. Merritt concludes:

there is simply no moral equivalency between marrying a gay couple and sentencing them to rot in jail. Focusing on the former while overlooking the latter epitomizes what Jesus referred to as looking at the sawdust in your brother’s eye while ignoring the plank in your own.

Merritt is not suggesting there cannot be room for vigorous debate and disagreement on homosexuality. He is suggesting that there can be no comparison between the potential harm of criminalizing homosexuality in Africa and the harmless decision of a church in the US to celebrate the commitment of two people to live together in faithful loving monogamous life-long same-sex partnership. And yet, the worldwide Anglican Communion is apparently willing to overlook the former while censuring the latter.

In his reflections a year and a half go on the state of the Anglican Church around the world, the Archbishop of Canterbury said,

The biggest sacrifice is that we cannot only work with those we like, and hang out with those whose views are also ours.  Groups of like-minded individuals meeting to support and encourage each other may be necessary, indeed often are very necessary, but they are never sufficient.  Sufficiency is in loving those with whom we disagree.  What may be necessary in the way of party politics, is not sufficient in what might be called the polity of the Church.

The real division in the Anglican Church today seems to be between those who are willing to say, “If I don’t get my way I am leaving”, and those who say, “We may disagree but we are willing to continue walking together in spite of our differences.”

The grace with which the Episcopal Church appears to be accepting the actions taken against it last Thursday is a sign of true nobility. It is to be hoped that the Episcopal Church will however not be silenced in its determination to speak for those who find themselves the victims of injustice and violence.