Friday, December 7, 2007

Letter of greeting to congregations that have recently joined CANA

December 19, 2006

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our only Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ.

Bishop Martyn Minns has informed me of your courageous decision to separate yourselves from The Episcopal Church and become part of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.

This action demonstrates your desire to stay faithful to the Gospel of Christ and to remain firmly connected to the world-wide Anglican Communion through this Convocation, a mission initiative of the Church of Nigeria. I welcome you to our family.

Sadly, I have also heard that some are suggesting that you are now affiliated with a Church that seeks to punish homosexual persons. That is a distortion of our true position. We are a Church that teaches the truth of the Holy Scriptures and understands that every person, regardless of their religion or sexual orientation, is made in the image of God, loved by God, and deserving of the utmost respect. That is the conviction that informs our passion for evangelism and drives our determination to establish new dioceses and congregations. We have no desire to place anyone outside the reach of God's saving love and that is why we have supported well reasoned statements such as Resolution 1.10 from the Lambeth Conference in 1998 and also the section of the Dromantine Communiqué, which condemns the "victimization or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex."

As I am sure you have heard, there is a bill currently being debated by the Nigerian Legislature that addresses the topic of same-sex marriages and homosexual activism. The Standing Committee of the Church of Nigeria, in its desire to see the strengthening of marriage and family life in our society, has commended the legislators for tackling this difficult issue. We have no desire to see our nation follow the path of license and immorality that we have witnessed in other parts of the world. And we also oppose the severe sanctions of Islamic law.

We recognize that there are genuine concerns about individual human rights that must be addressed both in the framing of the law and its implementation. I am glad to inform you that while the Honorable Speaker of the House, a Moslem, wanted the immediate and outright passage of the bill, the Deputy Speaker, an Anglican, persuaded his colleagues to allow full public debate on it.

I am troubled, however, by the silence of outside commentators concerning the rights of the clergy, Christians, and particularly converts to our Church whose lives are threatened and too often destroyed because of mob violence. I see no evidence of compassion for those whose rights are trampled on because of the imposition of unjust religious laws in many parts of the world. There seems to be a strange lack of interest in this issue.

We are concerned about eternal destiny and the need of every person to know the saving love of God. We preach a Gospel for all people that not only offers welcome but also the promise of transformation. We are delighted that you share these convictions with us and look forward to mission and ministry together with you in the coming years.

To God be the Glory — great things He has done . . . and is doing!

The Lord be with you.
+Peter Abuja,
The Most Rev. Peter J. Akinola, D.Div.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Futility of ostentatious piety

Rev. Peter Akinola

September 15, 2007

The scriptures in general and Old Testament Prophets like Amos, Micah and Isaiah in particular spoke repeatedly on the futility of ostentatious piety.

In the second half of the eighth century BC, the wealthy and powerful people of Samaria were prosperous but were also greedy and brutally unjust. They were indifferent to the plight of the poor whom they treated with disdain and cruelty. But they had a form of religion and observed all the external rules. The worship of God was a mere formality as it had no bearing on the day-to day living. Outwardly religious, yes; but they regularly accepted bribes; enslaved the poor, committed adultery, stole, were totally unthankful and had caused the innocent to sin. What is more, worship of Baal though idolatrous and sinful was more attractive to these ungrateful people who had experienced the salvation wrought by God.

The prophets showed clearly that the people had abandoned the faith of their fathers and that they were only pretentiously religious. They were carrying on nominal religious performances instead of having spiritual integrity and practising heartfelt obedience to the commandments of God. Superficial involvement and participation in religious ceremonies and rituals clearly falls short of God’s expectation of his chosen people. The Lord God wants simple trust in Him, not showy empty external actions. No one can use religion to cover up unfaithfulness to God. We need not settle for the vain effort of impressing others with external rituals when God wants heartfelt obedience and commitment. If you love me, says Jesus, obey what I command. (John 14.15)

In the early part of his ministry, (1-39) Isaiah denounced Judah and Israel for their sins. Judah had a form of godliness, but in their hearts, they were corrupt. The prophet insisted that God was fed up with their sacrifices which were offered without any sorrow for sins 1:11-14; because of this he would refuse to see their outstretched hands or hear their pious words during prayer time 1:15. Israel’s worship service was like a mechanical rehearsal of a memorised formality, (29:13).

Many of the conditions in Israel nearly three thousand years ago and during the time of Amos and Isaiah are glaringly evident in our society. In the name of ‘development’, church leadership like the Pharisees of old often impose unbearable hardship on the congregations. Exploitation of the weak has not abated, (Luke11. 46)

In contrast to all the false piety men find so easy to display, Christ expects his own to be truthful and honest declaring that God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship him in spirit and in truth. We must recognize the futility of ostentatious piety and turn to God with all our hearts and worship him in spirit and truth. It is not quantity and time spent that counts most but quality and dedication.

As I conclude, I ask

Have we grown complacent? Have other concerns taken God’s place in our lives? Do we ignore those in need and oppress the poor? Under the guise of religiosity, do we exploit and oppress those working for us and with us? Is our prophetic ministry sharp and productive? Are we engaged in vain exhibition of ostentatious piety? Are we presumptuous in our relationship with God? Are you one of those who think they can use religion to cover up their evil ways?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Why I object to homosexuality

Rev. Peter Akinola

The Church of Nigeria is an Evangelical Church. It upholds the authority of scripture and is unreservedly committed to mission and evangelism that results in conversion of people to the Lord, church-planting and the caring ministry. In this Church, we teach about the total depravity of man and his absolute need for salvation through faith in Jesus the Christ. For us, therefore, adherence to scripture is not only paramount, it is also non-negotiable. In matters of faith and practice, scripture provides sufficient warrant for what is considered right and what is judged to be wrong.

In recent times, we have been told that the issue of homosexuality is relative. We believe it is not a relative matter. In the context of our part of the Church and society, we see it as a behaviour that is expressly forbidden and roundly condemned in scripture. For instance, Leviticus 18.22 commands: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." (See also Leviticus 20.13; Genesis 19.1-14, 13.13; Romans 1.26-28; cf. Leviticus 18.23.)

This is why it is such a crucial issue that it cannot be treated on relative terms, or accepted on the grounds of local pressure. Instead, it is identified in scripture for what it is — sin.

The point here is not of separating from sinners, with a holier-than-thou attitude, but objecting strongly to yielding to the permissive and satanic spirit, the worldly spirit of a materialistic, secularist and self-centered age, which seeks to mould everyone into its own tainted image.

Our argument is that, if homosexuals see themselves as deviants who have gone astray, the Christian spirit would plead for patience and prayers to make room for their repentance. When scripture says something is wrong and some people say that it is right, such people make God a liar. We argue that it is a blatant lie against Almighty God that homosexuality is their God-given urge and inclination. For us, it is better seen as an acquired aberration.

THE ISSUE is such an important one, such a defining one, with the potential of splitting the Communion, because it has become a chronic aberration, which is being defended and promoted in the Church of God. On the authority of the word of God, we see homosexuality as a rebellion against God, like that typified by Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. A rebellion cannot be relative.

Moreover, homosexuality is flagrant disobedience to God, which enables people to pervert God’s ordained sexual expression with the opposite sex. In this way, homosexuals have missed the mark; they have shown themselves to be trespassers of God’s divine laws.

Protagonists of homosexuality try to elevate this aberration, unknown even in animal relationships, beyond divine scrutiny, while church leaders, who are called to proclaim the undiluted word of God like the prophets of old, are unashamedly looking the other way.

The practice of homosexuality, in our understanding of scripture, is the enthronement of self-will and human weakness, and a rejection of God’s order and will. This cannot be treated with levity; otherwise the Church, and the God she preaches, will be badly deformed and diminished.

Homosexuality does violence to nature. As someone puts it: "It contradicts the very light and law of nature." Romans 1.26-27 says it this way: "For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet."

THE ISSUE is such a defining one because two cannot go together except if they agree. To overlook this fundamental departure from scripture is not safe for faith or conscience; it means "walking in the counsel of the ungodly". The consequence is to risk the displeasure of God.

What we are talking about is an attack on the Church by some whose aim is to discredit the gospel, pollute the Church, neutralise its power and pull it down. Christ has forewarned: "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad" (Matthew 12.30).

If those who are promoting this energy-sapping and unnecessary controversy were to be a little more spiritually sensitive; if they were to walk closely with the Lord and accept the authority of his word as revealed in scripture, they would not need to be persuaded about what is at stake. The acceptance of homosexuality and lesbianism as normal is the triumph of disobedience; the enthronement of human pride over the will of God. This lifestyle is a terrible violation of the harmony of the eco-system of which mankind is a part. As we are rightly concerned by the depletion of the ozone layer, so should we be concerned by the practice of homosexuality.

God instituted marriage between man and woman, among other reasons, for procreation. To set aside this divine arrangement in preference to self-centred perversion is an assault on the sovereignty of God. Homosexuality is an abuse of a man’s body just as much as lesbianism is. As in earlier time (Genesis 19), God shall judge — cf. Romans 1.27-28 (quoted above).

God created two persons — male and female. Now the world of homosexuals has created a third — a homosexual, neither male nor female, or both male and female — a strange two-in-one human.

With this tragic topic on the agenda of the Anglican Church worldwide, the Church has regrettably come to crossroads, but we hope that the Compass Rose will be able to give direction on the safest way home — to peace and communion. The majority of us still believe that communion is important, and it is cherished by us all. However, this is not at the expense of vital communion with God, and certainly not at the cost of shepherding more than 17 million Nigerian Anglicans into harm’s way by leading them into the wilderness of morally empty theologising.

Homosexuality or lesbianism or bestiality is to us a form of slavery, and redemption from it is readily available through repentance and faith in the saving grace of our Lord, Jesus the Christ.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Encountering Akinola

By Frederick Quinn

Abuja, Nigeria, March 25, 2000

The taxi’s window fell out as we sped down Herbert Macauley Way. Past slower vehicles with window stickers like “Oh, the Saviour,” “God is My Co-Pilot, or “Sharia, Our Pride, Their Fear.” Past the Twins Plus Ice Cream Shoppe and the More Blessings Car Wash, and buildings under construction or left abandoned in Nigeria’s new federal capital.

In 1979 the rulers of Africa’s largest state, seeking to overcome North-South, Muslim-Christian, desert-rain forest differences, began moving the capital from crowded, coastal Lagos to the sparsely settled interior. Oil is king in Nigeria and, although gasoline is cheap, a truckers’ strike had caused forty car lines ups at gas pumps the week I arrived.

Flat and dry, Abuja was “big bush” before government ministries came north. Now it contains the sprawling headquarters of the President, National Assembly, and Judiciary, various ministries, and housing for civil servants. Mansions of the wealthy, topped with razor wire, stand among crowded tin shacks. Decades of military rule have squeezed the middle class badly, contributing to the appeal of Muslim fundamentalism in parts of the country. The Anglican Church of Nigeria created a missionary presence in Abuja in 1979, a new diocese in 1989, then moved its headquarters to the city now spread over a forty square mile grid. Abuja has no center, few distractions, and, unlike Lagos, surprisingly little traffic.

I had come to the wrong cathedral for the Archbishop’s Installation. The taxi driver had arrived at “the church with bumps in front of it,” the former cathedral was now reduced to parish status, since it could only accommodate a thousand persons each at its 8 and 10 am Sunday services. “The feast is not here, I will show you where it is,” a choir member told me, packing his robes into our rattling taxi. We sped in 100-degree heat far beyond the town’s edge to Life Camp, a government housing settlement. On the way to the church we passed a Fulani shepherd, thin and emaciated, with his slowly moving herd, grazing on such grass as the barren soil provided. The image returned to me later during the service as in a lilting voice, an African bishop repeated the passage from John’s Gospel about Jesus telling his followers three times “Feed my sheep”

“Why was the cathedral built out here?” I asked. “Because the government gave us land,” the choir member replied. Would there be African or English-language hymns? The choir member, who repairs Mercedes cars during the week, said, “English, this is a national service, but we will have lots of African music too.” The Cathedral, larger and longer than a football field, was overflowing an hour before the service. A huge but simple wooden cross, made of intersected tree trunks, extended from the plywood-paneled chancel walls. Draped from it were thick streamers of gold, purple, and white metallic cloth. The local architect, with whom I spoke, was faced with the challenge of a large space, a low budget, and local materials. His solution was a rectangular, high-ceilinged building with many windows to break up the surface. A team of young professional church members produced the design fee-free and saw the complex project through to completion. In addition to worship space for over three thousand seated persons, it has an adjoining forty seat meeting room for the Cathedral Standing Committee, a nine-story bell tower with offices, a residential compound, parking lot, and generator house to hold a much-used stand-by generator.

In a country known for corruption and inefficiency, the project “received the contributions of reputable companies who gave out generous discounts in materials purchased,” a church publication explained, adding, “All the provisions for worship, you name them, the doors, down lighters, clerestory windows, Holy Table, the marble floor, the air-conditioned ambient space, etc., all complete the soul-stirring experience and inspire sober reflection in worshipping God in the beauty of His Holiness.” Nigerian English is colorful and focused. A newspaper account said, “The mosque gulped up six million naira.” (Nigerian money) Another noted, “the legislator tramped on the intestines of his opponent” in debate. A roadside painted sign said “Emir’s Palace. Move on.”

The presentation service, which began at 10 am Saturday, March 25, 2000, took six hours, and included twenty-two hymns with no verses omitted. Three processions moved three-hundred and fifty participants into the church, including twenty justices of the Supreme Court and other courts in black robes trimmed in gold, and wigs, bibs, and striped trousers. Vergers in white robes and purple capes trimmed with scarlet, who pointed long verges decisively toward the crowd if the latter impeded the procession’s stately flow, led processions. A large choir, in the robes of many parishes, moved toward the chancel, as did seventy bishops, for whom flamingo pink plastic chairs had been set in place.

Two distinct services flowed into one. The Protestant, evangelical element, part of the old Church Missionary Society (CMS) British heritage was evident in Gospel preaching (all Biblical quotations were followed by a verbal numerical citation) and Victorian call-to-action hymns. Most bishops wore low church clerical garb and some parishioners carried notebooks to record “Sermon points and biblical quotations.” The African element was the service’s growing energy and some of the music. A brass band supported the hymns, and later added drums.

Not for a minute was the service chaotic; it had a carefully planned flow and Archbishop Peter periodically barked out commands from a large, multi-stepped marble throne to red, purple, or black-clad acolytes who went flying. Every ethnic dress of Nigeria was represented, flowing blue northern robes, elaborately folded Yoruba headpieces, floppy colorful Cross River pajama-like outfits, and ladies in resplendent tailored robes and matching wide-brimmed English hats. Members of the Mothers’ Guild wore distinctive headdress and wrap-around skirts. The cloth had a map of Nigeria, with a mother and child superimposed on it, and the caption, “With Love Serve One Another, Mothers Union and Women’s’ Guild, Diocese of Abuja (Anglican Communion) Gal. 5: 13b.”

The Minister of Defense, representing the President, who was out of the country, read the prayers of the people. Archbishop Akinola had met earlier in the week with the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian and the first non-Muslim elected to run the country in a free election. The Archbishop, who had a close relationship with the chief of state, later told me, “For the first time we have a Bible-believing Christian as president. He believes he has a mission to recreate Nigeria, to take it out of the mess it has been left in by Muslim leadership.”

The Presentation Sermon: Archbishop Akinola’s Five Points for the Future of Nigeria

Of medium height, Bishop Peter was a prelate of fierce energy. His presentation sermon on March 25, 2000 at the Cathedral Church of the Advent carefully laid out his future program, although no one listening that Saturday morning would have predicted the controversy he would ignite for his unyielding opposition to homosexuality, his active support for irregularly ordained bishops and breakaway parishes in America, and for his sustained criticisms of the Archbishop of Canterbury and presiding bishops of the Episcopal Church in the USA. Punctuating his carefully organized and vigorously delivered sermon with lively gestures and carefully-drawn word picture, he drew audible responses from the overflow congregation.

“Our church is the fastest growing Anglican Church in the world,” the Archbishop began, “faster growing than Canada, Great Britain, and the United States combined.” Using a text recommended by one of his children, the Prelate spoke on “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” “Nigerians must find a way out of this big jungle of sin, greed, and selfishness,” he began, lamenting “the level of corruption in this country.” Next he presented a five-point vision statement encompassing spirituality, evangelism, institution building, external mission, and finances. “Your destiny is in your hands,” he said, looking at his hands, lifting them up and down quickly, adding, “God is colorless. To answer many of our problems we must have sheer hard work.” As for stewardship, he remarked, “There are bishops who have not been paid for fourteen months. How can we say we are good stewards?” (In Nigeria junior clergy are paid $50 a month, bishops $150, plus housing, and a vehicle if the parish can afford it. Such figures are roughly comparable to low and mid-level government salaries.)

On external missions, the Archbishop said it was time for the church to think of sending missionaries to places like the Sudan, Rwanda, Botswana, and India. He said nothing about America. Adding a note about church quarrels, he remarked, “I do not have time for your quarrels, the church has too much work to do.” Pointing to the robed Supreme Court justices, he told the congregation, “If you say unjust, untrue things about your bishops, you will be in trouble with them.” The remark brought applause and laughter. At the service’s end, the Primate asked bishops and clergy to rise and take an oath they were not now or would not become members of a secret society, a problem in some parts of the country.

Slowly a drumbeat came in under the closing prayers. The choir, having earlier sung Handel’s coronation anthem, “Zadok the Priest,” began gliding to both sides, snapping fingers, and turning. Trumpets and a saxophone picked up the African rhythm. The Primate, resplendent in purple cope and miter with a sun and shooting stars, danced his way down the chancel. The House of Bishops followed, left, left, drop step. Right, right, drop step. Moving forward to meet them was the congregation, and diplomatic corps. A holy hubbub continued for several minutes while the crowd danced toward the third set of offering baskets to appear during the service.

At lunch following the service, three hundred people gathered over jollof rice and okra stew at the Sheraton Hotel. I sat between two bishops from Northern Nigeria, where possibly a thousand persons had been killed in Muslim-Christian riots, caused in part by the introduction of the Sharia, traditional Islamic law. “The big thing now is to restore trust. It will take a long time,” the Bishop of Wusawa, the Rt. Rev. Ali B. Lamido, remarked, noting that during the recent riots several bishops, there for a synod, were stranded at his house for several days, unable to leave the premises.

“Suddenly we saw some fanatics surging towards us. We had to turn back. Some of our colleagues who came by air had to stay in police custody,” the Rt. Rev. Peter Adebiyi, Bishop of the newly created Diocese of Lagos West, recalled. The consensus seemed to be this was a political, not a religiously motivated disturbance, fanned by crowds of unemployed, poorly educated young people. In the South, Muslims and Christians have lived together peacefully for generations. “We have to,” one bishop told me.

In February 2006 Muslim-Christian riots once more broke out in Nigeria. Akinola’s unequivocal response was a widely circulated letter. “May we at this stage remind our Muslim brothers that they do not have the monopoly on violence in this nation,” he wrote in his role as president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, adding if intimidation from Islamic fundamentalists continued, “C.A.N. may no longer be able to contain our restive youths should this ugly trend continue.” In a personal conversation during our March 2000 meeting, I asked him if a Christian-Muslim dialogue was possible. (A local Muslim leader had told me such an encounter with Christians would be welcome.) Akinola replied briskly that such a step would be ill advised, that problems between Christians and Muslims were grossly exaggerated, stirred up by a few militant Muslims. The Nigerian Christian Assembly, in failing to elect him a second term as president in June 2007, pointed to two issues, his insensitive remarks toward Muslims, and his closeness to the outgoing president.

Akinola was also widely criticized abroad for enthusiastically supporting Obasanjo’s proposed legislation making any expression of homosexual activity a crime in Nigeria. The draft law included a five year prison sentence for those who through media or in public demonstrate "amorous same-sex relationships, directly, indirectly, or otherwise." In his “Message to the Nation” dated February 25, 2006, the Archbishop said, “The Church commends the law-makers for their prompt reaction to outlaw same-sex relationships in Nigeria and calls for the bill to be passed since the idea expressed in the bill is the moral position of Nigerians regarding human sexuality.” He had said earlier said “Homosexuality or lesbianism or bestiality is to us a form of slavery, and redemption from it is readily available through repentance and faith in the saving grace of our Lord, Jesus the Christ.”

Akinola’s comments in this vein directly contradicted Lambeth resolution 1.10 of 1998 that included provisions to encourage greater understanding of various expressions of human sexuality. The Episcopal Bishop of Washington, John Bryson Chane, wrote of the draft Nigerian law, “The archbishop's support for this law violates numerous Anglican Communion documents that call for a ‘listening process’ involving gay Christians and their leaders. But his contempt for international agreements also extends to Articles 18-20 of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which articulates the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, association and assembly…. Have we become so cowed by the periodic eruptions about the decadent West that Archbishop Akinola and his allies issue that we are no longer willing to name an injustice when we see one?"

Half way down Douala Street was a walled compound of tin-roofed cement buildings of various sizes, Bishopscourt, headquarters of The Church of Nigeria and Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, with whom I visited on March 31, 2000, the week after his public presentation as head of the Anglican Church in Nigeria.

The bishop was once a carpenter. That was evident early in our interview when he sprung up frequently and barked orders at workers stringing electrical lines in his office. He recalled an encounter when he was a lay catechist in Kebbi in Nigeria’s North, in the 1970s. When the regional Archdeacon came to town, looking for the congregation’s leader, Peter was up on the roof hammering in nails with the workers. Later, as a young priest in the new Nigerian capital of Abuja, government workers mistook him for a construction foreman because he was always arriving in their offices with an armful of building plans.

The fifty-six-year old Prelate was in constant motion, leaning toward visitors one moment, then bouncing up and down on his sofa seat to make a point. Peter J. Akinola was born in 1944 in Abeokutain, in Nigeria’s thickly vegetated Yoruba South. His father died when he was four years old, “and I have no memory of him. Later people told me he was a good and descent man.” Money was lacking for school, so an uncle in Nguru, Youbi State, in the faraway North, said, “Come and you’ll find some job.” A conventional Christian, Peter sang in the church choir, taught Bible classes, and graduated to lay reading lessons at the evening service.

By 1968 he had moved from a job as a postal worker to becoming a skilled carpenter and cabinetmaker, with his own shop and showroom, and several employees. He was doing well, but strange dreams intruded. “I found myself telling my age-mates and friends not to drink, go to the cinema, have so many girl friends. I heard them saying, ‘look, Bishop, if you don’t like our lives, get out of here.’”

“Then one fateful day in October I came to my workshop. A church representative was there with a letter asking the parish to send two young men to Zaria for seminary training. My uncle, who had brought me there many years ago, said, ‘Peter, the church council met and looked around the whole church and you are the only one they recommended. You should go for the interview.’ I could not refuse my uncle.”

“That night, I had a very clear dream. I was rebuking my godmother, a very saintly woman. She said gently, ‘Peter, what are you doing?’” Peter made the trip, taking with him 4,000 Nigerian pounds to buy supplies for a lucrative government contract recently awarded to his carpentry shop. He thought the seminary interview would be brief; he would flunk, and be sent home. At Zaria, the warden of the Theological College of Northern Nigeria, Jeremy Hinds (“This man was so influential on my life, I named my first son for him”) gave him the key to Room 12. “I waited for the interview on Saturday, but on Monday they told me ‘you can start classes. We do not have to interview this man. The Church Council said this was their candidate.’ Peter returned to Nguru, returned the money advanced on his furniture contract, paid off his workers, and headed for the theological college where “I grew stronger in the faith, grew stronger in the Lord. I came out tops in my class.”

Suleja was an isolated truckers’ stop, a crossroads on the North-South road when Peter was assigned there in 1978. The parched region soon became Nigeria’s new capital and Peter headed out on his Honda motorbike to visit newly arriving government workers in their homes. “Parlour churches” formed, Anglicans met regularly in living rooms or under large trees, and truckers made their buketria, an edge of town trucker’s cafeteria, available to Anglicans and Roman Catholics for Sunday worship. It was a time of explosive growth for the Church. Growing numbers of catechists and lay readers headed out as missionary teams into villages on Friday nights and returned on Sunday evenings, preaching wherever they could find listeners.

In 1979 Peter left Suleja for three years at Virginia Theological Seminary. Hoping to return to Nigeria as a seminary professor, he was instead assigned back to Seleja for three more years. “I cried and I cried and said ‘No way!’” In Nigeria, bishops assign clergy to parishes and Peter was told, “We need a pioneer, someone who is not only a pastor but a builder.” He stayed in Suleja from 1981 to 1984, and then became Provincial Missionary from 1984 to1989. By 1985 twenty-eight Anglican churches had been built in the new capital. Following established Church Missionary Society precepts, each church should be self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing.

In 1989, Akinola, completing five years as Provincial Missionary, gave a progress report to the Synod of Bishops, after which a senior bishop told him, “Peter, you are not properly dressed.” “I raced back to the hotel for my cassock, and someone called me, ‘The Primate wants to see you immediately!’ I wondered what I had done wrong. The Primate handed me a paper and said, ‘Give me your reply quickly.’ I cried, and yelled, and screamed. That was the last thing I had ever thought of in my life, to be named a bishop. There were rumors of other senior bishops who were interested in the post, those who had trained in Britain and elsewhere. Canons and archdeacons and graduates of old theological colleges were around, and I was not part of any of those groups.”

In November 1989 Peter became bishop of Nigeria’s twenty-sixth diocese. (There were one hundred twelve dioceses in 2007). Bit by bit the church added additional institutions, medical dispensaries, schools, rural development projects, and a large primary school. Bishopscourt includes an office block and meeting rooms, clergy housing, and a five-bedroom bungalow for the Archbishop (who has six children), plus a ninety-room guesthouse to provide relatively cheap accommodation to Christian visitors to the nation’s capital, with proceeds being used for mission work. A small bookshop featured flyspecked copies of the deceased media evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman’s I Believe in Miracles and a sampling of the self help spirituality and success books increasingly popular in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s population, divided into over two hundred and fifty ethnic groups, was estimated at 135 million persons in 2007. The country faces daunting problems. World Bank estimates place per capita GNP at $260, average life expectancy at fifty-two years. The adult literacy rate is 57% and the probability of dying before the fifth birthday (both sexes) is 14%. Christian and Muslim populations are roughly comparable, with a 10% edge usually given to Muslims. Possibly seventeen to twenty million of the fifty-some million Christians are Anglicans. The growth of the church in Nigeria eclipses that of the United States, Canada, and Great Britain combined.

The Singapore Ordinations and Archbishop Akinola’s Disruptive Future

What about the Singapore ordinations? (On January 29, 2000, two American clerics were irregularly ordained as bishops in Singapore by two prelates from Rwanda and Singapore, and two retired American bishops. Their goal was to set up a conservative “Anglican Mission in America," but neither the American Church nor the Archbishop of Canterbury had endorsed their election.) The Nigerian bishops are all for them, Archbishop Peter Akinola told me on March 31, 2000. Although he had participated in the Lambeth discussions on human sexuality, he stated, “Scriptures constantly tell us a faithful union in heterosexual marriage” is the only norm for personal human unions. What happened in Singapore was expected.”

“We are looking at this in a global perspective. Hundreds of thousands of Nigerians are in the United States and many feel they cannot worship in the Episcopal Church. They go elsewhere or they do not go to church. The issue is having episcopal supervision for them.” Neither then nor later did I ever hear an overseas Nigerian, Kenyan, or Ugandan in the United States say anything like what his dissident white male supporters and Archbishop Akinola kept repeating was a cry from unhappy Africans for Episcopal supervision. Africans in America were concerned about finding employment, homes, and educating their children, and avoiding an immigration dragnet. Some pastors warned Kenyans to steer clear of situations where they would encounter law enforcement agents.

When, toward the end of our conversation, I raised the issue of the place of gays and lesbians in the church, his face came close to mine, “Brother, the Bible says,” he replied, his voice lifting in intensity both times I raised the subject. Akinola’s manner was in your face, and he listened only to the extent that a visitor’s comments touched a subject for which he had a set piece answer.

Twice during our conversation he referred to Bishop John S. Spong’s Lambeth remarks about the backwardness of the African churches, which stung him badly. “We will respond to him,” Akinola said with determination, like a kid on the block that had been hit by a brickbat, planning his retaliation, and I knew the subject would not end there. Later I reread some of Spong’s writings. He was not a favorite writer for me; much of his work was intentionally provocative and thin of scholarship, although I would agree with many of the positions he has taken. In this case, the language that set Akinola off was a comment like:

One of the things that’s so obvious about many of the Africans is that their education is an evangelical education about the Bible. It’s almost no education. They’re wanting to say that Darwin wasn’t right; that Adam and Eve are the first two people in the universe. You know, I haven’t run into that sort of argument in my country in a long, long time. But it’s still there.

What about the ordination of women? “In Nigeria, it has not begun yet. This is not for any biblical reasons. When the time comes, we will do it. At present there are divisive forces in this country. Women’s ordination would divide the church. We cannot have a divided church. I’m not going to stampede into any position that divides the church.” Far from a stampede, a Nigerian survey taken several years later showed 80% of clerical and lay leadership opposed women’s ordination.

As we left, we had a prayer together, from which I remember the lilting cadence of the Archbishop’s voice, and the strong, callused hands of the carpenter. I tried to keep up contact with him, but it amounted to nothing. I included an entry on him in a book profiling ninety African saints, martyrs, and holy people and left two suitcases full of vestments and altar furnishings with him, gifts from the Altar Guild of National Cathedral.

Over the next seven years Archbishop Akinola’s actions proved far more disruptive than his inaugural sermon remarks in 2000 suggested, and he appeared unconcerned about the controversy they caused, and growing antipathy toward him. Akinola appeared to relish a lively verbal street brawl. Detractors would find him a tantrum-throwing foot stomping bully, defenders an unalloyed defender of the true faith. Few would claim he possessed the middle range of executive skills as reconciler, negotiator, and enabler.

On June 19, 2007 he was voted out (72 to 33) of the presidency of the Christian Association of Nigeria, an umbrella group representing over fifty million members and composed of representatives of most Christian bodies in Nigeria. Although he had completed building of the National Ecumenical Center in Abuja, a shell of a building under construction for sixteen years, his abrasive managerial style had cost him support, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Nigeria was drafted as a candidate to replace Akinola when his first four-year term ended. In what was traditionally an automatic vote that would make Akinola vice president, the Association’s three hundred member General Assembly similarly rejected him. Nigerians cited his rigidity, his closeness to the departing chief of state, and his intransigence toward Muslims as reasons why change was needed in the association’s top leadership.

Elsewhere, Akinola left a path strewn with controversy. He had pointedly refused to take communion at primates meetings in Ireland in 2005 and Tanzania in 2007 with the heads of the Episcopal Church in America. His reported remark about the Archbishop of Canterbury to another prelate at the Dromantine, Ireland, meeting, “He will do what we tell him,” won him few new followers at Lambeth Palace.

In 2005 he sent an inflammatory letter from a group of porous membership called “Global South.” Its membership and finances are undisclosed. Calling Europe “a spiritual desert” he challenged the Archbishop of Canterbury “to do something about a British law allowing civil partnerships” because it gave “the appearance of evil.” But Akinola included the signatures of three other conservative bishops to the document, they claimed without consulting them, and the trio objected loudly, accusing him of “megaphone diplomacy.” The Archbishop kept pushing. In May 2007, despite objections from Canterbury and the American Church’s Presiding Bishop, he ordained an English cleric, Martyn Minns, as Bishop of the Nigerian Church in the USA. This was part of a Grade B coup attempt by a handful of dissident American bishops to claim leadership of the Episcopal Church in the USA for their own splintered factions.

During August 2007 Akinola also issued a lengthy pastoral letter, large sections of it apparently written by Minns, called “A Most Agonizing Journey Towards Lambeth 2008.” It said the Anglican communion was on “the brink of destruction” and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s appeal for unity was “highly questionable.” Failure to heed such warnings said the document “is like going to bed and ignoring a naked flame in the house.”

Akinola’s charges did not go unanswered in Africa. Both Nobel Prize laureate and Archbishop of South Africa, Desmond Tutu, and his successor, Archbishop Njononkulu Ndungane, have taken pointed issue with Akinola, saying the latter’s energies were wrongly focused on sexual issues when Africa was wracked by war, poverty, and disease. Akinola’s had curiously stated, “I didn’t create poverty. The church didn’t create poverty. Poverty is not an issue, human suffering is not an issue at all, they were there before the creation of mankind.” The dean of the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa took a different position. “Very few of us take the homosexual debate as a top priority issue,” Bishop Trevor Mwamba of Botswana remarked, “Most African Anglicans want to get back to basics and concentrate on poverty, disease, injustice and the need for transparency in governments.”

Akinola’s leadership record has been sadly mixed. His undeniable skills as a builder are evident, as is his lack of tolerance toward others. A door slammer in a world of increasingly numerous door openers among Christians, he has called attention to himself for his inflammatory statements while, at the same time, failing to gain the wider following he and his backers anticipated. Deliver an ultimatum, throw a tantrum, and denigrate those who have a different position represent his largely unchallenged modus operandi.

The abysmal lack of information of many his followers in America about Africa contributes to the problem. Not many of the recently proclaimed members of the Churches in Nigeria, Uganda, or Kenya in Northern Virginia and Southern California could easily locate Abuja, Kampala, or Nairobi on a map. Fewer such people have been to Africa, or are conversant with the moral dimensions of contemporary African problems. Such issues include the long-standing Darfur refugee crisis, the pandemic presence of HIV/AIDS, the widespread presence of female genital mutilation, a problem in thirty African countries brutally afflicting over a million young women a year. Political pluralism and transparency are likewise widespread civic needs in many African countries. When America listed its reasons for going after Sadam Hussein, a leading African news magazine (published in Europe) profiled several African heads of state it said deserved similar treatment, such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.

In short, there are no lack of religion-related developmental issues the church could focus on in Africa. The efforts of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to link mission and the United Nation’s Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) represents an imaginative and life-enhancing step in that direction.

Finally, the vision of Christianity Akinola and his supporters present does not reflect the breadth and depth of religion in Africa. Scripturally, it represents a burnt out school of biblical literalism and one-line quotes often taken out of context, the last remnants of a colonial church tradition, one where a handful of African bishops rigidly follow in the footsteps of a departed generation of autocratic British mentors.

The Roman Catholic Church in Africa has given the wider church imaginative liturgy, courageous political engagement with dictators, and heart-rending examples of the church in operation at village levels, as have other Protestant churches, and the Anglican Church in many parts of Africa, such as in Southern Africa. The Nigeria-based vocal faction and their American supporters fail as well to draw on the contributions of the African American religious ethos, and the lively contributions of feminist, Pentecostal, liberation, and other postcolonial theologies, many of them increasingly known to African Christians.

The literature and witness of African Christianity is vast. The perspective of African women is available in the works of Mercy Amba Oduyoyue of Ghana, and Musimbi R. A. Kanyoro, a Kenyan Lutheran woman theologian. John Mbiti has examined the relationship of traditional African belief and Christianity. Others have written on subjects as different as the communion of saints in ancestor veneration and the unity of all creation in traditional African religion. The book list of a publisher like Orbis Maryknoll is a valuable point of departure for those willing to consider a broader, more comprehensive view of African religious experiences. Andrew F. Walls, a former Methodist lay minister to Sierra Leone, and Professor Emeritus of the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World at the University of Edinburgh, has framed the challenge:

None of us can read the Scriptures without cultural blinkers of some sort. The great advantage, the crowning excitement which our own era of Church history has over all others, is the possibility that we may be able to read them together. Never before has the Church looked so much like the great multitude whom no man can number out of every nation and tribe and people and tongue. Never before, therefore, has there been so much potential for mutual enrichment and self-criticism, as God causes yet more light and truth to break forth from his word.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A most agonizing journey towards Lambeth 2008

Archbishop Peter Akinola writes to Nigerian Synods on the Journey towards Lambeth 2008

August 20, 2007

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:1,3)

We have been on this journey for ten long years. It has been costly and debilitating for all concerned as most recently demonstrated by the tepid response to the invitations to the proposed Lambeth Conference 2008. At a time when we should be able to gather together and celebrate remarkable stories of growth and the many wonderful ways in which our God has been at work in our beloved Communion as lives are transformed new churches built and new dioceses established there is little enthusiasm to even meet.

There are continual cries for patience, listening and understanding. And yet the record shows that those who hold to the “faith once and for all delivered to the saints” have shown remarkable forbearance while their pleas have been ignored, their leaders have been demonized, and their advocates marginalized. We made a deliberate, prayerful decision in 1998 with regard to matters of Human Sexuality. It was supported by an overwhelming majority of the bishops of the Communion. It reflected traditional teaching interpreted with pastoral sensitivity. And yet it has been ignored and those who uphold it derided for their stubbornness. However, we have continued to meet and pray and struggle to find ways to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

The journey started in February 1997 in Kuala Lumpur. It was here, during the 2nd Encounter of the Global South Anglican Communion that a statement was issued in which concern was expressed about the apparent setting aside of biblical teaching by some provinces and dioceses. The statement pleaded for dialogue in ‘a spirit of true unity’ before any part of the Communion embarks on radical changes to Church discipline and moral teaching.

With about seven weeks to go, hope for a unified Communion is not any brighter than it was seven months or ten years ago. Rather, the intransigence of those who reject Biblical authority continues to obstruct our mission and it now seems that the Communion is being forced to choose between following their innovations or continuing on the path that the church has followed since the time of the Apostles.

We have made enormous efforts since 1997 in seeking to avoid this crisis, but without success. Now we confront a moment of decision. If we fail to act we risk leading millions of people away from the faith revealed in the Holy Scriptures and also, even more seriously, we face the real possibility of denying our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The leadership of The Episcopal Church USA (TECUSA) and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) seem to have concluded that the Bible is no longer authoritative in many areas of human experience especially in salvation and sexuality. They claim to have ‘progressed’ beyond the clear teaching of the Scriptures and they have not hidden their intention to lead others to these same conclusions. They have even boasted that they are years ahead of others in fully understanding the truth of the Holy Scriptures and the nature of God’s love.

Both TECUSA and ACoC have been given several opportunities to consult, discuss and prayerfully respond through their recognized structures. While they produced carefully nuanced, deliberately ambiguous statements, their actions have betrayed them. Their intention is clear; they have chosen to walk away from the Biblically based path we once all walked together. The unrelenting persecution of the remaining faithful among them shows how they have used these past few years to isolate and destroy any and all opposition.

We now confront the seriousness of their actions as the year for the Lambeth Conference draws near.

Scorned Opportunities

In 2001, the Primates’ meeting in Kanuga, North Carolina issued a pastoral letter acknowledging estrangement in the Church due to changes in theology and practice regarding human sexuality, and calling on all provinces of the Communion to avoid actions that might damage the “credibility of mission in the world” In April, 2002 meeting at Canterbury the Primates further issued a pastoral letter recognizing responsibility of all bishops to articulate the fundamentals of faith and maintain the Church truth.

In what appeared to be deliberate defiance the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada voted in June 2002 to approve the blessings of same-sex unions with the enthusiastic support of their Bishop Michael Ingham. Later that year ACC-12 meeting in Hong Kong in October 2002 approved a resolution urging dioceses and bishops to refrain from unilateral actions and policies that would strain communion.

The following year ECUSA met in General Convention in Minneapolis in July/August 2003. Among their many actions they chose to reject a Resolution affirming the authority of Scripture and other basic elements of Christian faith while approving the election as bishop someone living in an unashamedly sexual relationship outside marriage.

The Primates’ meeting at Lambeth Palace in October 2003 issued a pastoral statement condemning ECUSA’s decisions at General Convention describing them as actions that “threaten the unity of our own Communion as well as our relationships with other parts of Christ’s Church, our mission and witness, and our relations with other faiths, in a world already confused in areas of sexuality, morality and theology and polarized Christian opinion.” They also declared that if the consecration proceeds “the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy” and that the action will “tear the fabric of our communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further division on this and further issues as provinces have to decide in consequence whether they can remain in communion with provinces that choose not to break communion with the Episcopal Church (USA).” They also called on “the provinces concerned to make adequate provision for Episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities within their own area of pastoral care in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the Primates." ECUSA responded the following month by proceeding with the consecration of Gene Robinson thereby tearing the fabric of our Communion and forcing Nigeria along with many other provinces to sever communion with ECUSA.

Earlier, in June 2003, we in the Church of Nigeria had cut our links with the diocese of New Westminster and sent a clear warning of reconsidering our relationship with ECUSA should Gene Robinson be consecrated. As always, we were ignored.

During 2004 there was a growing number of so-called ‘blessings’ of same-sex unions by American and Canadian priests even though the Windsor Report released in September 2004 reaffirmed.

One consequence of this continuing intransigence by ECUSA was the alienation of thousands of faithful Anglicans who make their home in the USA. The attempts by the Primates to provide for their protection through the Panel of Reference proved fruitless. So the desire of these faithful Anglicans

During the African

Although the Primates in February 2005 at their meeting in Dromantine, Northern Ireland, advised the withdrawal of both ECUSA and the ACoC from the ACC the continued influence of these churches on the Communion and their renewed efforts to make others adopt their intransigent line frustrated any genuine reconciliation attempts. The agonizing journey towards unity and faith seemed unending.

The failure of resolve by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the unwillingness of the other Instruments of Unity to effect discipline on those who had rejected the mind of the Communion prompted the Church of Nigeria to effect a change in her constitution during a General Synod held in Onitsha in September 2005.

The Third Anglican South-to-South Encounter in Egypt October 2005 issued a very strong indictment of ECUSA and the ACoC and called for a common “Anglican Covenant” among churches remaining true to Biblical Christianity and historic Anglicanism.

Ignoring all the calls for repentance, homosexual unions and nominations for episcopacy continued in the USA with the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing “deep unease” with such nominations in California in February 2006.

A much-awaited ECUSA General Convention in 2006 proved to be a disappointment as resolutions expressing regret for the harm done to the communion were rejected as well as one that tried to emphasize the necessity of Christ for salvation. Approved were resolutions promoting homosexual relationships as well one apologizing to homosexuals for the Anglican Communion following Biblical principles. The agony of a frustrated communion was visible worldwide except among those already prepared to embrace this dangerous path departing from the faith.

Nigeria needed no further prodding to proceed with the election in June 2006 and the August 2006 consecration of the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns to give Episcopal oversight to CANA. The Nigerian House of Bishops also declared a reluctance to participate in the 2008 Lambeth Conference with an unrepentant ECUSA and Canada.

The Global South Anglican Primates meeting in Kigali, September 2006 recognizing that ECUSA appears to have no intention of changing direction and once again embracing the ‘faith once delivered’ said in their communiqué:

The Anglican Communion Primates meeting in Dar es Salaam in February 2007 reaffirmed the 1998 Lambeth resolution and called on ECUSA (now TEC) to consider definite actions, which could heal the communion as well as reassure those who have been alienated of adequate pastoral care.

All journeys must end someday

We want unity but not at the cost of relegating Christ to the position of another ‘wise teacher’ who can be obeyed or disobeyed.

* We earnestly desire the healing of our beloved Communion but not at the cost of re-writing the Bible to accommodate the latest cultural trend.

As stated in “The Road to Lambeth”

“We Anglicans stand at a crossroads. One road, the road of compromise of biblical truth, leads to destruction and disunity. The other road has its own obstacles [faithfulness is never an easy way] because it requires changes in the way the Communion has been governed and it challenges [all] our churches to live up to and into their full maturity in Christ.”

The first road, the one that follows the current path of The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada, is one that we simply cannot take because the cost is too high. We dare not sacrifice eternal truth for mere appeasement; we cannot turn away from the source of life and love for a temporary truce.

The other road is the only one that we can embrace. It is not an easy road because it demands obedience and faithfulness from each one of us. It requires a renewed commitment to the Historic Biblical Faith. For those who have walked away from this commitment, especially The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada, it requires repentance, a reversal of current unscriptural policies and credible assurances concerning such basic matters as:

1. The Authority and Supremacy of Scripture.
2. The Doctrine of the Trinity
3. The person, work and resurrection of Jesus the Christ
4. The acknowledgement of Jesus as Divine and the One and only means of salvation
5. The doctrines of sin, forgiveness, reconciliation, and transformation by the Holy Spirit through Christ.
6. The sanctity of marriage and teaching about morality that is rooted in the Bible.

These are not onerous burdens or tiresome restrictions but rather they are God’s gift, designed to set us free from the bondage of sin and give us the assurance of life eternal.

John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, describes the Christian life as a journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. On his journey, Pilgrim is confronted by numerous decisions and many crossroads. The easy road was never the right road. This is our moment of truth.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

For God’s sake

The Times of London
July 5, 2007

Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria, the world’s most powerful Anglican leader, tells Religion Correspondent Ruth Gledhill that his conservatism is the true faith and that evangelism can combat Islamic terrorism

When Peter Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria, consecrated 20 bishops in a single service, an observer asked how this was possible. He replied: “You have not seen anything yet.” This is a man whose name strikes fear into the souls of Western Christian leaders. Heading a Church of nearly 20 million practising Anglicans, he is the most powerful leader in the Anglican Church. While churches are closing in the US and Britain, he cannot open them fast enough. If things continue as they are, his could well be the future face of worldwide Anglicanism. Time is running out for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, to avert schism.

Dr Akinola has become a totem of conservatism in the debate over homosexuality. The irony is not lost on him that he is attempting to preach a gospel back to England that was brought to his country by English missionaries in the mid-19th century. To modern, liberal, Western eyes, Dr Akinola is at the most extreme end of fundamentalist Christianity. Few can imagine the “broad” Church of England being led by such a man – but in Nigeria he is at the more liberal end of the Christian spectrum. More importantly, he is in the front line of relations between Christianity and Islam. In the northern, Sharia states of Nigeria, Christians have been driven from their looted homes, even murdered. The relationship with Islam is central to his ministry and he has found a way to counter Islam without violence: it is called evangelism.

I met this enigmatic Archbishop, who in his 63 years has never given an interview to a British national newspaper, in his office in the Abuja diocese. In the small room up a narrow stairway, the most ornate structure was a set of beautifully crafted wooden shelves that this former carpenter designed himself. “God has used my upbringing in carpentry to bear in my work as a bishop,” he says. He wouldn’t be the first to say so. He wore a clerical shirt with no collar, a cross around his neck. His feet were bare. The contrast between this and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s splendid palaces in Lambeth and Canterbury could not have been greater.

Anglican leaders from Africa are portrayed in the West as homophobic fundamentalists whose adherence to biblical truths is born of no more than an ignorance of modern exegesis. “I have been so demonised by the Western media,” says Dr Akinola. “I tell people when they talk about this, Christ had it so much worse. If this is the price I have to pay for leading the Church at this time, so be it. They can punch me here, punch me there, but in the midst of all that are people who say Akinola is the right thing.”

His reluctance to be in the public eye has been perceived as arrogance. The impression in the West has been of a man determined to wrest leadership of the Anglican Church from Canterbury. “I kept on saying you do not have to go through Canterbury to get to Christ.” In the pulpit, few can match his fiery passion. Outside it, he is strangely diffident.

The land in Nigeria is strewn with enormous stones. Massive boulders teeter on top of others. They look as though they could fall at any moment, but have been there for centuries. His friends say of Peter Akinola that, as his name suggests, he is “hewn from the rock”. There is a stubborn stillness about him. His church has broken communion with the Episcopal Church of the US over the ordination in 2003 of the openly gay bishop Gene Robinson. Dr Akinola will not contemplate going back into communion with the US unless they abandon completely the liberal gay agenda. It will never happen.

Akin, a common name in the western part of the country, means courageousness, boldness, warlike valour. Ola means wealth and prosperity. With his own business and a Vespa scooter in the 1960s, he was indeed heading for a life of prosperity when he was called to give it all up and follow Christ into the seminary. But he almost had no adult life at all. As a young man, he told me, he narrowly escaped being a victim of a ritual sacrifice. His body parts were to be made into “concoctions”, he said, and sold. He was vulnerable because, when he was 5, his father, who would have protected him against such abuse, died. “Unfortunately my father died on December 12, 1948, before I could get to know him,” he says. “Before he could make any impact on my life he was gone. So my mother had the responsibility of bringing me up.”

He was sent to live with a paternal uncle who was a carpenter, and was not sent to school until the age of 10. “I grew up in a very hard way.” At 16, he wanted to go to secondary school, but was sent instead to northeastern Nigeria to learn a trade. From there he was apprenticed as a cabinetmaker in Lagos. He was living with a relative. “Very ugly things happened to me while I was there,” he says. “Another uncle of mine was not thinking well of me. He was going to sacrifice me for a ritual to make money. That is one of the mysteries of my life. God is gracious. It is a very long story. But let me just say I had premonitions. I saw a very clear vision of what was going to happen. The following day, things began to happen the way I saw them. It was not a dream, it was a real vision. It was a serious matter. Frightening. Overwhelming.

“But I came out of the house to go to where I was supposed to be sacrificed and I saw this figure far away at the other end of the road, beckoning me to come. In white. I ran and ran and ran. The faster I ran, the further distance between me and the figure. I never found it. I believe very strongly that the Lord was taking me away from that dungeon.”

When Dr Akinola was growing up it was common, especially in the southern part of the country, for every family to have both Muslims and Christians among their number. On Sunday, the whole family would troop off to church, and then on Friday they went together to mosque. Although in the southern part of the country Muslims and Christians still live together in harmony, there are 12 states in the north where Sharia, or Islamic law, has a hold, and some Christians have suffered.

“We began to see certain threats in the north,” says Dr Akinola. “Religious disturbances, crises, rioting, to the extent that Christians were killed and maimed and properties looted.” His response was informed by his missionary vocation. “By virtue of our religion we cannot fight because we are told, if you are slapped on the right cheek you must turn your left cheek. Love your enemy and pray for him. So how do we respond to these unprovoked attacks on Christians? Evangelism is the answer. Make the Church grow.”

The bigger the Church gets, the fewer conflicts Christians will face. “That is what we believe. So we have put ourselves into the work of mission very seriously.” The era of bishops living like lords in their own little empires has long gone. “Every bishop in his area is an evangelist,” he says.

When his predecessor, Archbishop Abiodun Adetiloye, stepped down, there were 76 dioceses. He had trebled the size of the church by planting a bishop in every city. “I was the Dean then. We did not know who would be Primate. I said, Baba has finished the work, everything is now done, allelujah! He said, Peter, that is a big mistake you are making because the work is yet to begin. As God would have it, I then became the Primate and we set a vision for ourselves as to how to carry on with this great task.”

He decided to aim for doubling the Church. He is nearly there, with almost 130 dioceses and bishops, including Bishop Martyn Minns, consecrated recently to care for conservative evangelicals in the US. His bishops pastor to nearly 20 million practising Anglicans. That compares with an official tally of 25 million in the Church of England, but a paltry one million of these are churchgoers. Dr Akinola points out that the US Episcopal Church has fewer than two millon worshippers, served by 200 bishops. “If I had the means of supporting them I would have 200, 300 bishops,” he says. “We are growing. There are many reasons why we are growing. We believe we have no option but to take the command of Christ very seriously.”

He says the issues troubling the Anglican communion are of no concern to Christians in Nigeria. This does seem to be the case. I asked one Nigerian diocesan bishop whether he would be coming to the Lambeth Conference next year, the ten-yearly gathering of the communion’s 800 bishops. He was surprised by my question: he thought the conference had been cancelled.

Nigeria’s bishops will not meet to decide about Lambeth until September. Dr Akinola says he does not know how they will decide. But at this point, attendance by Nigeria looks extremely unlikely. And if they stay away, this will mark the start of true schism. The Lambeth Conference is one of the communion’s four instruments of unity. For the Nigerians to attend, the Archbishop of Canterbury would have to invite Bishop Minns, which he will not.

And the Episcopal Church in the US would have to backpedal on its liberal agenda, which would be a betrayal of everything it has struggled for in the past two decades.

Dr Akinola does not deny that homosexuals exist in Africa. “All we are saying is, do not celebrate what the Bible says is wrong. If the Bible says it is an aberration, it is an aberration. Do not do it.” He sees no point in his church attending the Lambeth Conference if the bishops cannot share together in Holy Communion. He begins to get passionate, becoming eloquent in his anger. “The missionaries brought the word of God here and showed us the way of life. We have seen the way of life and we rejoice in it. Now you are telling me this way of life is not right. I have to do something else. Keep it for yourself. I do not want it.”

No Nigerian bishop needs to go to Canterbury to learn how to be a bishop, he says. “No Nigerian Anglican needs to go to Lambeth Palace to learn how to become a Christian. It is all available here. We rejoice in our fellowship, we rejoice in our heritage as Anglicans. We celebrate it. But our unity will never be at the expense of truth, of the historic faith.”

In spite of what Western church leaders fear, he has no ambitions to lead a breakaway church. “That has never been on my mind. This is the media thing. You see we have scripture. We have our traditions. We have not broken the law. It is your churches that are breaking the law. You are the ones breaking the rules. You are the ones doing what should not be done with impunity. We are saying you cannot sweep it under the carpet. Maybe in the past you could get away with it, but not any more. We have aged. So we are not breaking away from anybody. We remain Anglicans. We are Anglican Church. We will die Anglicans. We are going nowhere.”

I ask him about his comments a few years ago, when he was reported as saying that homosexuality was an aberration unknown even in the world of animal relationships. He urges me to see these remarks in their context. A diocese in Canada was moving towards authorising the first Angican liturgy for same-sex blessings. “I was shocked to my marrow the very first time I heard the Church is saying a man can marry a man. What? It is from that shock, that surprise, how is that possible? Is it a kind of experiment or something? They are sick or tired of normal heterosexual relationships? How could that be? That is the context in which I said what I said.”

The demand from the West that his Church liberalise he sees as a gross reimposition of an old imperalism. “For God’s sake let us be. When America invades Afghanistan it is in the name of world peace. When Nigeria moves to Biafra it is an invasion. When England takes the Gospel to another country, it is mission. When Nigeria takes it to America it is an intrusion. All this imperialistic mentality, it is not fair.”

He has been criticised for not speaking out against a new law proposed in Nigeria to make it an offence to promote homosexuality. “The Western world does not have a monopoly of homosexuals,” he says. “They are everywhere in the world. But we do not desire to celebrate it. We see it as a problem that can be treated. There have been a lot of importation of Western values and practices in our country. Now the Western world is highlighting the gay issue as the thing. We realise that if care is not taken, our country will be one where you can do whatever you want to do.” The new law was intended to prevent wholesale importation of Western values and practices, he says. He admits to problems with the specific provisions, which are, to Western sensibilities, draconian. “But what you have there is still much less, much softer than if it were to be sharia. This is our context. On the one hand the Christian community is happy that we have this provision. It is just our hope that it will help to preserve the institution of marriage, family life as we know it. But if it is not passed, fine, we will look for something else. It is purely democratic.”

He is buoyed by the fantastic growth of his Church, and cannot help but note the rate of church closures in the US. “I am not God. I keep saying, this is God’s own church. As bad as things are, I can say with certainty that there are still millions of people whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose lips have not kissed Asherah.” (Baal and Asherah are Canaanite deities that feature in the Bible.)

Like me, he has heard the hope that lights up among Western liberals at talk of his pending retirement, as if once he is gone Nigeria will suddenly cease its evangelical mission. “Someone told me they hope when Akinola retires the Church will revert,” he says. “They are making a big mistake. The Church is already receiving hundreds of people who are better, stronger. I can assure you this is God’s own church and the gates of Hell shall never prevail against it. God raised Peter Akinola to what he has done. The same God will raise hundreds of people more gifted than me to get the job done. It is God’s Church not mine.”

He retires in 19 months, and intends to spend his last year as Bishop of Abuja, and then go back home to his village and become a simple preacher again. “I cannot remember God calling me to a position of power. All this stuff about power. It is not me. My motto of life is, the simpler the better. You can ask my colleagues, my bishops, how I operate. Some people say I do embarrass them with my humility.”

Many bishops in the West are looking forward to his retirement, but they might be better sticking with what they know. There are 120 more bishops in Nigeria, all of them with the potential to become the next Primate. If Rowan Williams hopes that by dragging things out, he can delay schism until Akinola retires and then bring Nigeria into line, he’s in for a shock. As Akinola speaks, the fire that has been masked behind his diffidence grows stronger. I get a sense that the battle for the soul of the Anglican Church, for the soul at the heart of Africa itself, has only just begun.

What do you think of the Archbishop’s views? Post your comments below

Archbishop Peter Akinola on child sacrifice: “Sacrifice was common at that time. People who wanted to become rich overnight would go through such rituals. They killed people, some their wives, some their children, some their loved ones. They cut the part they want from the person and make their concoctions … It was acceptable, traditional. If the king said kill someone to appease the gods, so be it. But in Christianity, no. Christ has died for us once for all so we do not need any more human sacrifice.”

On being selected for ordination: “I said vicar, with due respect your salary is £10 a month. In my workshop I make a hundred or two. What are we talking about? To leave my privileged situation and go and be something else? He said, ‘Go and pray’ ... Now I tell my colleagues and upcoming pastors, ministers of the gospel, that no one who ever leaves anything to serve God will ever regret doing so. In my own case God has been so bountiful, so kind so caring that he’s given to me far more riches than I could ever have dreamed of in my life. Spiritually, materially, just name it he’s given me everything in abundance.”

On Gene Robinson: “The problem is Ecusa and the Western church’s way of seeing and handling Scripture. Gene Robinson is just a symptom ... When you are ordained into the ministry of the gospel of Christ a minister is supposed to be a wholesome example to the whole flock. When you have chosen a particular way of life, a particular orientation, you can only be an example to your own little clique. That in itself negates your ordination. So we have been on this now for so many years, so many meetings, so many committees, task forces, pronouncements, communiques, all to no avail. It is like the harder we work, the more difficult it is. So we have broken communion with The Episcopal Church, not just Nigeria but many provinces in the Global South. Our life together is not what it used to be”

On Church unity: “The condition of having communion together is for The Episcopal Church to return to where we were by giving up its agenda … Our unity will never be at the expense of truth, of the historic faith.”

On the Episcopal Church: “Has The Episcopal Church ever listened to anyone? They have not listened to the Lambeth Conference, to the Primates communiques. Who’s kidding who?”

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Reactions to violence in Nigeria

Interview with Archbishop Peter Akinola

Christianity Today, 2006

What is the greatest challenge for the church in Nigeria?

PJA: How are we going to convince our Muslim neighbors and our governments that Nigerian Christians have no other place to call their country but this country? Since 1988, people have been maimed and brutally murdered, their hard-earned money and property destroyed by hooligans, by murderers, all on account of religion. And no one has been brought to justice that we know of. Usually arrests are made, but before you know what is happening they are released, so it’s like they’re doing this with impunity. So our challenge, therefore, is how we’re going to get everybody in this country to know that Nigeria belongs to all of us.

I have been in touch with my Muslim counterpart this whole time, and we are hoping that we can meet soon, so we can work together and see how we can get our followers to understand.

What do you hope to hear from your Muslim counterpart?

Muslims cannot claim that Nigeria is theirs. Now Christians are doing the same. All of us agree that we have to learn to live together. From my point of view, the unity of this country is a done deal. They can’t begin to talk of dividing along religious lines. They can’t do that, because everywhere you go there are Muslims; everywhere you go there are Christians. But in some parts there are more Christians, in other parts there are more Muslims. But you cannot say “southern Christian” or “northern Muslim.” In the north there are seven or eight states where Christians are the majority. So you can’t say a northern region is a Muslim area.

There must be integration of the two. That is what we have to work at. And I’m sure the sultan of Sokoto, who is the head of the Muslims in Nigeria, is also very anxious that we can work along those lines. I’m very hopeful.

In February some Muslims rioted in the north about the Danish cartoons of Muhammad and killed some Christians. You responded that Christian efforts to peacefully coexist have been misunderstood by the Muslims as weakness.

That’s right. I said that because if they knew that we are willing to retaliate or to fight, if we had been doing things their way, Nigeria would have ceased to exist. If, for instance, the Christians are mobilized to destroy Muslims who live among them, we are a majority. What would happen to Nigeria? It would not exist anymore. That’s why I said they have misunderstood our peace approach as our weakness. If they knew that we are stronger in number than they are, would they do this to us? They wouldn’t do it. But I believe that, God helping us, the message will get across after our meeting with their leaders in the next couple of weeks.

You also said that Muslims “do not have a monopoly on violence in this nation” and that CAN “may no longer be able to contain our restive youths should this ugly trend continue.” The day after you released those statements, some Christians retaliated.

No. You are getting it wrong. You are not within our context. The entire Western press tried to demonize me on this matter. And you are wrong. But I only ask God to forgive the Western press for the way they tried to handle this matter. You do not understand what we are going through here. [The CAN] youth have never been satisfied with us, the elders. They say we are compromising with the government. They want to retaliate. And we have always been telling them, “You can’t do that. You are Christians, you must not do things the way others do things.” And so far we’ve been successful. But the question now is for how long will this be? These boys are becoming more and more restive and beginning to doubt our integrity.

So, I have to remind the nation, not Muslims, that no one has a monopoly on violence. But thank God, so far, we have been able to control our youths.

Now, the attacks were not a result of what I said. What happened was that the corpses of those [Christians] killed in [the northern city of] Maiduguri were brought down to [the southern city of] Onitsha in trucks. As they were unloading them, the youth saw what was happening. They were simply mad. It wasn’t what I said at all. I’ve said this many, many times in the past. But I usually do that to put the Muslims in check—to put the murderous ones among them in check. That is the purpose of that statement.

It’s tough for us in the West to really understand all the dimensions of your local context.

It’s not just you. It’s the entire Western press. I’ve been getting phone calls, but I said no, I’m not going to talk. If they want to know what’s happening, come to our country. Since 1988, where there’s suffering, this comes from our Muslim neighbors. We have never on our own initiated any attack on anybody. Never. And that’s because our youth were willing to take our advice. But now they’re accusing us and calling us names—what do we do?

We could say, “Okay, go ahead.” But we would never do that. Our religion, our Christian faith, our love of God, our love of fatherland, would never allow us to do that.

During a recent CAN meeting, I threatened to resign, because the youth were saying they were going to go to fight and cause more trouble. If they cause more trouble, I will resign. Everybody sat down, kept quiet. We can’t destroy this country. Violence is not the answer.

We are working between two evils. But like I said, we’ve been able to control these boys, and we’re going to try everything we can. But our word must be credible to them.

Why do the youth want to fight back?

They’re simply bitter, they’re simply angry. They’re simply fed up with it. And they say to themselves that maybe if we fight back, the [Muslims] will know they don’t have the right to take life at will. So it isn’t that their Christian religion is telling them to go out and fight. You forget, in the West, the Crusades were a response to 400 years of Islamic aggression in Europe. Don’t forget that. Don’t you ever forget that. They didn’t just happen for the fun of it.

We pray that [this violence] will never happen again. So, we talk to the governors, Muslim leaders, other agencies. But we have to insist that all those arrested this time must be brought to justice. This is important for future peaceful coexistence. If these boys are arrested but get away with it, then the future is bleak.