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
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.
Posted by post at 4:23 PM
Friday, September 14, 2007
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.
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