Monday, July 02, 2007

Akinola's Failed Power Play at Home and Abroad

We have recently discussed Abp. Akinola's failed bid for re-election as the National President of the Christian Association of Nigeria. The indications from those news items suggested that the Archbishop is beginning to fall out of favor among Nigerians. Episcope points us to an article in The Advocate which highlights some additional reasons why Akinola may be losing his hold on power in Nigeria:

...It would be wrong to call Akinola unprincipled. No doubt he, like most Nigerians, grew up believing that homosexuality is a sin. But this pastor has let his flock at home suffer while he networks in America, accumulating power, publicity, and—according to informed observers—money...

...The human cost of Akinola’s vendetta in his homeland should not go unnoticed by LGBT Americans watching his rise here. “Archbishop Akinola is exposing gays and lesbians in Nigeria to danger,” says Davis Mac-Iyalla, director of the pro-LGBT Anglican group Changing Attitude Nigeria. “He’s constantly putting us on the news and saying that homosexuality is evil, thereby making some people take the law into their hands”...

...While Akinola passes such judgments, his fellow Africans struggle with poverty and disease. “We debate these things whilst people are dying,” says Bishop Musonda Trevor Selwyn Mwamba of Botswana.

“[Akinola’s] voice has been the icon of the conservative position,” says Mwamba. “[But] Africa is not a monochrome continent. His is the voice that has been given publicity, but it is not the dominant voice.

“The voice which is not heard,” Mwamba continues, “and this is what I would call the real voice of the Anglican Africans, is a silent voice, which simply seeks to live its Christian values without drawing attention to itself. It’s a voice of trying to make ends meet.”

Mwamba sees the real issues of the African people—poverty, the lack of clean drinking water, nutrition, HIV and AIDS, education, women’s rights—being neglected by the small cadre of bishops led by Akinola. “Thousands of kids are dying every day,” Mwamba says. “Now, those are the issues the church should be addressing.”

...Reverend Emmanuel Sserwadda, the Episcopal Church’s U.S.-based partnership officer for Africa, says Akinola has crippled the church’s efforts to provide aid in Africa...

...Akinola may get joy from preaching his beliefs. But he gets earthly rewards as well. Both Mwamba and Sserwadda say that Akinola and other bishops have been lured away from addressing key African issues by the promise of power and money.

“Most of the influence has been done by people from [the United States] like Martyn Minns, like Bishop [Robert] Duncan from Pittsburgh—that group of people,” says Sserwadda, referring to the two of the better-known conservative Anglicans in America. “Akinola wouldn’t be meddling in the issues of the Episcopal Church had these people not reached out to him. He wouldn’t have a platform [in America].”

The “influence” Sserwadda describes comes in the form of all-expenses-paid trips to the United States, envelopes that contain several hundred to several thousand dollars—gifts big enough to be meaningful for one person but too small to have serious impact on an entire ministry. The money is nearly impossible to track because it isn’t linked to any specific organization...

...For a leader like Akinola, the greatest lure of all may be the chance to play on a world stage. “It is the power issue,” Sserwadda says. “He enjoys it.”

The problem, explains Sserwadda, is that Akinola’s African flock is disempowered. “When you corrupt a leader, then that means you really deny everything to the people under that person,” he says, “because they can’t oppose him or her.”

One anonymous source who is African-born but now works as an Episcopal minister in the United States sees the whole African crusade against homosexuality as someone else’s war.

“For me, the primates in Africa are mercenaries who have been hired to fight a war, which in the U.S. they have lost,” he says, adding that Robinson’s consecration was the final straw. “If you are losing a battle, if you don’t have enough manpower to fight, you go and hire mercenaries from somewhere who can fight for you”...
Regarding Akinola's attempt to establish a beachhead in the US, Elizabeth Kaeton offers us a letter from the retired bishop of California, William E. Swing, which appears in the July issue of Episcopal Life (not yet online). His thoughts are too good to be limited by excerpts, so I'm reprinting the whole thing here:

There was the picture in the newspaper (Sunday, May 6): Archbishop Peter Akinola and Bishop Martyn Minns. Neither was born, schooled, ordained to the priesthood in the United States nor consecrated bishop according to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. But here they were, determined to overthrow the Episcopal Church, USA, and to replace it with themselves and a small number of American colleagues.

Their aim is not to reform the Episcopal Church or to set up a permanent parallel authority. They intend to become the sole authorized Anglican presence in American. The other side of that coin is that they intend for the Episcopal Church to be cut off from the Anglican Communion and set aside.

It’s quite a bold American strategy for an Englishman and a Nigerian. In a brief time, they want to undo what it has taken many generations of Americans to build.

This is way beyond theology or scriptural interpretations. This is a naked power play that is reminiscent of colonial aspiration in other centuries. Instead of England colonizing Nigeria, we are looking at a picture of a Nigerian and an Englishman trying to colonize the United States, with their unique brand of Anglicanism from an evangelical point of view.

These two people who have not been part of a longstanding American experience smile triumphantly as they embark on a plot to take away our birthright, our heritage, our Anglican connection, our ministries to the poor, our official prayer book tradition, our schools, churches, agencies and our resources.

These two bishops and their colleagues are enjoying the first spoils that arise from our family struggle over human sexuality. But what they don’t realize is that they have touched and trampled on the taproot of our faithfulness to the mission of Jesus Christ in the United States that goes 400 years into the earth of this country. The Episcopal Church will withstand this assault from across the ocean. And our mission will endure, God being our helper.
And while you're clicking around, make sure you go see Richard's "short shopping list for the newly elected missionary bishops in these dark, hostile, heretical parts."

J.

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