Monday, April 05, 2004

Be Careful What You Pray For

Archbishop Peter Akinola has made the news again, with the threat that he will not attend meetings where Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, is present. As the leader of 17.5 million Anglicans, as well as the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, and the newly elected President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Akinola is seen by some to be a powerful voice for not only conservative Anglicans, but all conservative Christians. There is some discussion that his authority is already greater than that of Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Akinola's recent statement follows his success in manuevering the Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane into signing a joint agreement in which Ndungane backs down from his previous support of ECUSA. In exchange, the way is now cleared for other African Provinces to support the next Lambeth Conference being held in South Africa in 2008, something that Cape Town dearly wants to see happen. Akinola is flexing his new muscles.

One would think that such an emerging leader would be viewed with close scrutiny. Even a cursory glance seems to give rise to some concern. Let's keep in mind some of Akinola's previous public statements;

This is an attack on the Church of God - a Satanic attack on God's church.
The solution to homosexuality is seen as exorcism. This isn't hyperbole; there have been a few instances when African clergy have attempted to exorcise the demon of homosexuality from Western clergy.

I cannot think of how a man in his senses would be having a sexual relationship with another man. Even in the world of animals, dogs, cows, lions, we don't hear of such things.

'When we sit down globally as a communion, I am going to sit in a meeting with a man who is marrying a fellow man. I mean it's just not possible. I cannot see myself doing it.
Raising the example from the animal kingdom is somewhat revealing. It tells us that the Archbishop has not spent much time on a farm. There are numerous studies that suggest that Akinola is stating his own naive bias, rather than information based on facts.

These statements also reveal what is at the root of Akinola's constant attacks against gay Christians; the "ick factor."

How does this work? My grandmother used to force me to eat cooked cauliflower. I cannot stand even smelling it today. It turns my stomach. I know for a fact that it is a sin to cook it. I think the cooking of cauliflower should be illegal. I have quite strong feelings about this. I suspect that if I dug around in enough sacred texts, I could find some support for my gut reaction that it is evil to cook this vegetable.

I have encountered many heterosexuals who have an aversion to homosexuality because their gut reaction is that it is "icky." Many have not thought about it much more than that. Some have found a handful of bible verses to justify their feelings, and follow clergy champions of their cause to exclude this icky behavior from their club. I suspect that this is where Akinola, the latest champion, began; with icky feelings.

He is now cast in the role of a world leader, without having to face his personal biases. I think this is a dangerous situation. From this global stage, he is in a postion to victimize more than just the gay Christians of Africa, as suggested by Sybille Ngo Nyeck;

I believe that the Most Rev. Peter Akinola [the primate, or leader, of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, and a vociferous critic of homosexuality] is not a fool. He is fully aware of the independence of each diocese within the Anglican Communion. His virulent opposition to Gene Robinson’s consecration to me suggests two things.

First, I see an attempt to prevent an insurrection from inside the church. Archbishop Akinola is speaking both to gays and lesbians within the U.S. Episcopal Church and to those living in his province and country (as the elected chairperson of the Christian Association of Nigeria [CAN], an ecumenical organization based in Kaduna). As the chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA), his statements are supposed to be condoned as the "African view on homosexuality." In sum, what I heard from Akinola is: 'We don’t want gays and lesbians here, and we don’t want then anywhere.'
There is one more thing that troubles me about the Archbishop. One of the reasons he is hailed as the favorite among conservative Anglicans today is because of the claim that he represents so many African Anglicans. Is this the reality? Consider this statement from the past president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Sunday Mbang from a recent interview;

Nigeria is said to be the most religious nation in the world. How do you react to such a report?

I've talked about this several times. We have so many churches on the streets, in fact in every street, you have a church, but that doesn't make a country religious. It is the quality and calibre of people you have that can make you describe a country as being religious. The kind of people we have in Nigeria, with all these killings and corruption at the high and low places, it is difficult to say that Nigeria is religious or it may be religious through other religions; talking of Nigeria being a religious country outside Christianity and Islam, maybe you can say so. People in these two religions, they pretend to be very religious but when they go into their offices, it's a different story. Most of these people who kill people, come to our churches and when they come to take Holy Communion, they will walk very holy and shout holy, holy, and you don't know them. So that's the problem, and I've raised the issue at various occasions I have gone to. What Nigerians need to work for is to see how they can produce quality God-fearing people, Christians after God's heart. We have very few of them in Nigeria today.
Akinola is Mbang's successor as President of the Christian Association of Nigeria. His claim to speak for 17.5 million Anglicans might be viewed as similar to the common dilemma in the US of a rector claiming to have 1,000 members in a parish which draws less than 200 on a Sunday morning.

Is this the man that conservatives want as their new global leader? Is this the kind of leadership that they pray for? I suggest that conservatives be careful. God might grant their request.


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