The Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Most Rev. Peter Akinola has manifested as a lone voice in the crusade against the attempt to re-write the scripture by some Anglicans in Europe and South America, with the admission of people who practise homosexuals as priests and even bishops in the church. This has caused a wide division within the church. However, next year, the once- in-10 years Lambeth Conference of all Anglican Bishops from all over the world will hold in August at the Lambeth Palace, residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the estimated 78 million Anglicans world-wide Dr. Rowan Williams. The meeting will provide a platform to assess the impact of this division. Nigerian bishops, the largest in the communion, have threatened to boycott the meeting except an invitation is extended to Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, the bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), created by the Nigerian bishops, to cater for the interest of their members, who are opposed to the churches with homosexual priests in America. Akinola has written to the Lambeth Palace to protest the development; and in his office in Abuja recently, he spoke to DICKSON ADEYANJU on this issue and how much damage the same sex crisis has done to the Anglican Church, which broke away from the Catholic Church in the 16th century and became the official church of England since then.
There have been so much crises with regard to the next year Lambeth Conference and it is almost certain now that Nigerian Bishops are not going to participate in it. What are the issues at stake?
As you probably know, the Lambeth Conference is the gathering of Anglican Bishops, once in 10 years. Essentially, it is not a parliament; it is not a legislative body, it doesn’t have any constitutional power, it does not have power to take decision for anybody. But they come together to pray together, think together, to study the word of God together. Decisions reach during the meeting may have some moral influence on some part of the church. So the meeting is consultative and advisory.
However, in the last few decades, because the Anglican Communion has emerged as an association of independent sovereign provinces around the world, the Lambeth Conference began to tackle more and more, issues in the church that have impact upon the Anglican church around the world. For instance, in 1988, the issue of polygamy featured prominently during the meeting. Very few Anglican Primates and Bishops from Africa were there and they couldn’t do much to register the African perspective. But by 1998, we began to say, yes polygamy they are there in Africa quite all right, but they are not given official recognition and so, you could baptise a man who is polygamous, provided the Christian community there agree to it that the man would not add more wives. So, you can see that recommendation was made by Lambeth Conference and churches in Africa took advantage of the recommendation. Lambeth Conference did not say you must do this you must not do that. I have to give this explanation, so people will understand the nature of the Lambeth Conference.
By 1998, the whole issue of human sexuality came out to dominate the agenda of the conference and a group looked at that topic. The sub-group came up with a recommendation to the plenary. The plenary was a much bigger body than the sub-group. By this time, the largest group of people in the plenary happened to be Africans and South Asians; the group we call the South-South today, who disagreed with the recommendations and views of the sub-group. Quite unexpectedly, we pushed for a vote on the issue and an overwhelming majority of the people in the plenary - 598 I think out of about 800 - voted in favour of the African position that we cannot accept the same sex union, that it is unscriptural, unbiblical. By the time we left the conference, it was like we went away divided. Those who came with a usual, typical Anglican way of doing things, thought they would have their way and so, the Americans went away disappointed. That was the beginning of the current problem. But we have said if they would not accept what the majority of the people have said, then too bad; we will not take their position as well because that position is for us un-African, inhuman, unscriptural; and so, we won’t accept it.
Like a joke, they thought that as Africans, we don’t know what we are doing; particularly, the Americans and you know they always have their ways politically and economically. So, we have been dragging it since 1998 and Africans and some of our other colleagues in America, England and South Asian, we have maintained our stand that we will not continue with any of our church that ignore what the bible says. We have had several conferences and several meetings, attended several commissions to see how we could reconcile the western people with the so-called conservatives, all to no avail. In fact when America tried to ordain a practising homosexual as bishop, many conservatives broke communion with them. So today, we are in a state of a broken communion in the Anglican Church wordwide. This is critical and fundamental because when we say we are in a state of a broken communion, it means that the other group has been ex-communicated as it were or orstracised and you are not in fellowship with them anymore until that communion is restored.
As I said, we have made several efforts in Lambeth Palace, and other places, at reconciliation, but it hasn’t work so far and we in Africa are saying that until we resolve the issue and until we restore communion we can’t come together. What is the point of coming together? Let me give you a clear illustration of what I’m saying:
In Lambeth Palace, we met as Primates, we could not share in the Lord’s Supper. It is as that bad. As Primates and Archbishops, we could not share in the Lord’s Supper - the highest and most important service in our church. So, what is left of the church then? It happened in two other places like that again and again, because the faith once delivered to the saints has been abandoned as far as we are concerned. All we are saying is that, look you don’t have a monopoly of homosexuals in your community. They are in Africa, they are in Abuja here and everywhere, but we don’t celebrate it for God’s sake. Our duty is to counsel people that are involve in it. To pray with them guide and advise them until they will come back to their senses. Many who have this problem have been healed world over. It is an acquired syndrome. But they say no, it is not an acquired syndrome, it is the way they are made. But we say no to that. God did not make a mistake in creation. God did not make a mistake in creating a man and a woman and they cannot re-create what God has already created.
So, when our brother, Rowan Williams, a man I admire so much, a man I respect so much for his intellectual ability, spirituality - and he knows that I love and respect him a great deal- but when it comes to this, his position is baffling and we cannot sweep it under the carpet. Communion must be restored first. We cannot go to Lambeth Conference to go and restore communion. We must do this before we can meet at the Lord’s table.
So, that is where we are and when we heard that they have given invitation to Lambeth Conference and one of our brothers was not invited, I had to write to them on behalf of our bishops to say that ‘not to invite one of our brother, is not to invite all the bishops in Nigeria. Because the man they refused to invite did not just make himself a bishop; we elected him, his election was confirmed by us and we gathered as the Church of Nigeria to consecrate him’. So what is his offence?
As soon as I did this, I called a meeting of our brother archbishops to tell them what happened - and on their behalf, what I had done; and my position was ratified by the archbishops, because I must carry them along with me in all this matter. I am now required by my brother archbishops to write a letter to Dr. Rowan Williams to tell him that whatever is going to threaten our unity as Nigerian bishops, we will not accept it. Because, not to invite one of us is to try to sow seed of discord among us and we won’t accept it.
Then, again - which is very important - the leader of the church in Africa- CAPA- (Conference of Anglican Provinces of Africa) which I had the privilege and honour of chairing, some time ago, we commissioned a paper titled: The Road To Lambeth. That paper looked into the entire Lambeth Conference history, and other things;
and made some recommendations among which are, we too in Africa have our problems, which need to be address. For instance, poverty, HIV/AIDS, the insurgent of Islam and all that. How do we contain all these? I have asked the committee to go and see how we can tackle these problems. But also, the papers say that until and unless those with whom we have a broken communion repent and communion is restored, the church in Africa may not go to the Lambeth Conference. This document was commended to all the provinces for further studies last year. So, when we met in Dar-el-Salam, Tanzania last February, eight of the provinces re-affirmed that they would abide by the position of the paper as far as the Lambeth Conference is concerned. Uganda, Kenya, West Africa, Nigeria have all endorsed it. So, this not a mere threat. We are simply saying that we cannot keep fire under our roof and go to bed. A problem such as this cannot be swept under the carpet.
What are the challenges and implications of this broken communion as it were?
The challenges are immense. When bishops gather in our church and they cannot share the Holy Communion, in the Lord’s Supper, that is dreadful and indeed painful. It is agonising but if that is what we have to do to address the fact that we are in a broken communion over this matter, we have to do it. It is painful, and unfortunate for me not to be able to receive a communion from my fellow bishop. But we told the American church in October 2003, that if they go ahead to ordain the same sex man as bishop, that action would tear sacred of our communion. It has to be like that; maybe because the Lambeth Conference used to be leisurely gathering where they just discuss and go away, where decisions are never bidding.
If Nigeria had not taken this position and had allowed it to go like that what would have happened to our faith in this country? What would our Christian brothers say to us as Anglicans? I tell you, we would have closed our church in Nigeria in shame. We cannot say that we are in a communion and allow whatever they say to just go like that. Let me also say this: that in our human existence in this world, there was a time Africans were slaves; but we came out of it. But what again followed? Political slavery, under colonial administration. Somehow, we came out of it. Then economic slavery: World Bank, IMF would tell you what to do with your money and your own resources. Now, it is spiritual slavery and we have to resist this. They had us as human slaves, political slaves and economic slaves. They want to come for spiritual slaves. Now we won’t accept it.
South Africa appears to have a different approach to this. They are supporting the same sex thing in the church. Why do you think they are taking an opposing view against the general African position?
You also need to know the history of South Africa. They came out of apartheid regime. There is a lot of talk about social injustice, human right abuses and so on during the old regime. For many of them in that country, it is a question of human right. That if a man wants to marry a man; so what? The parliament in South Africa, you must know, has passed a bill to legalise the same sex union - to say it is lawful for a man to marry a man and for a woman to marry a woman. So, this has put the church in a corner so to say. Even in England, the parliament passed the bill, which they called Civil Partnership and the church supported it by saying that as long as they maintain celibacy and I said: ‘look are you going to put camera in their bedroom to monitor what they would be doing when they are alone?’ They are urging us to think more of our poverty, HIV/AIDS and other problems and forget this matter. But Jesus told his disciples that ‘you will always have the poor with you’. But we are talking souls, eternity and kingdom of God and you cannot equate it with anything. HIV/AIDS will come and go; poverty will come and go. But the matter of faith is eternity. They are not the same levels. So, South Africa is part of Africa and they have taken their own decision. That is why I said earlier that only eight have endorsed our position paper. I have not heard from others provinces yet. At that meeting, Sudan did not come and there was no delegate, South Africa, Burundi and maybe three others remaining that have not responded.
But out of the eight that responded, Nigeria Uganda and Kenya in terms of strength, we already represent more that half of the entire Anglicans in the world. We are talking of about 20 million Anglicans in Nigeria alone and nearly 10 million in Uganda.
Are you looking forward to a situation where the American church will reverse what they have done?
That is our prayer and our hope. The word of God has never changed so if they can look back and change, that is the desire of the church. So, our people whether in England or in America, who have shifted the word and abandoned the teachings of God, they are the ones to repent. I will be the first to restore communion with them if they do so. But until that happens… Lambeth Conference is not a place where you go to determine the policy or the doctrine of the church. I’ve told my friend Rowan Williams that the road to God’s kingdom does not pass through Lambeth Palace or Canterbury. Look, England is our mother church but when they begin to do the kind of thing they are doing and the church looks elsewhere, as if it doesn’t matter, I have to say it matters.
Why are parts of the western world looking at the scripture in this way now?
No, the scripture is not dead. What is happening is that the tone of the modern culture is very strong in the western world and the church is becoming a minority voice. So, there is this tendency to have a new way of looking at things there - in a way to accommodate this modern pressure; and they will want to look at the scripture from this perspective too. But the way we were taught is; what is God saying? To whom is He saying this? In what context is this said? How is this applied to my context? How does the scripture challenge my situation? And we end up by saying whatever in my situation that God’s word cannot challenge and evangelise, too bad.
For instance, there used to be human sacrifice in our community in Africa. But the gospel came and addressed that and we stopped it. So, to them what is God saying today through modern practice? Instead of bringing out God’s word to address the situation, they want to see it the other way. They read into the scripture what they think the scripture is saying; and that is wrong. So, essentially, it is an attempt by them to superimpose the European cultural values on the scripture.
How have you been able to ward off pressure from them to soft - pedal on this situation?
Well, of course, many of our friends in the western world believe that it is a matter of money; and that any African leader, there is a price tag on their forehead; and that if they dangle carrot and money on them they will keep quiet. That temptation was very real. But thanks be to God that there is no price tag on Akinola’s forehead and I’m happy to say that what we are fighting is not about money but about God’s kingdom, His authority and His word. So, that is clear. But the truth is that there are lots of attempts here and there and I must say that a few of our leaders are falling into that trap in Africa and that is unfortunate. I was into poverty and I grew in it, so I have no problem dealing with poverty. But some of our people in Africa are falling into the temptation because of the poverty level among them and so, they will not be able to oppose America. We have fail to fall into the temptation of taking their money. We are cutting our coat according to available materials.
Again in terms of personal risk, the Lord is my shelperd I shall not want. There are threats at all levels, in my journeys, in hotels, but the good Lord has always seen me through. For me, whether I live or I die, it does not matter. If I die, hallelujah death for me will become a gateway to eternity. I know where I’m going; that is the important thing. But the most damaging of all the attack is the media. They use the media to demonise me. They call me all sorts of names. They attack me from all the angles; what I say, what I don’t say, what I meant what I don’t mean… they heap all that upon me. But again, it doesn’t matter. But that is the character of all human beings. If there is rain they blame God, if there is no rain, they blame God; if there is sunshine they blame God and if there is none, they blame God. So, who am I? That they found me worthy of this media attack, I celebrate and rejoice that I’m counted worthy of being demonised by the world. Peter, Paul and all other greater men of God suffered this. It is a big price to pay.
THE church in Africa has really not spoken against the genocide in Darfur, southern Sudan, where essentially, Christians are facing persecution. Why is this so?
We have a huge problem in this area. The question is how much can we really do from outside? Very little to say the truth. Let me say this much that we are not unaware of the problem in southern Sudan. But for Africa to have a voice, we are now processing to EU (European Union) to be recognised as an observer. We have a brilliant lawyer in Kenya who is working on that for us - as you know that headquarters of CAPA is in Kenya. So, once we have a recognition, that will give us a platform on which we can begin to do something. But as an outsider, there is just little impact that we ca make as our voice will have no effect. But in our resolutions at synods, we often condemn the genocide there and in our letters. But we are praying that before long we will get this status of recognition and we would be able to take more decisive actions.
How is your church in America doing?
Let me start by saying that Bishop Minns has been a foremost leader in his own right among the evangelical group in America. He is one of the most powerful preachers of the wholesome word of God and we have been working together for a long time at various levels. So, when the question arose as to who should we elect as the first bishop of CANA, we were looking for someone who can take on this challenge, who has the courage, the stamina, but above all, someone who loves Jesus, who can stand the temptation and trials of this issue. So, he was nominated and he happened to be the sole candidate and so, he secured all the votes and we followed all the constitutional requirements and he was consecrated.
How is CANA doing?
Fantastic. Even as at last week, five huge parishes voted to join CANA. This is meant to provide a spiritual haven for those who could not continue to be under the church in America. Now, people are coming out in large numbers to say they want to be members of CANA. It is doing very well even though it is also undergoing a very huge legal battle with ECUSA (the Episcopal Church in America). One of their leaders said they have set aside over eight billion dollars to fight us and I said that is very good, because I don’t even have eight naira to fight them. But I know it is God’s own battle and we will overcome. But we also continue to salute the courage of the people in America, who have seen that their spirituality is hampered by continuing to be part of ECUSA and they have decided to be part of CANA. These people are not just ordinary Americans; they are leaders and well recognised people - who is who in Washington DC. So, we are encouraged and strengthened by what we see.