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
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."
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."
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