Akinola & Griswold: A torn friendship

textI returned late Tuesday from a last-minute trip to Washington to hear Peter Akinola, the primate of the Church of Nigeria, discuss his plans to launch a U.S. alternative to the Episcopal Church. (The picture shows Akinola greeting Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold at a meeting of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops in 2002.)

Akinola’s visit consisted of a forum at All Saints Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase, Md., on Monday evening; a news conference at Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, Va., on Tuesday morning; another forum at Truro on Tuesday evening; and several other private meetings. Akinola stressed repeatedly that his concern is for Nigerians living in the United States who feel alienated by the Episcopal Church’s consecration of a gay bishop and by its attendant teachings about the authority of the Bible.

Caryle Murphy’s report for The Washington Post concentrated on how Akinola’s plans relate to protests by conservative Episcopalians. (Murphy said that Akinola “did not know how many Nigerian Anglicans were in this country,” then added that he estimated there were 250,000. No other report from Tuesday suggested that Akinola’s estimate meant he was clueless about the number of Nigerian Anglicans in America, which is beside the point anyway. Does he have to be a demographer to know that many of his expatriates are concerned?)

Julia Duin’s report for The Washington Times mentions details that Akinola has not disclosed previously, especially his description of pleading with Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold not to consecrate Gene Robinson as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire.

Akinola plans to meet with Nigerians in New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Oklahoma City and Chicago.

I’ve written a 500-word report on Akinola’s visit for The Living Church, and I’ll prepare a longer piece about Akinola for a future issue of Christianity Today.

None of the reports emerging from Tuesday’s news conference captured the history between Akinola and Griswold. Here’s what I wrote on that matter for The Living Church (with links added for readers’ convenience):

Archbishop Akinola and Bishop Griswold began a friendship in 2000, and Archbishop Akinola subsequently criticized the Anglican Mission in America for crossing diocesan boundaries when the Provinces of Southeast Asia and Rwanda consecrated missionary bishops for the United States. In 2002, their friendship led to three highly publicized events: Bishop Griswold’s 11-day visit to Nigeria, Archbishop Akinola’s enthronement on the international cathedra at New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and Akinola’s attending a meeting of the U.S. House of Bishops (see photo at end of second row).

In a letter to the clergy and wardens of the Diocese of Washington, the Rt. Rev. John Chane recalled Archbishop Akinola’s criticisms of AMiA. He quoted from remarks Archbishop Akinola made to the Church of Nigeria News in 2001 (and repeated by Philip Jenkins in The Atlantic): “You don’t just jump from your diocese to begin to do whatever you like in another man’s diocese. That is not done in our Anglican tradition.”

“Hitherto my position has been that there was no need” for alternative pastoral oversight, Akinola said. “But that was when we were together, sharing the same faith, sharing the same order.” When the Episcopal Church “chose to separate itself from us,” he said, “we had no choice but to come rescue our people.”</blockquote

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