Akinola unfiltered

akinolaRuth Gledhill, the U.K. Times‘ religion correspondent, scored a fascinating and fantastic interview with Nigerian Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola. She sat with him at his sparse office in Abuja and discussed the church in Nigeria, relations in the Anglican Communion, Islam, homosexuality and more:

Dr Akinola has become a totem of conservatism in the debate over homosexuality. The irony is not lost on him that he is attempting to preach a gospel back to England that was brought to his country by English missionaries in the mid-19th century. To modern, liberal, Western eyes, Dr Akinola is at the most extreme end of fundamentalist Christianity. Few can imagine the “broad” Church of England being led by such a man — but in Nigeria he is at the more liberal end of the Christian spectrum. More importantly, he is in the front line of relations between Christianity and Islam. In the northern, Sharia states of Nigeria, Christians have been driven from their looted homes, even murdered. The relationship with Islam is central to his ministry and he has found a way to counter Islam without violence: it is called evangelism.

I like that rather than characterize him one way or the other, she describes how different people view him. And then she just quotes him a lot. Her story is detailed and long, but she also provided video clips (here and here) and a transcript of some of his answers to her questions. Here he explains his perspective that the harder the Nigerian church worked with the American Anglicans, the harder it was for the Episcopal Church to reach out to the Nigerians. The burden of proof, he says, is on those who have changed their doctrine:

The problem is ECUSA and the Western church’s way of seeing and handling Scripture. Gene Robinson is just a symptom. I kept on saying you do not have to go through Canterbury to get to Christ. They [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. No Nigerian bishop needs to go to Lambeth Palace to go and study how to become a Christian. It is all available here. But as a fellowship 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 or the historic faith.”

I have friends on both sides of the Episcopal Church split and sometimes it’s hard to see where the divisions lay, exactly. But this quote does such a good job of showing why the church is in danger of schism.

Gledhill’s running transcript of Akinola reads most interestingly in contrast with quotes from the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. We’ve praised those transcripts provided by journalists, but it’s interesting to compare her opaque answers with the clear and direct answers from Akinola:

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.”

Much of the interview centers on homosexuality, but unlike so many media reports in the West, Gledhill permits Akinola to explain the issue from his perspective as a Christian less inclined to read Scripture in a postmodern light and as a Nigerian church leader attempting to protect his flock from violent Muslims. She also learns about his very rough childhood, how he came to join the priesthood and what his plans are after he retires in a year and a half.

Anyone who reads Gledhill knows she’s not aligned with Akinola’s views, but she did an amazing job of letting her interview subject share his views without biasing readers against him or cutting his explanations short. It really is a model for Western reporters to follow — if they want to understand the Anglican divide better.

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  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com mattk

    WOW! Gledhill is good.

  • http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com Alice C. Linsley

    Gledhill has done a fine job in this interview of a truly great Anglican leader, but after engaging her blog readers last year on the subject of homosexuality and Nigeria, I doubt that few of them will look with kindness on the good Archbishop. Akinola is a lightening rod who attracts vicious and vindictive comments from revisionists.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Akinola says: “But our unity will never be at the expense of truth or the historic faith.”

    Amen! May the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams speak these words with the same deep heart-felt biblical convictions.

  • John Redman

    I was raised conservative Irish Catholic and, in high school, actively recruited to be a priest. At the time, the reason I did not enter the priesthood was an inability to see my life as celibate.

    I am now married 25 years and have been given the gift of a wonderful daughter, who has surpassed any expectation I had when she was born. Of course, while I will never know what my life as a priest would have been like, I have never regretted the decision I made to not become a priest.

    If I was in high school today, I would have not responded to the call to priesthood due to any number of additional issues I now have with the Catholic Church. I have grown into a deep conviction that a life (and by extension a society) that is healthy, both physically and spiritually, is inclusive. The Catholic Church has now explicitly excluded from its embrace broad swaths of the population. Homosexuals are but one of those. (Please recall the Pope, many years ago, spoke “ex cathedra” about the sinfulness of birth control.) And what has followed is that its ability to recruit talented domestic leaders, as it once did, has withered.

    What I believe will happen if the Anglican Church moves increasingly towards an exclusive posture, driven by what I view as an indefensible, literal interpretation of the Old Testament (see e.g “A Biography of God” by Jack Niles), is that it will see its leaders in the United States drawn increasingly from foreign countries.

    This will occur because the western culture is inherently biased towards inclusion–this is a major reason it has survived with the robustness it displays today. This inclusive culture, and its religious manifestations, will continue to sail steadily away from exclusive alternatives. Within the context of the current schism, a first manifestation of this dynamic is the expression of loyalty by several breakaway northern Virginia congregations to an African bishop.

    I find it hard to think of anything much more ironic.

  • danr

    John wrote:
    “What I believe will happen if the Anglican Church moves increasingly towards an exclusive posture”

    With due respect, did you even read the post? What of Akinola’s comments:
    “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.”

    His point is exactly the opposite of yours – the Anglican church (in the US, and somewhat in UK) has been “moving increasingly” towards an *unbiblically inclusivist* posture. It is the Anglican church that is maintaining it’s adherence to, ummm, centuries of common orthodox Christian views on the infallibility of Scripture.

    And that’s hardly just the Old Testament – the New Testament has plenty to say about the stances Akinola is taking. You don’t have to study for the priesthood to know that.

  • Mike Smith

    Many thanks to Ruth Gledhill for her excellent and enlightening interview with Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria. I wish the debate could move on from sexual orientation (of which Jesus said nothing) to other global issues, such as relations with the world of Islam where Nigeria is on the front line. This is not just a question of mission and conversion. Let’s be realistic. The Christian world is not going to convert the Islamic world at the wave of a magic wand. Rather, there is the need for a deep respect for each other’s faith traditions and the values that we hold in common. (There is a whole other theological debate here about the nature of the ‘universal Christ’ present in the whole of creation.) In Kaduna, in northern Nigeria, the Christian leader Pastor James Wuye has built bridges of trust with Imam Muhammed Ashafa. They were leaders of rival armed militia who have found a remarkable spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness, beautifully captured in the documentary film The Imam and the Pastor, narrated by Rageh Omar. The film has been commended by the Archbishop of Canterbury. I declare an interest here as I am associated with the film production company FLTfilms which shot the film in Plateau State, Nigeria, last year. I do recommend that anyone who wants to know and understand what is going on in Nigeria to see the film, available from: http://www.fltfilms.org.uk

  • http://www.accidentalanglican.net/ Deborah

    Anyone who reads Gledhill knows she’s not aligned with Akinola’s views …

    Really? Funny, I’ve been reading Gledhill for a couple of years now, and I’ve never seen her as being on the opposite end of the Anglican spectrum from Akinola.

    Either she’s an exceptionally good reporter, or that statement needs some qualification.

  • Scott Allen

    Thank you, Mollie, for the link. It IS refreshing for an author to let the subject reveal himself.


    may the good Lord unite his church