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At Axis of Episcopal Split, a Nigerian

Excerpted from At Axis of Episcopal Split, an Anti-Gay Nigerian, by Lydia Polgreen and Laurie Goodstein, published Dec 25, 2006, by The New York Times (free registration required):

nigeria-akinola.jpg…Archbishop Akinola, a man whose international reputation has largely been built on his tough stance against homosexuality, has become the spiritual head of 21 conservative churches in the United States. They opted to leave the Episcopal Church over its decision to consecrate an openly gay bishop and allow churches to bless same-sex unions. Among the eight Virginia churches to announce they had joined the archbishop’s fold last week are The Falls Church and Truro Church, two large, historic and wealthy parishes.

In a move attacked by some church leaders as a violation of geographical boundaries, Archbishop Akinola has created an offshoot of his Nigerian church in North America for the discontented Americans. In doing so, he has made himself the kingpin of a remarkable alliance between theological conservatives in North America and the developing world that could tip the power to conservatives in the Anglican Communion, a 77-million member confederation of national churches that trace their roots to the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

…The 62-year-old son of an illiterate widow, Archbishop Akinola now heads not only Nigeria — the most populous province, or region, in the Anglican Communion, with at least 17 million members — but also the organizations representing the leaders of Anglican provinces in Africa and the developing world. He has also become the most visible advocate for a literal interpretation of Scripture, challenging the traditional Anglican approach of embracing diverse theological viewpoints.

“Why didn’t God make a lion to be a man’s companion?” Archbishop Akinola said at his office here in Abuja. “Why didn’t he make a tree to be a man’s companion? Or better still, why didn’t he make another man to be man’s companion? So even from the creation story, you can see that the mind of God, God’s intention, is for man and woman to be together.”

Archbishop Akinola’s views on homosexuality — that it is an abomination akin to bestiality and pedophilia — are fairly mainstream here…

Other conservative American churches that have split from the Episcopal Church, the American branch of the Anglican Communion, have aligned themselves with other archbishops, in Rwanda, Uganda and several provinces in Latin America — often because they already had ties to these provinces through mission work…

…One of Archbishop Akinola’s principal arguments, often heard from other conservatives as well, is that Christianity in Nigeria, a country where religious violence has killed tens of thousands in the past decade, must guard its flank lest Islam overtake it. “The church is in the midst of Islam,” he said. “Should the church in this country begin to teach that it is appropriate, that it is right to have same sex unions and all that, the church will simply die.”

He supports a bill in Nigeria’s legislature that would make homosexual sex and any public expression of homosexual identity a crime punishable by five years in prison…

Archbishop Akinola said he supported any law that limited marriage to heterosexuals, but declined to say whether he supported the specific provisions criminalizing gay associations. “No bishop in this church will go out and say, ‘This man is gay, put him in jail,’ ” the archbishop said. But, he added, Nigeria has the right to pass such a law if it reflects the country’s values.

This article was posted on Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007 at 12:32 pm and is filed under Africa, Anglican/Episcopal. You can follow any updates to this article through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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