Archbishop Peter Akinola, scourge of lesbian and gay people and their supporters in the worldwide Anglican Communion, had an unexpected Valentines Day encounter today ‚Äì with the head of an organization that embodies the concerns of a group he has previously suggested do not exist, gay Christians in Nigeria.
This afternoon (14 February 2007), following the first press briefing prior to the official start of the Anglican Primates meeting on Thursday 15 February, Mr Davis Mac-Iyalla, director of Changing Attitude Nigeria and Archbishop Peter Akinola, Primate of All Nigeria, met for the first time.
As Mr Mac-Iyalla left the hotel lobby with the Rev Caro Denton Hall (from Integrity, USA), he found the Archbishop in the company of Bishop Martyn Minns (head of a breakaway group of US Episcopal parishes now under Nigerian control) and his wife, plus Canon Chris Sugden from the conservative group Anglican Mainstream.
Mr Mac-Iyalla went straight to the Archbishop to introduce himself and Denton Hall, from the network of lesbian and gay Episcopalians.
The Rev Colin Coward of Changing Attitude England reports: ‚ÄúThe Archbishop did not immediately recognize Davis, but asked him what he was doing in Tanzania. Davis explained that he has come to greet him and other Primates. Peter Akinola asked Davis if they had met before and Davis said yes, they had met several times, when Akinola came to inaugurate the Province of Jos. Davis told the Archbishop the story of the late bishop Ugede, when they had met at the bishop‚Äôs funeral.‚Äù
Coward continued: ‚ÄúDavis also told Peter Akinola how he had spent the night at his house following Bishop Ugede‚Äôs death in Abuja. Davis went on to describe the formation of Changing Attitude Nigeria. Peter Akinola then remembered who Davis was and thanked him. The Archbishop jokingly asked Davis if he was officially invited to the meeting, and Davis replied that no, he is not a Primate.‚Äù
Mr Coward, who had met Archbishop Akinola at an Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Nottingham, joined Mac-Iyalla and they exchanged handshakes and greetings with the Archbishop, who Coward described as ‚Äúfriendly and open‚Äù.
After the meeting, Davis Mac-Iyalla said: ‚ÄúI came to Tanzania hoping I would be given the opportunity to meet my own Primate and I am very happy now to have met him and been warmly greeted by him. My Archbishop is now aware that I am here, representing Nigerian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Anglicans.‚Äù
He added: ‚ÄúI care about our Anglican Communion of which we are both members. I would hope for the opportunity of meeting him again so that I can bring before him the issues affecting gays and lesbians in Nigeria as a result of the Government bill [proscribing homosexual activity and organization] and of church attitudes towards LGBT people.‚Äù
Mr Mac-Iyalla, whose has faced accusations and death threats in his home country, declared: ‚ÄúI am happy now that the truth that I have always told about myself, that I am a gay Nigerian Anglican has been witnessed by my own Primate. I hope Archbishop Peter Akinola will know that I am not a person who has deceived or cheated the church. I have always told the truth about my time with Bishop Ugede in Otukpo and my commitment to the diocese and the whole church.‚Äù
The global Anglican Primates meeting outside Dar es Salaam, Tanzania‚Äôs largest city, is surrounded by security, meaning that opportunities for lay people, clergy and others not part of the official retinue to meet them are severely limited.
The gathering is the last of it kind before the Lambeth Conference in 2008, and observers say that it could be determinative in shaping future decisions about the troubled 77-million Communion.
Divisions between those who believe that affirming lesbian and gay people is a Gospel imperative and those who argue that it goes against biblical principles, are very deep. But Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, while reserving his own personal position in favour of upholding majority church teaching, has urged people to meet and talk face-to-face.
The Windsor Report also encouraged Anglican leaders to listen to the voices of lesbian and gay people in the Church. In practice this has been difficult, and many Global South Primates have refused to do so.
Those seeking ways beyond the impasse will hope that the unexpected Valentines Day encounter between Archbishop Akinola and Mr Mac-Iyalla will be a small step toward dialogue rather than confrontation.