Lesbian and gay Christians in the UK have reacted swiftly and strongly to a report in this week’s Church of England Newspaper (CEN, 3 August 2007) claiming that Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria may ordain a bishop for an English jurisdiction before the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in 2008.
A source describing himself as a ‘worker in the Nigerian diocese’ told the Religious Intelligence (RI) website (which is linked to the CEN) that he was aware of such plans and that such a person would be employed as a ‘mission co-ordinator’.
Rumours regarding the possibility of such a role have been circulating over the last few months, says RI. But this is the first time it has been confirmed by a clergy member from Nigeria.
Speaking to the Church of England Newspaper he said: “It is possible that Archbishop Peter Akinola will have somebody appointed by the next Lambeth Conference in July 2008.”
The Rev Richard Kirker, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) said: “It would be perfectly consistent for Archbishop Akinola to start an English version of his Church, and while I am saddened by his divisive intentions there are some few who will find comfort under his brazenly homophobic creed.”
Kirker declared: “It has been clear for some time that under the guidance of Peter Jensen (the Archbishop of Sydney) the Nigerian Church has been distancing itself from the Church of England and particularly the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury. “
He continued: “Peter Akinola has made outspoken attacks on the Church of England’s policy towards Civil Partnership [officially recognized same-sex unions], he has removed any mention of the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury from his Church constitution and he has recently announced his bishops will not be attending the Lambeth Conference next year.”
The LGCM leader added: “While Archbishop Akinola spreads his brand of religion to England our main concern remains that the Church of England does not respond to this schism by increasing its own institutional homophobia – competing with him for the prize of who can be nastiest to gays.”
Archbishop Akinola’s actions in ordaining Bishop Martyn Minns in America, the leader of a US breakaway from The Episcopal Church, the recognized Anglican partner church in the region, has had global repercussions for the 77 million strong Communion.
Other African church leaders are expressing disturbance that Archbishop Akinola has played a role in refusing US church funds not just for the Nigerian Church but for others in his African region – leading to cuts in development programmes and assistance to projects combating HIV/AIDS.
This stance is linked to a strongly anti-gay position, which some in the Anglican Communion have made a litmus-test of what they are claiming is orthodoxy and traditional Christian faith.
Controversy has also been stoked by accusations and actions against a 2,000-strong network of gay Anglicans in Nigeria, which is defying moves supported by both state and church to further criminalize homosexuality in the country – including serious threats against their leader.
At the end of June 2007, the Rev Colin Coward, director of Changing Attitude England, and Mr Davis Mac-Iyalla, director of Changing Attitude Nigeria sent an Open letter to Archbishop Peter Akinola and Bishop Martyn Minns. It read as follows:
Dear Archbishop Peter and Bishop Martyn,
“The Daily Champion Newspaper, Lagos (June 17) and the Church of England Newspaper (June 22) have published reports of a statement issued by Rev. Canon AkinTunde Popoola, Director of Communications for the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion).
“The Church of England Newspaper reports that Davis Mac-Iyalla, Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria, met with the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church. It continues with a ‘“warning issued by the Church of Nigeria concerning confidence tricksters using the name of the church to fraudulently solicit funds, quoting the church’s communications director as saying “we have even seen a situation where a supposed knight collects money to organise homosexual meetings that only take place on sponsored news reports"’.
“Canon AkinTunde is repeating allegations against Davis Mac-Iyalla published on the Church of Nigeria web site on December 28 2005. This new statement is presumably timed to coincide with Davis’s widely reported presence at the Executive Council and designed to undermine his authority and integrity.
“Archbishop Peter and Bishop Martyn, you both met Davis Mac-Iyalla at the White Sands Hotel, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania during the Primates meeting. Both of you were present as, in conversation with Davis, Archbishop Peter remembered the official occasions when he had previously met Davis in Nigeria. Davis was then administrator for the Bishop of Otukpo, the Rt Revd Prof. I Ugede and accompanied him to national and diocesan meetings and services.
“Bishop Martyn, I asked in Tanzania, in the presence of Canon Chris Sugden and Canon David Anderson, if you would contact Canon AkinTunde and ask him to stop publishing false allegations against Davis, allegations which have led to death threats against him. You agreed to do so.
“Canon AkinTunde has nonetheless repeated the false allegations. He seems intent on destroying the reputation of a Christian brother, and has put Davis' life at risk. A member of the Church of Nigeria delivered a hand-written letter to Davis’s place of work earlier this year, threatening to kill him by pouring acid over him.
We believe that you will be as horrified as we are that such threats are being made and we urge you to issue a statement condemning all false allegations made against Davis Mac-Iyalla and stating that any Anglican who contemplates killing Davis or threatens violence against him is disobeying the 6th commandment and would commit a crime against God and humanity.”