Fall 2003, Vol. 6, No. 3

Table of Contents
Fall 2003

Quick Links:
Articles in this issue

From the Editor:
Under Whatever

The Anglican Crackup

The View From Lagos

Special Supplement:
Religion in the 2004 Election

The Case of Chaplain Yee

Instructions From the Vatican

The Social Gospel Lays an Egg in Alabama

God and the EU Charter

Mel Gibson, the Scribes, and the Pharisees

Gibson and Traditionalist Catholicism

The Religion of Country



The View From Lagos
by Matthews A. Ojo


A few hours after Gene Robinson was consecrated as an Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire November 2, Peter Akinola, the archbishop and primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), called the consecration unacceptable and declared that an overwhelming majority of the primates in the Global South would not recognize Robinson’s office or his ministry. This was, Akinola said, the beginning of a “state of impaired communion” in the church worldwide. 

On November 6, The Punch and the Guardian, two of Lagos’ largest newspapers, gave front page coverage to Akinola’s announcement that the Nigerian Anglican church had severed its relationship with its United States counterpart over the issue. The Nigerian press, which had been following the events keenly, also gave prominent coverage to what other leading Nigerian Christians had to say on the subject.

On November 5, for example, the Lagos newspaper This Day reported that the Rev. Nathan Nwachukwu, a Baptist leader in Northern Nigeria, had lauded the Nigerian Anglican church for taking so strong a stand against the ordination of homosexuals into the Christian ministry. Similar statements were reported from John Onaiyekan, the Catholic archbishop of Abuja, and Sunday Ola-Makinde, Abuja’s Methodist archbishop. Ola-Makinde threatened that the African church would boycott the World Council of Churches if a gay priest or bishop were ever found in attendance.

Religion is hardly a new focus of attention for the Nigerian press. As I noted in these pages in 1999 (“In Lagos, Religion’s Above the Fold,”, religion news moved into the forefront of press coverage between 1977 and 1979, following a great debate about the inclusion of Sharia (Islamic law) in the country’s new constitution. Thereafter, the religious conflicts of the 1980s and their socio-political implications in a pluralistic society kept religion on the front pages. By the 1990s, in response to religious revivalism in Nigerian society, many papers had begun publishing full-length sermons by various religious leaders on a regular basis.

For the Nigerian press the story of homosexuality and the Anglican Communion began at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, at which the African bishops emerged as the most prominent opponents of any form of approval of homosexual practice by the church. In the process, they drew attention to the importance of African Christians within World Christianity.

In contrast to the stagnation and decline of Anglican membership in the West, the greatest growth in the Communion has been in Africa, and especially in Nigeria, where the number of Anglicans has grown from less than half a million at the beginning of the 20th century to 17 million today. In the past two decades, the Nigerian church has witnessed remarkable institutional growth, with the number of its dioceses rising from 26 in the 1980s to 61 in 1998, 78 in 2002, and 80 in 2003.

Indeed, the 1998 resolution on human sexuality was very much seen as a victory for the African church. From its standpoint, this was the first time in over a century of Lambeth conferences that the voice of African Anglicans had been heard and taken into account in reaching a crucial decision in the life of the church.

No Nigerian publication has covered the homosexuality story more closely than the Guardian, which is owned by Alex Ibru, himself a prominent Anglican layman. Between June and September the Guardian published more than 40 items on the subject, including front page stories and multi-page take-outs. On June 21, for example, the newspaper devoted six full pages to homosexuality and the church, featuring the views of bishops from other parts of the world who have spoken against homosexual practice.

On June 1, The Guardian first reported that primates of the Anglican Communion meeting in Gramado, Brazil, denounced the church’s involvement in gay marriages. This was seen as an attempt to prevent the liberal bishop of New Westminster in Canada from conducting same-sex marriages. When New Westminster went ahead and ratified a same-sex liturgy, the Guardian and The Punch prominently covered the Nigerian church’s decision to sever relations with the diocese on the grounds of its noncompliance with the Lambeth resolution.

On June 15, after Jeffrey John, an openly gay cleric, was nominated to the bishopric of Reading, England, the Guardian reported Akinola’s statement that the nomination was “barbaric and not in line with the natural law of creation.” (Under pressure from the archbishop of Canterbury, John subsequently declined to accept the appointment.)

In two issues in July and August, the Guardian outlined the Nigerian church’s grounds for attacking same-sex marriages and the appointment of gay priests as bishops. Summarized, these were:

 1. That the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)’s adherence to the scriptures from an evangelical perspective is nonnegotiable.

 2. That homosexuality and homosexual practice from the scriptural perspective is sinful and condemnable. (“While arguments in the West for decriminalizing homosexuality is supposedly based on Science, we would want to base our position on scriptures, which for us is definitive and primary.”)

 3. That the Nigerian church is not championing an insignificant minority view created from cultural biases but the view of a majority that has been held unceasingly for centuries by the church. Hence, it is unkind to accuse the leaders of the Nigerian Anglicans as suffering from homophobia.

 4. That a satanic, secularist, materialistic, self-centered spirit was behind the acceptance of homosexual practice and its promotion by certain Western Christians.

 5. That the church accepts and will minister to homosexuals, if they see themselves as having fallen short of biblical and Christian standards and seek repentance.

 6. That the Nigerian church considers the issue as very important and the acceptance of homosexual practice either as good or tolerable can lead to a split in the church.

 7. That the current homosexual debate is an attack on the church, which if not strongly resisted will pollute the church and weaken its power to preach the Gospel to a permissive society.

 8. That marriage as instituted in the scriptures is between a man and a woman. Anything besides this is a perversion of God’s instruction and an assault on the sovereignty of God.

 On August 10, the Guardian ran a statement from the Nigerian Anglican House of Bishops that sought to convince the public that several biblical verses condemned homosexual practice as a sin. To strengthen this position, the newspaper published in full an article by Rev. Dr. S. G. W. Andrews, the president and provost of Thorneloe University, an Anglican institution in Sudbury, Ontario, arguing that the New Testament condemns homosexual practice.

While The Punch made a show of neutrality, the Guardian did not try to hide its support for the position of  the Nigerian church. Typical headlines were: “The Church is Under Satanic Attack, Says Akinola,” “Gay Bishop: Nigerian Church Condemns Robinson’s Confirmation,” “Nigerian Anglicans Battle Williams Over Gay Bishops.” On June 15, the paper called the latest pro-gay ecclesiastical events in the United States and Canada “strange developments.” Affirmation of same-sex marriages in Canada and Robinson’s appointment as bishop were “a Satanic attack on God’s church.”

All along, the Guardian has served as Akinola’s mouthpiece, regularly quoting the archbishop’s denunciations of pro-homosexual words and deeds. In September, after Archbishop Winston Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town criticized Akinola and his fellow Anglican bishops for being intolerant, arrogant, and hypocritical, Akinola replied that Ndungane was ignorant of all the issues at stake. This reaction was mild compared to what Akinola had said in 1998 in response to a pre-Lambeth Conference report on human sexuality that Ndungane had written. As reported in the Guardian June 12, 1998, Akinola at that time called Ndungane “a misfit, a wolf in shepherd’s clothing and one of the end-time agents of the devil sent to lead astray those who would have believed in God.”

The Nigerian press reported the outcome of the special Lambeth summit of October 16-17 as a partial victory for the hard-line conservative position of the Nigerians. Under the headline “Anglican leaders at Lambeth, regret gay bishop’s election,” the Guardian on October 17 reported that while liberals favored the acceptance of homosexuals fully into the church, conservatives like Akinola of Nigeria were quoted as saying that there “could be no compromise over homosexuality because ‘it is clearly outlawed by the Bible.’”

The Monitor on Sunday of October 19 gave front page coverage to the news and suggested that the church might break up over Robinson’s ordination. The 12 months the primates gave themselves as “thinking time” to find a lasting solution was seen as a way out of trying to coax Robinson and the New Hampshire diocese to change their minds. 

After the Lambeth summit, the Sunday Vanguard reported prominently a press conference held by Tunde Adeleye, the Anglican bishop of Calabar, to make clear that the Nigerian church would never ordain homosexuals, who (according to the Sunday Vanguard) he said “were worse than animals in the forest.” The Guardian reported that Adeleye called homosexual behavior “devilish and satanic…. It comes directly from the pit of hell. It is an idea sponsored by Satan himself and being executed by his followers and adherents who have infiltrated the church.”

In order to understand the intensity of the Nigerian reaction a number of circumstances need to be taken into account.

The position of Nigerian Anglicans has been informed by the ongoing evangelical and Pentecostal revival within Nigeria, which has roots in a number of evangelical parachurch groups previously connected to the Anglican church. This revival includes a strong pietistic strain, particularly on the part of the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Church (EFAC), a revivalist group that has been in the forefront of promoting a conservative evangelical agenda for some years.

As a corollary, the burgeoning indigenous Pentecostal churches in Nigeria had regularly recruited their membership from the fold of nominal Anglicans, thus challenging the Anglican and other mainline Protestant churches to a regeneration of spirituality. Without a doubt, the Anglican church in Nigeria cannot adopt any different position from the general pietistic orientation of contemporary Nigerian Christianity if it is going to survive. Bishop Tunde Adeleye of Calabar clearly had this in mind when, in an October 19 interview in the Guardian, he cautioned other Nigerian Christians not to ridicule the Nigerian Anglican Church because of what was going on in the Anglican Communion’s provinces in the West.

Peter Akinola is himself a conservative evangelical who spent much of his ministerial life in northern Nigeria, where conservative Muslim opposition to the church has been strong, and where many Christian leaders have been tested by religious persecution. Akinola’s leadership in the current controversy should be seen as part of his struggle to ensure the survival of the church in a hostile environment.

On top of this, homosexual behavior is strongly condemned in many African societies, and particularly in the Yoruba society, Akinola’s ethnic group. And despite the intrusion of Western values, this traditional cultural view strongly persists among Christians and non-Christians in African society. As Bishop Peter Adebiyi of Lagos West put it in an interview with The Punch in July, “Homosexuality is alien to the African culture.” The Nigerian Anglican Church is thus on solid ground when it claims that the normative Nigerian cultural view on human sexuality is that of a man and woman entering into sexual activity through heterosexual marriage.

Finally, one should not underestimate the desire of a very vibrant African church—one that has (contrary to some reports in the Western press) for a long time been largely independent of financial support from the West—to play a leading role. This is not simply a matter of demographic strength. There are now many Nigerian Anglican bishops who are scholars and theologians, some of them with training in Western institutions, who are in a position to challenge Western liberal traditions. 

It is important to note that none of the Nigerian papers ever considered the pro-homosexual positions. To be sure, on July 27, the Guardian published a photograph of a demonstration organized by gay and lesbian activists at a Church of England General Synod held in York, noting that the protesters denounced the archbishop of Canterbury for capitulating to Nigeria in withdrawing Jeffrey John’s appointment as bishop of Reading. As far as the Guardian was concerned, the capitulation of the archbishop was a victory for Nigeria.

Although this was a situation that originated in the West, the Nigerian press portrayed the outcome as having wider implication for the life of the church in Nigeria. There are two issues at stake. 

First, many African Christians are convinced that the Western liberal position is an attempt to redefine what Christianity actually is and to reinterpret Christian moral values in order to make them compatible with the values of a permissive society. Secondly, the major concern of the church in Africa is how to sustain its growth through evangelism, missions, and the healing ministry that focuses on the daily needs of millions of Africans. The debate on sexuality, therefore, seems to be a diversion from these pressing needs.

In contemporary Nigeria, the Christian life is often conceptualized as a ceaseless battle with the devil and his agents, the demons. Equally, the Christian life is conceived and portrayed as a source of great power, not only for overcoming demons but also for subverting the entire kingdom of dark forces and their social manifestations. The literal demonization of Western sanctioning of homosexual relations is thus a familiar call to Nigerian Anglicans to prepare their “prayer missiles” against an “enemy.” The Nigerian church has triumphed in such previous battles, and it is unlikely that it will lose the present one. 

From the Nigerian media’s perspective, the African church was standing on high moral ground, while the Western church was morally bankrupt. In a global context, it became imperative for the African church to lead the way to a moral recovery within Christianity and in the world at large.






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