Some Thoughts on the Archbishop of Nigeria

The Archbishop of Nigeria, The Most Rev. Peter Akinola, has emerged as a primary spokesperson for the collection of Provincial leaders, diocesan bishops, and other concerned Anglicans who constitute a movement within the Anglican family of churches to “realign” their various bodies into greater conformance with what they understand to be a biblically warranted or based internationally organized church.


In that effort the Archbishop has become for many the voice of an emerging Anglicanism, in which true freedom is found in obedient service to the faith “once delivered.” For others, he is the enemy of that which they believe Anglicans hold most dear, the belief that true servanthood in the Lord Jesus is perfect freedom, and that out of that servanthood grows new duties to meet new occasions.

I am to be numbered among those who find the Archbishop of Nigeria to be the enemy of what I understand the Anglican Communion to be. At the same time I admire his willingness to take on the Anglo-centric focus of the so called instruments of unity. He is on some level driving the last nail in the coffin of colonial Anglicanism.

He is not necessarily consistent in his attack. The Church of Nigeria is practicing the sort of autonomy that its Archbishop criticizes when practiced by the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. More, the Church of Nigeria is acting autonomously in ways similar to the Church of England, assuming that the Church of Nigeria can claim to be the focus of unity for a world wide community of churches.

The Archbishop speaks his mind on many occasions, and what he says is often intriguing, sometimes hurtful, sometimes constructive and occasionally destructive.

He has said horrid things about gay persons:

"I cannot think of how a man in his senses would be having a sexual relationship with another man. Even in the world of animals, dogs, cows, lions, we don't hear of such things." (The Atlantic online)

And about gay and lesbian persons:

“God created two persons — male and female. Now the world of homosexuals has created a third — a homosexual, neither male nor female, or both male and female — a strange two-in-one human.”

“The acceptance of homosexuality and lesbianism as normal is the triumph of disobedience; the enthronement of human pride over the will of God. This lifestyle is a terrible violation of the harmony of the eco-system of which mankind is a part. As we are rightly concerned by the depletion of the ozone layer, so should we be concerned by the practice of homosexuality.” (Both from Why I object to Homosexuality and Same-sex unions)

His arguments – that homosexuals are a “two-in-one human” and that homosexual lifestyle is somehow related to the eco-system – are amazing in their profound misreading of both homosexuality and humankind’s role in the eco-system. His suggestion that not “even in the world of animals, dogs, cows, lions, we don't hear of such things” turns out not to be completely true, but worse it makes the dreadful hierarchical comparison where, as President Mugabe of Zimbabwe stated, gay people are “worse than dogs…”

On the other hand, the Archbishop does speak out against tribalism, for integration of all peoples of Nigeria, and called on the delegates to the General synod of Nigeria to lead “integration and true unity to serve as a paradigm for the nation.”

“I appeal to you by the mercies of God, let us unite to make this Church great. The potentials are enormous. If only we can catch the vision of a strong, united Church… the hope of Nigeria. For the sake of God of the common good, let us bury our differences.”

And he speaks clearly about the need to address real problems in the social and political climate in which he works and lives. The “Message to the Nation,” sent by the synod over which he presided, mostly concerns the realities faced in Nigeria, and does so forcefully.

He has made an amazing plea to the nation in the midst of great political and social struggle,

Lately, our nation has been impaled with rumours of chaos and the political class(es) are not helping matters as scheming for the 2007 elections seem to override every other consideration. The Church is also impaled with the complaints of the wretched of the earth- the poor, the jobless, the oppressed and millions of Nigerians who continue to groan under abject want and poverty in the midst of plenty.

The brokenness of our entire society including the Church of God, calls for urgent action from all and sundry. The suffering of the vast majority is as glaring as the ostentatious living of a privilege few.”

Occasionally the Archbishop is given to moments of pique, as when he wrote in response to concerns about what was going to take place at the South to South Gathering in Egypt:

A lot of the misinformation has been due to the figment of imagination of protagonist wishing to introduce alien ideas into our historic faith. Some even go as far as to suggest it is a power tussle affair. This pitiful reasoning is far from our minds as we do not seek such.

It is pertinent to state that we are not concerned with power as being published in the media. Our major concern is upholding the integrity and sanctity of the Word of God and the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference guiding the integrity of our common historic faith. Any person or Church disregarding or flouting these are the ones to do a rethink about their status within our worldwide Anglican family.”

In wanting to straighten out the media and internet bloggers (me included) he can’t resist a last taunt, “Any persons or Church disregarding or flouting these (the Word of God and the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference) are the ones to do a rethink about their status within our worldwide Anglican family.” With that kind of taunt one wonders how the meeting in Egypt CANNOT be mostly dealing with realignment.

The Archbishop has some sense of his apparent power. He signs off as “The Primate of All Nigeria.” There are Archbishops of the internal provinces of the Church of Nigeria, so perhaps there is some reason for this title, but that would mostly make sense if these Archbishops were also Primates in their own right. Still, the title perhaps tells us something of the Archbishop’s sense of office. He is Primate of All Nigeria, just as the Archbishop of Canterbury is Primate of All England.

Archbishop Akinola is complex, outspoken, a person of considerable power. I gather from those who know him that his is a person of some real charm. He is willing to use his power, charisma and charm to ends he believes are central to his life and ministry. There was a fine article in the Atlantic Monthly on him, and much of what is written there fleshes out the man. (See The Atlantic Monthly, November 2003 ) He is a force to be reckoned with.


That reckoning is taking place. In the past few weeks there have been several important essays critical of the Archbishop of Nigeria and in particular of his church’s changes in the Church of Nigeria’s Constitution deleting reference to Canterbury and institutionalizing CANA (the Convocation of Anglican Nigerians in America). Both efforts distance the Church of Nigeria from widely held Anglican norms: the norm that the Archbishop of Canterbury is central to the definition of an Anglican Communion, and the norm that Churches (provinces or dioceses) do not go mucking about in jurisdictions other than their own.

The Rt. Rev. John Chane, Bishop of Washington, has taken the Archbishop to task on some of this. In his recent article in the Diocesan paper, he said:

“With the Archbishop’s reference that “no Church can ignore the teaching of the Bible with impunity,” I must ask myself who has been left with the ultimate authority to interpret the teaching of the Bible? Certainly such important work has not been left up to the Archbishop of Nigeria alone. And if the Church is to really focus on the issues of the Bible’s teaching and the core teachings of Jesus Christ, why does this Archbishop spend so much time on human sexuality issues while so many of his countrymen and women are oppressed by poverty, illiteracy and violence? Where is the strong voice of the Nigerian Anglican Church in opposing the continued neglect of vulnerable women and children, or in advocating on behalf of the poorest of the poor? Jesus was very clear in his hard teachings that one could always tell the righteous from the damned by whether they lived into feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger and visiting those who were in prison.” (See article at http://www.edow.org/news/window/sept2005/chanecolumn.html )

Bishop Chane may have made a stretch near the end of this quote, given what the Archbishop and Synod said, but the first part is clear and I think appropriate.

In a question and answer period following Archbishop Eames’s two talks at Virginia Seminary in early October, Jim McNaughten reported that Archbishop Eames said, in response to the Church of Nigeria’s constitutional change removing references to the Archbishop of Canterbury,

“My plea to my brother Peter, the Primate of Nigeria would be, ‘Pause, Peter, pause, because we are all in this together, because a preemptive strike like this would have the consequences of making the tensions greater and therefore, I ask that you would pause and take on the reservations that the rest of us have.”

Archbishop Eames, in his lecture at Berkeley was more highly critical of Archbishop Akinola and the Church of Nigeria and its actions.

The decision by the Synod of the Church of Nigeria to remove any reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury or the See of Canterbury has been roundly criticized, and although reported by the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes and by the American Anglican Council, it does not seem to have been met there with real relish. The decision by the Synod in Nigeria was clearly made with the approval of Archbishop Akinola, and his participation in this is disturbing to those who believe that Canterbury is in any way a real touchstone to the determination of just who is part of the Anglican Communion.

The lack of real enthusiasm about this move by Nigeria is, I believe, for two reasons: (i) There are those who would turn away from the Network’s movement if it really led away from Canterbury, and (ii) the Archbishop of Nigeria has in fact made it possible to sidestep Canterbury and perhaps the “West” altogether, and form an alternative collection of Anglicans on an international level, thus raising the question as to whether the Network is in the long run necessary at all.

It is not clear just what part the Network leadership might play in such an alternative Anglican community. On the one hand the Moderator of the Network has been well received by the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Network has been included in the list of invitees to the South to South Encounter, etc. On the other hand the Network is very much made up of people of the “Global North” who have the same temptations to use money and power in the same ways that have irritated the churches of the Global South perceived the “West” doing at other times.

Although I would hate to see the rupture happen, it would be most instructive to see how a new “Global South” oriented international church would play out with its North American partners its concerns about western colonial attitudes. And, of course, if the Network was troublesome to ECUSA, what is to say it would not be troublesome to this new thing?

Archbishop Akinola’s various remarks, papers, and official briefings give every indication that he clearly is his own man, save for his obedience to the Word of God as he has received it. It is not at all clear that he is willing to live again in a world where deference is given to a church leader simply because that person is leader of the English church.

Whether or not he is his own man in reality is yet to be seen. He is the chair of CAPA, the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, which he acknowledges has been underwritten by western donors to the present time. He is chair of the South to South Encounter which will meet in Egypt this month. Its funding is from its own members, but where they in turn get the funds is less clear. It is unclear how many of his international activities (which are considerable) are funded by Western conservative voices, particularly the AAC and the Network.

The effort to realign the Anglican Communion has given rise to the creation of a wide variety of agencies and organizations, some more a reality than others. All the meetings, travels, lectures, caucuses, consultations and encounters necessary to put this together costs a great deal, and there is considerable lack of clarity as to where the funding comes from.

There is no question that the funding of the AAC or the Network includes major donors whose concerns and objectives are not primarily about the Episcopal Church but about conservative agendas across ecclesial structures. There is also considerable concern that those non-church conservative agendas include paralyzing the ‘mainline’ denominations with such internal dysfunction that they cease to be able to carry out the progressive agendas of their own synods. So the question of AAC and Network engagement with the Archbishop of Nigeria and his agenda involves the question of funding, and the agenda of these outside funding sources.

Archbishop Eames describes the realignment of the Anglican Communion sought by the Network and the Archbishop of Nigeria as “proposals for groupings which can share one overall concept of Anglicanism and an exclusion from new structures of those who are interpreted to be in denial of true and traditional Anglicanism. I cannot overstate the dangers I see in such developments. Not alone do I view them as leading to a fragmented concept of the Communion we have inherited from generations of worship, witness and practice, I see them as a threat to the very word Anglican itself.” (The Berkely lecture, referenced above.)

The reckoning will come – from other primates and Anglican leaders who see him as destructive, from fellow bishops who question his particular hold on the Gospel, from a wide range of people who feel his anti-gay statements are over the top. And strangely, a reckoning will come from western conservatives who may find that the Province of Nigeria has gone too far in removing references to the see of Canterbury as part of the definition of what it means to be Anglican. The Network may indeed go with the Archbishop into this redefined form of Anglicanism, but some of the Network members will not be pleased.

The emergence of the Perfected Anglican Communion is of course no Anglican Communion at all. The Anglican Communion is provisional, unperfected, messy, and finally NOT a world church. To bad. No wonder the Archbishop of Nigeria must look elsewhere for what he wants, and when he gets it it will not be the Anglican Communion at all.


I believe we need to honor Archbishop Akinola for making us more aware of the colonialism still present in the automatic assumption that the Englishness of Anglicanism is essential to its existence. Could there be an Anglican Communion without the Archbishop of Canterbury as the primary focus of unity? I think so. Can a church be an Anglican church and not finally “like” the Church of England? I hope so. Could there be an Anglican Communion without communion with the see of Canterbury? I think not.

The Archbishop is an icon of our unity, but the unity itself is not dependent on the office. The core of Anglicanism, Archbishop Eames states, is found in the return to our sense of community. He stated in the Pitt Lecture at Berkeley Divinity School, “In the end we Anglicans ten to return time and again not to new structures, but to new appreciation of a way of life, and attitude, in short a being rather than a doing.”

The Windsor Report suggests a strengthening of the “Instruments of Unity,” with a particular role for the Archbishop of Canterbury. The suggestion is that he become the “focus of unity” and the other instruments (the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Meetings, the Anglican Consultative Council) become the instruments of communion. This in a way places the Archbishop of Canterbury in a unique position, separate from all the other instruments of our way of being church.

I am not sure that this is the way to go. Perhaps it would be better to have the Archbishop of Canterbury be one principle of unity by virtue of his “invitation” list – the list in the Constitution of the Church of England of those churches with whom the Church of England is in communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury then unites when he invites. Thinking of the circle of churches in the Anglican Communion as an ellipse instead, the Archbishop is at one foci. The Anglican Consultative Council (with some work on what counts as representative government there) becomes the second foci. The Primates would be defined as the chief bishops of those churches part of the Anglican Consultative Council. So the two foci would be the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference as its Episcopal instrumentality and the Anglican Consultative Council with the Primates as its Episcopal instrumentality.

Anglicans are drawn together by being in churches related in a family way to the Church of England. All we sisters, cousins, are drawn together finally by the desire to do so and by the suspicion that in doing so we are helping somehow to restore the unity that is the fulfillment of our Lord’s prayer that we might be one. Such bonds of affection and mutual regard can continue, even when the move beyond colonial Anglicanism requires a recasting of our relationships. I hope Archbishop Akinola can learn with us all how to recast our relationships without negating what has been our real sense of common life and community.


  1. So the two foci would be the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference as its Episcopal instrumentality and the Anglican Consultative Council with the Primates as its Episcopal instrumentality.

    So basically they would all be the same thing? I don't get it.

    Other than that, great analysis. I think you sum up Akinola and the state of Communion well, although I'd quibble with your distinction that the Anglican Communion is not already a global Church. We are a global Church that lacks certain key elements of global structure.

  2. J-tron ... thanks for your remarks. The difference in my suggestion is that the person of the ABC and the "corporate person" of the ACC would be the foci of unity, and the meetings of Lambeth and meetings of the Primates would be the shared episcopal consultation. The only real difference would be that no unity would be requried or expected from the Lambeth or Primates meetings...they would be consultative. The ABC could still invite or disinvite as he or she wished and the ACC could set its own rules as to who is part of the ACC.

    I have to confess there is more to be done on this idea.

    I like your second quibble...I think we need to go round on that for a while...are we a global church, but not very well organized, or are we a global fellowship of churches, about as organized as any family (sometimes functioning well together and sometimes not at all. )

    I really appreciate the fact that you read on to the end! Thanks.

  3. obadiahslope17/10/05 3:41 PM

    Thank you for including items that go to the credit of Akinola as well as the matters you disagree with him about. As you put it, Bishop Chane may have done a "stretch' in his summary.

  4. "... The Archbishop of Canterbury then unites when he invites. Thinking of the circle of churches in the Anglican Communion as an ellipse instead, the Archbishop is at one foci. The Anglican Consultative Council (with some work on what counts as representative government there) becomes the second foci...."

    Jim: I think this needs a bit of work, well even quite a bit.

    First, I think the issue with the RFTC is not so much identifying the "instruments of unity" as it is the effort to invest in them a degree of authority hitherto unknown. In the final reckoning, this fight really is not about homosexuality (whatever that may be) it is about power. If the authority sought by the commissioners is granted, the Anglican experience is over and someting new has replaced it.

    The Primates would be defined as the chief bishops of those churches part of the Anglican Consultative Council. ...

    Second, I think any concept of the ongoing communion that does not invest the primates with some role is a dream. These people, left and right, have power, they like power, they became primates to use power. They are not accepting less than power.

    ...So the two foci would be the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference as its Episcopal instrumentality and the Anglican Consultative Council with the Primates as its Episcopal instrumentality.


    The conservative/traditional/homophobe alliance (they are not all the same) is not going to go to any place that is based on equality of the bishops. They have constructed a vision (cf. John Becker's fantasy conspiracy) of the left as a monolithic movement that cannot be trusted. There simply will have to be some guarenteed level of "orthodoxy" (what is that anyway?) or it wont sell.

    Or so it seems to me.

  5. Mark, any reaction to Akinola's open letter to +Eames?

  6. Now the world of homosexuals has created a third — a homosexual, neither male nor female, or both male and female

    To be fair Mark, this is a common view, across many cultures, of homosexual persons.

    It need NOT be a problematic view . . . except as +PJA (et al) makes it so.

    For all that I despise about +Akinola, I can agree with him about colonialism in the AC: there will come a time---there MUST come a time---when the ABC will not be a citizen of the UK.

    However, as I value these things, a change to the selection-process of the ABC can ONLY happen, when there is as transparent and as democratic a polity, THROUGHOUT the Communion, as there is in ECUSA now (and with even MORE official protections for national church autonomy, than there is at present).

  7. In response to JCF's last posting -- I don't see on what grounds other Anglican/Episcopal churches could claim a right to participate in the election of the Archbishop of Canterbury! Long before the Canadian Church suggested that Canterbury invite the leaders of the "duaghter" churches to a meeting to discuss common problems and frictions, thus kicking off what turned into the Lambeth meetings, the Archbishop of Canterbury was Primate of All England. The manner of his (or perhaps someday her) choosing was hammered out over the centuries and is an important part of the on-going Settlement between the Church and the State in the UK. Even if the CofE were to be disestablished so that the government no longer played a role in the choice, Canterbury would remain one of the two leading bishops of the English church. As such he or she really should be chosen by the English church as it sees fit.

    I do see the problem though and I think it's part of what many people see as an inherent "colonial" or "imperial" structure, and an inevitable result of the way the Lambeth meetings started and the historical circumstances being addressed, like the authority of the CofE and the Privy Council over churches in other parts of the Empire. The Communion in its present form depends in part on decisions made by Canterbury over whom to invite to Lambeth and Eames and Akinola and others are all trying to address that in some way. (They are trying to do other things too, but that's not relevant here.)

    I do think giving more weight to the ACC may be the best way to go, provided the input from the laity and other orders of clergy can be protected....

  8. JCF--

    So perhaps only queer folk are living the Gospel, which makes "one new humanity out of the two"?

  9. I'm gonna have to agree with Dr. Young on this one. The ABC is an English bishop--NOT an Anglican Pope. If he *was* an Anglican pope it'd be a different story but as an geographical bishop he darn well ought to have a decent relationship with his territory.

    That having been said, I still think that we way we Americans call bishops is odd... I'd think the bishop should be chosen from among the diocesan clergy... Oh well.

  10. The Archbishop of Canterbury ought to have no more authority than the primate/presiding bishop of any other province of the Anglican Communion. Neither should Peter Akinola. Anything else smacks of colonialism.
    We should also demand a role for priests, deacons, and laypersons for the selection of all bishops/metropolitans/what have you. I personally don't believe in any metropolitical authority, except that of General Convention.

  11. obadiahslope20/10/05 7:33 PM

    Bill said:
    "We should also demand a role for priests, deacons, and laypersons for the selection of all bishops/metropolitans/what have you."

    ...which I agree with in principle. Episcopalians can rightly claim that democracy is their gift to the Anglican Communion.

    There are a couple of practical hurdles at the coomunion level to think about.
    They are not impossible to fix.

    Democracy costs money. many of the third world provinces would be hardpressed to run more democratic processes.

    Secondly a gerrymander. Sending all the American and UK bishops to Lambeth consitutes an over-represntation.

  12. In case I wasn't clear, I was referring to the ABC as "Instrument of Unity" (not to mention as primus inter pares) of the Anglican Communion, not as Primate of the CofE.

    It's whomever has the function of the FORMER that I believe should be open to the democratic imput of the entire Communion, not the latter (which may well require the separation of the two functions into different offices).

  13. Obadiahslope,

    Three thoughts:

    How much money would it really cost to start electing bishops locally?

    Provincial synods might cost a bit more, but the money could be found.

    Perhaps a parish by parish referendum on major changes in policy. That would cost very, very little.

  14. obadiahslope21/10/05 6:03 AM


    Not much for you or me, but entire dioceses seem to run on very little by our standards.
    Democracy requires an informed electorate. This requires a literate population, and a means of communication.
    Alternatively you could gather delegates for a long enough meeting for them to know each other I guess.
    I fully support democratisation, but it requires a basic measure of social justice to function.
    Like you, I want that too.
    I think we basically agree, sort of.

  15. Hello, obadiah---

    This is one those "things you need to know from a U.S. of A. context" FYIs:

    Democracy requires an informed electorate. This requires a literate population

    As soon as you said this, this raised the very ugly legacy of literacy tests for voting in the U.S. (one way, principally in the American South, that white people used to keep blacks from voting. Fortunately, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 did away w/ them).

    Beyond that, Christian radical educator Paolo Freire showed the falsity of the "democracy requires a literate population" lie. Illiterate populations can be educated re democratic control (empowerment) and literacy simultaneously. Democracy is something that can happen VERY QUICKLY . . . if there's a will to make/let it happen.

  16. Subject: The Archbishop of Nigeria "breaking up that old gang of mine"

    When it was started from the 2nd Century
    Anglicanism was not for the faint of heart.
    Those who have left as it is said, left not
    because Anglicanism was found wanting
    but because Anglicanism was found hard
    (to live by, to worship God with our
    hearts, minds, and souls). The Church of England,
    The Church of Canada, and The Episcopal Church
    are not Anglican, no matter the vestments or
    churches or cathedrals where they hold court.

    It is fairly simply, but hard, to see that
    the "faith once delivered", turns out to
    be the "soup of the day" in Canada & the
    Episcopal Church and by their actions
    of Canterbury also. THEY are not part of the
    same church that wrote Article XIII
    of the 39 Articles* and hence
    not an orthodox catholic Christian church

    *Article XIII: Of Works before Justification

    Works done before the Grace of Christ,
    and the inspiration of His Spirit, are not
    pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring
    not of faith in Jesus Christ; neither do they
    make men meet to receive grace, or
    (as the school-authors say) deserve grace
    of congruity; yea rather, for they are not
    done as God hath willed and commanded
    them to be done, we doubt not but they
    have the nature of sin.

    Just because a person "feels" the Archbishop of
    Nigeria is breaking up "that old gang of mine":
    in point of fact, by their own heretical actions,
    they had broken away long long before.
    Just because you have the $, prestige, power,
    and media doesn't mean you are right, true,
    brave, discriminated against, or "filled with the
    Holy Spirit". To put it crudely, " if you lie
    down with dogs, you get up with fleas".
    In other words, if you accept unrepentant
    sinners as your brothers in Christ, then you
    blasphemy Christ and His Church.
    That is why the Archbishop of Nigeria, or the
    continuing churches, cannot be in
    communion with "The Heriscopal Church".

    I think the Bishop Frank of Zanzibar around
    WWI excommunicated the Bishop of Hereford
    for some heretical things that bishop had said.

    Jesus promised the church would survive, but
    he didn't say which church and where, why not
    Africa, Asia, or South America coming back to
    save us through Jesus Christ as we once
    brought the church to them.

    In Christ there is no east or west,

    Sally F. Tarsitano
    Wife of the late Handgrenade of Antioch


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.