Archbishop Peter Akinola is listed among TIME Magazine’s top 100 men and women who are transforming our world. On the one hand he is to be congratulated. That congratulation is short lived, however, when one looks at the rest of the list. The list is very mixed indeed, and TIME admits this. The Archbishop is listed in a sub group with the banner title, “Leaders & Revolutionaries: Dictators, democrats, holy men (and a TV host)—these are the people with the clout and power to change our world.”
Here are the others in this oddly distinguished subgroup: Muqtada al-Sadr , Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf , Hugo Chavez , George W. Bush , John McCain , Mahmoud Ahmadinejad , Ayman al-Zawahiri , Hillary Rodham Clinton , Pope Benedict , Condoleezza Rice , Wen Jiabao , Ehud Olmert , Pervez Musharraf, John Roberts , Ismail Haniya , Angela Merkel , Jigme Singye Wangchuk , Archbishop Peter Akinola , Junichiro Koizumi , Oprah Winfrey , Bill & Melinda Gates. Quite a group! Too bad no mention of Republicans (I thought G.W. B. was one). Too bad that it includes at least one leader of a nation declared today to be a failed state. Too bad that several of these people are at each other’s throats. What a mix!
Condoleezza Rice wrote the article on Oprah Winfrey, and to her credit she claims Ms. Winfrey as a friend. Others are mostly respectful but more distant. And then there is Rick Warren’s article on Archbishop Akinola. It would appear that the Archbishop who is described by Warren as having “the Strength of a Lion” is included on this list primarily because Christianity is growing in the Global South, and in particular in Africa. Warren thinks that the Archbishop is too easily categorized as being famous only because of the Anglican Communion struggles. Instead Warren says, he “personifies the epochal change in the Christian church.”
So the Archbishop is a symbol of something other than himself. That is why the beginning reference to the Archbishop’s anti-gay stance and the ending reference to the Archbishop’s sometimes criticized remarks in the Nigerian struggle between Muslims and Christians are of no importance to this strangely worshipful piece. I wonder why these comments were made at all. The two points of glory: He has “the strength of a Lion”, and that “he, like Mandela, is a man of peace and his leadership is a model for Christians around the world.”
If these are both true, it is wonderful that the Archbishop is on the list. Given the fact that many of the people in this sub-group are not peaceful people at all, although some are indeed strong as lions or whatever, one can perhaps take comfort in his being a man of peace, etc. But this list is about equal bum and prince (or princess), and the Archbishop is by the purple a prince. But it list does him no great service, for it is not finally about him and nothing about his actual leadership is referenced, save a reference to numbers. It is about his being an African, a prince, and a symbol.
I have written an essay on the Archbishop in which I suggested there is much about the Archbishop to actually admire. At the same time there is much that is infuriating and actually terrible about him as well. But on the whole he would have been better honored for who he is althgether than for what TIME or Rick Warren thinks he symbolizes.