News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

The Anglican Church of Nigeria has found the perfect balance.

Unlike The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Church of England who have strayed from their spiritual and theological moorings with considerable focus on social issues like pansexuality, racism, the aggrieved history of Native American Indians and ecclesiastical structural issues like women bishops and their own survival, the Anglican Church in Nigeria has always maintained its three-fold thrust – saving souls for the Kingdom, going after the tyranny of Islamic extremism and government corruption.

The Episcopal Church has reduced itself to proclaiming a socio-political gospel, and the Church of England monkeys around with its outdated structures and a culture war over women bishops and pansexuality, and how far it can acquiesce to the culture. At the same time, the Church of Nigeria maintains a steely determination to ‘keep the faith once for all delivered to the saints’, spreading that faith (to everybody including Islamists) while, at the same time, having no compunction in ripping their government over myriad issues that hinder the nation’s economic growth and advance into the 21st Century.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer and the world’s 10th-largest oil producer, yet its government coffers are bare because of corruption. Anglican Church leaders are furious at the slow rate of positive change in their country along with its leaders seeming indifference, even imperviousness, to Islamic persecution of Christians in the northern half of the country.

Nigerian Archbishop Nicholas Okoh spoke to the British House of Lords recently saying, “In Nigeria today the main issue is the state of insecurity in the land after the General Election which brought the president into power. There was a widespread demonstration in the north. With the benefit of hindsight we can see that it was pre-planned. It took off almost immediately. It was sponsored by political opponents. People were killed and businesses set on fire. Under Boko Haram the bombing has been intensified. The government was trying to manage the situation. But then the bombers went to attack a church on Christmas Day. This was deliberately designed to generate provocation, since Christians were attacked when they were celebrating Christ’s birthday. Gunmen went into the church and sprayed worshippers with bullets in Adamawa state. We met the government as members of the Christian Association of Nigeria several times and have asked for the government to do its job and solve the problem.”

Then the archbishop took the gloves off and hit hard, “The government appears to have been slow. Unfortunately it seems that government agencies have been infiltrated. And the Government has not been prepared for this kind of situation. Christians are facing a serious moral challenge. They see young people moving around killing people. The killings in Kano were all tolerated until the leader gave an order that the southerners in the north should move back south and vice versa. This brought Nigeria to a halt.

“To go to church in Nigeria one has to have a bomb and gun check. Many are uncomfortable with this. You have to decide whether you subject yourself to harassment or stay at home. For every program, day or night, you have to get the police and block the road leading to the church with barriers strong enough to withstand a Boko Haram raid.

“It is not strictly speaking Christians versus Moslems. The bombers are not representative of Moslems, but a sect that has broken loose from control. It is possible that among the Muslims there are sympathizers with Boko Haram. Some even fund it. But these are not the mainstream of Islam. The mainstream of Islam is as baffled as others,” concluded Okoh.

It is not just the archbishop of some 20 million Anglicans who is outraged by government inaction over radical Islamic terror campaigns against Christians; some of his own archbishops and bishops are just as outspoken over government corruption.

The Diocese of Lagos Mainland Synod recently urged all tiers of government to reduce “the culture of waste associated with bloated governance”. The church urged the federal and other tiers of government to reduce the cost of governance “through the creation of unnecessary offices to satisfy political considerations”.

The synod said such offices constitute a huge drain on the treasury.

Diocesan officials decried the spate of violence, killings and sectarian disturbances in parts of the country and the menace they pose to Nigeria’s peace and stability.

The church urged the Federal Government to discharge its basic responsibility of securing Nigeria and Nigerians by fishing out the perpetrators of heinous crimes and bringing them to justice.

The Diocesan Bishop, Rev Adebayo Akinde and the Synod Secretary, Ven. Luyi Akinwande, further decried youth unemployment, describing it as “intolerable”. He advised them to provide an enabling environment for self and gainful employment.

Another archbishop, The Most Reverend Joseph Akinfenwa of Ibadan Province, recently advocated revolution as the way out of the socio-economic challenges bedeviling the country.

The archbishop tasked the leadership in the country to make life meaningful by improving on the standard of living of Nigerians.

Speaking at the dedication of Emmanuel Anglican Church in Aba-Otun town of Akinmoorin, Oyo State, the cleric noted that the country was ripe for revolution. “We are ripe for a revolution. The people should arise and take their rightful position. We need a revolution.”

He explained that all political parties in the country are the same, arguing that there is no difference in the conduct of all political parties in the country.

Imagine an American, Canadian or Church of England bishop talking like this. And these Nigerian bishops are regularly slammed as socially primitive or sexually “fundamentalist” in their attitudes. One has only to recall the nonsense from former Bishop of Washington John Chane on the subject of African bishops. A lightweight bishop if ever there was one, he has only been made to look marginally more acceptable these days by the horror story that has emerged as the new female occupant of the current see of Washington.

But it is no longer just one sided outrage going from Global North to Global South.

For years, African Anglicans have taken it on the chin from “enlightened” pan-Anglican western liberal bishops. No more. The boot is now on the other foot. First, it was Nigerian Primate Peter Akinola and Ugandan Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi who set the scene saying they were not going to take it laying down. They fired back some not so modest salvos against the drift of western Anglicanism and blasted the importation of western cultural values into Africa.

The new latest heavy artillery is coming from Nicholas Okoh, a former lieutenant-colonel in his country’s army and now the Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria. The transition from military warfare to spiritual warfare was apparently an easy one for him.

We have not seen his like before.

Consider his comment when the announcement was made that Archbishop Rowan Williams was resigning some 9 years ahead of schedule as Archbishop of Canterbury.

In a blistering attack not seen in modern memory, he ripped the Archbishop of Canterbury saying his sudden resignation announcement will leave behind a Communion in tatters, highly polarized, bitterly factionalized, with issues of revisionist interpretation of the Holy Scriptures and human sexuality as stumbling blocks to oneness.

He noted that when Dr. Williams took over the leadership of the Anglican Communion in 2002, it was a happy family. He is leaving it with decisions and actions that are stumbling blocks to oneness, evangelism and mission all around the Anglican world. Okoh went so far as to say that it was like being “crucified under Pontius Pilate”. Strong language, indeed.

Okoh concluded his attack by saying that the announcement did not present any opportunity for excitement. “It is not good news here, until whoever comes as the next leader pulls back the Communion from the edge of total destruction.”

As the British are wont to say, “Steady on old chap”. Like hell, or maybe because of hell, Okoh can’t or won’t remain silent.

Recently addressing Britain’s House of Lords, he commented on the sorry spiritual state of England and the Church of England, “The UK used to be a foremost Christian country. But so many things have happened to change that. When you give one concession to some people they ask for four. Christianity must be brought back to the center of national life. Then you will be in a position to provide leadership for Christian life.

“If your situation is that Christians are sacked for praying, the Muslims will be quoting it to us. You give out your churches to be mosques. The Muslims will then say that Britain with all its majestic history is doing this and ask us Nigerian Christians: “Are you holier than the pope?” This is an opportunity – get your leaders and bishops to bring back Christianity into the center of British life. If you do that you will energize those looking up to you for leadership. We will be in a position to interact. We can then depend on each other.”

Then he proffered, “And what is the Christianity you offer? Those of us who have roots with you are being taunted that we belong to those people’s (the homosexuals’) church. As a result we lose our evangelistic thrust. When we bring our pains to you – we are told we have antediluvian views.”

The Lords Spiritual got an earful. The secular British press never reported a word of what Okoh said.

With the advent of GAFCON/FCA, the Jerusalem Declaration and offshore Anglican holdings in the US and Canada, the days of silence and acquiescence are over.

The Nigerians have 20 million plus evangelical Anglican converts with new dioceses coming into being as the sun rises with newly minted missionary evangelists moving out across Nigeria, and across its borders proclaiming the Good News. They are aggressively evangelizing animists and Islamic held villages and tribes with the gospel, drinking their malaria-riven water, casting out demons, healing the sick and proclaiming release to those in spiritual captivity. They are relentless, focused and unashamed. What a contrast to Western Anglicanism.

If by some miracle, York Archbishop John Sentamu is chosen to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury, perhaps a new day will dawn for healing between South and North, but don’t look for a love fest between the Ugandan-born leader and the Global South. They don’t trust him. He might be a believer, but he is also an institutionalist who will play the game and compromise to keep everyone on the same page.

Will he come down hard on homosexual movements like Changing Attitude? What will he do when women bishops are foisted on Anglo-Catholic priests and evangelicals are increasingly marginalized by Affirming Catholics and liberal bishops like the Bishop of Southwark? The bottom line is: Can or will Global South leaders take him seriously as a game changer or will they be forced to admit that the Church of England is forever lost and the Global South must go its own way with a tacit nod to Canterbury never darkening its ancient halls, conferences or primatial gatherings again.

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