Archbishop Peter Akinola is more intent on war than worship.
When openly gay Gene Robinson was elected Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, the Nigerian archbishop, Peter J. Akinola, called the event “Satanic.” However, after reading the latest issue of Atlantic Magazine, it appears that Akinola is the one whose behavior is modeled on the devil.
According to the article, Muslim fanatics attacked Christian worshippers in the Nigerian town of Yelwa in February 2004. They set fire to a church and murdered anyone who tried to escape, leaving 78 people dead. In retaliation, members of the Christian Association of Nigeria, led at the time by Akinola, surrounded the town. The vigilantes murdered 660 Muslims while torching 12 mosques and 300 houses.
In a state that lacks law and order, it is somewhat understandable that the Christians might take matters into their own hands as they certainly have a right to defend themselves. What is unconscionable, however, is the gratuitous cruelty and downright evil that occurred on Akinola’s watch. Far from Christian, one might equate the ghastly reprisals in Yelwa with a tyrant like Saddam Hussein, not an Anglican bishop.
Were Akinola’s “Christian” warriors exemplifying the love of Jesus while raping pregnant Muslim women in the village? Were these thugs asking, “What would Jesus do?” when they forced Muslims to eat pork and dog meat, while washing it down with forbidden alcohol? Was it somehow “spiritual” to burn corpses in the street? And, how “holy” was it to hack to death children as young as nine with machetes, then put the bloody pieces in a rubber tire and set fire to it? This was not simply retaliation, but terrorism. It was demonic behavior in the name of religion that had nothing to do with self-defense.
According to Human Rights Watch, there is no “smoking gun” definitively showing that the archbishop ordered the massacre. However, he was clearly in charge of the group implicated and could barely hide his glee in the Atlantic article. When asked point-blank about the incident, Akinola said, “No comment,” while he grinned. He went on to add, “No Christian would pray for violence, but it would be utterly naïve to sweep this issue of Islam under the carpet. I’m not out to combat anybody. I’m only doing what the Holy Spirit tells me to do. I’m living my faith, practicing and preaching that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to God…. I’ve said before: Let no Muslim think they have the monopoly on violence.”
Clearly, Akinola is unrepentant and sounds more like a warlord than a leader of worship. As a result of the slaughter, the archbishop lost his bid to continue heading the Christian Association of Nigeria. However, he is still the primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria and a powerful voice in condemning homosexuality across the globe.
Indeed, while Akinola is soft on his preferred sin of murder, he never turns the other cheek on gay rights. He has provocatively called Europe “a spiritual desert” and chastised the Church of England for failing to oppose civil partnership laws, which, he said, give “the appearance of evil.” I suppose that once one masters genuine evil, the mere appearance is no longer satisfying.
In 2006, Akinola supported a proposed Draconian law in Nigeria that would have effectively banned the “promotion” of homosexuality, punishing violators with up to five years imprisonment. Tragically, while the archbishop is fixated on gay people, Nigeria remains one of the poorest and most corrupted nations on earth (minus the elite who profit from oil). According to Human Rights Watch, up to $8 billion is embezzled annually, while nearly half the population lives on less than $1 a day. You would think these issues might interest a Christian leader, but Akinola ignores them in favor of jet-setting antigay junkets to America and Europe.
With such a contemptible record, one would expect Anglican Church leaders to marginalize Akinola. It seems, however, the church would rather coddle this butcher, because they care more about membership than morality. Most appalling are the American churches that have left the Episcopal Church to align themselves with the Church of Nigeria. It doesn’t seem to bother them that they are this madman’s enablers. As such, these “conservatives” should be held accountable for any future atrocities committed by Akinola.
If Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, had any guts, he’d use every tool at his disposal to make Akinola an international pariah. All bishops with a conscience should also refuse to take Holy Communion with Akinola and he should be prohibited from attending major conferences.
In a recent Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton said that Barack Obama should not just denounce, but reject the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan. Obama wisely did both. Likewise, Anglican leaders must denounce and reject Akinola if they want to regain their moral authority. The only appropriate place for Akinola on the International stage is The Hague—where he should be tried for crimes against humanity.
Wayne Besen, author of Bashing Back and Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth, writes a weekly column published at www.waynebesen.com.