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Anti-gay Anglican archbishop speaks in Wheaton

Nigerian archbishop known for anti-gay views

By Margaret Ramirez Tribune religion reporter - LINK
9:50 PM CDT, September 23, 2007

In an impassioned Sunday morning sermon to more than 2,000 worshipers at a Wheaton College church, a leading critic of the Episcopal Church's liberal stance on homosexuality spoke against sexual sin, saying unity must come from transformation and obedience to God.

Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola, a Nigeria-based cleric who leads the largest church in the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion, is perhaps the fiercest critic of the U.S. Episcopal Church's stand on gays.

His controversial visit to Edman Memorial Chapel coincides with a meeting in New Orleans of Episcopal bishops who must respond to a demand from Anglican leaders that they stop consecrating gay bishops and ban the blessing of same-sex unions. Last week, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, attended two days of closed-door meetings with bishops in New Orleans, in hopes of avoiding a painful schism of the church.

Though Akinola did not mention the gathering in New Orleans or Anglican differences over homosexuality, the Nigerian archbishop said that the church is clearly divided and that those divisions stem from a failure to obey the word of God.

"Two thousand years ago, Jesus prayed that they all would be one, as we are one," Akinola told congregants in the chapel on the campus of Wheaton College. "Where is that unity? Has God not answered the prayer of his son?"

"Those who are working for the unity of God's people lack one thing: the word of God," Akinola continued. "Whoever loves God, will obey God.

"Fornication is fornication. Adultery is adultery. . . . These are the areas of primary evangelism," Akinola said.

Outside the chapel, a group of about 20 protesters held signs that read: "Reverend Akinola is a dangerous bigot" and "Akinola preaches hate and division." Many demonstrators criticized Akinola's past comments on gays, in which he has stated homosexuality is contrary to the teachings of the Bible and "a perversion of human dignity."

The archbishop also supports a bill in Nigeria that would make homosexual sex and any public expression of homosexual identity a crime punishable by imprisonment.

"He refers to his views on gays as Scripture. Well, I refer to them as outright bigotry," said Jim Beyer, a member of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in La Grange.

Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network, said: "Akinola preaches hate and division. He's trying to split the worldwide Anglican Communion and he's making scapegoats of gays in the U.S. and especially in Nigeria."

Other demonstrators expressed anger that Akinola was trying to disrupt the bishops in New Orleans as they attempt to forge reconciliation within the Anglican Communion.

"The bishops are over there trying to come up with something and he's here instigating a schism," said David Fleer of St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Barrington. "I think he's trying to offer himself up as the alternative archbishop to Rowan Williams."

But after the service, worshipers who attended Akinola's sermon said the Nigerian archbishop brought a message of unity.

"I felt it was a pretty general address about the Commandments and I didn't see any issue with it," said Roger Bootner, who attends the Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton.

"I don't think it was hateful," said Terry Schwartz of All Souls' Anglican Church in Wheaton. "He said if we want to follow Christ, then we have to do what he told us to do. God doesn't say being gay or adulterous is OK. God tells us to behave in certain ways because he loves us."

The Akinola visit was organized by the Midwest Anglican Awakening, a multiethnic coalition of Anglican congregations throughout the Midwest, many of which are affiliated with Anglican churches in Africa.

Rev. Stewart E. Ruch, rector of the Church of the Resurrection, said the event was planned months ago and not purposely scheduled to coincide with the bishops' meeting in New Orleans. Ruch declined to comment on where the Midwest Anglican Awakening stood on homosexuality.

"We're definitely in a major season of change, and we're waiting for their initiatives and decisions," said Ruch. "But, while we're waiting, we thought we should talk about unity."

Tensions have mounted between the 2 million-member Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the wider Anglican Communion since the 2003 consecration of gay bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Since then, more than 50 parishes have separated from the Episcopal Church and placed themselves under the authority of foreign bishops, mainly in Africa.

In addition, Akinola and other African bishops have consecrated conservative American clergy as their missionary bishops in the U.S. to serve disaffected congregations that share their views on homosexuality.

Many have attacked those bishop appointments as violations of geographical boundaries. However, Akinola has blamed the Episcopal Church for starting the crisis by breaking with traditional teachings on homosexuality.

Though the Episcopal Church has not consecrated any other gay bishops, the diocese of Chicago recently picked Rev. Tracy Lind, who is a lesbian, as one of the candidates to become its new bishop.

In his sermon, Akinola often raised the Bible for emphasis and wagged his finger at the congregation when speaking of sin. He also taught the congregation an acronym, which some said is often heard throughout the Anglican Church in Africa, known as TINA: "There is no alternative to the Gospel."

At one point, he commanded the crowd to denounce sin when they saw it, saying, "Call a spade a spade."

"If someone claims to love God and is living his life in sin, call it, tell him, so that he can grow in obedience. . . . Call him a liar and do it," Akinola said.

Jimmy Delano, a native of Nigeria and member of All Saints Anglican Church in Tinley Park, said several people who heard the sermon were moved by the archbishop's words and had asked for copies of the speech.

But others, such as Rev. Deborah Lake of the non-denominational Sankofa Way church in Chicago, said his presence only brought her sadness.

"Akinola has called [for] imprisonment of gays, so it's important for clergy to be outspoken against that. Episcopal or not," she said. "It's sad that people would use their influence to pervert the Gospel."


Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune


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