The violent face of evangelical Anglicanism

New Statesman - Fundamental change

This week’s New Statesman has a feature on resurgent religion, particularly evangelical Anglicanism but also Catholicism, including a lengthy interview with the Bishop of Durham. The article I’ve featured here is about Evangelicals “infiltrating” parishes in order to convince local people to be stronger in their religion. Scary stuff. Also, the writer is shocked that their litmus test for orthodoxy is opposition to ordaining practising gay men as priests, something that would have been unthinkable only a generation ago. Really, don’t these people understand that the US Episcopal church is the laughing stock of the country’s Protestant community and an outsider even within the Anglican communion?

His reasoning on this issue is obviously specious:

The particular sinfulness of homosexuals was a visceral issue, one which they believed would unite their supporters in a way that a few years earlier women’s ordination could not. Female priests divided them: many evangelicals knew women (some had even married them), whereas gay people are more easily demonised, especially as the Bible in a few scattered references says homosexual practice is wrong.

Scattered or not, the references are still explicit, and their import was understood perfectly for generations until the late 20th century. It is the liberals who are out on a limb on this issue.

However, the magazine brings in the issue of the “heavy artillery of third world bishops” and of the conservative leanings of Christianity in Africa, and does not mention Peter Akinola by name, but it’s unfortunate that the conservatives have an individual like this as their champion, because he is not just a social conservative but apparently someone using the homosexuality issue to compete for “souls” in Nigeria where Christians are at odds with the country’s Muslim population. Sometimes it is not just souls, it’s control of towns. The Atlantic magazine interviewed him last month; during his period in office as president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, there was a massacre of 600 Muslims, including patients at the local clinic, in a town called Yelwa (in revenge for a Muslim attack, which killed around 70). In this attack, local girls were forcibly marched to a nearby Christian town where they were forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, and many of them were raped and 50 murdered. Many of the attackers identified themselves with the Christian Association of Nigeria.

When the Atlantic interviewed Akinola, this was his response:

“My views on Islam are well known: I have nothing more to say,” he said, as we sat down. Archbishop Akinola has repeatedly spoken critically about Islam and liberal Western Protestants, and he was understandably wary of my motives for asking his thoughts. For Akinola, the relationship between liberal Protestants and Islam is straightforward: if Western Christians abandon conservative morals, then the global Church will be weakened in its struggle against Islam. “When you have this attack on Christians in Yelwa, and there are no arrests, Christians become dhimmi, the vocabulary within Islam that allows Christians and Jews to be seen as second-class citizens. You are subject to the Muslims. You have no rights.”

When asked if those wearing name tags that read “Christian Association of Nigeria” had been sent to the Muslim part of Yelwa, the archbishop grinned. “No comment,” he said. “No Christian would pray for violence, but it would be utterly naive to sweep this issue of Islam under the carpet.” He went on, “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, and they respect me for it. They know where we stand. I’ve said before: let no Muslim think they have the monopoly on violence.”

Were any Muslim leader to express such views about a Muslim attack on Christians, or Jews, or anyone which resulted in several hundred dead, he would be denounced as a terrorist sympathiser and Muslims would face demands to distance themselves from him. The idea of him coming to this country for, say, a religious conference, would be unthinkable. Since Akinola refuses to distance himself from involvement in this, he should be treated as a suspected terrorist and/or war criminal, and given that Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi is now barred from coming to the UK for medical treatment on the basis of considerably milder remarks, at the very least Peter Akinola ought to be barred from coming here to meet the Archbishop of Canterbury.

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