When Akinola arrived in Abuja, he began a mission from next to nothing, with "not even one square inch of land," as he told the magazine Anglican World in 2001. "There was no church member, no organ, no choir, no money, nothing-and I mean practically nothing." Eight years later he was the first bishop of the See of Abuja; by 1998 he was the archbishop of a province of Abuja, with eight bishops under him. Since 2000 he has been the primate of the whole Nigerian Church. The expansion that fueled his rise is the kind of growth that he sees as normal and that he expects will continue. "In our country today," he told Anglican World, "there are many new churches springing up on a daily basis." It was a claim he meant literally.

But in Akinola's view, this growth depends entirely on loyalty to orthodox biblical faith. His experience in Nigeria has shown him that orthodox churches flourish, and heretical or schismatic churches fail. Nigerian Anglicanism is at its core intensely Bible-centered. "We in Nigeria believe very strongly in the priority of the Scripture," he has said. "We want to see ourselves as a church that seeks to live in obedience to the dictates of the Scripture, regardless of whether that is convenient or inconvenient."

Akinola and his church are also firmly committed to evangelism. "If a fire is not burning," he has observed, "then it is no longer fire. If the Church is not evangelizing, then it is like a dead fire." Evangelism means spreading the message of the Bible, of course, and although debate about biblical interpretation is possible in some cases, Akinola sees no room for it when the New Testament text speaks as clearly as it does on homosexuality. The worst feature of the North American debates, he felt, was that scriptural arguments were simply ignored. Reacting to the Episcopal approval of Robinson's election, Akinola declared himself "astonished that such a high-level convention ... should conspire to turn their back on the clear teaching of the Bible on the matter of human sexuality."

Although Akinola believes that American and British churches are in error, his Anglican roots condition how and when he feels he can intervene directly. This tradition gives him a strong sense of the global dimensions of Christianity. He heads not the Church of Nigeria but the "Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)," and that is a crucial difference. Anglicans everywhere fall within his area of concern. His communion is a family, and as he has put it, "That is where we belong."

Yet Akinola is reluctant to speak out of turn. He venerates the Anglican idea of autonomous churches under their own primates and bishops, and feels that a primate has no right to interfere in another province, except in the direst circumstances. He has been remarkably moderate toward the North American churches-however difficult this may be to believe for those who know him only from his recent remarks. In interviews he has gone out of his way not to condemn the U.S. Episcopal Church, and he makes a point of praising Bishop Frank Griswold, its leader, and other American liberals.

He refuses to ally himself with American conservatives who want to break away from their liberal bishops altogether. "You don't just jump from your diocese to begin to do whatever you like in another man's diocese," he told the Church of Nigeria News in 2001. "That is not done in our Anglican tradition."

That Akinola has now spoken out so strongly on issues being debated in other countries suggests his level of fury. This arises in part from his sense that the Northern churches are abandoning the Christian moral tradition. But another element further explains Akinola's-and, indeed, African Christianity's-desperate intervention in the Church's controversies over homosexuality: rivalry with Islam. At first sight the connection may seem tenuous: what does it matter to Christians in Lagos or Kampala whether an Anglican minister blesses two men in a civil ceremony of union in Vancouver? But the link is in fact an important one.

Nigeria is a land of intense interfaith conflict. Islamist authorities have imposed sharia law in a third of the country's thirty-six states, and Christians there face a very real danger of persecution and jihad. These sharia states include Kebbi and Kaduna, where Akinola lived during his years of theological training in the 1970s. He saw firsthand the growth of Muslim militancy, and his diploma is from the Theological College of Northern Nigeria, located in Jos, which for several years now has been a storm center of rioting and anti-Christian pogroms. Since 1990, the Anglican Church has responded to these threats by deliberately reinforcing its presence in the Muslim north, to show that Christians are not going to fade away without a fight.

This struggle provides the crucial context for African concerns about sexual morality. Across the continent Muslims have tried to make converts by arguing that the Christian West is decadent and sexually irresponsible-a belief that finds daily confirmation in Western films and television.

If the Anglican Communion accepted gay bishops or approved gay unions, Muslims would gain an enormous propaganda victory in Nigeria-and in a dozen or so other African countries in which Christians and Muslims compete for converts, often violently. When Akinola speaks out, therefore, it is not because he wants to intrude on the affairs of other churches but, rather, because he feels that the very existence of Christianity in his own territory is under threat. At stake, he believes, is the religious map of much of Africa, and the global balance between Christianity and Islam.


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