Skip to comments.Is Peter Akinola Talking Straight?
Posted on 08/08/2005 8:39:48 AM PDT by hiho hiho
Stephen Noll: Is Peter Akinola Talking Straight?
My lectionary reading this past week brought me the story of David and Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan. As I read the recent Statement of Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria (www.anglican-nig.org/prmtstmt_civilprtship.htm) and reviewed that of the House of Bishops of the Church of England (www.cofe.anglican.org/news/pr5605.html), I could not help but hear the accusing voice of Nathan the prophet, saying You are the men!
It is so fashionable in some liberal church circles to claim prophetic inspiration that I suspect it is difficult for the same folks to hear a true prophet when he comes warning.
Akinolas no-nonsense English prose strikes one like a hail of bullets:
I read with utter dismay these words are not matched by corresponding action. same-sex marriage in everything but name. the height of hypocrisy. It is totally unworkable and it invites deception and ridicule. encourages the church to ask nothing of the laity. a deliberate change in the discipline of the church.
By contrast, the English bishops statement emits a simpering sound. Guess which is which, from their closing arguments:
The Governments decision to introduce civil partnerships for two people of the same sex has produced a range of reactions in the Church.
I call on the House of Bishops of the Church of England to renounce their statement and declare their unqualified commitment to the faith, teaching and practice of the Church. Failure to do so will only add to our current woes.
Now is Peter Akinola blustering, or is he talking straight?
Every culture may have its intonation. Nigerians tend to be blunt. The English, at their best, salt truth with wit. Take George Herbert, for example:
Do all things like a man, not sneakingly: Think the king sees thee still; for his King does. Simpering is but a lay-hypocrisy: Give it a corner, and the clue undoes. Who fears to do ill, sets himself to task: Who fears to do well, sure should wear a mask.
Americans are noted for broad humour, or slapstick. Yesterday I picked up an online news report from New Jersey titled Is Marriage Old Fashioned? The reporter asked four local religious figures whether they thought cohabitation equally acceptable to marriage. Father Lou Scurti, a Roman Catholic priest, said No, it was not. An Evangelical Reverend with the wonderful name Yeathus Johnson, reminded the interviewer of the biblical injunction to honor the marriage bed. Mr. Mohammed El-Filali stated: From a Muslim perspective cohabitation is not permissible at all. Riding to the rescue of the cohabiters was the Rev. Ronnie Stout-Kopp, of Christ Church (Episcopal): I think, from the perspective of a modern female priest there isnt a problem with people cohabiting or trying it on for size, so to speak. My wife said to me: This is a joke, isnt it? No, it isnt. Its the Episcopal Church that is a joke.
The British, of course, would never indulge in buffoonery like this. Their form of humour is that of Yes, Minister, whose chief character is jerked around by the machinations of his Permanent Secretary, his Personal Private Secretary and his Chief Political Advisor. And that is exactly the way the House of Bishops statement reads, and exactly how it has been received by just about everyone.
Akinola accuses the bishops of hypocrisy, a serious dominical charge indeed. Reading their statement alongside the Act, it is hard to miss their sliding over the uncomfortable fact that the law in question was clearly written to legitimize homosexuality. Civil partnerships are not a form of marriage, they aver, while sidestepping the obvious fact that Civil Partners are forbidden to marry unless of course, one partner gets a sex-change operation, in which case marriage is automatically conferred!
More seriously, the bishops claim to be upholding Christian teaching on marriage everywhere, always by everyone. But this is simply not true. They quote the Book of Common Prayer on the purposes of marriage: for the procreation of children, as a remedy against sin, and Wait, wait! Whats this remedy against sin? Well, you see, sin is an archaic word for falling short of the ideal. Hence the Church has ever taught that some relationships earn first-class honours, and others settle for second-class upper.
Why does this supposed catholic teaching so outrage Archbishop Akinola? Why is it, in the view of the Church of Nigeria, of the Church of Uganda, of the Roman Catholic Church and the Pentecostal churches, of the Muslims, and of the sees of Jerusalem, Antioch, Nicaea, and oh yes, of olde Cantuar, that sexual activity outside marriage is given the nasty name fornication and seen as separating one from God? Probably it is because these churches got this idea from the Bible (try Ephesians 5:1-20), and it is for this reason they cannot advise the practice, to put it mildly.
Western Christians swim so blithely in the sea of relativism that they greet statements like that of the English bishops with a yawn or at worst a grimace. They cannot imagine how the Africans can get so worked up about it. After all, dont the Africans have their own hypocrisies? No doubt they have, but if you confront Peter Akinola with them, he will not pawn them off but turn and repent.
Of course, Archbishop Akinola does not have to deal with the entanglement of church and state. What can we do, the bishops may plead, when we ourselves are part of the system? I suspect the African answer is this: Let goods and kindred go, your peerages also. Lets be real: its time to part ways with the secular state and even the royal Defender of Faith, who assented to the Act.
The Europeans need to free themselves from the Erastian beast or they will soon be facing monsters even worse than the Civil Partnership Act. Contemporary liberalism has a way of offering a velvet glove to those who question metaphysical truths and an iron fist to those who do not conform to the cause du jour. The problem is, the Western Church manifests the same duality. Take these representative bishops quotations:
clergy are fully entitled to argue, in the continuing debate, for a change in that [traditional] teaching
that the conscientious decision of those who enter into homophile relationships must be respected and that the Church must not reject those who sincerely believe it is Gods call to them. (emphasis added)
So the latest honest-to-God bishops and theologians are free to contradict plain biblical teaching to flee fornication, and laity who conscientiously practice it are granted an absolute amnesty from church discipline. But if there be an English cleric (are there any?) who conscientiously opposes the Civil Partnership Act, he must on penalty of law civil and ecclesiastical recognize lay Partners, regardless of their covert or overt affections, as well as clergy Partners who whisper were just buddies.
The tone of the bishops statement, rightly discerned by Akinola, reveals the mindset of those calling the shots behind the scenes.
The question of public rites for the blessing of same sex unions is still a cause of potentially divisive controversy . Therefore we cannot support the authorization of such rites. (emphasis added)
Still? How long, O Lord, must we wait for sexual justice? Now Ill grant this. If the above had been written by the American House of Bishops, they would have substituted the word can for cannot. But the true way of looking at this issue is not what this or that current opinion is. What Archbishop Akinola would say in reply goes something like this:
Recognizing that to live a pure and chaste life before and after marriage is, for both sexes, the unchangeable Christian standard, attainable and attained through the help of the Holy Spirit by men and women of every age, we proclaim the universal obligation of this standard, and its vital importance as an essential condition of human happiness.
Oops, thats not Peter Akinola, thats the Lambeth Conference of 1920. Well, times do change, you know, and even unchangeable standards may bend if not break.
I have not, in this brief analysis, investigated the sad social consequences of the English bishops statement and the woes for the Anglican Communion of which the prophet from Nigeria speaks. Will these shepherds do the needful: renounce their statement, condemn the Civil Partnership Act and enter into non-conformity? King David repented in ashes. We have our Nathan, we have our Peter the Rock. But he lives in a simpler culture, still inhabited by Bible characters. The Church of England, I fear, is pretty far gone all the way back to George Herbert, who pleaded: O England, full of sin, but most of sloth; Spit out thy phlegm, and fill thy breast with glory.
The Rev. Prof. Stephen Noll is Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University in Mukono, Uganda, an Episcopal priest (USA) and author of Two Sexes, One Flesh: Why the Church Cannot Bless Same-Sex Marriage (1997).
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Good stuff, S! +Akinola should be in communion with the Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria. He'd find the theology much to his liking.
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