- Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Nigeria Peter Akinola, most known for his successful crusade against gay clergy in the Anglican Communion, is now following calls he should take the AIDS pandemic as serious as he took the issue of homosexuality. At a workshop, he urged, he urged sexual abstention.
During the Anglican Church battle over the naming of openly gay bishops in North America and Europe, Nigerian Archbishop had led the successful conservative camp. His main opponent, Anglican Archbishop of Southern Africa, Ndungane Njongonkulu, during the fight had urged Mr Akinola to spend the same energy on the AIDS pandemic and poverty that he was spending on his crusade against the liberal, northern churches.
After the Nigerian Archbishop led his conservative colleagues - mostly Africans - to victory at the Anglican Communion's conference in Lambeth last month, he now seems eager to prove that colleague Njongonkulu's allegations were unfounded.
Thus, Archbishop Akinola yesterday opened a Church of Nigeria national workshop on HIV-AIDS strategic planning and policy development in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa carefully outlines in a statement. The Council is headed by Mr Akinola himself.
At the workshop, Archbishop Akinola was quoted saying the church had a critical role to play in HIV prevention and care for those affected by AIDS. However, the church can only go so far and called for "a radical change in moral behaviour as the only way to fully eradicate HIV-AIDS."
- Brothers and sisters, Archbishop Akinola told the participants who were drawn from the 81 dioceses of the Church of Nigeria; "if we do what God says in His word - turn from our wicked ways - we can change the tide around HIV/AIDS and stop new infections."
He challenged participants to "come up with clear policies and actions that will guide the church in addressing HIV/AIDS," according to the African church council. Mr Akinola further was said to promise that his national office would "continue to actively support AIDS initiatives" throughout the 17 million member church - the biggest of all Anglican churches worldwide.
While addressing his own church members to come up with policies fit for the conservative environment in the Nigerian church province, Archbishop Akinola was however reminded that five out of the 12 African Provinces had already conducted strategic planning to meet the AIDS pandemic.
One of these provinces with a clear AIDS policy is the Church of Southern Africa, led by Mr Akinola's rival, Archbishop Njongonkulu. Although the Southern African Archbishop is deeply concerned about the galloping promiscuity, which strongly contributes to the spread of HIV in his Province, Mr Njongonkulu has bewared of solely giving a message of sexual abstention to his church members.
In Southern Africa, which has the world's highest HIV infection rate, the Anglican Church is cooperating with Protestant churches practicing a more liberal view following disastrous experiences from the conservative "abstention approach". The focus is rather on "removing stigma for HIV positive people" than condemning "our wicked ways" (Mr Akinola) of sexuality.
Religious realities are however far apart in Southern Africa and Nigeria, which is bound to influence the AIDS strategy of Mr Akinola's Church of Nigeria. While Archbishop Njongonkulu is competing with liberal Protestants in his efforts to get new converts, Archbishop Akinola is competing with ever-more conservative Muslim societies.
Professor Philip Jenkins at the US Pennsylvania State University recently commented that the harsh competence for converts between Muslim and Christian societies in East and West Africa was leading most Anglican Church provinces in Africa into utter conservatism. This had caused the bitter resistance against a gay clergy in the northern churches, he noted.
On sexuality - including the AIDS issue - these churches had to demonstrate an equally conservative attitude as the population at large not to lose members to the growing community of Islam, Mr Jenkins held. Archbishop Akinola thus totally agrees with the Muslim clergy of Northern Nigeria: "our wicked ways" are the only reasons behind the AIDS pandemic, and thus have to be the focus of the battle against the deadly disease.
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