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Last Updated: Monday, 18 December 2006, 16:50 GMT
Profile: Archbishop Peter Akinola
Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola
Archbishop Akinola says God chose him to protect the scriptures
Peter Akinola, 63, leads 37 million Anglicans as chair of the Anglican Church in Africa.

As head of the fastest growing part of the Anglican communion, he is becoming an increasingly important figure.

His growing influence is largely due to his conservative stance on gay marriage, a position that appeals to his African congregation.

Recently, two of the oldest and largest church congregations in the US voted to bring themselves under his authority.

On Sunday, 90% of members of Truro Church and Falls Church in Northern Virginia voted to leave the American Episcopal church, amid a row over the ordination of gay priests.

'Creeping in'

Archbishop Akinola - a man known for his outspoken views on homosexuality - says he is thankful to God over the decision.

The Church of Nigeria has a well known position on this matter
Archbishop Peter Akinola

"Once there's a crack in the wall, you are likely to have all sorts creeping in" he told the BBC News website in Abuja.

"When we began to notice these cracks a few years back, we did try as much as humanly possible under God to patch up these cracks," he added.

But, the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (Ecusa) refused to back down.

"Since the leadership of the church in America keeps doing everything we thought they would not do, those who don't agree with them have chosen to go where they want to go and I thank God," he said.

New template

A father of six, he describes himself as "an ordinary pastor in the church of God" but chosen by God to protect the scriptures.

Never the one to shy away from controversy, Bishop Akinola's strong views and public criticism of government policies quickly made him popular among Nigerian Christians and led to his election as head of the powerful Christian Association of Nigeria, an umbrella organisation for all Nigerian christian groups.

Map of Africa

Born in Abeaokuta in south-western Nigeria in 1944, Mr Akinola is popular for his unique understanding of African cultures which he always related with parallels from the Bible's Old Testament.

Abeokuta was the birth place of another promient Anglican cleric, Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, a former slave who became Nigeria's first indigenous Anglican bishop. Loved and respected by his Anglican congregation and other Christian bodies in the country, Mr Akinola is a staunch supporter of Nigeria's anti-graft agency which has been criticised for its alleged "selective" fight against corruption.

However, some within the Anglican Church say he is backed by conservative bishops and theologians who seek to dominate the Anglican Church in America.

"I object to that very strongly and I condemn with every nerve in my body such insinuations," the archbishop told the BBC angrily.

"The Church of Nigeria has a well known position on this matter," he added, while accusing Ecusa of denying the authority and supremacy of the scripture.

He said the American church was trying to create a new religious template and expecting everybody to log on to that template.

"The liturgy of the church and the scripture on which we base our practices and beliefs do not agree with gay marriage and we cannot accept it," he stated categorically.

Growing power

Called a bigot by some in the Anglican Church, his attitudes nonetheless represent a deep-rooted conservative tradition in African Christianity that is flourishing and growing.

Contrast that with declining congregations in the West and you begin to see why he is such an important figure, says the BBC's religious affairs reporter, Rahul Tandon.

Initially he proposed that Nigerians in America who oppose what they see as the Episcopal Church's liberal attitude could join a branch of his church in the US.

Now it seems some US congregations are keen to do the same.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, will be watching with some concern, our correspondent says.

Peter Akinola's growing power could well lead to a schism within the Anglican communion, he says.




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