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Obedience to word of Gospel can unite Anglican Church

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola is sure that unity in the Anglican Church can come only when people are obedient to the word of the Gospel.

Akinola's remarks in a sermon here Sunday coincided with debate among Episcopal bishops meeting in New Orleans over how to answer a request by senior Anglican bishops. The bishops have asked that the U.S. church not approve an official prayer service for gay couples and stop consecrating gay bishops.

Akinola did not mention the New Orleans meeting or differences in the Anglican Communion over homosexuality, but said he believes divisions in the church spring from people straying from the Gospel as it's written.

"Unity, yes, but before that, transformation that can only come from the power of the word of God," Akinola said, addressing about 2,000 people at a gathering of churches called the Midwest Anglican Awakening.

Last week, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader, said the goal is to find a compromise with the U.S. church, which holds a more liberal view of Scripture than most Anglicans overseas.

Chief Jimmy Delano, an organizer of Sunday's event on the campus of Wheaton College, said he did not know whether Akinola had met with Williams.

Akinola did not wear the full regalia of his office, opting for a simple white robe. Delano said that choice was not a statement, but an indication that the weather was warm.

Akinola's appearance drew about 30 protesters who carried signs outside the chapel where he spoke.

Protester Gini Lester, a lesbian and church member, said Akinola is trying to draw churches away from the U.S. Episcopal Church, which is moving toward greater tolerance and openness toward issues important to gays.

"I don't think he needs to be preaching hate," Lester said.

The Rev. Liz Steadman, Episcopal chaplain at Northwestern University, also among the protesters, said the chapel where Akinola preached is named for her grandfather, Victor Raymond Edman, a former president of Wheaton College.

"It just made it even more personal to us," said Steadman, a lesbian in a committed relationship. "We stand here firm in our conviction that the Gospel stands for justice and for love."