Episcopal News Service

February 20, 2001


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Director: James Solheim
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2001-41
Archbishop of Canterbury urges Nigerian Anglicans to trust in God

by James Solheim

(ENS) Archbishop of Canterbury George L. Carey concluded a two-week trip to Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, with a call for its leaders to trust in God.

Addressing the crowds in a stadium in Lagos, Carey said that it was imperative that they rely heavily on the wisdom of God if they hope to lead the Nigerian people. "The whole world would be a better place to be if we live in God and think in God's direction. There is so much potential in those who live and trust in God," he said.

Carey predicted that God is going to bless Nigeria and the Church in Nigeria should expect great things from God. He also urged Christians to hold fast to the things of God, rather than struggle for earthly things.

At several stops in the northern part of the country, where tensions between Christians and Muslims have led to periodic violence, Carey emphasized a need for better relations between the religions and peaceful coexistence.

"We have to find out what we share in common with the Muslims so as to enable us to live with one another without violence and rancor," he told a meeting of church leaders in Kaduna state.

Islamic law

The Anglican Church of Nigeria has an estimated 15 million members, making it one of the largest and fastest growing members of the Anglican Communion.

The leaders privately discussed the implementation of sharia, Islamic law, in some parts of the north and its effect on Christians. Non-Muslims doubt government promises that the law will only be imposed on Muslims. "When it becomes the law of the land and is administered by public funds, it's impossible to limit its application to Muslims alone," said John Onaiyekan, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria.

Anglican Bishop Simon Bala of Gusau said that the Christian minority is dwindling because of the introduction of Islamic law. Members are leaving, he said, threatening both the numerical strength and the financial condition of the diocese.

Common values

Speaking as a "voice for the voiceless," Carey expressed his disapproval of some aspects of the law, especially such practices as flogging, stoning and amputations. Christians in Zamfara complain that they are being treated as "second-class citizens," but the governor told Carey that land would be available for church buildings in the future.

"We must affirm what we see of God in each other," Carey said. "Christians and Muslims have much in common. We an build a lot together on the basis of a shared commitment to moral values, based on God's commitment to us all."

Zamfara has remained peaceful, unlike the neighboring state of Kaduna, with a much larger Christian population, where 2,000 people have died in fighting between Muslims and Christians. Governor Ahmed Sani said that Christians "have total freedom. We don't in any way attempt to tamper with their religious freedom. As far as we are concerned each religious group should be able to practice fully its own religion."

Keep cultural heritage

In a visit to Ogun state, Carey urged Nigerians not to abandon their rich cultural heritage because of Christianity--and he apologized for what he called "white prejudice" against Africans.

Despite numerous economic and political problems plaguing the nation, Carey said Nigerians should not lose hope because they are capable of overcoming such obstacles if they tap the country's abundant resources and manpower.

In a courtesy call on the governor of the state, Carey said that whites, including missionaries, were caught in the web of prejudice. Yet he recalled how the Rev. Henry Townsend, the first missionary to Nigeria in 1843, discriminated against Ajayi Crowther, who went on to become the first indigenous African bishop, despite the obstacles placed in his path.

"I just plead with you and your people to make your culture endure and pass it on to future generations--not because it is a tourist attraction but, more importantly, because it has to say something about the people," he said according to press reports.

Carey ended his visit with a meeting of the 77 churches in the Province of Nigeria.

--James Solheim is director of the Office of News and Information for the Episcopal Church. 

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