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Nigerian Archbishop attacks Southern African counterpart

afrol News, 23 September - The Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria, Revd Peter Akinola, has written a strong-worded letter to his Southern Africa counterpart, Archbishop Winston Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town, further deepening the Anglican row over homosexuality. Mr Akinola says he doesn't agree that "the issues of peace, hunger, shari'a, and HIV/AIDS" are more important.

The controversial issue of gay ordination within the Anglican Church has caused a deep split in the Communion, mostly between the liberal churches of the North and the more conservative churches of the South. But also the Anglican churches of Africa are split.

While the Nigerian Archbishop has led the crusade against gay priests, Southern Africa's Archbishop Ndungane has asked the southern churches to rather focus on more urgent problems than human sexuality. Archbishop Ndungane even had indicated in an interview that African clergymen, including Archbishop Akinola, who were expressing opposition to gay ordination, were "arrogant, intolerant and hypocritical." Yesterday, however, Nigeria's church leader hit back at Mr Ndungane.

- Brother Ndungane, you got it all wrong, writes Archbishop Akinola. "What you cited as top priorities are in this context clearly misplaced. I ask, are the issues of peace, hunger, shari'a, and HIV/AIDS, serious and prevalent, as they are, more important to the Church than faithfulness to the plain truth of Scripture?" he writes in the open letter to his Southern African counterpart.

Archbishop Akinola is heading the efforts of uniting Anglican church leaders in the South in an attack against tendencies in the northern churches to accept gay clergymen, and has most African church leaders behind him. The Church of Nigeria, along with the Church of Uganda, already have severed relations with northern churches that ordinate gay priests.

The Nigerian Archbishop therefore also criticised Mr Ndungane for the timing of his initiative. Coming at this time, it appeared "like an attempt to cause a possible diversion of focus amongst African and Global South Church leaders," says Mr Akinola.

Although Mr Akinola argues that "the plain truth of Scripture" is of main importance to the church, he also acknowledges some importance of those issues raised by Archbishop Ndungane. "Peace, hunger, shari'a and HIV/AIDS are indeed major life and death issues, albeit, they are at the physical level. Unfaithfulness to Scripture is a more major life and death issue because it is spiritual."

He however claims that the Church of Nigeria has not neglected its duties on these issues. "I ask you dear brother to face issues and not fall into the temptation of 'casting stones'," he says. "Apparently you do not know everything I have said and done on every issue concerning Nigeria. That you have not heard any fuss from me in the foreign media about certain issues does not mean the Church which by the grace of God I lead is doing nothing."

Defending himself, the Nigerian Archbishop mentions his efforts to fight the Muslim shari'a lows of the North Nigerian state of Zamfara, which are considered violating basic human rights. Mr Akinola said he had "called the world's attention to the infringement on fundamental human rights that the imposition of the Islamic penal code [in Zamfara State] portended for freedom-loving peoples," claiming this had been a dearly bought action for the Church in Nigeria.

- When you accuse us of arrogance and intolerance, be courageous enough to direct the searchlight at yourself and those for whom you spoke, Archbishop Akinola tells his Southern African counterpart, adding that he is obliged to "defend the 'faith that was once delivered to the saints'."

Archbishop Ndungane, on earlier occasions has emphasised on the "need to approach each other with the love of Christ," and found it "inappropriate" of the conservative churches to interfere with the businesses of the more liberal churches. "We need to recognise that there are those who love our Lord on both sides of this difficult debate around human sexuality," he stated in July.

In the Anglican debate surrounding human sexualities, Mr Ndungane has preferred to emphasise on the role of the southern churches as a whole, to the frustration of Archbishop Akinola. "We are faced with matters of life and death," Mr Ndungane reminded his colleagues. "Seventy-five percent of the world's people who are living with HIV or AIDS are in sub-Saharan Africa," he said, urging not to forget this was the primary issue of the Church.

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