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» 24.07.2003 - Southern African archbishop warns homophobic colleagues

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Southern Africa | Nigeria
Gay - Lesbian | Society

Gay issues threaten African church unity

afrol News, 25 June - The possible ordination of a gay Anglican bishop in Britain, together with the approval of same-sex marriages by an Anglican diocese in Canada, has created strong reactions in Africa. While the Nigerian Archbishop threatens severe relations with churches of the North, the Southern African archbishop sees no problems in these developments.

Archbishop Peter Akinola, leader of the 17.5 million strong Anglican Church in Nigeria, has threatened to split from the Anglican Church over the possible appointment of a gay bishop in Britain. Canon Jeffrey John recently was elected the new Bishop of Reading in England.

Mr Akinola's threats come after the Church of Nigeria earlier this month had severed its relations to the diocese of New Westminster in Canada, after this diocese had ratified a liturgy for same-sex marriages and subsequently arranged a marriage of a gay couple. Also the election of a gay bishop in the diocese of New Hampshire in USA had upset the Church of Nigeria.

After receiving this "shocking news", Archbishop Akinola now sent an encyclical to the membership in the Church of Nigeria, saying he would search independence from the rich churches in Europe, America and Canada, "who have long used their wealth to intimidate the financially weak Churches in Africa."

- Our boldness in condemning the spiritual bankruptcy of these churches must be matched by our refusal to receive financial help from them, said Mr Akinola. "This means that we must become self-reliant as a matter of urgency so that we will not only meet our own needs locally, but also those of our poor African brethren who have long depended on handouts from the rich churches of the Western World."

The statements by the Primate of the Nigerian Anglican Church led the Archbishop of Canterbury, global head of Anglican churches, to send a letter to all church leaders. Here, he points out that the recent appointment of Canon John as Bishop of Reading had "proved a controversial and challenging one," but defended him as "a highly gifted candidate, was acceptable to the diocese."

The Archbishop of Canterbury said it "would be a tragedy if these issues ... occupied so much energy that we lost our focus on the priorities of our mission." He announced a pastoral visit to West Africa within few weeks, reminding of the true problems of the region, "afflicting millions - violent conflict, epidemic disease, instability and poverty."

The harsh reaction by Nigerian Archbishop Akinola however reflects the reaction of many Christians in Africa and throughout the developing world to the gradual liberalisation of Northern churches. Also the Anglican Church of South East Asia last week had announced it was "no longer be in communion" with the Canadian bishop allowing same-sex marriages "and all those who are supportive of" this act.

The threatened split in the Anglican Church over homosexuality thus only represents the growing differences in Northern and Southern churches. While Northern churches mostly have followed the gradual liberalisation in society at large, Southern churches mostly remain utterly conservative, in accordance with society surrounding them.

In Africa at large, homosexuality remains deeply taboo - either it "doesn't exist", or it is confined to traditional sub-cultures without external signs of sexuality. The only African country to have changed its legislation in favour of gays and lesbians is South Africa. The rest of the continent outlaws homosexuality, has no legislation or has old and dysfunctional laws that only in theory permits homosexual acts.

Thus, the only area in Africa where the church has shown positive signs towards homosexuality is Southern Africa. The Anglican Archbishop of this region, Njongonkulu Ndungane, is based in Africa's "gay capital" Cape Town and has urged his church to openly discuss homosexuality and welcome gays and lesbians in the church society.

Last month, most Anglican Church primates in the developing world signed a petition against the "unilateral action" by the Canadian diocese of New Westminster to marry same-sex couples. The protest letter was signed by the Archbishops of the West Indies, the Southern Cone, Central Africa, Kenya, South India, South East Asia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Uganda, West Africa, Indian Ocean, Congo, Nigeria and Sudan.

Southern African Archbishop Ndungane so far has made no statement on the North-South row over homosexuality. He also had refused to sign the protest letter over same-sex blessings carried out in Canada. Also the three Primates of Tanzania, of Rwanda and of Burundi failed to sign the protest.

Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria, meanwhile, leads the protest movement in the Anglican Church. He now urges "Anglicans worldwide to join in condemning these unscriptural actions in a bid to save the communion from heresy."

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