- As the Catholics struggle with paedophilia scandals, and the Anglicans have an open north-south conflict over homosexuality, African Lutheran churches now threaten divorce with their European partners if the latter continue to perform same-sex weddings.
African member churches of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) met in Abuja, Nigeria, this week to discuss theological and policy issues. While they neared their northern liberal sister churches on gender issues - now defining "gender equity" as an "urgent priority" for Africa - the African Lutherans spoke up against liberal tendencies in Europe and North America concerning homosexuality.
On gender justice, African Lutherans expressed concern that some member churches in Africa "still do not heed the voices of women in the region crying for inclusivity within the church structures, leadership and in the ordained ministry." They urged churches to fulfil their commitment to gender justice by putting in place concrete steps to address these issues.
But on homosexuality, African Lutherans made it clear they would take a conservative position, adding that liberal tendencies in northern churches were seen as a provocation.
The Lutheran churches in Africa in a statement said that the issue of "marriage, family and human sexuality" had been dealt with in a 2007 LWF Council meeting in Sweden. At that meeting, Lutheran churches world-wide had agreed that "marriage is holy, ordained by God and is a relationship between a man and woman."
But since 2007, several northern Lutheran churches have liberalised their practices or are in the process of doing so. In Denmark and Sweden, Lutheran priests have wed same-sex couples, while Lutheran church communities in Norway, Germany and the US are considering new liturgy that would permit such marriages.
In their statement, African Lutherans say "the majority of African member churches say 'NO' to homosexual acts and regard it to be sinful."
The African LWF member churches added they "are extremely disturbed and deeply regret the recent developments taking place in some member churches of the communion who have taken unilateral decision on same sex marriages, disregarding the strong sentiments expressed by other members of the communion."
They noted that such "unilateral action" had "negatively impacted our life together as a communion, something which could have been avoided. The statement is seen as an indirect threat of a north-south schism within the Lutheran church community.
The same reaction had come within the Anglican communion, as US and British churches decided to accept homosexuality. African Anglican churches - with the exception of South Africa - denied communion with northern churches that accepted same-sex relations. The unity of the Anglican Church is fragile, if not broken, over the issue of homosexuality.
Meanwhile, the conservative Catholic Church is struggling with homosexuality and paedophilia within its own rows as a result of celibacy and sex segregation, by many seen as a magnet for young men that are frustrated or insecure about their sexuality. The discussion about removing the celibacy duty or even becoming more liberal on its view on homosexuality is becoming louder in the Catholic Church in Europe and North America, despite protests from Rome.
In Africa, except South Africa, the main church communities however are going in a conservative direction. This is also the case among African Lutherans, contrasting their northern sister churches that are among the most liberal in the world.
The move towards conservatism about homosexuality among African Lutherans is driven from both within and outside. Regarding sexuality, most African societies are conservative and homosexuality is often viewed an un-African or a taboo. African Lutheran priests as such reflect their congregations.
But both Lutherans and Anglicans in Africa are strongly influenced by conservative church leaders from North America and Europe, taking the battle they are losing in their home countries to Africa.
Also, Lutheran missionaries from Europe and the US operating in Africa belong to the most conservative Lutherans found, often described as "fundamentalists" and even "extremists" in their home countries. Often ridiculed at home, in Africa, they are mostly left to preach their conservative message without protest.
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