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LAGOS: African bishops threaten split over homosexuality

African bishops threaten split over homosexuality

By Meera Selva
The Independent

28 October 2004

African Bishops condemned the Anglican Church's stance on homosexuality yesterday and said that they would stop sending priests to be trained in countries where same-sex relationships were accepted.

The 300 Anglican bishops who met in Nigeria for the first African bishops convention said homosexuality was an "unAfrican" practice and warned that congregations would turn away from a church that condoned it. Only the Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane, offered any dissent, saying his church was committed to its entire congregation, including homosexuals.

Their statements highlight the growing divide between the Anglican Church in Africa, which makes up more than half the world's 70 million-strong Anglican population, and the West.

African bishops were particularly angered by their American colleagues' decision to ordain an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, last year, and complained that the church has not been strong enough in condemning homosexuality. They are also outraged that some Anglican churches have given blessings for same-sex marriages.

Bishop Peter Akinola, chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa, said it was time the African church reduced its dependency on the West. He added: "You now have men and men cohabiting, which is against the African way of life. The Western world is embroiled in a new religion which we cannot associate ourselves with."

In contrast to Europe, where homosexuality is becoming more accepted, many African countries are firming up their stance against same-sex relationships. Homosexuality has long been illegal in many African countries but now even places such as Zanzibar, which had been more tolerant of the gay community, has recently passed laws imposing a mandatory 25-year jail sentence for any men caught having sex with each other.

Even relatively liberal societies like Kenya take a firm stance on the subject. Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, once famously said there was no African word for homosexuality.

The Rev Joseph Ogola, dean of the Anglican Church in Kisumu, western Kenya, said: "I don't like the idea of gay bishops. It is against the Bible. I accept we live in a changing society and have to accept that people value their own freedom, but that should not be linked to the church. They should branch off and start their own religion."

The Anglican Church in Africa currently receives almost three quarters of its funds from the West, but bishops from Nigeria and Kenya have said they would refuse to accept financial support from American churches that did not share their views on homosexuality. They warned that African congregations would convert to Islam or other religions if they felt the Anglican Church took too liberal a stance on the matter.

The Anglican Church in Africa is growing at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world, with 17.5 million members living in Nigeria alone, and the issue threatens to tear the global church apart.

Last week, the church published the Windsor report which criticised American Anglicans for ordaining a gay bishop, but African bishops felt it did not go far enough in condemning homosexuality.

They were further outraged by comments from Frank Griswold, leader of the Anglican Church in the United States, who said last week that he did not believe the blessing of same sex-marriages should be banned.

END

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