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LAGOS: Nigerian Anglicans keep angry distance from Canterbury

LAGOS: Nigerian Anglicans keep angry distance from Canterbury

July 28, 2008

(AFP) - As Anglican bishops from across the world meet in their spiritual home in England, the Nigerian church, which accounts for more than fifth of the world's Anglicans, is keeping a sullen distance.

About 650 bishops are attending the 20-day Lambeth Conference in Canterbury to worship and study, but hundreds more -- many of them from Africa -- are staying away amid a row over gay and female clergy.

Anglican liberals and conservatives have been at odds since the consecration of the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003 in the United States.

The split was cemented when the Church of England voted July 7 to allow female bishops, after which Pope Benedict XVI warned that the ecumenical movement was at a "critical juncture".

About a quarter of the bishops in the worldwide Anglican Communion -- including most from Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda -- are consequently boycotting the once-a-decade meeting this summer in Canterbury.

And the Nigerian church, which accounts for 17 million of the 77 million Anglicans worldwide, is leading the opposition to the communion's leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

"The issue is not that of gay alone. The crux of it is the revisionist agenda, which is that some people are out to rewrite the Bible," Archbishop of Lagos Adebola Ademowo said Saturday.

"The authority of the Scriptures cannot be challenged. Old time religion is good enough for us."

Speaking specifically about Williams, the 60-year-old said: "That man, I don't know what's wrong -- he should be able to say 'this is the Bible standard' and come out and defend it."

Aides to Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, head of the Nigerian Anglican community, have refused to comment on the row, with one saying this week only that "the moment is not appropriate" to speak.

But behind his glasses and eternal smile, Akinola has led the cold front against Williams for the past five years.

The 63-year-old represents more than just the Nigerian church -- he speaks for a significant traditionalist voice in developing countries, where, as observance wanes in the West, the most active Anglicans are increasingly found.

Officially, the Church of England has 26 million baptised adherents, but in reality only 1.7 million actually practise. In Africa, there are 35 million followers of the Anglican Church -- more than half the worldwide communion.

Akinola reminded supporters of this fact last month in Jerusalem where about 300 bishops from 25 countries -- most of them in the southern hemisphere -- formed a new movement rejecting the liberal stance towards homosexuality.

"Our beloved Anglican Communion must be rescued from the manipulation of those who have denied the gospel... from those who are proclaiming a new gospel, which really is no gospel at all," he said.

After slavery and colonialism, "we cannot, we dare not allow ourselves and the millions we represent to be kept in a religious and spiritual dungeon... we will not abdicate our God-given responsibility and simply acquiesce to destructive modern cultural and political dictates," he said.

Akinola, whose country has seen bloody clashes between Christians and Muslims, also rounded on Williams' "misleading" comments in February on the need to incorporate certain aspects of Islamic Sharia law into British law.

At the opening of the debate in Canterbury last week, Williams admitted strains in the Church but played down talk of a full-blown schism.

Robinson meanwhile was also absent from the Lambeth Conference -- he was not invited but will be in Canterbury holding meetings on the event's fringes.

"How can we receive holy communion from such a person? It's sodomy," Ademowo said.


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