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Last Updated: Friday, 18 July, 2003, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
What role for Africa's Church?
Desmond Tutu votes in South Africa's 1994 elections
Archbishop Tutu has called for church reform - do you agree?
The Church in Nigeria recently made headlines around the world after threatening to split with the Church of England during a row over the appointment of a gay Bishop.

Although in many Western countries, the influence of the Church has been in decline, Church leaders in Africa remain among the most powerful and conservative figures in their communities.

In Nigeria there are more Anglicans than in England, America and Canada put together.

On the whole many of Africa's churches hold traditionalist views, especially regarding the interpretation of the Bible, although others - such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu - do take a more liberal stance on some issues.

How much is the Church a force for a good in Africa? Does it stop the continent from developing - or is it the last guardian of morals in a decadent world? Is it too concerned with censorship or does it spread peace and change? Should the Church worry about a gay bishop in England when poverty, Aids and famine stalk the continent?

The BBC World Service programme Africa Live! debates these and others issues today Wednesday, 23 July at 1630 and 1830 GMT. If you would like to take part in the discussion, e-mail us with your telephone number, which will not be published.

I wonder what the Pentecostal church in Zambia has against the Big Brother programme?. If more people could afford satellite dishes, we would be able to choose what we watch, but as it is most people watch national television with no other option. The pastors in the Pentecostal churches have satellite dishes on top on their churches and houses. So they are the privileged elite who continue watching Big Brother. Is that fair?
Aubrey Chindefu, Zambia

I never knew that the church in Africa does such great things as bringing people together like a family until the other day when I was converted to Catholicism. The church here in Tanzania is a socio-political regulator. At the same time it brings something contradictory with the issue of condoms, which it does not support. We believers are left in a dilema about the government's emphasis on the use of condoms.
Josephat Mwanzi, Tanzania

The church has done more harm to the African psyche than most people care to admit. Initially Africans had their land and religion, the missionaries had the bible. Next thing colonial masters had the land and power, Africans had the bible and prayers. The church and its doctrines have lead to the identity crisis of the African. I think the church has made the African less aware of his or her real potential. Most of the poor masses are left looking at the sky.
Dready, Kenya/USA

The African Anglican church is growing in numbers because it is spiritually relevant to the people. The Anglican church in the west is shrinking because it has become spiritually irrelevant.
Leslie Hutton, USA

Churches are an easy money-making machine for most Conmen & women in Africa.
Chukwudi Ajoku, USA.

The church is described in its guide book as the salt of the earth. It is meant to sweeten, season and preserve the world. As a spiritual-come-human institution, it exists to secure and improve the lot of mankind. While working to fight the scourge of poverty, aids and famine in the African continent, it must not also fail to defend its moral ideals and ethical code. Should it do this, it would become as salt without taste.
Ochuko Erivwo, Nigeria

Sad to say but the Church in Africa is all about power. An ambitious person needs only to join the Army or the Church.
Giuseppe Truglia, Italy

While the Church in Nigeria is scripturally correct in its views on homosexuality it is however part of a corrupt institution that for centuries has played its part in persecuting those who do not hold to their erroneous neo-platonic doctrines. True Christians are opposed to those who greedily claim wealth, prestige and titles for themselves while their people starve.

The African church provides unbelievable service and infrastructure to communities in Africa that have none. The Ugandan church is an example of a central driving force in decreasing the spread of HIV/AIDS in that country.
Damon Schroeder, USA

In a fragmented and self-obsessed world, the church is the only institution that sees and acts wholistically. Is there any wonder that it is vulnerable to criticism?
Tim Bannister, Kenya

Churches are very important to African people because of poverty and other difficulties. The Church is the only common thing that everyone can relate to.
Christopher Ajoku, Raleigh, USA.

Where there is poverty and uncertainty coupled with ignorance, there will always be faith and religions dominating the minds of the commonman.
Srinivasan Toft, Denmark

There are more corrupt priests in the African church than you find on the streets. Priests are stealing other people's wives, money & other properties in the name of God.
Chris Ekwonye, N.C, USA

Since being introduced to Africa largely during 19th century imperialism, the church has served to keep ordinary people subservient, just as it has in Europe and around the world.
G.Brigaldino, Canada

The reaction of the Nigerian church over the appointment of a gay bishop is an appropriate response to Western excesses.
Tony Izuogu, Ghana

A person's belief and pastoral capabilities are not defined by either gender or sexual orientation. Is the African church stating that a woman or a gay person cannot carry out a pastoral function?
S Gilmartin, Germany

The church is the last guardian in a decadent world. I support the Nigerian church despite what is happening in our own beloved country.
Fatimah Blessing Sule, Nigeria

Politically our country is unstable and our president is a bad man. What we have in common is our opposition to homosexuality.
Zsachirarwe, Zimbabwe

Gay Bishop! God forbid.
Nwadimkpa Roseline, Nigeria

Why should the Churches in the Global North continually expect African Christians to accept their Western justice issues? When did Churches in the Global North take Africa's justice issues seriously? Would the Anglican Communion consider ordaining a polygamous bishop? Yet polygamy is a much more pressing concern for African Christians than is homosexuality.
Elizabeth Parsons, USA/Zambia

I am proud of Bishop Akinola and the Anglican Communion of Nigeria for the bold and forthright stance they took and for the success achieved in resisting the appointment of a Gay Bishop in England.
Dele Aloko, Nigeria

Christianity has brought Africa in general and Nigeria in particular to moral ruins as a prelude to social and political ruins. The fact that the Christian missionaries came as the fore-runners of their exploiting governments is clear enough. It is also clear that these foreign religions have ripped apart the core of our Africanness. I think these churches have stopped the African continent from developing.
Ikponmwosa Okpefe, U.S.A/ Nigeria

I wholeheartedly agree with the stance the Church in Africa took on the British bishop. I believe we are living in strange times, but we must be hot or cold, not luke warm. Yes, Aids and poverty are rife in the African continent, but these do not challenge the spiritual tenets of the church, where a gay bishop does.
Greg Osborne, South Africa/Ireland

Despite the chronic levels of corruption, poverty, starvation and violence facing ordinary Nigerians on a day to day basis, it really is amazing that the only issue the Bishop of Lagos feels sufficiently passionate about is the appointment of a gay priest in England! How about focussing on social injustice in Nigeria? Now that requires REAL moral leadership.
Bayo, UK/Nigeria

The Church came from the Whiteman's land. Africans had their own views on social issues before the Western influence came. Of course we should worry about poverty, famine and Aids, but this issue of ordaining female priests and having gay bishops will play on the African psycology and makes us doubt religion altogether.
Achiri, Cameroon

I have recently completed eighteen months of fieldwork in two villages in Uganda. My brief was to look at the institutions that actually mattered to people living there. I am an atheist and skeptical of organised religion in general. Nonetheless, I was impressed by the work of Pentecostal churches and the Catholic Church. Many people in the West get to hear positive things about what the Ugandan government is doing, and all the help that western charities are busy providing. However, I found that the state and western charities actually do very little for poor Ugandans, despite what they claim. For women in particular, the church makes a real difference. For example, on the issue of domestic violence, which western charities have been unable to do much about, many village churches have made remarkable changes.
Ben Jones, United Kingdom

The church has hindered development in Africa, but it is also the last guardian of morals in a decadent world.
A. Bobori, UK

In our chronic sickness and chronic poverty, we reserve the right to define 'moral decency' through our African understanding of the Bible. Our spirits do not suffer from poverty, famine and Aids as do our bodies.
Diston Chiweza, Australia/Malawi

The Anglican church in Nigeria talks about a gay bishop in England, but didn't see the fraudulous election in Nigeria. If priests and bishops are gay, but things get better for the suffering masses of Africa, then let it be.
Romeo Spain/Nigeria

The church has brought one system of superstitious belief in exchange for another, and has largely promoted unlimited procreation rather than rational progress. In that sense the church has only compounded Africa's state of ignorance and difficulties. Africans are being encouraged to waste time on religion, instead of working to better their situation in this world.
Robert Morpheal, Canada

I recently spent four months in Togo and Ghana and from my experience the Church is a force for good. As well as caring for those who would otherwise be neglected, by providing orphanages and medical centres, the Church brings genuine joy and a sense of community to people. These things are often lacking in 'developed' countries.
Tom, U.K.

Africans by and large look at the good deeds the church has done over the years and use it as reason to remain silent. The church has been instrumental in the provision of education and medical in most isolated sections of Africa. Such services have frozen all open criticism of the church. Growing up a Catholic, I have come to witness teenage pregnancy double amongst catholic girls. Yet the emphasis continues to be on abstension. The same philosophy has exacerbated the AIDS problem. We can't continue burying our heads in the sand while the rest of our bodies are stark naked. All societies change, so should the institutions governing them.
Che Sunday J., USA/ Cameroon

The leadership crisis in the church in Africa should not be seen in isolation from the leadership crisis in African society at large. At all levels - politically, religiously and even at the family level - people have no set standards to follow. Take Ethiopian history, for example, where the church leaders used to speak up in defence of the people. In more recent times, especially during the DERG regime which collapsed in 1991, the leaders of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church were conspicuous by their silence. I believe religious leaders need to recognise their traditional role of advising political leaders in times of major crisis.
Fikre Mariam Tsehai, Ethiopia

There is no doubt in my mind that the current trend of religiosity sweeping through Ghana is doing more harm than good. But, hey, it makes people happy.
Eddie Blay, Ghana

The church did NOT come from the Whiteman's land. It came from the Middle East, and some of its most ancient branches are in Ethiopia and South India. Europe may or may not identify itself with Christianity, but Christianity is certainly not to be identified with Europe.
Anthony Gregory, Germany (from UK)

Africa will evangelize savage and barbaric Europe. Our black ministers will teach white people because you have forgotten.
Joao, Luanda, Angola

I was recently in Tanzania where I attended services in both Anglican and Catholic churches. As a lay person, I appreciated the welcome, the friendship and the singing. Ordinary Christian people with ordinary problems like most of us need their churches. Lay people are not particularly concerned with interpeting the Bible. They just need the comfort and reassurance which come from leading a Godly life and the companionship of others who are doing the same. Tanzania, like most other African countries, faces severe problems. Their churches help to give them courage to face these problems. They are doing a good job.
Brenda Allan, U.K.

The church in Africa is the same as the church all over the world, a money-making organization that preys on guilt, provides justification for secular action and seeks to repress other organizations that are not "God" based. The problems of Africa cannot be solved by a weekly visit to church to bury one's head in the sand.
Ian W., Zimbabwe

I believe the church is holding communities together and helping them work towards a collective aim. In Rwanda I found that the church was a focus for many people. Indeed the continent of Africa is one of the spiritually-richest parts of our so-called modern world.
Jenny, England

The church has served as a devisive factor in the growth and development of Africa and her people, especially as we have often seen these institutions siding with meglomaniac dictators. It matters little what the denomination: Christianity, Judaism or Islam. The same confusion reigns.
Owen R. Greenland, South Africa/USA

The church in Africa fits all the positive as well as the negative connotations that you have indicated. This is not surprising since it is part of our culture and reflects the values of the society it serves. Perhaps the same could also be said about Islam which is the other important religious institution in the Continent. The track record of most religious institutions does not indicate a radical stance against corruption, bad governance or poverty.
Debebe Dessalegne, UK

The older churches like Catholic or Anglican have quite an impact on Africa bringing education, health care and other facilities to the teemimg masses. The new age Pentecostal churches on the other hand are just in it for the money. Sweet talking pastors care more for their pockets than for their sheep. There are many of them here in Nigeria. So many churches, so little faith.
Tom, Nigeria

The church in Africa is supposed to be the most important element in the development of the continent but the hypocrisy that has held it hostage is not helping things out.
Ernest Kanjo Nfor, Cameroon

The church is a much-needed force for good in the midst of corruption, poverty and the scurge of HIV/AIDS. Most have lost faith in politics, so what's left?
Matthews Banda, South Africa

Catholics preach the non use of condoms on a continent rife with aids and in bad need of family planning. Draw your own conclusions.
Amoroso Gombe, Kenya

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is one of those progressive voices in the Church in Africa who have caught the rare insight of what the priorities of the church should be. The church may be concerned with morality but morality is not it's primary concern. What Africa needs now is a holistic Christian spirituality that stresses physical and spiritual redemption rather than the simplistic, pietistic, and other worldly faith that is characteristic of many African churches. The work that Archbishop Desmond Tutu has done in South Africa has demonstrated his understanding of this.
David Tonghou, M.Div., Cameroon-USA

Really, we are myopic if we think that a primary focus of the Church in Africa is countering homosexual permissiveness. It spends its time much more on the health and wellbeing of Africans.
Randy, Nigeria/USA

The tremendous growth of Christianity in Africa is due to the fact that it has been a people's religion. Christian witness in society by such figures as Archbishop Desmond Tutu have influenced people in no small way. The churches are very involved in social issues, especially on issues like hunger, famine and AIDS.
Eardley Mendis, Sri Lanka

The church in Malawi has been a voice for the voiceless. It has also contributed to development especially in health and education. The church helped alot to bring political change in the country and continues to speak without fear or favour against dictatorial tendencies. It brings hope to the Malawian people.
Mary, Malawi/Germany

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Zambia clergy slams Big Brother
04 Jul 03  |  Africa
Nigerian church slams gay bishop
23 Jun 03  |  Africa
Pastor aided Rwanda genocide
19 Feb 03  |  Africa
Tutu calls for church reform
10 Jun 02  |  Newsnight


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