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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 August, 2003, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Nigerian Anglicans denounce gay bishop
Robert Pigott
By Robert Pigott
BBC Religious Affairs correspondent in Abuja, Nigeria

Churches in Africa oppose homosexuality
Nigeria's Anglican Church calls the appointment "sad and disappointing"
The unity of the worldwide Anglican Church seems more fragile than ever after the appointment of a gay priest as bishop in the United States.

Traditionalists have denounced the decision to appoint Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire, which they say defies the clear teachings of the bible.

Among them are the leaders of large Anglican churches in the developing world.

They have already warned they could not live in the same organisation as the church with an actively gay bishop.

[Nigeria's Anglican Church] has already broken ties with the diocese of Vancouver over blessings for gay relationships
Some of the strongest criticism has come from Nigeria, which has the largest Anglican Church in the world.

It has broken ties with the Diocese of Vancouver over its decision to allow formal church blessings for gay relationships and threatened even to break away from the Church of England over the appointment of gay priest Canon Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading in the UK.

Taboo

In the provincial city of Minna in Nigeria, few of the families going to a Sunday morning service even want to talk about homosexuality.

Family life is the bedrock of Nigerian society. Homosexuality is seen as undermining it.

The public shuns gay people and the church regards homosexuality as a sin.

Here the idea of a gay bishop is little short of heresy.

The bible refers a lot to homosexuality and condemns it outright in my view
Bishop Nathaniel Yisa
Bishop Nathaniel Yisa maintains that the bible condemns homosexuality unequivocally and accuses Canon Robinson and his supporters of re-interpreting the bible to suit themselves.

He says: "The bible refers a lot to homosexuality and condemns it outright in my view. I don't have the bible in my hand right now but I could cite references."

Saving face

Another reason for this hostility becomes apparent a couple of miles away in the centre of the city.

A large gold domed mosque dominates the skyline, a reminder of the large Muslim population of Minna.

Islam too rejects homosexuality and Anglicans don't want to be compared unfavourably with their Muslim neighbours.

Bishop-elect Reverend Gene Robinson of New Hampshire listens to debate on blessing same sex unions
Anglican leaders say the church will "lose face" over Mr Robinson's appointment
"In a place where you have competition between churches and Islam, both are ready to pick holes in the other's religion," says Dr Sam Kolo, head of liberal studies at Minna technical university.

"Homosexuality is not our culture. It may be allowed in the west but here you will lose your flock".

There is also competition for Anglicans from the thousands of new churches springing up in Nigeria.

They have attracted members away from the older churches with a heavy mix of fundamentalist religion and emotional catharsis.

Their attitude towards homosexuality is even more uncompromising.

Deacon Cyprain Odokara of the living faith church in Minna says ordinary Nigerians are likely to hold Anglicans guilty by association with the church that selects a gay bishop.

"They would not think favourably of it. It is not right. Scripturally, it is not right".

But where scripture clashes with inherited African tradition, Anglicans have learnt to be forgiving.

Samuel Adepoju goes to Minna cathedral with his two wives. He too is damning about homosexuality.

"There's nowhere in the bible where it says that if you have more than one wife you won't go to heaven but homosexuality is condemned in totality."

No compromise

The Anglican Church in Nigeria values its membership of the worldwide Anglican Communion. But homosexuality is an issue on which it can see no compromise.

Despite the Archbishop of Canterbury's plea that irrevocable steps should be avoided, he has no power here to order the Nigerian church to accept a homosexual bishop in far-off America.

Nigerians suspect true Anglican values are being forsaken in the West.

Some even wonder whether it may be time for them to assume a leadership role.


SEE ALSO:
Nigerian church slams gay bishop
23 Jun 03  |  Africa
Gay rights row 'reinforced' homophobia
08 Jun 03  |  Oxfordshire
US church elects gay bishop
07 Jun 03  |  Americas


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