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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 October, 2004, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
Obasanjo backs bishops over gays
Opening ceremony of the African Anglican Bishops Conference (Rev Emmanuel Kolini, primate of Rwanda (l), Rev Bernard Malango, primate of Central Africa and Rev Joseph Morona, primate of Sudan)
The row over gay clergy threatens to divide the Anglican church
The Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, has praised Anglican bishops from Africa for what he called their principled stand against homosexuality.

At a meeting of 300 African bishops in Nigeria, Mr Obasanjo condemned homosexuality and same-sex marriages as un-Biblical, unnatural and un-African.

The conference, to discuss future ties with the Anglican Church, has already vowed to stop training priests abroad.

The bishops are also discussing Aids, war and poverty at the five-day summit.

Fears of a split

Mr Obasanjo told the bishops he had followed "with keen interest your principled stand against the totally unacceptable tendency towards same-sex marriages and homosexual practice."

"Such a tendency is clearly un-Biblical, unnatural and definitely un-African," Mr Obasanjo, a born-again Christian, added in his speech to the conference in the commercial capital Lagos.

His comments will do little to minimise fears that the Anglican communion of 70 million could split over homosexuality, the BBC's Anna Borzello reports.

The African division - which represents over half of the world's Anglican congregation - has collided with its US counterpart over same-sex unions and the consecration last year of Gene Robinson, a homosexual.

Gene Robinson (L) is invested in New Hampshire
Many Anglicans objected to the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson

Earlier, Chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, Peter Akinola, described homosexuality as an "abomination" which contradicted the Bible and African values.

Anglican leaders in Africa said if they condoned homosexuality - which is criminalised in the majority of African countries - then Africans would leave the Church or turn to Islam.

However, Archbishop Akinola acknowledged there is no unanimity on the ordination of gay clergy.

Archbishop of Cape Town Njongonkulu Ndungane has said his Church is committed to all its congregation, including homosexuals.

African church congregations are the fastest growing in the world, with Nigeria alone accounting for one quarter of the Anglican Church's membership.

'Different environments'

Kenyan Bishop Julius Kalu said the bishops at the summit felt there was a problem with training ministers abroad because of the different environments.

"I was trained in the United States myself, but now I realise whatever I learnt there is difficult for me to apply here," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

70 million baptised members worldwide
38 self-governing Churches
500 dioceses, 30,000 parishes, 64,000 congregations in 164 countries
26 million members in the United Kingdom
17.5 million members in Nigeria
2.5 million members in the US

Archbishop Akinola said they needed to develop their own theology.

"You now have on campus men and men cohabiting, which is against the Africa way of life," the Nigerian said.

"The Western world is embroiled in a new religion which we cannot associate ourselves with."

According to the BBC's Sam Olukoya, Anglican bishops believe the Church will be better positioned to help solve Africa's problems only if it has a truly African orientation.

Western Anglicans - mainly in the US - donate almost three-quarters of the funds used by the African council.

Some bishops from Europe and the US feel the time has come for the Anglican Church in Africa to stop depending on foreign assistance, our correspondent says.

"When aid is there it discourages people from discovering their own resources," said Cecil Winston, attending the conference from Ireland.

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