Page last updated at 15:49 GMT, Friday, 9 May 2008 16:49 UK

Warning for Christian polygamists

Archbishop Peter Akinola
Archbishop Akinola has led opposition to the ordination of gay priests

Nigeria's Anglican leader has told the country's many Christian polygamists to give up their extra wives.

In a letter to the faithful, Archbishop Peter Akinola warned the issue could "make a mockery" of the church.

Until now, converts to Christianity have been allowed to keep their polygamous relationships.

Bishop Ali Buba Lamido told the BBC that it was difficult to convert polygamous Muslims to Christianity unless they could keep their wives.

Bishop Ali Buba of the Wusasa diocese in northern Kaduna State, said that as much as 10% of some congregations in the north can be in polygamous marriages.

We cannot claim to be a Bible-believing church and yet be selective in our obedience
Archbishop Peter Akinola

Nigeria is deeply divided between the mostly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian and animist south.

The archbishop's letter comes ahead of the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops in July.

With 17.5 million members, the Nigerian Anglican Church is the second largest in the communion.

'Biblical truth'

"Those of us who are in the forefront of the prophetic call for a return to Biblical truth, cannot close our eyes to the increasingly blatant disregard for the teaching of the Bible on family life," wrote the archbishop.

"The observation will destroy our witness if not firmly addressed. We cannot claim to be a Bible-believing church and yet be selective in our obedience."

Bishop Lamido told the BBC News website that polygamous converts are prevented from taking leadership positions in the church until they accept monogamy.

If they do separate, the women usually give up their children to the care of their ex-husbands.

"These women remain in the church, and can marry again, but mostly they decide to remain single. It is often difficult for them to restart family life," he said.

Archbishop Akinola has led opposition by some European and American Anglicans to ordain gay priests.

The BBC's Andrew Walker in Abuja says the archbishop's letter may be an attempt to head off criticism about "unscriptural practices" in his own back yard.

If the Christian principle of monogamy continued to be ignored, "it will make a mockery of whatever else we stand for," the archbishop wrote.

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