On Monday 25 October, over 300 of Africa’s Anglican bishops announced plans for a network of theological colleges to promote traditional beliefs, after clashing with some Western churches over what one termed the “abomination” of homosexuality. The Anglican bishops from across Africa gathered in Lagos, Nigeria, for a week-long conference on issues facing the church and the people of the continent: war, diseases such as HIV/AIDS, poverty and the role of women in religion and society. The conference has been planned since 2001.
At a news conference on the eve of the first ever conference of Africa’s Anglican bishops, Nigeria’s Archbishop Peter Akinola took pains to stress that the bishops did not want their meeting to be dominated by sexuality, which he said was a fringe issue for a continent with much more pressing problems. But afterwards, he was categorical in his denunciation of the Western dioceses who have ordained homosexual priests, blessed same-sex unions and, in one case, appointed an openly gay bishop. “What we are saying is that the Bible says that this is an abomination,” he said, talking to reporters. The Anglican leaders said if they condoned homosexuality – which is criminalized in the majority of African countries – then Africans would leave the Church or turn to Islam.
Only the Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane, offered any dissent, saying his church was committed to its entire congregation, including homosexuals.
Plans announced to train priests in Africa
Bishops said that it had not been designed as a response to a recent bitter controversy within world Anglicanism over homosexuality. But the issue was clearly at the front of the cleric’s minds as they announced that, under the theme “Africa Comes of Age”, the conference voted not to send Africans outside of the continent for training but would seek ways to build their own college to prepare men for the priesthood to protect young priests from the liberal ideas gaining ground in some Western theological colleges. Archbishop Akinola said the African church needed to develop its own theology. “You now have on campus men and men cohabiting, which is against the Africa way of life,” he said. “The Western world is embroiled in a new religion which we cannot associate ourselves with.” Uganda’s Archbishop Henry Orombi said, “The fact is that Africa is rich in theology. It has a traditional culture and it has the most exciting spirituality that can be found anywhere in the world, but it is being ignored by the West.”
Akinola’s call for a separate brand of Christianity won the praise of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. In a speech before the 300 African bishops Obasanjo praised the pan African stand and condemned homosexuality and same-sex marriages as un-Biblical, unnatural and un-African. “Such a tendency is clearly un-Biblical, unnatural and definitely un-African,” Obasanjo, a born-again Christian told the churchmen.
Zanzibar and Kenya becoming more intolerant
Homosexuality has long been illegal in many African countries but now even places such as Zanzibar, which had been more tolerant of the gay community, has recently passed laws imposing a mandatory 25-year jail sentence for any men caught having sex with each other. Even relatively liberal societies like Kenya take a firm stance on the subject. Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, once famously said there was no African word for homosexuality. The Rev Joseph Ogola, dean of the Anglican Church in Kisumu, western Kenya, said: “I don’t like the idea of gay bishops. It is against the Bible. I accept we live in a changing society and have to accept that people value their own freedom, but that should not be linked to the church. They should branch off and start their own religion.”