Mugabe fuels 'Reformation' against gays
MORE than 30 million African Anglicans are set to form a breakaway church in the biggest schism since the Reformation prompted by a backlash against liberal attitudes to gays and lesbians in the west.
The church is taking its cue from the unlikeliest champion of family values, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who in 1993 flamboyantly but infamously branded gay people as "worse than dogs and pigs".
Nigerians clerics, who are led by the fearfully homophobic Archbishop Peter Akinola, say they are linking up with Evangelicals who not only support Mugabe, but also President George W Bush and the Republican Party in the US, Ben Mkapa in Tanzania and Sam Nujoma in Namibia, to wipe clean the "evil stain" of homosexuality from the face of Africa.
"This could be the biggest split since the Reformation," said Richard Kirker, General Secretary of the small but vocal Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. "Personally, I’d rather see a split within the ranks of the Anglican community than for people of principle to bow to the demands of homophobic Africans."
At a time when Anglican bishops throughout Africa have told their sponsors in Britain and the US that they won’t take a penny or cent more from churches which are tarnished by people sympathetic to "gay rights", the Lambeth Commission is preparing to meet next week in St George’s, Windsor, to draw up its final report on issues of sexuality.
"If we suffer for a while to gain our independence and our freedom to build ourselves up, I think it will be a good thing for the church in Africa," Akinola said. "And we will not, on the altar of money, mortgage our conscience, mortgage out faith, mortgage our salvation."
Akinola is also chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces which represents 12 national and regional churches, plus the diocese of Egypt. African churches comprise about half of the 77 million members of the global Anglican community.
"The nature of gay people is one of the few subjects that unites all Africans," said Zimbabwean author and historian, Lawrence Vambe. "Family life is the bedrock of African society and homosexuality is seen by most Africans as a Western import that undermines our traditional values."
There are tens of thousands of Zimbabweans now living in exile in the UK, and Vambe is one of them. "Nearly all of us despise Robert Mugabe and condemn what he has done to our beloved Zimbabwe, but I’m afraid that when it comes to the issue of gays most of us say that he’s right," he said.
All African societies, with the exception of South Africa, shun gay people.
Bishop Nathaniel Yisa of Nigeria said: "The Bible refers a lot to homosexuality and condemns it outright. In traditional African society there is no room for men who want to have sex with men. As for women who want to have sex with women - to most people in the rural areas, it’s unimaginable."
African bishops watch with deep concern as Islam begins to attract hundreds of thousands of young, unemployed and often angry East Africans whose leaders claim that Christianity and homosexuality destroy traditional values.
Deacon Cyrian Odokara of the Living Faith Church in Minna said that ordinary Nigerians were likely to hold Anglicans "guilty" by association with the church that selects a gay bishop.
"Until recently, Africans had no pensions, no medical aid schemes and no social security network - not like the British.
"A father and mother survived into old age because of the size of their family - strong men who could work the land, strong girls who could be sold to local men as brides.
"What role is their in our society for men who want to go to bed with other men?" Odokara said.
Almost all African church leaders take the Bible’s apparent condemnation of homosexuality (in the Book of Leviticus and the writings of St Paul) literally.
The African backlash against gays and Lesbians started in 1993 when Mugabe stood up at a Zimbabwe book fair and lashed out, saying they did things not even dogs and pigs would do. "They are worse than dogs and pigs," he yelled, prompting two Nobel prize winners, Wole Soyinka of Nigeria and Nadine Gordimer of South Africa, to pack their bags in disgust and fly home.
Then came the 1998 Lambeth Conference when the vast majority of Anglican leaders condemned the practice of homosexuality.
But last year the Lambeth Commission was established by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to face up to the crisis in the Anglican Community over sexuality issues.
Under the chairmanship of the Church of Ireland Primate, Archbishop Robin Eames, the Commission has been working since October 2003.
Eames will present the Report of the Commission to the Archbishop of Canterbury next month when it will be released for study throughout the world church.
The consecration of practising homosexual, Bishop Gene Robinson, in the US and the practice of blessing same sex unions in Canada have provoked a storm throughout the Anglican community.
Signs are that next week it will again become a controversial issue, with the man who started the ball rolling, Mugabe, enjoying the turmoil he has helped to create.
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