African Anglican church : chronically homophobic or simply biblical ?

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The issue of an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in the United States has become the archbishop of Canterbury’s African kanker. A kanker he is finding particularly tough to rid himself of. Opposing reactions from Nigeria, which has one of the largest Anglican congregations, along with a host of other countries, have led to threats of a schism.

The purpose of the church to preach love and peace to all and sundry remains fragile. While liberals say that some of the passages in the Bible which refer to homosexuality were not rightly interpreted from the original Hebrew version and also that the general message of the Bible is about love whilst it warns men to leave judgement to God, traditionalists claim that homosexuality is clearly outlawed.

Right Reverend Stacy Saul, from the US, in a recent interview said that the “Bible does not touch on homosexuality nearly as much as we think it does”. Ge says that the issue at hand is “… people in same sex relations with lifelong intentions by mutual love, respect and exclusivity within their relationships”. He also points out that whatever is being addressed in the Anglican church does not share the same arguments with the Bible on the subject of homosexuality.

Concept of modern homosexuality

To further his point on the Bible and homosexuality, the Right Reverend indicates that, homosexuality as a word did not occur in the English language until a little over a hundred years ago as a constitutional concept. This therefore renders the biblical concept of homosexuality [as understood in modern terms] almost unfounded. Painting homosexuality in its present image, far from a mutual loving relationship, has therefore been more politically motivated.

The question of the church and culture in this context is inseparable as indicated by the Most Reverend Benjamin Nzimbi, Archbishop of Kenya, who vehemently opposes homosexuality. Whilst he advocates for the adoption of the “good” aspects of our cultures in Christianity he is also critical of the “bad aspects of culture…”

It is partly in this light that the Nigerian church has based its arguments against homosexuality. Asked about his views on the subject matter, a Nigerian critic, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Homosexuality was imported from the West, further insisting that it is not an African “thing”. Questions about how Christianity, which he says is critical of homosexuality, and the word “homosexuality”, a word synonymous with the condemnation of same sex affairs in the constitution set by colonial rulers, got to Nigeria, were left unanswered.

Shifting blame

In Africa’s long-standing oral tradition, one of the principal means of investigating a controversial subject like homosexuality is to delve into the age and cultural significance of the description of homosexuality. Many societies on the continent have used various words, since time immemorial, to describe homosexuality, thwarting the idea that homosexuality was introduced to Africa upon the arrival of the colonialist or the “white man”.

Shifting blame to the West has prevented most Africans from ‘intellectualising’ the subject of homosexuality. Davis Mac-Iyalla, a Nigerian living in the UK, believes that too many African Christians focus entirely on condemning homosexual practice and ignore their commitment to hearing real stories.

Davis’ troubles began in 2005, when he founded the Nigerian branch of Changing Attitude, an Anglican pressure group that campaigns for the full inclusion of gay people in the life of the church. According to him, the group’s success “offended the leaders of the Nigerian church”, which went on to issue a press statement denying that Mr Mac-Iyalla was a practising Anglican. This led to a string of violent homophobic attacks on him until he moved to the United Kingdom.


Refusing to condone homosexuality, almost a quarter of the 880 bishops and primates from around the world boycotted the Lambeth conference, held every ten years, to encourage fellowship and also talk about issues affecting the Anglican church. In fact, most of those who boycotted the conference had met a few weeks prior, in Jerusalem, and founded a breakaway organisation, known as the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, last year, indicated that the Anglican Church had seemed “extraordinarily homophobic”, adding that he was “saddened” and “ashamed” of his church… “If we are going to not welcome or invite people because of sexual orientation,” then “yes” he is ashamed. “If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship that God.” He added.

In an attempt to save the church from any further damage, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has suggested the need for a Covenant, “though still with many questions”, to resolve the row as a “global Church of inter-dependent communities”. Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda as well as bishops and primates who were absent at the just ended Lambeth Conference are expected to convene alongside those who were present, as early as next year, to “put an end to all our problems … the pieces are on the board”, says Dr Rowan Williams.

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