Thursday, October 22, 2009




LAGOS, Nigeria -- The Vatican's invitation to Anglicans could have far-reaching repercussions across Africa, where about half of the world's 80 million Anglicans now live.

African clergymen have been some of the harshest critics of their Anglican colleagues in the West, whom they accuse of liberally interpreting the Bible. But it's far from clear whether churches here, many of which have already distanced themselves from Anglican churches in the U.S., Canada and England, would see the need to embrace the Vatican's offer.

Unlike the more tightly controlled Catholic Church, Anglican churches in Africa are largely autonomous, operating with a level of freedom that they wouldn't likely enjoy under Rome's fold.

Archbishop Peter Akinola, head of the Church of Nigeria, and the spiritual leader of Africa's 40 million Anglicans, is "still weighing the implications of the Vatican's offer" and is consulting with colleagues, according to an aide reached by telephone Wednesday.

Still, the Vatican's offer may appeal to many who follow Africa's conservative strain of Anglicanism. African church leaders have adopted an especially tough line on homosexuality, a cultural taboo across the continent. In many countries, homosexuality is illegal and associated with Satanism. Nigeria, home to 18 million Anglicans, recently beefed up its anti-sodomy law to include prison sentences for men who live together and for those who "aid and abet" gays.

When Eugene Robinson was ordained as the first openly gay bishop in the U.S.'s Episcopalian church in 2003, several Anglican churches in Africa severed ties with their American counterparts. Nigeria's Anglican Church proffered one of the loudest condemnations of Rev. Robinson's appointment and broke off ties with its American and Canadian counterparts. It threatened to cut ties with the Church of England.

Rev. Akinola is arguably the most powerful member of the Church worldwide because of his large congregation. (He has twice been listed as one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people.) He has repeatedly condemned Western Anglicans' move toward a more liberal interpretation of the Bible.

"We don't compromise on scriptures, and that has been our fight with the West," says Rev. Syrenius Okoriko, the head of the Nigerian Anglican church's evangelical department, in a phone interview Wednesday from Abuja, the capital. "We have so many issues with the West: homosexuality, the interpretation of the scriptures. What the scriptures say is what we stand on."