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No gay tolerance in Africa's Anglican Church

No gay tolerance in Africa's Anglican Church/Growing rebellion against
liberal doctrines of U.S.

By Elizabeth Bryant, Chronicle Foreign Service
San Francisco Chronicle
January 14, 2004

Lagos, Nigeria -- Obarou Adjarhu carries a Bible under one arm, and
he knows his scripture. It says, according to Adjarhu's reading, that
homosexuality is a sin. Today, tomorrow and, as far as the 32-year-old
Nigerian businessman is concerned, forever.

"Those are the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah," he declared on the steps
of this city's Anglican cathedral, which is an island of calm amid the
skittering traffic and jam-packed sidewalks of Africa's largest city.
"For a bishop to come out openly and say he is gay is a sin before God
and man."

The bishop in question, Gene Robinson, was consecrated last year as
an Episcopal bishop, over the objections of the mother Anglican church.
Though Robinson lives in far-off New Hampshire, he is no stranger to
this congregation or to Nigeria's Anglican hierarchy, which is leading a
growing international rebellion against accepting gays in the church.

The controversy exposes a fault line between the conservative
Christianity flourishing in many developing countries and the more
liberal doctrines preached elsewhere. It also underscores a long-
standing intolerance of homosexuality in Africa, which carries important
health-care implications.

In a continent that accounts for more than 70 percent of the 40
million people worldwide with HIV/AIDS, homophobia makes it more likely
that gays will be denied the prevention and treatment programs available
to others -- even as anti-AIDS drugs are becoming more accessible.

Gays are certainly not welcome in Nigeria's 17 million-member
Anglican church, whose primate, Archbishop Peter Akinola, condemned the
consecration of Robinson as bishop, calling it a "satanic attack on the
church of God." He even issued a statement on behalf of the "Primates of
the Global South" -- a group of 20 Anglican primates from Africa, the
West Indies, South America, India, Pakistan and Southeast Asia --
deploring the action and, along with Uganda and Kenya, formally severed
relations with Robinson's New Hampshire diocese.

Akinola has emerged as the most vocal spokesman for conservative
Anglicans who oppose the stance of the U.S. church -- which welcomes
gays as parishioners and even, in some cases, as clergy -- and has
warned that the issue may cause a schism in the Anglican church. If
there is a break, many believe Akinola would be the driving force behind

The views of Anglicans in Africa are all-important to the church. The
U.S. Episcopal Church, with 2.3 million members, is a small branch of
the much larger Anglican church, with more than 77 million members
worldwide. More than half of all Anglicans live in Africa, and many are
vehemently anti-gay. Only South Africa, with its progressive gay rights
legislative record, stands as an exception on the continent.

"Homosexuality is a deviation from the scriptures," said Adebola
Ademowo, archbishop of Lagos, which is home to the world's largest
Anglican "province," or congregation. "And we are not alone in this
belief. All the other denominations here are just enthused with our
stance. They are praying with us. "

There is little outward evidence of Nigeria's gay community. A
fledgling gay rights group, Alliance Rights Nigeria, advertises no
office address and its president goes by a pseudonym, Erilou.

Though out of sight, the number of gays is widely considered to be

"I think homosexuality is becoming more rampant here," said Bisi
Tugbobo, deputy country director of Pathfinder International in Lagos, a
group working to combat HIV/AIDS. "You hear about it. You read about it
in the papers. But people don't want to talk about it. Not in the
churches. Not in the mosques."

As in many African countries, homosexuality is illegal in Nigeria,
branded as a Western import or the work of black magic. Sodomy carries a
sentence of up to 14 years, although jail terms are seldom meted out.

"Homosexuality is a spiritual sickness," said Patience Fehintola, 62,
another parishioner at the Lagos cathedral. "It needs first of all
repentance and soul cleansing. I'm disappointed in the American Anglican

Such condemnations are echoed widely among both Christians and
Muslims in a country where religion permeates everyday life. Dilapidated
trucks painted with slogans like "Jesus is the Only Way" stumble down
the nation's pitted roads. Prayer grounds the size of football fields
line the highway between Lagos and the southern city of Ibadan, packing
in thousands who listen avidly to success tips from evangelical
"prosperity preachers."

In northern Nigeria, where a dozen states have adopted Islamic
Shariah law, Shariah council head Hakeem Baba-Ahmed said accepting
homosexuality "will lead to a further erosion of our accepted principles
of morality."

But Erilou, the president of Alliance Rights, says homosexuality has
long been quietly tolerated in Nigeria. In a 2002 interview with Radio
Netherlands, he noted that in northern Nigeria there are people called
Dan Daudu, a name in the Hausa language that means "men who are wives of

No accurate statistics on homosexuality exist in Africa. AIDS experts
list it as a minor variable in a tangle of high-risk activities on the
continent, starting with unprotected heterosexual sex.

But some AIDS activists fear that Nigeria's entrenched homophobia and
reluctance to address sex may undermine their battle against HIV. Nearly
6 percent of Nigerians, or 8 million people, are infected with the
virus, according to government estimates. Health workers believe the
real figures are far higher.

Not surprisingly, Nigerian religious leaders, who are beginning to
preach HIV/AIDS awareness to their congregations, generally shy away
from discussing homosexuality and instead stress celibacy.

"Homosexuality is a very divisive issue for the churches," said
Samuel Kobia, the new head of the World Council of Churches and an
ordained Methodist minister in Kenya.

The government also turns its eyes away. Adenike Adeyemi, head of the
federal government's reproductive health unit, said she does not know of
any awareness campaigns specifically focusing on Nigeria's gay

"Homosexuality is not a taboo subject, but we have so many problems
to deal with," she said. "We'll get to it. Probably."

The need to recognize the country's gay population, despite
opposition from the religious community, may become more urgent as the
country grapples with its growing AIDS epidemic. A 2002 report by the
U.S. National Intelligence Council ranked Nigeria -- Africa's most
populous nation -- among five countries expected to drive the world's
rising number of HIV/AIDS cases in the coming years.

"It's the hidden face of the iceberg," said Dr. Elisabeth Szumilien,
of the aid organization Doctors Without Borders, who works on HIV/AIDS
issues in southern and eastern Africa. "We can't target homosexuals (for
treatment) because we don't see them."

Copyright 2004 SF Chronicle

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