Africa's Anglican Church Slams U.S. Gay Decision

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Most Anglican church leaders in Africa condemned on Thursday the appointment by the U.S. Episcopal Church of its first openly gay bishop-elect, but South Africa's archbishop supported the move.

"Such a church is bound to become a shrine for the worship of men rather than God," said Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, commenting on the Episcopalian church decision. "May the Lord...bless His Church in this dark hour."

Canon Gene Robinson was elected on Tuesday by the U.S. Episcopal Church as Bishop of New Hampshire, in a move that is threatening to split the Anglican church and its 70 million followers worldwide.

Leaders in traditionally conservative east, central and west Africa said they were deeply opposed to the move. But South Africa's Anglican archbishop, Njongonkulu Ndungane, voiced support for the U.S. cleric.

"The important thing is the process, and he was elected through a correct process. We have to support that," he said. Anglican churches in Africa are independent in each nation but they liaise closely on spiritual policy matters.

Akinola said the gay dispute brought into question his church's relationship with its American counterpart.

Nigeria's Anglican Church Secretary General Oluranti Odubogun added that the church was talking to U.S. bishops who voted against Robinson's ordination. He made clear the message was Nigeria's objection to the appointment.

In Kenya, Bishop William Waqo of the capital Nairobi said the church stood by its anti-gay stance.

"We are not in favor of homosexual or gay leadership in the Anglican communion," Waqo told Reuters.

Church leaders in Zimbabwe and Uganda, where heads of state have sharply attacked gays, were not available to comment. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, in one of his most controversial statements, once called gays "worse than dogs."

Zimbabwe's church is grouped among central African dioceses.

Archbishop Ndungane, who presides over South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique and Angola, backed the appointment, saying the church should be more sensitive and understanding to fellow members regardless of sexual orientation, creed or race. But he said the gay bishop must remain celibate.

Asked in a radio interview if the region was out of step with West and East African congregations, who are strongly opposed to gay clergy, Ndungane said he faced reality.

"It is a fact that we have gay and lesbian members of our church. It is a fact we've got gay clergy in our church...

"We are looking at issues, seeking as to how we can be loving and supportive of our sisters and brothers who are hurting and who are created in God's image," he said.