African bishops clash on gay issue

The leader of the Anglican church in Africa has launched a furious verbal assault on one of his fellow primates after the latter criticised him this month in an interview with the Guardian.

Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, who on Thursday was elected head of the council of African Anglican Bishops, called on the Archbishop of Cape Town to repent for allegedly causing divisions among church leaders in developing countries before an emergency conference next month to discuss homosexuality.

Archbishop Akinola took fierce exception to remarks by the Most Reverend Winston Njongonkulu Ndungane in a Guardian interview on September 8, in which he accused other African religious leaders of hypocrisy and intolerance.

The South African archbishop appears to have annoyed his colleague by saying that the Nigerian was more concerned about gay sex in the west than starvation, Aids and genocide in Africa, or the scheduled stoning to death of a Nigerian woman for adultery.

In a four-page letter, the Most Reverend Akinola, who has said in the past that homosexuals are lower than beasts, claims: "We are poised, using every gift of God available to us to defend orthodoxy, the integrity of the church and banish the erroneous teachings you plan to impose on us.

"Where the autonomy of any part of our communion becomes a scandal in the entire Christian world, then we must be humble enough to accept rebuke and correction. There is still room for repentance. Amen."

As head of 17 million Christians, some Church of England bishops have defended the Most Rev Akinola's remarks, citing sensitivities to African culture and Nigeria's Muslim community. But they have privately been aghast at his bluntness in attacking gays.

It is thought that the archbishop learned of Archbishop Ndungane's remarks when a copy of the Guardian article was sent to him by a British gay group.

The spat does not bode well for the meeting of the 38 Anglican primates at Lambeth Palace next month. Twelve of the primates are from Africa with the Most Rev Akinola, the most hardline, now at their head.

At a press conference after his election, Archbishop Akinola insisted: "If those who are deviating still refuse to repent only God can tell what can happen, but Africa shall not change its mind."