Nigerians Protest Gay Priests, Bishops

Nigeria's Anglican Church held a day of fasting and prayers Monday to protest the confirmation of homosexual priests and bishops in the United States and Britain.

The show of opposition in Nigeria — which has the largest Anglican population outside Britain — comes ahead of an emergency meeting of the 38 primates, or leaders, of the world's Anglican churches.

The gathering, to be held Wednesday and Thursday in London, has been called by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the titular head of the 77 million-member global Anglican community, who is looking for a way to bridge differences that many regard as irreconcilable.

"We are not happy that the Archbishop of Canterbury is being soft on this issue of homosexuals in the church," Rev. Obi Ulonna told The Associated Press.

"We are praying that God will guide and protect our Bishop and all who are against the gay movement," added Ulonna, a cleric at the St. Stephens parish in Lagos.

Nigeria has some 17 million Anglicans. Ulonna said tens of thousands of parishioners in the Nigerian commercial capital, Lagos, had pledged to fast and pray in special services held Monday. "Enthusiastic participation" was expected in other Nigerian cities, he added.

"It is sad that in our church today we find people who say it is right for a man to marry a man and for a woman to marry a woman. We have to pray against this," said Duro Akeju, a lay preacher speaking between hymns to hundreds gathered at Lagos' St. Stephens church.

Many African Christian churches have retained the moral conservatism favored by the European missionaries who introduced the religion to the African continent in the 19th century.

The primate of Nigeria, the Most Rev. Peter Akinola, told parishioners in Lagos last week that "evil forces" were at work in the worldwide church.

"We Anglicans are against the ordination of gay priests and I am vehemently against it," Akinola said. "We need prayers to be able to surmount all the problems that tend to divide us, and all the forces of evil in the church."

The U.S. Episcopal Church's decision in August to confirm a gay man — the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, who has a longtime male partner — as bishop of New Hampshire provoked a crisis within Anglicanism and focused attention on homosexual clerics.

Robinson's conservative opponents in the United States warned at a rally last week that a break with the Episcopal Church is a strong possibility, and their protests were emphatically backed by the leaders of other Anglican national churches, particularly in Africa.

The U.S. Episcopal Church, like the Anglican, traces its roots back to the Church of England, and is part of what's known as the Anglican Communion.

Earlier this year, the Church of England had its own crisis when the Rev. Canon Jeffrey John was nominated as bishop of Reading. John has openly declared his homosexuality, but affirmed that he was now celibate.

In May, the Anglican Church of Nigeria severed all relations with the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada for sanctioning the blessing of same-sex unions.

The Nigerian church has threatened similar treatment for any diocese or communion that steps out of line with its position on homosexuality.

In June, Akinola issued a written warning to Nigerians to be prepared for a potential split, no matter the financial cost to churches in the impoverished West African nation.

"We are mindful of the backlash this strong stand can engender from the rich churches in Europe, America and Canada, who have long used their wealth to intimidate the financially weak churches in Africa," Akinola said.

"Our boldness in condemning the spiritual bankruptcy of these churches must be matched by our refusal to receive financial help from them," he wrote.