US church 'must repent' for gay bishop decision

African archbishops intensified the threat to the unity of the worldwide Anglican communion last night, and increased pressure on Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, by insisting that the US Episcopal Church must be disciplined within three months unless it "repents" for electing a gay bishop.

Their demand preempts the meetings of the commission set up by the church last October in an attempt to avoid a split, which is not due to report until the beginning of next year.

The crisis arises from the election of Gene Robinson, a divorced father of two, living with his male partner, as bishop of the tiny diocese of New Hampshire.

At a meeting in Nairobi the archbishops, mainly from central and equatorial Africa, who have been among those most antagonistic towards homosexuality, also declared that they will refuse to accept any future funding from the US church.

They insisted, however, that breaking away from the worldwide Anglican communion was not an option.

Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (Capa), said: "If we suffer for a while to gain our independence and our freedom and to build ourselves up, I think it will be a good thing for the church in Africa.

"We will not on the altar of money mortgage our conscience, mortgage our faith, mortgage our salvation ... God has put in our own continent all it takes to be self-reliant."

He insisted that the hardline stance was accepted by Archbishop Winston Ndungane of Cape Town, hitherto the only African primate to have opposed the repudiation of gays.

US Episcopalians have doubted that, for all the the rhetoric, African church leaders would refuse American money, which provides significant funding for their activities.

Archbishop Akinola himself accepted $80,000 last year to help build the Capa headquarters in Nairobi, and sent a representative to a US diocesan convention earlier this year.

Before yesterday's decision a US church spokesman said: "These guys are grandstanding. They keep vilifying us but they keep seeking the benefits of an ongoing relationship.

"It's a great gig - you get to look courageous without taking any sort of risk."

The decision to insist on the Episcopal Church's "repentance" dramatically raises the stakes as the gap between the liberal western church, which is in numerical decline, and the burgeoning Anglican communion in the developing world, which now accounts for more than half the church's 77m adherents, grows wider.

The rift is likely to become even greater when the Canadian Anglican church takes its expected decision to authorise same sex blessing services at its synod in Niagara at the end of next month.

The African church leaders have worked closely for a number of years with conservative Evangelicals in England and traditionalist Episcopalians in the US, who are also opposed to the liberalisation of the traditional Biblical attitudes to homosexuals.