African bishops ready to boycott conference in row over gay clergy

London, England - The head of the Anglican Church in Nigeria says that his 120-plus bishops will boycott next year’s Lambeth Conference unless the US Church halts its liberal agenda.

In an interview with The Times published today, Dr Peter Akinola, Primate of Nigeria and Archbishop of Abuja, says that he has lost faith that the Episcopal Church of the United States, which precipitated a schism with the ordination of the gay bishop Gene Robinson in 2003, will ever listen to the conservative evangelical leaders of the Global South churches of Africa and Asia.

His nearly 130 bishops meet in September to decide whether to attend the conference, the ten-yearly meeting of the Anglican Communion’s 800 bishops. Other provinces in the Global South grouping are also expected to vote soon on whether to boycott Lambeth, in the first formal mark of schism in the Anglican Church.

The failure of Nigeria to attend Lambeth would be a severe blow to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who has always said that unity was his priority in trying to resolve the battle between evangelicals and liberals over homosexuality. The Church of England General Synod, which meets this weekend, will debate the new “covenant” drawn up to try to reach worldwide agreement on a common doctrine.

Dr Akinola, who heads the fastest-growing Church in the Anglican Communion, with nearly 20 million practising Anglicans, said that the American Church had failed to act on repeated pleadings from the Church’s 38 primates to halt their agenda. “All we are saying is, do not celebrate what the Bible says is wrong.”

He added: “The Church in the West cannot pull us by the nose. If you are going to interpret the Bible in your own way, good luck to you. But without us.”

For Nigeria to attend Lambeth, the Archbishop of Canterbury would also have to invite the English-born bishop Martyn Minns, consecrated by Dr Akinola to serve as a missionary bishop to conservatives in the US. Sources in London told The Times that Bishop Minns would not be invited, even as a guest. In contrast, the same sources said that Bishop Robinson was to be invited in a nonvoting capacity. He will be able to speak at meetings at the conference.

Dr Akinola, whose Church has already declared itself to be in broken communion with the US, said: “The condition for having communion together is for [the Episcopal Church of the United States] to return to where we were by giving up its agenda. The problem is [the US Church’s] and the Western Church’s way of seeing and handling Scripture. Gene Robinson is just a symptom. I kept on saying, you do not have to go through Canterbury to get to Christ.”

He insisted, however, that leading a breakaway church was not his ambition. “That has never been on my mind. This is something the media are making.”

He added: “We have not broken the law. It is your churches. You are the ones doing what we said should not be done, with impunity. We are saying you cannot sweep it under the carpet . . . not any more.”

The Archbishop’s stance has been condemned by lesbian and gay activists, who say that he is putting their lives at risk. Davis MacIyalla, director of the Anglican gay lobby group Changing Attitude Nigeria, said: “Archbishop Akinola is exposing gays and lesbians in Nigeria to danger.” Speaking toThe Advocate, a journal of the gay movement, he said: “He’s constantly saying that homosexuality is evil, thereby making some people take the law into their hands.”

But Dr Akinola said that the demand from the West that his Church liberalise was a reimposition of imperialism. “For God’s sake let us be. When America invades Afghanistan it is in the name of world peace. When Nigeria moves to Biafra it is an invasion. When England takes the Gospel to another country, it is mission. When Nigeria takes it to America it is an intrusion. All this imperialistic mentality, it is not fair,” he said.