Nigerian Churches Tell West to Practice What It Preached on Gays

By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 24, 2005

ABUJA, Nigeria -- Little more than a century ago, legions of Christian missionaries arrived here from Europe with an imposing agenda for changing traditional African practices. Worshiping animistic gods, they told people, was sinful. So was keeping carved idols at home. And in a land where polygamy was common, the missionaries taught that marriage was a sacred union between one man and one woman, period.

Today, many devout Christian Nigerians adhere firmly to the view that homosexuality is ungodly, and they have been rankled by its growing acceptance among church leaders in the United States and Europe. As the descendants of Nigerians who abandoned their traditional values under the influence of Western preaching, some Christians here say they feel betrayed and offended that the spiritual descendants of those missionaries are now trying to change the rules.

"Homosexuality is against the book," said Dayo Okusami, 58, as she picked up a Bible at this month's opening of the National Ecumenical Center, a multi-denominational cathedral in this capital city. "Here we still follow the book. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of homosexuality. That's it. God doesn't change. He's not human."

In a nearby pew, Julie Ade-Cole, 60, was even more adamant.

"If America does not stop going in the direction of Sodom and Gomorrah, I can see God's wrath coming heavily down," said the retired government worker, who views the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina as divine punishment. "The Lord has favored them so much, they have started taking God for granted. They have become arrogant."

Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, the outspoken leader of Nigeria's 17.5 million Anglicans, spearheaded the recent move by the Nigerian church to break off relations with the U.S. Episcopalian Church and the Canadian Anglican church as a protest against moves by those bodies to accept homosexuality, such as the 2003 consecration in the United States of an openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson.

Akinola, who is also the nominal leader of Africa's 40 million Anglicans, has said that the Church of England, known as the "mother church" of Anglicans worldwide, will be the next to find itself cut off from Nigeria's booming Anglican community if it does not keep a strict line against homosexuality.

In a recent interview in his office here, the archbishop complained that the missionaries of the past "hardly saw anything valid in our culture, in our way of life," yet the same Western churches are now making exceptions to the rules they once preached.

"Brother, there's some need for some consistency here," Akinola said with a smile. He was dressed in a purple robe, and a silver cross dangled from his neck.

As gay people have moved into the mainstream in Western countries, with TV shows and Hollywood movies that depict them sympathetically shown around the world, many African Christians see themselves as custodians of a faith they believe has lost its way in the West.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian in a country split between a largely Muslim north and a Christian and animistic south, told a conference of African Anglican bishops last year that homosexuality was "unbiblical, unnatural and definitely un-African."

"Surely the good Lord who created us male and female knew exactly what he was doing," he said, according to the Financial Times newspaper of London. "Any other form of sexual relationship is a perversion of the divine order, and sin."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company