African Anglicans shun US money over gay policies

Bishops last week said they will not sacrifice conscience.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

From the welcome shade of a leafy neem tree outside Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral in Accra comes the hubbub of postservice conversation. But an uncomfortable silence descends when parishioners are asked about the ordination of gay clergy by their US counterpart, the Episcopal Church.

"I don't think it's right," says Caroline Tetteh, impeccably dressed in a crisp white dress accented by a sash of multi-colored woven kente cloth. Nearby, Elizabeth Jackson-Davis doesn't hide her scorn. "It shouldn't happen," she says.

The views of churchgoers like these are being given fresh voice by an announcement from the senior Anglican bishops in Africa that they will no longer accept funding from branches of the church that support the ordination of gay clergy or the blessing of same-sex unions.

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The issue has reached the boiling point within the worldwide Anglican church during the past year over the blessing of same-sex partnerships by a diocese on Canada's west coast and the election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as the Episcopalian bishop of New Hampshire.

"We do not want any money from the Episcopal Church of the United States," said Peter Akinola, Nigerian archbishop and chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA), which covers more than half the world's 77 million Anglicans. "This is not rhetoric," Archbishop Akinola told a news conference at the close of CAPA's two-day summit in Nairobi, Kenya, last week. "We will not, on the altar of money, mortgage our conscience, mortgage our faith, mortgage our salvation."

The announcement is seen as another swing of the ax against the brittle relationship between conservative and liberal Anglicans worldwide, a rift that some feel threatens to split the church. But the move is also viewed as playing to the African bishops' main audience: African Anglicans and would-be converts.

Observers say the bishops are afraid they will lose adherents if the Anglican church is seen as endorsing homosexuality, which is almost universally condemned on the continent as abhorrent and "un-African." (Last week, Zanzibar, the semiautonomous island state in Tanzania, passed a bill outlawing homosexual sex and same-sex marriage, with prison terms of up to 25 years.)

Competition for members here is intense. Akinola's home country, Nigeria, was named in a survey conducted for the British Broadcasting Corporation earlier this year as the most religious country on earth, with 91 percent of respondents saying they attend worship regularly. Some evangelical faiths draw full houses to their stadium-sized churches in the country's south, while in the north, states have vied with each other to be the strictest in implementing Islamic law.

Anglicans are more numerous in Africa than anywhere else, but are poorer here than elsewhere. Consequently, some 70 percent of CAPA's operating budget comes from the West, according to Ian Douglas, professor at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.

"Archbishop Akinola feels passionate about not being beholden to the church in the West," says the Rev. Douglas. "For them to say no to that money will cause severe financial constraints unless there are other sources ready to step into the gap."

Patrick Mauney, head of Anglican and Global Relations at the Episcopal Church national office in New York, argues that the African bishops are being pushed in that direction by dissenters within the US church who want to marginalize their existing leadership.

Much of the campaign against Mr. Robinson is coming from the American Anglican Council, a lobby group criticized by its liberal opponents as being bankrolled by right-wing foundations.

Eight of the 12 African provinces have already accepted this year's contributions from the Episcopal Church headquarters, of which about $100,000 a year comes from the US. Other money comes directly from the parish level, while 36 American dioceses - including 19 who voted in favor of Robinson's consecration - have twinning links with African counterparts.

It was not clear whether the African bishops want to stop the flow of aid funds from the church's humanitarian organization, which runs primary healthcare and food-security projects in such countries as Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, and South Africa. The amount can total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"The vast bulk of the money that comes from the United States [Episcopal Church] and goes to Africa is for feeding the hungry, tending the sick - particularly people with HIV/AIDS, and malaria - and for sheltering the homeless," says Jim Naughton, spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

Xerxes Eclipse, a donor associate with Episcopal Relief and Development in New York, says he hopes the African clerics do not reject funds from the agency. "As a relief organization, we can't have a political stand because that really has nothing to do with our mission to help those who can't help themselves," he says.

The sexuality controversy is not going away anytime soon. In May, the governing body of the Anglican Church in Canada is expected to endorse a resolution authorizing any diocese to bless same-sex unions, provided the bishop agrees.

In October, a commission established by the Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of Anglicans worldwide, is to report on ways of healing the rift over sexuality. The CAPA bishops last week said the commission should tell the Episcopal Church to "repent" over Robinson's election and "discipline" it, should it refuse.

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