Nigeria's Anglican Church held a day of fasting and prayers Monday to protest the confirmation of gay priests and bishops in the United States and the United Kingdom. The show of opposition in Nigeria--which has the largest number of Anglican members 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 Archbishop Rowan Williams, 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," the Reverend 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.
Some 17 million Anglicans live in Nigeria. 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's 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 Reverend 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 an openly gay man--the Reverend V. Gene Robinson, who has a longtime male partner--as bishop of New Hampshire provoked a crisis within Anglicanism and has focused attention on gay 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.
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.