By Michael O'Loughlin
Originally published on Advocate.com January 30 2014 3:27 PM ET
As the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury prepares for a five-day trip to Africa, he is urging Christian leaders on that continent to defend the human rights of all people, including gays and lesbians.
In a letter to “all Primates of the Anglican Communion, and to the Presidents of Nigeria and Uganda, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and, John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, the second-highest-ranking Anglican cleric in England, quoted the Dromantine Communiqué of 2005, calling for “pastoral care and friendship for all, regardless of sexual orientation.”
The Communiqué, they note, states that “the victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us. We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by Him.”
The letter concludes with the wish that leaders in Africa demonstrate “the love of Christ and the affirmation of which the Dromantine communiqué speaks.”
Welby is meeting with Anglican leaders in South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, reports London's Telegraph.
In Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan signed a law earlier this month criminalizing homosexuality, with punishment including up to 14 years in prison. According to the Telegraph, the law “prohibits homosexuals from even meeting in groups of two or more, bans marriage or civil unions between people of the same sex, and criminalises gay clubs and events.”
The chief Anglican bishop in Nigeria, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, “listed homosexuality and lesbianism as one of the manifestations of the devil through the lives of some helpless individuals that need to be fought with the armour of God,” according to the Anglican Church in Nigeria’s website.
Nigeria is the 38th nation in Africa to criminalize homosexuality, and several countries in the Middle East and elsewhere have similar laws. In Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania, and Sudan, plus parts of Nigeria and Somalia, homosexuality is punishable by death, according to Business Insider.
The Anglican Communion is an affiliation of 38 independent churches with over 85 million members in 165 countries. More than half the world’s Anglicans live in Africa. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of Anglicanism, with about 2 million members.
In 2003 the election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire caused a worldwide rupture in Anglican relations. Some American dioceses affiliated with the Episcopal Church left following Robinson’s consecration in 2004 and aligned themselves with conservative African Anglican churches. In July 2012 the Episcopal Church became the largest mainstream Christian denomination in the U.S. to approve of same-sex relationships.