Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - As reaction to the appointment by the U.S. Episcopal Church of an openly homosexual bishop continues to swirl, the leader of a related church in Africa has warned that the move could have grave repercussions for Christians living in areas of religious tension.
The Anglican bishop of Owerri in Nigeria, Cyril Okoracha, said African Christians will face "severe persecution [from] our Muslim neighbors because they keep accusing us of maintaining relationships with those who deny the Scripture."
His concerns echoed earlier comments voiced by a conservative Episcopal leader in the U.S.
"In the Muslim world, dioceses are up against a propaganda machine from the other side saying, 'How can you be Anglican when your bishops believe in same-sex relationships?'" the Rev. Peter Moore, dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa., was quoted as saying.
"It exposes Christians in those countries to persecution."
Researchers and religious persecution campaigners say Christian minorities in Islamic societies often face hostility from Muslims because of social behavior - such as drinking alcohol or wearing Western clothing - which many Muslims regard as sinful. Muslims, like conservative Christians, tend to reject homosexuality.
Nigeria has been torn by Christian-Muslim violence in recent years.
Okoracha called the election of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire insensitive, saying the American church had, in effect, removed itself from the worldwide Anglican Communion.
A number of Anglican leaders in Africa have warned about the possible breakup of the church because of Robinson's appointment.
Kenyan Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi said the church here would "consider breaking up partnership with any such diocese that makes deacons, ordains priests or consecrates bishops who have practiced or continue to practice gay relationships."
Homosexuality is considered taboo in Africa, where it is often seen as an import from the West or resulting from evil spirits.
In countries where the numbers of homosexuals and lesbians are increasing, theirs remains a "closed" culture.
South Africa, which claims to have one of the world's most liberal constitutions, is a notable exception.
The Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane, said the U.S. decision should be respected.
He called for concerted efforts in the worldwide Anglican family to strengthen the bonds of affection that bind the Christian community together.
Further north, the reaction has been far grimmer.
The Nairobi-based All Africa Conference of Churches, which represents 169 churches across the continent, said the election of Robinson would eventually lead to a split in the church.
In Uganda, an Anglican spokesman, the Rev. Jackson Turyagyenda, said his church was "very disappointed" by the decision.
On the streets of Nairobi, several Christians and Muslims approached on the issue reacted with anger and surprise at the news.
Among them, Catherine Muthoni, a 38-year-old Catholic, said the development was an indication of how low personal morality had sunk in the world.
"It's despicable - and to know that it is within the church that this is happening, then surely there is a big, big problem," she said.
Mohammed Abdulah, a Muslim student here, said there was no justification whatsoever to allow a homosexual leader in the church.
"It is simply not possible," he said.
Mwangi Kaniaru, a sociologist, said it was time for the Anglican Church in Africa to divorce itself from that in the U.S. and Britain.
Although the current issue relates to the church in the U.S., the "mother" Church of England was also recently embroiled in a row relating to homosexuality.
In June, conservative Anglican leaders in Africa and elsewhere threatened to cut ties with the Church of England over the planned consecration of a homosexual bishop, the Rev. Jeffery John. The decision was later canceled.
Anglican leaders from developing nations, who attended a conference in Minnesota this week, said a meeting of the Anglican Communion would be held soon to discuss the way forward in the wake of Robinson's election.
(CNSNews.com Pacific Rim Bureau Chief Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)
See Earlier Story:
Homosexual Anglican Clergyman to Refuse Bishop's Seat (July 7, 2003)
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