Focus on gays not real issue for Africa, says Angolan bishop

September 28, 2010

The 25, not-so-young, white, Christian supporters of Africa met in an almost empty London church, which had been partly destroyed in the Second World War, to hear the Anglican bishop of Angola, Andre Soares, talk about, "the real issues" facing his continent.

Soares spoke to ENINews before the start of the 2010 annual general meeting of the Mozambique Angola Association, founded 103 years ago to link Protestant churches in Britain with similar churches in the then-Portuguese territories of Africa.

"We know a great deal about the challenge of secularism and materialism. My country became independent from Portugal 35 years ago on 11 November 1975," Soares said outside St. John's Church on Waterloo Road in central London.

"Augustino Neto, an open Marxist-Leninist, was Angola's first president. The churches were closed; children were ordered not to attend Christian services," Soares explained to ENInews.

"But thanks to determined men, women and children, and the power of Christ and prayer, all that has changed," the bishop added. "Today, there is complete freedom to worship the way you want to worship in my country."

Born in 1956 in Kinfinda village in Angola's north western Uige province, Soares said that throughout Africa, Christians believed in the total authenticity of the Bible, and African attitudes towards gay men and lesbians must be viewed in that light.

Asked about comments made by Pope Benedict XVI during his four-day visit to Britain earlier in September, that Anglicans and Roman Catholics should work together, the bishop replied, "In the past we had problems, yes, but today we are all pulling together -- Anglicans, Catholics, Christians of all denominations."

"There are 1,000 denominations in my country. You can find a church anywhere but the government only recognizes 83 denominations. Of course, we are one of them," said Soares, who was born into a Christian family and now, among other things, serves on the ecumenical Angolan Inter-Church Peace Committee.

Angola's population is about 12.7 million, of whom about 38 percent are Catholics and 15 percent Protestants. Around 250,000 people worship regularly in the country's Anglican churches.

Soares said that the main problems facing Angolan Christians are not gay and lesbian rights, abortion, or the ordination of women as priests, but poverty, disease, malaria, and the re-emergence of tuberculosis, HIV and AIDS, as well as the need for wider democracy.

Soares grew up against the background of a liberation war that led to Angolan independence in 1975, and the civil conflict that followed. He became a pastor in 1983 and was consecrated bishop in 2003, the year in which Angola became a diocese of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.

"We ordained the first three women on 25 March this year," he said. "It was a great celebration, with about 2,000 people, in the presence of the vice president of the National Assembly, Mrs. Joana Lina Ramos Baptisa, and the general director for religious affairs."

Asked about the stance on gays and lesbians in Africa, and of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's past comment that, "They are worse than dogs and pigs," Soares said, "Well, that's Robert Mugabe. You know what he is like. I did not hear him say that but I heard what was said in Entebbe recently on this subject."

The bishop was referring to last month's meeting of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, when bishops discussed gays and lesbians, as well as what to do about the re-emergence of TB and malaria, and the spread of HIV and AIDS.

At that gathering, Nigerian Archbishop Nicholas Okoh underscored the primacy of the family, and condemned homosexual practices, as he declared, "We do not believe two women or two men can make a family."

Asked if he found the line that most Africans take towards gays and lesbians difficult to deal with, the Rev. Christopher Cunliffe, MANNA'S chairperson since 2007 and archdeacon of Derby, said, "I am not embarrassed by that. What I seek to do is understand the context in which they are working."

The former chairperson of MANNA, the Rev. Ken Hewitt, said of Mugabe's controversial "dogs and pigs" statement, made at the Harare Book Fair in 1994, "He was talking about himself."

Hewitt, who before his retirement was vicar of St. Augustine's [Anglican] Church in Queen's Gate, London, said he was surprised that the archbishop of Uganda, the Rev. Henry Orombi, had in 2009 spoken with "vehemence" about homosexuals. "He obviously does not know his own country's history," said Hewitt.

He explained that in the 1880s, among a group of people known as the Christian martyrs of Uganda, there were page boys of the Kabaka (king) of Buganda, who became Christians, and then refused to sleep with the king because of their new-found faith. "He had them martyred, burnt … That was before white people got any power over there, and yet he [Archbishop Orombi] has the temerity to say that homosexuality comes from the West."

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