NEW YORK -- The most influential Anglican leader in Africa -- home to nearly half the world's Anglicans -- said Thursday that the U.S. Episcopal Church has created a ''new religion'' by confirming a gay bishop in New Hampshire, breaking the bonds between the denominations with roots in the Church of England.
Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, in an Associated Press interview, also said he views the head of the Episcopal Church as an advocate for gays and lesbians and no longer trusts him.
His comments come less than two weeks before an international panel is scheduled to release a critical report on whether the global Anglican Communion can bridge its divide over homosexuality. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of Anglicanism; Akinola leads the Anglican Church of Nigeria.
''The Communion is shattered. It is broken,'' Akinola said. ''The commonality that bound us together is no longer true.''
Akinola represents one of the fastest-growing Anglican provinces, comprising more than 17 million people. He is also chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, encompassing more than 37 million members, and has emerged as a leading voice for conservative Anglicans worldwide.
The Anglican Communion has about 77 million members around the globe. Episcopalians make up just over 2 million people in that body, a relatively small number -- though the American church is a wealthy one.
Akinola insisted he did not hate gays, despite his fiery comments in the past protesting the growing acceptance of homosexuality. He once called the trend a ''satanic attack'' on the church. But he said he could not accept attempts to ''superimpose your modern culture on Scripture'' by ignoring what he said were Biblical injunctions against gay sex.
''I didn't write the Bible. It's part of our Christian heritage. It tells us what to do,'' Akinola said. ''If the word of God says homosexuality is an abomination, then so be it.''
Those who support ordaining gays contend Scripture does not ban same-sex relationships, and that there was no understanding in biblical times that homosexuality was a natural orientation, not a choice. Akinola said this reasoning sent an offensive message that the Bible ''is only for the primitive people.''
The head of the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, has said repeatedly that because of the democratic nature of the American denomination, which elects its bishops by popular vote, he could not unilaterally stop last year's consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
Akinola contended that Griswold, who led Robinson's consecration ceremony, could have used the power of his office along with prayer to persuade Episcopalians to reverse course. Instead, ''he is the promoter of this whole agenda,'' Akinola said.
''He is accountable to nobody,'' Akinola said. ''All that Frank and these people have today is confusion, and they're creating a new religion.''
Griswold responded in a statement that he was ''deeply saddened'' that Akinola feels betrayed. ''My love for Archbishop Akinola is undiminished and I pray that one day our friendship in Christ may be restored,'' Griswold said.
Akinola is in the United States exploring ways to allow American congregations upset over Robinson's election to realign themselves under his jurisdiction. Each Anglican province is autonomous, and crossing geographical boundaries as Akinola plans to do is a direct challenge to Episcopal leaders.
An Episcopal spokesperson said church leaders would wait to respond to Akinola's plans in the United States until Oct. 18, when the report from the panel of Anglican leaders, known as the Lambeth Commission, is due to be released. Akinola and other conservative archbishops have demanded that some disciplinary action be taken against the Episcopal Church if it does not move to end gay ordinations and blessings for same-sex couples.
''Even if the rest of the world will say ... 'That's all right,''' Akinola said, ''Nigeria will not.''
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