ANGLICAN church leaders in Nigeria have condemned the consecration yesterday in the United States of an openly gay bishop, but said they hoped the row would not split the worldwide church.
With more than 17 million worshippers, the Nigerian Church is the largest community in the Anglican Communion, and its leaders have been at the forefront of opposition to Gene Robinson's appointment as bishop.
Primate of the Nigerian Church, Archbishop Peter Akinola, had earlier threatened to pull his flock "out of communion" with US Episcopalians, branding Robinson's sexuality an "abomination".
But as the Episcopalian Church in New Hampshire prepared to confirm Robinson as Anglicanism's first openly homosexual bishop, Nigerian priests put their faith in a new round of talks to resolve the crisis.
Last week Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the church worldwide, created a panel of liberal and conservative church officials to bring an end to the crisis through dialogue.
The Nigerian representative on the committee, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon of Kaduna, said while Nigerian remained opposed to gay priests, he hoped talks could avert a split in the church.
"The Nigerian Church has made it very clear that it is not in support of the consecration. This is wrong, it's not acceptable," Idowu-Fearon said.
"We feel it is worrying and we are hoping that the commission that has been set up will find a way of resolving it,' he said. "Let's wait until the commission has made its decision."
But he also warned: "Our position is that those who are not prepared to accept the way of the Anglican Church will have to leave it."
A statement from Akinola on the Nigerian Anglican Church's website also appeared to back away from the threat of an immediate break in relations with liberal dioceses.
"The present development compels us to think of the nature of our future relationship, which would be defined by the ongoing consultation with other provinces and primates," it said.
"As things stand, a clear choice has been made (by the US bishops) for a church that exists primarily in allegiance to the un-Biblical departures and waywardness of our generation," Akinola said.
"Such a church is bound to become a structure for the worship of men rather than God. We cannot go on limping between two opinions," he said.
And Idowu-Fearon blamed the row on what he said was America's cultural arrogance.
"I'm afraid it's not just the interpretation of the Scripture. It's got to do with American culture, the way they say 'I'm doing it my way, and if you don't like it that's too bad'," he said.
"The truth is they are in a minority," he said.