KAMPALA, Uganda – Uganda's Anglican church threatened on Monday to secede from the 77-million member Anglican Communion unless U.S. clergy condemn homosexuality.
The announcement was the latest salvo in a fierce dispute about homosexuality that has overtaken the global fellowship of Anglican churches since its U.S. wing — the U.S. Episcopal Church — consecrated its first openly gay bishop in 2003.
"Anglicanism is just an identity and if they abuse it, we shall secede. We shall remain Christians, but not in the same Anglican Communion," Church of Uganda spokesman Aron Mwesigye said.
There are about 9.8 million Anglicans in Uganda, according to the country's last census in 2002.
Last week, Uganda's Anglican bishops said they would boycott a once-a-decade gathering of worldwide church leaders this summer in England because of the Episcopal Church's stance on homosexuality.
Mwesigye said the Ugandan church is now considering a complete severing of ties "because we have complained against homosexuality several times but no action is taken."
"If they don't change, and continue to support homosexual practices and same-sex marriages, our relationship with them will be completely broken," Mwesigye added.
Jim Rosenthal Rosenthal, spokesman for the Anglican Communion in London, made no comment on the the idea of secession by the Ugandan church, but said the Ugandan church's spokesman seemed to be speaking about last week's news.
Tensions between more liberal and conservative branches of Anglicanism mounted in 2006 with the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori, who supports ordaining gays, as the first female leader of the U.S. church.
Supporters of ordaining gays believe the Bible's social justice teachings take precedence over its view of sexuality. However, most Anglicans outside the U.S. believe gay relationships are sinful, and they are distancing themselves from the U.S. church.
Mwesigye said that if the Uganda church does break off, it will enlist other African churches to form a separate fellowship that does not condone homosexuality.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the Church of England and the spiritual leader of the communion, has struggled to hold off one of the biggest meltdowns in Christianity in centuries, but he lacks any direct authority to force a compromise.