One of the issues raised by some bishops of dioceses in Africa regarding the Church's attitude toward gays and lesbians, committed same-sex relationships, etc., is that approving, or even "not condemning," these people and their relationships would put their Christian mission at great disadvantage and even danger vis-a-vis the Muslims, who are depicted as being vehemently, even violently, anti-gay. (Actually, I think there is some real diversity of opinion among the world's Muslims about homosexuality, but it's probably fair to say that most African Muslims are at least as anti-gay as most African Christians.)
For instance, Archbishop Deng of Sudan said last week: "We reject homosexual practice as contrary to biblical teaching and can accept no place for it within ECS. We strongly oppose developments within the Anglican Church in the USA and Canada in consecrating a practicing homosexual as bishop and in approving a rite for the blessing of same-sex relationships. This has not only caused deep divisions within the Anglican Communion but it has seriously harmed the Church’s witness in Africa and elsewhere, opening the church to ridicule and damaging its credibility in a multi-religious environment." [Emphasis mine.]
Other bishops in parts of Africa have made statements that are even harsher. Their appeal is to what they think the Bible says (an interpretation which many Christians do not share), but it is also fairly clear that there are also cultural issues at stake -- as well as political issues. And maybe more than a little fear. It has been suggested that at least in some areas, toleration of homosexuality by Christians might lead to persecution by Muslims. I don't know whether that is true or not, but I can imagine that it might well be.
It's interesting that some African voices are accusing the West (particularly the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, but with many in the Church of England and other Anglican Provinces in the British Isles and elsewhere in the world) of surrendering to the spirit of the age on this issue. I would suggest they read more American newspapers. While it is certainly true that more and more Americans (especially younger people) are accepting of same-sex committed partnerships, or least tolerant of them, there is still plenty of virulent homophobia, even violence. Matthew Shepherd. The young schoolboy recently killed by a classmate in school. Parishioners in a Unitarian church in Knoxville. Dozens more. Thousands of young people whose discovery of their sexual orientation and the reaction of their families and acquaintences has led them into depression, despair, and even suicide. If the Episcopal Church is cozying up to the spirit of the age, we have obviously made a serious misjudgment. The Zeitgeist of the West on this issue is not all that much different from that of Nigeria.
In the first three centuries of the Church's life, thousands of Christians (we estimate) were imprisoned, tortured, or killed because they refused to offer a pinch of incense on an altar before an image of the Emperor, or refused to turn over copies of the Scriptures for burning, or refused to enter marriages arranged by their pagan families. Many other Christians did yield, out of fear or for convenience's sake or for the sake of peace and accommodation. It is not for me to tell African Christians how they must respond to threats and persecution from what is often a more powerful and sometimes threatening Muslim community. But I will not be complicit in throwing our GLBT sisters and brothers under the bus for the sake of the safety of the majority. The martyrs of the faith deserve better remembrance than that.