Faith and religion

Nigerian church welcomes, supports LGBTI people

An African church that welcomes LGBTI people? There is such a church, and it is the focus of Miles Tanhira’s interview with Jude Onumiabor, a leader of the House of Rainbow Nigeria, an inclusive Christian organization. Excerpts are below.

By Miles Tanhira

House of Rainbow founder Jide Macaulay (founder) and local leader Jude Onumiabo

House of Rainbow founder Jide Macaulay (founder) and local leader Jude Onumiabo

For a long time religion has been used as a weapon of attack for LGBTI people. It is no wonder there is a high degree of suspicion of religion amongst LGBTI people. …

However it is not all doom and gloom. … Initiatives such as the House of Rainbow are working hard to ensure that LGBTI people of Christian and Muslim faiths are empowered and strengthened spiritually to reconcile their spirituality and sexuality.

Romans 9:26 says “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ ”  Thus over the years many LGBTI people have come to feel comfortable with religion as they interrogate and find meaning in the scriptures.

Q. May you highlight some issue that came out during the Interfaith Preconference.

A. The conference brought about people from different faiths  and countries, 36 participants took part. It was an interesting and anointing space indeed, as we shared about our work, experiences as LGBTI people and challenges we encounter in our day-to-day work. In Nigeria, for example, the challenges we face are religious extremism, societal intolerance and political interference by those in positions of power.

Q. Any solid ideas mooted during the Interfaith Preconference?

We shared a lot during the two-day sessions. Emphasis was on how to dialogue with religious leaders from diverse faiths. We came up with approaches on how to engage with leaders in our countries. Strategies were shared, and other African bishops and imams present also helped in this area. Adopting the human rights based approach will be the way to go and also talking about the universal message in the Bible, which is love.

Q. Why House of Rainbow?

This was formed after the realization that many LGBTI people grapple with the issues of their sexuality and spirituality. More often than not, people are confused, scared and in conflict with themselves owing to what they are being told in the church. The House of Rainbow is a refuge for the LGBTI spiritual person, to know that God is love.

Positive messages which we share strengthen one’s faith. We meet once a month and fellowship together in that space. We also have materials that we have produced such as the devotional pocket-book for LGBTI people. We have reprinted the book “The Children are Free,” that we distribute to our partners and members.

We also have House of Rainbow in Ghana, Burundi, Lesotho as well as the UK. In Nigeria we have four groups in Ibadan, Enugu and Minna. Besides worshiping, our programs have the form of health rallies, vocational education and training, and discussions on HIV/AIDS. We also work with other religious leaders and civil society organisations in Nigeria to help do our work.

Q. What is your view on the “clobber passages” often used to vilify LGBTI people in the house of God?

A. God is an all-powerful God, who sent his son to save the world and not to condemn it. The scriptures even say. we do not focus so much on the negative destructive verses which are used to justify oppression of LGBTI people such as Sodom and Gomorrah. The issues coming out there are unconsensual sex, inhospitality, violence, xenophobia … not homosexuality. We talk about unconditional love, peace and respect for human life.

We do not want to be seen forcing our beliefs. We engage in dialogue and not debate. A special verse is John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. That whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have an everlasting life.”  This whosoever can be heterosexual or homosexual or anyone really.

Q. The issue of homosexuality is topical at the moment in Nigeria. Why is that?

A. It’s simple; when the economy is not performing well people have so many socio-economic problems, the government will resort to talking about homosexuality to divert people´s attention from their daily woes. Right now the bill, which will have adverse effects on our lives, is being used as a way of getting people to focus more on homosexuals and not question why they are impoverished.

Q. Your word of inspiration.

A. To all LGBTI people feeling left out in the church, you can organise yourselves and worship together with other LGBTI people. God loves you unconditionally.

This interview took place during the Interfaith Preconference that preceded this month’s conference in Sweden of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. The account was first published under the title “No Longer Aliens in the House of God” in the ILGA 2012 Conference blog. 

Miles Tanhira

Miles Rutendo Tanhira is a journalist, an LGBTI rights activist, human rights defender, a feminist and a pacifist. Currently working for the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe as the head of Information and communications, Tanhira also seats on various local regional and international steering committees on youth, LGBTI and peace issues.

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