A group of Christians in the United States is preparing to chart a new course in relations with their African counterparts.
Rather than the type of conservative anti-gay evangelical preaching that in the past has encouraged so much repression and hatred for LGBT Africans, the generally progressive, LGBT-friendly Episcopal Church is moving toward fortifying a supportive relationship with progressive African scholars and activists who are working for recognition of LGBT rights and the repeal of anti-gay laws in Africa.
The Episcopal Church, which is based in the United States, is considering a resolution that would:
Encourage local churches and advocacy groups “to build relationships with African Anglican scholars and activists who are working to advance generous understandings of the Bible that affirm the dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people.”
- Instruct church agencies and offices “to support efforts of African Anglicans who publicly oppose laws that criminalize homosexuality and incite violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people.”
- Instruct church commissions to compile and make available “a listing of information and resources developed by African Anglican leaders and organizations working to curb anti-gay violence, discrimination, and marginalization.”
The resolution (A051, “Support LGBT African Advocacy”), builds on the work of the Chicago Consultation, a church group striving for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion to which the church belongs. That initiative is opposed by many Anglican churches in Africa — most prominently those in Nigeria and Uganda — which have worked to strengthen their nations’ anti-gay laws.
In recent years, members of the Chicago Consultation have met to discuss the Bible and homosexuality with Anglicans in Africa — in 2011 in South Africa and in 2013 in Kenya. Resolution A015 aims to broaden that work.
This blog contacted several LGBTI rights activists to ask their opinions of the proposal, currently under consideration by the church’s General Convention. All were in favor of it as a means to free African Christians from repression by homophobic church leaders.
[Editor’s note: Last night I prepared the following statement in favor of the resolution. This morning I testified before the church committee that is considering it, but could only present a shortened version of this statement because of time constraints.]
Statement in support of Resolution A015, entitled “Support LGBT African Advocacy“
Good morning. My name is Colin Stewart. I am a parishioner of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Laguna Hills, California. I am also the editor/publisher of an advocacy blog called Erasing 76 Crimes, which focuses on the struggle to repeal 76-plus countries’ anti-LGBTI laws as well as on the human toll that those laws inflict.
I became involved in this advocacy ministry through my acquaintance with the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, a native of Ireland, formerly of California, now in New York, who has worked for years with LGBTI activists in Africa. Through him, although I am a straight white guy from California, I became acquainted with and trusted by many — definitely not all — LGBTI rights activists in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.
I have worked with them to give voice to people who are ignored by homophobic local media and to help them focus international attention on discrimination, harassment, imprisonment and murders of LGBTI people in countries with anti-LGBTI laws. With the help of those activist reporters, the Erasing 76 Crimes blog has attracted many thousands of readers to its articles about the quest for justice in Nigeria, Cameroon, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, the Gambia, Morocco, Egypt — all those in Africa — but also in Jamaica, Belize, Guyana and Trinidad in the Americas, and in Malaysia, Singapore, India, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere in Asia.
I reached out to several activists to learn their opinion of Resolution A015. Each person who responded spoke favorably about it.
One was the Rev. MacDonald Sembereka of Malawi, an Anglican priest working for repeal of that country’s anti-gay law. His home was firebombed because of his activism. He said of the resolution:
“This will indeed be helpful for many of us among African theologians who feel that the church cannot continue to follow the teaching of a God of oppression [and] alienation [but must] respond to the call of the church to stand with the downtrodden, voiceless and marginalized — the call of scripture and Jesus Christ. This resolution will even help some who are always scared to minister to people due to fear of being reprimanded by the powers that be in the Anglican church.
I see an emerging group of many Anglican theologians, clergy and activists breathing a sigh of support and relief at the passing of the resolution as many of us live in a bondage of fear of repression.
“In my workshops and conferences on inclusion in Africa, many Anglican theologians and clergy/activists have shared with me that their only worry is not that they don’t feel the Bible speaks volumes on inclusion but that the … hierarchy will turn against them. This resolution, if passed, will make them [feel] affirmed in their ministry and [tin heir] quest for a broad outlook in reading scripture.
“This will create more pressure toward having issues of decriminalization of sodomy as a centerpiece for most Anglican clergy — the very church that played a role in the coming of those very bad laws in many of our African countries with its connection to colonialists.
“[This resolution] has my support as one of the clergy who feel unsupported even by the progressive Episcopal churches and clergy.”
Another supporter of the resolution is Davis Mac-Iyalla, an activist and active lay person in the Church of England who had to flee his native Nigeria when he was outed as a gay man. He wrote to me:
“It’s difficult to address LGBT issues in Africa in places like Nigeria where I was born without first highlighting the facts that there was no homophobia before the advent of Western missionaries and that the current anti-gay laws in Africa are built upon colonial anti-human sodomy laws. …
“Some African theologians and scholars are beginning to engage in discussions of human sexuality and faith, but in my opinion as a Christian who is actively promoting the affirmation and inclusion of LGBT within the church and wider society, I think a lot needs to be done. Those discussions need to start within the various countries in Africa. Homosexuality is still widely seen as taboo, based on the theology of the conservative Christians who evangelised Africa.
“I have no public records of any Anglican African scholars who are openly interpreting the Bible’s teachings on human sexuality with a more generous understanding that opposes draconian anti-gay laws and violence. I know a lot is going on behind the scenes, and Desmond Tutu continues to be my hero.
“Such networks, if existing, will be a great value and resource to our struggle.”
Speaking for myself, I find the A015 proposal to be a modest, worthwhile step forward, which appropriately calls for building relationships with African Anglican scholars rather than adopting a patronizing, neo-colonial attitude that the Episcopal Church already has all the answers, which it will graciously bestow on Africa.
My main concern about the resolution, as currently drafted, is that it is too modest. Building a relationship with African scholars and activists is a great first step but, in its current wording, the resolution excludes the possibility of relationship-building with people elsewhere who are also suffering from the colonial legacy of anti-LGBTI laws, especially those imposed by the British Empire and the Anglican Church.
I propose adopting wording such as “in Africa and elsewhere,” so that Africa would remain the primary focus of this effort, but other areas could be included, as appropriate. …
That position is also shared by Jamaican-born lawyer/activist Maurice Tomlinson, who fled from Jamaica to Canada when his marriage to a man became known and he started receiving death threats. Both men were recently received in the Anglican church in Canada. Tomlinson wrote to me about Resolution A015:
“It is important to amplify the voices of religious leaders around the globe that are supportive of LGBTI human rights. It is incredibly important to rebut the misinformation being spread in the global south that homosexuality conflicts with faith.
“One of the reasons that I decided to become an Anglican was because of examples of progressive leaders of the church like Archbishop Desmond Tutu (who has declared that he would rather go to hell than serve a homophobic God) and my country’s very own Fr. Sean Major-Campbell, who publicly washed the feet of lesbians on World Human Rights Day in 2014. So, this kind of initiative by the U.S. Episcopalian Church is very timely.
‘It should also be extended to cover all the regions of the world where the Anglican Communion exists.”
On behalf of myself and these three activists, thank you for listening to us.
[Editor’s note: During the hearing, no one on the committee spoke positively about the suggestion that similar work could be undertaken with LGBT activists and scholars outside Africa.]
- Episcopal Church resolution on African LGBT advocacy, 2015. (76crimes.com)
- Consultation in Kenya on sexuality and scripture (Episcopal Cafe)
- Anglicans, Sexuality and Scripture: An African Consultation (Chicago Consultation)
- Uganda’s anti-gay law divides U.S. churches (76crimes.com)
- LGBT Nigerian: ‘Religious leaders have abandoned us’ (76crimes.com)
- Eject anti-gay Anglicans or keep a poisoner at dinner? (76crimes.com)
- Support for gay-friendly Ugandan bishop – needed? (76crimes.com)
- Jamaican priest calls for LGBT tolerance, understanding (76crimes.com)