Will African Delegates Always Be Anti-Gay?

I am a straight, white American male, so I offer the following thoughts haltingly and cautiously.

But I want to address other American United Methodists in this post, especially those who are undeniably grief-stricken about the denomination’s position on LGBT folks.

Like you, I am waiting anxiously for the day when the church changes its fundamental understanding of homosexuality and its “incompatability” with Christian teaching. Like you, I was disappointed that it didn’t happen this year.

I am also aware that, in general, the African delegations are strongly resistant to acceptance of homosexuality. Their voting bloc, which is only going to grow in the future, likely kept anything from changing at General Conference 2012.

I lived in one of the conservative African states for four years, and saw first-hand the oppression and discrimination against gays and lesbians. In particular, I remember the day one of the Cameroon tabloids “outed” a long list of prominent public figures in an attempt to intimidate, harass, and sway elections.

One question that keeps rising is, “Will this change? Will the African church ever change its mind?”

I do have hope that this state of affairs will eventually change. And not because Africa will somehow be “modernized” or “enlightened” by the West. Part of the resistance to acceptance of homosexuality stems from an anti-Western ethos.

For example, a blogger in Uganda writes, “I have asked many Ugandans why there is such strong homophobia in this country. Nearly every answer I get is some variation on ‘it isn’t part of our culture. It was brought here by Europeans, and they are trying to recruit young people to become gay.’”

He goes on to observe that “the irony is that homosexuality existed here long before Europeans had ever set foot on the African continent and it is, in fact, Christianity, a true European import, that has demonized homosexuals.”

Let me suggest that African thought on this issue will change as Africans rediscover their own traditions, and shed more of their colonial, missionary shackles. Take for example, this article by a Nigerian woman who speaks of rediscovering a “third gender group,” the “dan daudu” in northern Nigeria in pre-colonial times. The “dan daudu” appear to be bisexual, but their place in the community was stable and accepted.

She goes on to state that, in some traditional societies, before white people came, homosexuals were “believed to have special divine inspiration, healing power, subsequently they were given a place of honor in society.”

It appears that traditional African societies had a place for homosexual persons until white missionaries came and said, “We have the true religion – you need to become like us! And homosexuality is sin!”

Sadly, this legacy lives on in much of the African church today.

I am convinced that one day it will change, but until then, I believe that we white Americans need to step back and be more reflective. In some sense, we are the ones who imported the hate in the first place.

In the meantime, we can take hope in the words and actions of Bishop John Yambasu, a Sierra Leonean, whose speech at a Love Your Neighbor dinner during General Conference, was a bold and courageous statement in favor of LGBT inclusion in the church.

As “Behind the Mask,” the self-proclaimed “Voice of Africa’s LGBT Community,” reported, Yambasu said, “Our lives will be judged, not by the affiliations we have, but by how we spent the life that God gave us.”

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4 comments

  1. Jacob kiogora Keega

    The issue of homosexuality in african culture is not connected in any way with the introduction of western christianity in Africa. African christianity is non replicating and culturally diffused in pepole’s cultures without much of western influence and expressions.African Christians are able to read the blblical texts and interpret them without any western influence.Their interpretation of the biblical text is shaped by the their cosmology,environment and culture . In the history of African traditional religions,homosexuality is an immoral,unnatural ,and unethical practice.when Africans read the biblical texts,they connects them with their traditional cultural values, and this helps them to understand the christian message in their own context.Africans and western Christians interprets the scriptures differently ,and they are not struggling with same issues. The position of Africans on issue of homosexuality will one time change because the culture is dynamic.l think Africans should not be forced to understand this mystery debate about homosexuality, but rather be given time to solve their own problems they are struggling with as a Church.

  2. Kelly Whitley

    GLBT folks are beloved children of God just the same as I am. I accept and love them as such, as is commanded by Jesus. I believe that the Bible is pretty clear on sexually deviant behavior and hedonism in any form – be it hetero or homosexual in nature.

  3. Paula Kerley

    Thanks Rev. Wes for your open and caring thoughts. I too await the day that all of God’s children are loved and accepted no matter who they are, GLBT or straight.

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