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.”