Rev. (Maj. Rtd. KN) Michael Nzuki Kimindu (STM)
An affirming Anglican clergyperson of Kenya.
Regional Coordinator for Other Sheep East Africa
Ordained MCC clergy
Presently barred from Anglican Parish Leadership for being LGBT affirming.
The government of Uganda is debating a bill which if passed will have devastating consequences for sexual minorities and their parents, friends and families. The 2006 publication of Africa Bible Commentary by the Association of Evangelicals in Africa has a featured article entitled "Homosexuality" by Nigerian evangelical Bible scholar Tusufu Turaki. In his article, Turaki, by quoting others without criticism or objection, says homosexuals are worse than beasts and that Desmond Tutu's call to the churches of Africa for tolerance should be rejected.
The secular world is watching to see how the church will respond to the human condition, particularly to see if the church will give critical thought and study to sexual orientation. The Uganda bill has called forth many urgent articles by different individuals and organizations. It is my prayer that these articles will be read with a mind and heart open to the Holy Spirit, and with an understanding that this topic is more than mere academics or theology, but that this discussion has the potential to traumatize and devastate thousands, if not millions, of God's children, some of whom are, no doubt, your own brethren and sisters.
In every congregation there are Christians whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual. Because of fear of personal harm from homophobic neighbors, they sit silent in their pews, but are crying loud in their souls. And there are clergy who are gay, yet preaching against homosexuality. They are living a lie.
My Personal Understanding of Sexual Orientation
Although the question is still open, I believe sexual orientation is, like the color of one's skin, a biological given which the individual does not choose.
I believe Christ's ministry was toward the poor, the unloved, the marginalized and the vulnerable. Society does not always image the ministry of Christ. At times society has its own mind about those whom it sees as not "fitting in" (Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu). I believe we need to respond to homosexuality by heeding Micah's injunction: "Do justice, love kindness and mercy, and walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).
Who are homosexuals? Certainly not people who are "worse than beasts" (Turaki, AEA). Just like heterosexuals, homosexuals "are people with an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual and/or affectionate attraction to individuals of a particular gender." Sexual orientation refers to how an individual feels as a sexual being. It is his or her self concept as a sexual being. One's sexual orientation may be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transgender or inter-sex. And when we talk about sexuality, it is not just about procreation, family planning, disease, violence and morality. We forget that human sexuality involves pleasure, intimacy, closeness, fun, love and a way to survive the harshness of poor economic circumstances. The church seems to have missed this point, as have those involved in the Institute of Development Studies (Policy Briefing 2006), but let me concentrate on the church.
How I view the interplay of faith and sexual orientation
When an infant or adult is baptized, the subject is "marked with the sign of the cross . . . to fight sin, the world and Satan" until life's end. Therefore, every person "marked with the sign of the cross," whatever his or her sexual orientation, is a member of Christ's church and is enlisted for service. The Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 and 20 is inclusive. People from all nations are to be made disciples. And no distinction is to be made on account of how one is created. We are told to pray for laborers because the harvest is plentiful. While it is for God only to choose the laborers, sadly, unless one is heterosexual, he or she is bared from the church as a nobody, unfit for service. Yet, the person they bar is part of the harvest. Thankfully, not all have rejected sexual minorities. There are clergy and priests, Bishops and Primates who do affirm, welcome and openly minister to homosexuals.
Once the Greater Light comes, there is always a change of heart
Jesus himself declared that he had "other sheep" outside of his flock. They are to be brought in as well. In every age in the history of the church, groups and individuals have been excluded from ministry. Today, it is the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) family that is being excluded. But, as in the past, once the Greater Light comes, there is always a change of heart. One has only to recall slavery, colonialism, women and their quest for ordination. So then, homosexuals should be accepted as part of the saved of God. They should openly be priests, bishops, apostles, and archbishops.
The need for, and a call to, education
Many are the parents who go home from church Sunday after Sunday without answers to questions raised in hate sermons. They wish to know what causes homosexuality. They want to know what sexual orientation is. They want to know if a homosexual can change. They want to know if they, the parents, are to blame. What is the cause? Their pain is great. No one is answering their questions. They want to know how you can know if someone is a homosexual? What do you do if a member in your family is a homosexual? They wish to get answers from their church leaders, but they live in fear of the church.
The African Church leaders must realize that the time has come for the church to educate itself, for the Bible and tradition to be reexamined, for reason and experience to be applied, for gay Christians to be included in the life of the church, and for same-sex unions to be blessed. Unfortunately, instead of giving itself to study, the Church in Africa is in denial, and is ignorant, bigot and homophobic.
The Church - in its aim to be educated and to educate - must look for people who have overcome their own prejudices, embarrassments, fundamentalism and conservatism; people who believe in God, that sex is sacred and should be safe, and that caring for each other is important. Unfortunately, where either clergy or laity of this caliber has spoken, the African Church leaders have ignored them. No denomination in Africa, to my knowledge, has ever placed the issue before their parishioners for discussion (RSA is an exception). Most of the parishioners, like the leaders themselves, do not have a working knowledge of what is being challenged. Some of the church leaders have not made up their own minds, yet we expect leadership from them. I would like to ask: Has the church become the Bishops' church? Where is the voice of the clergy and laity? Who will be the voice for the voiceless?
What Africa could learn from the West
In the West, some conservatives, along with their liberal counterparts, agree that there needs to be an appreciative visibility of homosexuals, that research and studies on homosexuality should be done, that homosexuality is not a sickness, that it is not a behavior acquired from peers, that it is natural, that open homosexuals can be ordained, that same-sex marriage should be supported. In Africa, in utter contrast to the West, the Archbishops and the Bishops and by extension the clergy and laity are in utter darkness when it comes to research and studies on homosexuality. Their stand is: (1) there are no homosexuals in Africa, (2) homosexuality is a sickness (say some), (3) it is a behavior needing modification, (4) it is unnatural, (5) homosexuals should not be ordained in the church, (6) same-sex unions and/or marriage should not be permitted.
African church leaders, I believe, are not able to comprehend the significance of the ground already covered by the church in the West in its research and studies on homosexuality. No wonder African Anglicans boycotted the 2008 Lamberth Conference. Instead, they should have been there and let their voice be heard.
The three roles of the church must be experienced by all members at all levels both in the West and in Africa. These roles are: (1) prophetic (advocacy), (2) priestly (worship) and (3) pastoral (care and nurture). Certainly these roles of the church argue that we must engage in studies and in research in homosexuality.
Jesus' Affirmation of Zacchaeus
The story of Jesus' affirmation of Zacchaeus is a good example of how Christians should approach homosexuals: Walk the path they walk; know the tree they climb; publically assent to visiting with them; sit in their home and eat their food and meet their friends. Zacchaeus was a changed man. We understand he was changed by how he related to his neighbor. His height did not change; the color of his skin did not change; and his sexual orientation did not change. None of these was the problem. The problem was relationships, and because Jesus was affirming, relationships changed. This is the approach used by affirming churches in the West in ministering to homosexuals and their families.
Love the sinner, hate the sin
The evangelical African teaches us to love the homosexual but to hate his sin, and by hating his sin it is often understood to mean to hate that he is a homosexual.
Surprisingly, few, if any, of our church leaders have seen a homosexual person. The only gay person they have seen is our dear brother the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson (Anglican), and this is mostly through pictures. They have never conversed with him or with any other homosexual. Had Robinson not taken the brave step to obey the call of God to consecration, most Anglicans in Africa would still be blind to the fact that homosexuals are in all levels of church leadership.
Just like homosexuals can be found in all areas of African life - political leaders, journalists, airline pilots, taxi and bus drivers, hotel staff, military, police, public services, our house help, our spouse - so are homosexuals found in all levels of church life. They tithe, sing in our choirs, and teach our Sunday School classes and youth groups.
We love the child we baptize into the church, but prevent him from becoming Bishop when we learn he is gay. We love the child, but hate the Bishop.
The dilemma of homosexuals in Africa
In February of 2007, at the World Social Forum at Kasarani, Nairobi (Kenya), homosexuals came out to the public over the media to demand their space. As a consequence, the whole country turned against them and no church leader, to my knowledge, came to their defense. The hostility which followed makes it impossible now for homosexuals to come out for fear of stigmatization, hostility and isolation. As a result, homosexuals live in hiding ("in the closet"). Many, if not most, marry as part of their cover-up. They procreate children while maintaining a same-sex partner on the side, unknown to the wife and family and friends. Some homosexuals develop depression and become suicidal and even take their own life. Others turn to alcohol and drugs, hence destroying their lives. This is what we can expect in Uganda if religious leaders there do not allow the Holy Spirit's "small voice" of justice, mercy and honesty to prevail (Matthew 23:23).
What is the way forward?
(1) Let every denomination reconsider their stand on the subject of human sexuality and sexual orientation. Knowledge is power and the church needs it at this time.
(2) Those clergy who affirm homosexuals should not be punished, but encouraged to minister to homosexuals in particular and to the church in general.
(3) To work together ecumenically to promote the full-inclusion of LGBT people of faith within their respective faith traditions.
· To help churches to engage in listening to the questions of parents, family and friends of LGBTI people.
· To provide information and education to the church, beginning with the very basic questions of definitions: What is a lesbian, a gay person, a bisexual, etc.
· To provide information and education to the individual, family, friends and societies that promote self-acceptance and other-acceptance.
(4) To respect each other's exegetical differences while focusing on significant scriptural injunctions that we can all agree on and that will bring us together:
·"You did not choose me, no, I chose you, that you might go out and bear fruit that will last."
· "Whatever you ask in my name, the Father will do it/ give you."
· "What I command you is to love one another."
A closing prayer
God, who in Jesus chose us and sent us into all the world with this commandment: love one another, may You unite us now by your love so that we can live and work together in Africa, united in our diversities. In the name of God the Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
Methodist Church in Kenya firstname.lastname@example.org
Africa Inland Church email@example.com
Reformed Church of East Africa firstname.lastname@example.org
East Africa Yearly Meeting of Friends, Quakers email@example.com
Association of Evangelicals in Africa firstname.lastname@example.org
National Council of Churches of Kenya email@example.com
Anglican Church of Kenya firstname.lastname@example.org
Presbyterian Church of EA email@example.com
Sources used for this Article
An article on Africa Bible Commentary by Steve Parelli
Anglican Matters, February, 2008
Institute of Development Studies, Policy Briefing, April 2006
The Blue Book: "What We Wish We Had Known" by The Presbyterian Church of Mount Kisco, New York