You may have seen news lately about different countries considering new harsher penalties for sodomy or whatever language they might choose. It’s happening in Russia, Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya and I’m sure many other places.
These days in the US many queer folk are tracking the lawsuits in each state that are striking down the same-sex marriage bans. It’s exciting for sure and I look forward to June of this year when all consenting adults will finally be able to marry here in Illinois.
In the midst of all this though I see news stories of a strong trend in the opposite direction in many other parts of the world. When I see a young man accused of homosexuality being tried and beaten to death in the streets by a vigilante mob I’m shocked! I never worry about this happening to me when I step outside my home in Chicago. While there are parts of this country I worry that I might be physically harmed for being gay I never expect to be put to death due to my sexuality.
The disturbing thing about these laws is that the consequence imposed by the government for breaking these laws is meaningless. The reality is that that people accused of homosexuality may never make it to court and if they do they may even be killed in the courtroom. This is how intense the homophobia is in some countries.
When I read the article about what happened in Nigeria my mind went certain places and I suspect that many people’s minds and hearts do the same. I think about how terrible these people are. I wonder how they can do these awful things. How does someone cultivate this kind of hatred and violence in their heart? Finally I become indignant!
Then I think about Nigeria. Although I’ve never been there, and likely will not be able to go any time soon, Nigeria has a special place in my heart. My great aunt was a missionary there. One summer she lived with our family and I spent every waking minute with her. She told me story after story of her life in Nigeria. She told me about how she planted a church there, how she translated the Bible into the Hausa language, how she lived in a mud hut! She did all this with the help of her female missionary partner in a time when fundamentalist women would not have been allowed to do anything of these things in her own country. I was enamored! Even still I now realize that along with the many good things she was able to introduce to Nigerian people she also introduced homophobia.
At six years old I decided I was going to be a missionary and while I didn’t know where God would lead me I always imagined I’d end up in Nigeria. Â Today when I attend church with many African immigrants and refugees I think about how in some way these are the spiritual grandchildren of my aunt who never had children of her own. I think about them as my spiritual cousins – my family.
As a gay man of course I have LGBTQ sisters and brothers worldwide so when I read these stories and hear of the abuse and murder of my siblings it hurts! As I said before I’d like to pick out a clear enemy and hate them but this situation is much more complicated. When I read these articles I realize that my LGBTQ sisters and brothers are being killed by my spiritual cousins. My family is killing my family! How can I hate or make an enemy out of either group!
As I processed through this last Thursday I became distraught, feeling hopeless and I felt the need to intercede for my African sisters and brothers who had forgotten that they were family and had taken to killing each other. I lamented my biological family’s legacy in contributing to this violence. I lamented my involvement in the American evangelical organizations in the past few decades who lobbied for these laws that were passed. I lamented the ways that I oppress my sisters and brothers in Africa by buying tech products containing precious metals mined by people who risk their lives so that I can use facebook and write on blogs.
Suddenly, my daily concerns of life seem petty. I worry about money, security and my dating prospects. While my African sisters and brothers worry about being imprisoned for life if someone suspects them of being gay, or maybe they hesitate to leave their homes for fear of meeting a vigilante mob ready to stone them. Suddenly, there is no clear enemy, I’m the enemy, the attacker is my brother, and the victim is also my brother. Suddenly, I feel indicted and also helpless to change anything.
But soon I remember that we have the gift of the Holy Spirit and she has the power to do great things. She can break my heart! She can inspire and empower me! She can soften the hearts of her children! When we have softened hearts we can transform systems! We can pull each other out of the dust, bandage wounds, and plaster broken bones. We can pick up rocks and sticks once more and build homes for the homeless. With our words we can repent! Loudly! Often! Those Spirit inspired words and those actions can heal broken hearts and transform broken systems! May it be so! May it be so in me!
As a good Mennonite I always resort to songs to comfort, encourage and inspire me. I’ve included a link to a hymn “Holy Spirit Come With Power” (the song starts at 1:40).
One of the best and most insightful considerations of this current problem. In the west we determined that we could no longer get away with cruelty to the LGBTQ. We were no longer chemically castrating our war heros, once it was revealed they were gay. Knowing they couldn’t exercise their hate in the name of our loving Jesus, these people, our cousins in the evangelical movement, took their hate to Africa, to Uganda, to Nigeria, etc. But, in my family, it has been cousins vs. cousins all along. Grown men, waiting for their mother to pass away, so they could come out to their siblings. There is plenty of shame to go around.
We just moved to Ghana,possibly the most open-minded African country. There has been much positive focus on famous Nigerian author Wainaina’s bold proclamation in all the media at his disposal “I am gay”. He has passed through fear and is using privilege to challenge structures and thinking.
Thanks for your comments Marlene and Deb!
First off I’d like to mention Marlene’s impecable timing for her post, 606 :) Also, I’d like to mention that there were many Mennonite missionaries to African in the past century as well. My aunt was a Mennonite missionary even though she went with an evangelical mission board.
Deb that is so encouraging to hear! It’s too bad it can be so hard to hear good news amidst all the bad, thanks for sharing!
Thanks for giving voice, passion, and intimacy to the ways in which we abuse one another. Thanks for inviting us to allow the spirit of God to soften our hearts and lead us to dismantle and rebuild.