Across Africa, major churches strongly oppose LGBTQ rights

Oct 20, 2021, 1:30 AM | Updated: Oct 21, 2021, 3:04 am
Associate Pastor Caroline Omolo stands for a portrait at the Cosmopolitan Affirming Community churc...

Associate Pastor Caroline Omolo stands for a portrait at the Cosmopolitan Affirming Community church, which serves a predominantly LGBTQ congregation, in Nairobi, Kenya Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. “They have always organized a group to maybe silence us or make the church disappear,” Omolo says. “They don’t want it to appear anywhere.” (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

(AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

In Ghana, home to a diverse array of religions, leaders of major churches have united in denouncing homosexuality as a “perversion” and endorsing legislation that would, if enacted, impose some of the harshest anti-LGBTQ policies in Africa.

In Nigeria, the umbrella body for Christian churches depicts same-sex relationships as an evil meriting the lengthy prison sentences prescribed under existing law.

And in several African countries, bishops aligned with the worldwide United Methodist Church are preparing to join an in-the-works breakaway denomination so they can continue their practice of refusing to recognize same-sex marriage or ordain LGBTQ clergy.

In the United States, Western Europe and various other regions, some prominent Protestant churches have advocated for LGBTQ inclusion. With only a few exceptions, this hasn’t happened in Africa, where Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran leaders are among those opposing such inclusion.

“The mainstream churches — all of them — they actually are totally against it,” said Caroline Omolo, associate pastor at the Cosmopolitan Affirming Community in Nairobi, Kenya. It is a rare example of a church in Africa serving a predominantly LGBTQ congregation.

“They have always organized a group to maybe silence us or make the church disappear,” Omolo said. “They don’t want it to appear anywhere.”

Ghana, generally considered more respectful of human rights than most African countries, now faces scrutiny due to a bill in Parliament that would impose prison sentences ranging from three to 10 years for people identifying as LGBTQ or supporting that community. The bill has been denounced by human rights activists even as Ghanaian religious leaders rally behind it.

“Their role in perpetuating queerphobia and transphobia is clear and it’s very troubling and dangerous,” said Abena Hutchful, a Ghanaian who identifies as queer and co-organized a recent protest against the bill in New York City.

“The bill’s strongest supporters claim to be doing this in the name of religion,” says Graeme Reid, director of Human Rights Watch’s LGBT Rights Program. He called the measure “a case study in extreme cruelty.”

The lawmakers proposing the bill said they consulted influential religious leaders while drafting it. Among those endorsing it are the Christian Council of Ghana, the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the country’s chief imam.

“We don’t accept murderers, why should we accept somebody who is doing sex in a sinful way?” Archbishop Philip Naameh, president of the bishops’ conference, told The Associated Press. “If you take a stance which is against producing more children, it is a choice which is injurious to the existence of the Ghanaian state.”

The Christian Council — whose members include Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Anglican churches — considers homosexuality “an act of perversion and abomination,” according to its secretary general, the Rev. Dr. Cyril Fayose of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

“Homosexuality is not a human right and we reject it in all uncertain terms,” he declared earlier this year.

In Africa’s most populous country, the Christian Association of Nigeria has threatened to sanction any church that shows tolerance for same-sex relationships.

Such acceptance “will never happen,” Methodist Bishop Stephen Adegbite, the association’s director of national issues, told the AP.

Asked about Nigeria’s law criminalizing same-sex relationships with sentences of up to 14 years in prison, Adegbite said there are no alternatives.

“The church can never be compromised,” he declared.

Such comments dismay Nigerian LGBTQ activists such as Matthew Blaise, who told the AP of being manhandled by a Catholic priest distraught that Blaise wasn’t heterosexual.

“The church has been awful when it comes to LGBTQ issues, instead of using love as a means of communicating,” Blaise said.

In Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, Catholic Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins told the AP that Catholic teaching “recognizes in the dignity of every human person.” However, he said LGBTQ people who enter into same-sex relationships are leading “a disordered way of life” and should change their behavior.

Nigeria is home to one of the United Methodist bishops, John Wesley Yohanna, who says he plans to break away from the UMC and join the proposed Global Methodist Church. That new denomination, likely to be established next year, results from an alliance between Methodists in the United States and abroad who don’t support the LGBT-inclusive policies favored by many Methodists in the U.S.

Bishops Samuel J. Quire Jr. of Liberia and Owan Tshibang Kasap of the UMC’s Southern Congo district also have indicated they would join the breakaway.

The Rev. Keith Boyette, a Methodist elder from the United States who chairs the Global Methodist initiative, said the African bishops’ views reflect societal and cultural attitudes widely shared across the continent.

“Same-sex orientation is viewed negatively,” he said. “That’s true whether a person is from a Christian denomination, or Muslim or from a more indigenous religion.”

In Uganda, where many LGBTQ people remain closeted for fear of violence and arrests, there is a retired Anglican bishop who in 2006 was barred from presiding over church events because he voiced empathy with gays.

In decades of ministering to embattled LGBTQ people, Christopher Senyonjo said he learned that sexuality “is a deep, important part of who we are. We should be free to let people be who they are.”

“Ignorance is a big problem in all this,” Senyonjo told the AP. “When there is ignorance, there is a lot of suffering.”

In 2014, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a harsh anti-gay law that, in its original version, prescribed the death penalty for some homosexual acts. Later that year, amid intense international pressure, a judicial panel annulled the legislation on a technicality.

However, a colonial-era law criminalizing sex acts “against the order of nature” remains in place.

Frank Mugisha, a prominent gay activist in Uganda, described church leaders as “the key drivers of homophobia in Africa.” Some Anglican leaders, he said, have deepened their hostility toward LGBTQ people in a bid to not lose followers to aggressively anti-LGBTQ Pentecostal churches.

In all of Africa, only one nation — South Africa — has legalized same-sex marriage. Even there, gay and lesbian couples often struggle to be accepted by churches, let alone have their marriages solemnized by clergy.

“People tell me, ‘I grew up in this church, but now I am not accepted,'” said Nokuthula Dhladhla, a pastor with the Global Interfaith Network, which advocates for LGBTQ rights within the religious sector.

She said some religious leaders are privately supportive of same-sex marriage, but reluctant to do so openly for fear of being sidelined by their more conservative peers.

South Africa’s Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, world-renowned for his opposition to apartheid, has been an outspoken supporter of LGBTQ rights.

“I would not worship a God who is homophobic,” he once said. “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say ‘Sorry, I would much rather go to the other place.'”

Caroline Omolo, the activist pastor in Nairobi, said some Kenyan religious leaders blame LGBTQ people for the coronavirus pandemic.

“When we say we are still serving God, they don’t see something that’s possible,” she said. “They think it’s something unfamiliar and should be stopped.”

However, she said some faculty and students at Kenya’s theological schools support her LGBTQ church, which has about 300 members.

“The students, we call them the future generation, leaders of tomorrow,” she said. “When we have that population on our side, I believe there’s nothing that can shake us.”

___

Asiedu reported from New York, Asadu from Lagos, Nigeria; Muhumuza from Kampala, Uganda; and Magome from Johannesburg, South Africa. Associated Press writers Cara Anna in Nairobi, Kenya, and David Crary in New York contributed.

___

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, speaks with members of the media ou...
Associated Press

Pence’s former top aide cooperating with Jan. 6 panel

WASHINGTON (AP) — The former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence is cooperating with the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, according to a person familiar with the matter. Marc Short was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and accompanied Pence as he fled his post presiding over the Senate and […]
22 hours ago
A man poses for photo next to wax figures depicting U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President ...
Associated Press

Beyond Ukraine, plenty of issues for Biden-Putin talks

WASHINGTON (AP) — Russia’s military buildup on the border with Ukraine will be the top focus of talks between President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, but there are plenty of other thorny issues on the table as well, including cyberattacks, human rights, and US-Russian relations that a Kremlin spokesman says are overall […]
22 hours ago
FILE - President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, arrive to meet at the 'Villa la Gr...
Associated Press

Biden to warn Putin of economic pain if he invades Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is ready to warn Vladimir Putin during a video call Tuesday that Russia will face economy-jarring sanctions if it invades neighboring Ukraine as the U.S. president seeks a diplomatic solution to deal with the tens of thousands of Russian troops massed near the Ukraine border. Biden aims to make […]
22 hours ago
In this courtroom sketch, actor Jussie Smollett, left, is questioned by his defense attorney Nenye ...
Associated Press

Smollett back on stand after calling hoax claim ‘100% false’

CHICAGO (AP) — Jussie Smollett will return to the witness stand Tuesday at his trial in Chicago, where the former “Empire” actor called claims that he staged an anti-gay, racist attack on himself “100% false.” Prosecutors will continue cross-examining the 39-year-old, who appeared calm through several hours of testimony Monday. He told jurors “there was […]
22 hours ago
Actor Jussie Smollett arrives Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, with his mother Janet at the Leighton Criminal ...
Associated Press

In and outside court, Smollett fights for reputation, career

CHICAGO (AP) — Outside the courtroom where former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett is fighting charges accusing him of lying to Chicago police about being the victim of an anti-gay, racist attack, his publicist has introduced a roster of supporters to the assembled TV cameras. Renowned opera singer Lauren Michelle, who also appeared on “Empire,” spoke […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

China’s November exports rise 21.4% but growth eases

BEIJING (AP) — China’s exports rose 21.4% in November over a year ago but growth eased, while import growth accelerated to 31.7%. Exports rose to $325.5 billion, slowing from October’s 27.1% expansion, customs data showed Tuesday. Imports surged to $253.8 billion, up from the previous month’s 20.6%. China’s exports have been boosted by foreign demand […]
22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Arizona State University

Gain insights on next year’s trends at 58th Annual Economic Forecast Luncheon

Employment is recovering from the severe contraction induced by the pandemic, but it is still way below levels at the start of 2020. Can it fully recover in the coming year?
...
ENVOQUE MD

Thyroid issues: Here are the warning signs and what to do

In a 100-person office in the United States, an estimated 12 co-workers, employees and loved ones, will likely develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime. That’s because, according to the American Thyroid Association, more than 12% of the U.S. population will experience thyroid issues.
(Facebook Photo/NHTSA)...
Sweet James

Upcoming holiday season is peak time for DUI arrests

The holiday season may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the most dangerous time of the year to be driving. That’s why it’s important to remember to call Sweet James Accident Attorneys if you’re injured or arrested because of a DUI accident.
Across Africa, major churches strongly oppose LGBTQ rights