Thursday, December 22, 2011

African Religious Leaders Standing Against Anti-Gay Oppression: Naomi Abraham Reports

I blogged last week about the dismal situation in which LGBT persons find themselves in Africa, where more than half of the nations in the continent still criminalize homosexuality.  Throughout much of Africa, gay and lesbian persons face outright violence, and the violence is escalating as American right-wing religious groups deliberately escalate homophobia and encourage the leaders of African nations to target the LGBT minority.

But as Naomi Abraham reports at Salon, in the midst of this severe oppression of a targeted minority, there is a handful of courageous, principled Christian leaders who do everything in their power to move against prejudice and discrimination.  These include people like Rev. MacDonald Sembereka, an Anglican minister in Malawi, who has defended the human rights of gay people, and whose house was bombed this past September 11 as a result.

Sembereka and other courageous people of faith in Africa deserve to be acknowledged and supported, as those of us concerned about the defense of human rights around the world focus on the oppression of LGBT persons in Africa.  What many of us talk about in comfort and security, they risk their lives on a daily basis to advocate for.  They and their families are susceptible to violence, they're charged with being gay themselves even when they're straight and married, and they endure taunts claiming that they're puppets of Western imperialist groups meddling in African affairs--an astonishing claim, when one looks at the amount of money the American religious right is pouring into the attempt to ramp up anti-gay oppression in Africa.

And they continue to defend their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters with no support from--with outright condemnation by--the majority of Christian leaders in Africa.  As Abraham notes, 

For the most part, African faith leaders have either fanned the flames of homophobia or stayed quiet on the issue.  In some cases, they have been the key agitators of anti-gay attitudes in their countries.

And that includes the Catholic leaders of Africa--the bit about either fanning the flames of homophobia or staying quiet on the issue, that is, includes the Catholic leaders of Africa.  As my posting last week (to which the first link above points) notes, the Catholic bishops of Nigeria are directly colluding with anti-gay oppression and even anti-gay violence in their nation by asserting the Vatican's argument that gay and lesbian persons have no human rights as gay and lesbian persons.  This is a morally stinky argument that both invites and covers over violence against those who are gay or lesbian.

And it's continuous with--it derives from--the statement of the current pope in his 1986 Vatican statement on the care of homosexual persons, issued when he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith, that those who are gay invite the violence perpetrated against them when they make their identities known.  Though this document purports to deplore violence done to people due to their sexual orientations, it does so by warning that when gay people argue that "the homosexual condition is not disordered" and when they advocate for legislation to "protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right," they create the conditions for the violence done to them in various societies (¶10).

Stay in the closet and accept the grudging crumbs of pity handed out to you by faith communities and society at large, or expect to be violently repressed: this is the gist of Ratzinger's argument in the 1986 "pastoral" document about the place of those who are gay in the church and society.

Benedict himself has, in my view, directly provided Catholic justification for collusion in anti-gay violence in African societies by his statement to the African bishops' synod in 2009 (see ¶24-26), which continues the rhetoric of powerful Western conservative groups that seek to depict "traditional" African culture as male-dominant and anti-homosexual, and which tries to suggest to Africans that anyone raising questions about gender roles or sexual orientation within the context of African cultures is promoting Western values and interfering with "traditional" African culture.  Benedict makes these claims despite abundant evidence that traditional African cultures did not, in fact, either criminalize or stigmatize homosexuality until Western imperial rulers of these nations began to enact legislation taking these steps.

There definitely are some courageous Christian leaders in Africa today, who follow in the footsteps of Desmond Tutu in defending the rights of all who are oppressed, including their brothers and sisters who are gay and lesbian.  These Christian leaders do not, unfortunately, include the leaders of the Catholic church in Africa.

And they deserve our strong support, these faithful Christians who dare to stand up against violence in a context in which standing in solidarity with the oppressed courts violence to themselves and their families.

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