African Churches and Homosexuality
A recent story in The Economist caught my eye, because it describes a very rare phenomenon: a church in Africa which openly welcomes homosexuals. “House of Rainbow” is an independent Nigerian church, founded in Lagos by Rowland Jide Macaulay in 2006. After violence against the tiny congregation and death threats against the pastor, Macaulay fled to London, where he now preaches via YouTube and leads online Bible studies for gays in Nigeria.
Homosexuality is strongly disapproved of by the overwhelming majority of Africans, whether Christian, Muslim, secular, or traditionalist (“animist”). Homosexual behavior is still punishable as a crime in most African countries. Indeed, there are numerous efforts to increase the penalties in a struggle against what many Africans see as a moral corruption being imported from Europe and the United States. Evangelical pastor and author Rick Warren made headlines last year for his outspoken oppostion to aproposed law in Uganda which would result in the death penalty for gays under certain circumstances. (The harshest features of that bill may be dropped before passage, but it is still under debate.)
African rejection of homosexuality, and African resistance to “western” pressure for greater tolerance or gay rights, are as much cultural as religious. But African churches are nearly unanimous in their conviction that homosexual behavior is sinful and contrary to clear Biblical teaching. This, of course, is what makes the House of Rainbow story an oddity: it’s a little like finding a group of vegetarian deer hunters. While strenuous resistance to the “gay agenda” is in keeping with African traditions and with genuine Christianity, violence against homosexuals (whether legal or extra-legal) is deplorable and should not be cloaked as Christian morality.
At its churchwide assembly in 2009, the ELCA adopted changes in its practices which allow for same-sex unions and for non-celibate gay clergy. Those decisions are causing offense and consternation around the world among Lutherans, and the ecumenical consequences of the ELCA’s actions will likely be? most profound in Africa. This mirrors the deep rift in the Anglican communion which followed the election of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003. Among the Lutheran churches of Africa — the fastest growing region in world Lutheranism — there is renewed interest in findinng international partners who do not bring this kind of baggage.
It is important to support African churches and African theologians who are trying to be faithful, biblical Christians amid a flood of political (and often financial) pressure to adopt western moral standards [sic]. Yet neither the condemnation of homosexuality, nor toleration of it, is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls.