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African Churches and Homosexuality

Submitted by on February 21, 2010 – 11:37 am3 Comments

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.


  • Will Schumacher says:

    A quick P.S. to this post. The presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) recently criticized the ELCA’s homosexuality decisions in a very public way. In an Easter sermon, he is quoted as saying, “ELCT has refused to recognize the decision to allow same-sex marriages because it is against the Holy Bible.” He went on to add that, “It’s time Africa preached to the rest of the world and remind them of God’s word because it seems they have forgotten what the Bible says.”

    I could not have put it better myself.

  • Joe Burnham says:

    It’s interesting to watch all this unfold from the one country on the continent where homosexuality is, at a certain level, accepted (at least in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, and Pretoria), but in a place (the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Tshwane) where students from around the continent gather. The Uganda law came up in one class and one of the Kenyans said, without hesitation, that passage would be a good thing … and nobody objected. Having spent the past four years on the edge of a large gay community and living blocks from the home of the largest Gay Pride festival in the US, I was just a bit floored.

    On a more personal level, the ELCA decision has prompted bonus travel for Mike Rodewald (as if he didn’t do enough of that already) … I’m sure your wife is really glad you declined that call a few years back!

  • Thanks for posting this article, as a Christian, I am often left horrified of what fellow Christians will do to gay and lesbian people. The case in Africa has become an eyesore for the world of Christianity, the difference between Africa and the Western world is the laws that protects peoples dignity, this is not to say that there are reduced violence or fear to be gay and lesbian. We are encouraged by the reposting and sharing of our stories and we are indebted to many people who are faithful and continue to support us in prayers and keep us in their thoughts. I also believe that the Holy Spirit is calling us to act now, spread the inclusive gospel of Jesus, and the ineffable love of God to LGBTI Africans. We can do this through our faithful actions and organisations. It is my vision and dream, that we will one day move the mission, so radically to speak to the hearts, mind and soul of People, let us give birth to the Radically Inclusive Mission to Africa today. Collectively we can bring hope to the people of Africa. I watched the documentary Missionaries of hate and I was appalled at the length of evil promoted by “Christians”. My bible teaches that we should not repay evil for evil, I believe we need to stand strong and promote love in its entirety. God Bless. Rev Jide Macaulay,

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