In 2015, the General Convention passed Resolution A051 in support of African Anglicans who are advocating against anti-LGBT violence and who are offering generous biblical interpretations that affirm the dignity of LGBTI people. In this article, Professor Masiiwa Ragies Gunda of Zimbabwe surveys the work underway among Anglicans in Africa to support LGBTI people.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons are indeed an endangered group in Africa, endangered to varying degrees in different societies. But not all Africans are against LGBTI persons. There are two main voices, one that is rejecting and another that is accepting of LGBTI.
On July 25, 2015 at the State House in Kenya, Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and Barack Obama of Kenya and the United States of America respectively held a joint press conference in which President Obama observed: “If you look at the history of countries around the world, when you start treating people differently, not because of any harm they’re doing anybody but because they’re different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode.” This was clearly with LGBTI persons in mind because they are being treated differently because they are not heterosexual. In response to this, President Kenyatta “diplomatically” proclaimed “The fact remains that this issue [LGBTI persons being reduced to an issue] is not really an issue that is in the foremost mind of Kenyans.”
While the position of Kenyatta represents a diplomatic version of the vitriolic condemnations expressed by senior statesmen such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, on the other side is the luminary Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who equated discrimination against gay people with the horrors of Nazi Germany and apartheid-era SouthAfrica. These two positions are representative of the African continent in general on the position of the LGBTI community on the continent. The same could be said of Anglican Communion in Africa, it is similarly divided. But work is underway among Anglicans on the continent to secure the recognition and acceptance of LGBTI brothers and sisters in the house of God and in society.
The Anglican Communion the world over exhibits the best of inclusiveness and the worst of exclusiveness on various challenges and issues we face as Christians. There are 13 Provinces of the Anglican Church in Africa and in all the provinces the diversities that define the Anglican Communion are fairly represented. However, the Province of Southern Africa appears to be the only province that has actually held discussions and dialogues with LGBTI persons and has some parishes that are open and inclusive of LGBTI persons.
Among the key anti-homosexual Anglican voices are Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda who proclaims that “homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture” while encouraging the Church of England to “step back from the [wrong] path” it had set itself on when it acknowledged the full humanity of LGBTIQ persons and their decision to ordain LGBTIQ people. Another leading voice has been that of Archbishop Peter Akinola, former Primate of Nigeria who also invokes scripture when asking: “Why didn’t God make a lion to be a man’s companion? Why didn’t he make a tree to be a man’s companion? Or better still, why didn’t he make another man to be man’s companion? So even from the creation story, you can see that the mind of God, God’s intention, is for man and woman to be together.”
These are the voices that have been exported as the voice of Africa on LGBTI persons in the Church and in society. However, there is an even stronger voice that has proclaimed that rejecting LGBTI persons in the house of God is not different from the evil called “apartheid,” which we all unequivocally condemned. That is the voice of Archbishop Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and one of the best-known and loved religious leaders in the world. In addition to the archbishop, however, there is a growing network of scholars, activists and clergy who are working toward the decriminalization of same-sex relationships and the inclusion of LGBTI people in the life of the church. In short, there is no single African Anglican voice on LGBTI issues.
Some Leading African Anglicans in the fight for Recognition of LGBTI
Even though there is the thinking that African Anglicans reject and exclude LGBTI persons from the life and ministry of the Church, the truth is that there are a number of Anglican scholars who have silently been researching and publishing materials on LGBTI persons in Africa. They are, among the few African scholars who have studied LGBTI persons on the continent, some Anglican scholars such as Professor Gerald West of the University of KwaZulu-Natal of South Africa who has been the leading scholar in the use of contextual Bible Study for the recognition and acceptance of LGBTI persons as “children of God.” In Kenya, Professor Esther Mombo of St. Paul’s University Limuru, Kenya has been a champion for equality of the genders and sexualities. Professor Mombo has in many fora challenged the church in Africa on the need to accept how confounding God’s creation is and our duty to love and protect that creation. These two scholars have been inspiring me in my work on and with LGBTI persons in Zimbabwe and Africa.
In the trenches with the LGBTI: The Joys and Risks
I am from Zimbabwe, I am an Anglican in the Diocese of Harare, Church Province of Central Africa. I have been researching, publishing, teaching and speaking on and with LGBTI persons in various fora in Africa and abroad. I started this journey in 2005 when I was contemplating my PhD research and eventually, I ended researching on the public debate on homosexuality that had been triggered by President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe in 1995. In 2010, I graduated with a PhD and the thesis was published as “The Bible and Homosexuality in Zimbabwe (2010).” Since 2005, I have been engaged in the interpretation of biblical texts to show that as Christians, we have no justifiable reason based on the Bible to reject and exclude LGBTI persons from enjoying the abundant life promised by our Lord, Jesus Christ. In doing this, I have partnered other scholars such as Prof. Mombo from Kenya, Prof. West from South Africa, Prof. Dora Mbuwayesango, a Zimbabwean based in the United States of America, Dr. Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian based in the United States of America, such that we are slowly but surely becoming a society of African Anglican biblical scholars, who are united by our desire to see our LGBTQI brothers and sisters fully accepted in the house of God.
Dr. Gunda, a layperson in the Diocese of Harare, Zimbabwe, holds a PhD from Bayreuth University in Germany and was a Humboldt Research Fellow in 2011-2013. He also holds a BA and MA in religious studies from the University of Zimbabwe. He is the author of “On the Public Role of the Bible in Zimbabwe,” published by the University of Bamberg Press in 2015 and has published several papers including: 1). Van Klinken, A. S. and Gunda. M. R. (2012). “Taking up the Cudgels for or against Gay Rights?” Trends and Trajectories in African Christian Theologies. In: Journal of Homosexuality 59, 1–25. 2). Gunda, M. R. 2011. Gender prejudice in the use of biblical texts against same-sex relationships in Zimbabwe. In: Journal of Gender and Religion in Africa, 17.2, December 2011, 93-108. 3). Gunda, M. R. 2013. Jesus Christ, homosexuality and masculinity in African Christianity: Reading Luke 10: 1-12. In: Exchange: Special Issue on Masculinities 42 (1), 16-33. 4). Gunda, M. R. (2009): Homosexuality and the Bible in Zimbabwe: Contested Ownership and Interpretation of an ‘Absolute Book’. In: Biblische Religionskritik: Kritik in, an und mit biblischen Texten, Eds. Kügler, J. & Bechmann, U. (Münster: LIT Verlag), 76-94. 5). Gunda, M. R. (2012). Understanding the Complexities and Opportunities of using the Bible in discussions of sexuality: An African Perspective. In: Anglicans, Sexuality and Scripture: An African Consultation, Chicago: Chicago Consultation, 8-13. 6). Gunda, M. R. (2010): Homosexuality and the Bible in Zimbabwe, Bamberg: University of Bamberg Press. 7). Gunda, M. R. (2009): The Reign of Bishop Nolbert Kunonga: Nationalist Spirit or Empire Building? Missionalia 36 (2/3), 299-318.