Yesterday witnessed a dramatic first for Lambeth. Under a blue English summer sky, Africans from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe were drummed onto the university campus. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Anglicans danced at the heart of the Lambeth Conference, witnessed by over 200 people and a number of TV cameras. Nigerian and Ugandan bishops may not be present in Canterbury, but LGBT members of their churches are here, faithful Anglicans committed to the Communion.
Later in Keynes, they shared their stories with bishops, spouses and the media. They spoke of the prejudice against them in their own countries, the violence and abuse they suffer. Their bishops have their minds closed, they said: they don’t want to acknowledge the presence of homosexuality in Africa, let alone listen to their homosexual members.
But same-sex love and relationships were a reality in Africa before the arrival of Christianity. Davis Mac-Iyalla from Nigeria said it isn’t homosexuality that was introduced to Africa, but Christianity. It is, in truth, Christianity which was brought to Africa from the west as a religion unknown but gladly welcomed. The missionaries and western masters also brought penal codes and negative attitudes which are now entrenched in post colonial laws and church attitudes.
The testimonies revealed the diversity of sexual identities to be found across Africa. The Africans appealed to their churches to allow them to live authentic lives and be who they truly are, to bring them in and welcome them from isolation, from the margins and from loneliness. They are not strangers in the African church. They are present in families, communities and churches.
Bishops saw, many for the first time, African LGBT Anglicans celebrating their Christian faith with confidence and passion.