by Davis Mac-Iyalla
Sunday was a day of joy for myself and the members from CA Nigeria. We took part for only the second time in our lives in a communion service without fear of been attacked because we are lesbian or gay. The first time was when we gathered as LGBT Christians to share communion in Togo when we hosted the CAN West African Leaders meeting in 2007. The second time was on Sunday at the Eucharist celebrating the gifts of lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians in the Anglican Communion.
Rose and Queen, members of CAN from Port Harcourt and Lagos, keep telling me they cant believe their eyes. They are in the midst of fellow Christians who don’t condemn them for being lesbians. Both keep asking me who is gay and who is not. They are anxious not to make mistakes but I tell them to feel free and not to worry as there is no discrimination in our midst. Here in Canterbury, England we are all welcomed as God’s children.
Stephen Wariebi was able to attend the Eucharist service too and with Rose and Queen assisted in preparing the venue for the service, showing our diversity and deep faith as African Anglicans. Stephen and Mia Nkasimor will be featured in the Voices of Witness Africa video which will be shown to the bishops for the first time on Wednesday at the Integrity fringe meeting.
This morning the Lambeth market place was officially open. We have set out our stall and started visiting the stalls of other groups.
Earlier in the day I met a Ugandan priest and a Ghanaian bishop. The bishop told me he is not happy that the western conservatives have deceived some of the African bishops, and in particular those from Nigeria, persuading them to stay at home while they themselves are attending the Lambeth Conference. I was shocked to discover that there are still such big disagreements even among the conservatives.
He was speaking very freely with me, but as we continued our conversation I noticed that people were beginning to draw closer to us. Seeing three black men in conversation, it seems they wanted to listen in to us. To my surprise, the bishop, noticing that people were paying attention to us started saying that “we will not accept homosexuality in our African churches. Homosexuals should be classified as terrorists. If homosexuality is accepted then we will accept that even terrorists are welcomed to heaven.”
He keep repeating this statement and would not listen to me or the Ugandan priest. We reached a point that I asked him to follow me so I could show him something. He willingly followed me to the Changing Attitude/Integrity stall where I showed him a photo of myself standing with the former Archbishop of South Africa, Njongonkulu Ndungane. The photo was taken at the last Primates meeting in Dar es Salaam in 2007.
I pointed to the face of Njongonkulu and asked the bishop if Njongonkulu was not an African and why is he able to be loving and welcoming towards homosexuals? The bishop did not answer my questions but looked at me in the face and told me firstly, that I have been bribed, and secondly, that I am not a true African. I told him this is not true and that his private views expressed to me when we first started to talk, and public views expressed when other people took an interest in our conversation, are different. At that moment, he rose from his seat and walked away, not replying any more to me.
My conclusion in respect to my brief but eye opening conversation with this African bishop is that our bishops are not speaking with a clear conscience or independent mind. They are speaking on a script written for them by their western conservative collaborators. It very clear that our African bishops came to Lambeth to do the talking rather than listening to us.
I almost forget to mention that the bishop had already told me and the Ugandan priest that he will stay one week extra in England to build relationships and make new friends. I am now wondering who are the people he will be staying with after Lambeth. Does he think that in England, he will be staying with families and church communities that don’t have a single LGBT person in their family or community?
It is my intention to continue to look out for bishops from the Global South and start talking with them. Who knows, by Gods grace attitudes may change. It is too early to lose hope.