Changing attitudes in Kenya – The Bondo Project

The Revd Henry Mayor, a retired priest and supporter of Changing Attitude England living in Manchester is at present visiting Kenya to participate in a number of events, some Anglican, others involving wider Christian and gay communities. Henry was born and brought up in Kenya this visit follows two previous visits undertaken on his own initiative.

Henry has raised funds in the UK for the Bondo Project, a six-day Retreat/Workshop for the clergy of the Diocese of Bondo and a few others,from August 31st to September 5th 2009. It was on the theme of same-gender sexual relations and the Bible. Henry gave four presentations: my personal experience of the Bible; a discussion of terms used in discussing homosexuality; my personal experience of LGBTI people; and a discussion of Bible texts which condemn and support same-gender relationships.

There were also two presentations by Professor Dr. David Kodia about the Lambeth Conference and the Global Anglican Futures Conference, several inputs by local Christians, time for group discussion and plenary sessions, and a daily Bible Study (led by Henry) on Jesus’s and the Church’s response to marginalised people.

Henry reports that the response was generally favourable: people were glad that for the first time they were able to discuss same-gender sexuality (or indeed sexuality in general), and happy to receive new information and perspectives. Some people asked for more literature. The pastoral care of LGBTI people was discussed and there was a concern to follow it up. The Retreat will be followed by a report and another day of meeting to decide on future courses of action.

Henry notes that the attitude of clergy and others towards LGBTI people is unlikely to change overnight, but he is confident that in the hands of capable Kenyans who are supportive of, or sympathetic to, LGBTI people, the process of change in Kenya will continue. He has already been invited to address a one-day meeting of clergy of Maseno South diocese on the same topic.

Other Sheep Kenya Seminar in Nairobi

Henry also took part in a seminar on “Religion and Sexuality in African Cultural Context” organised by Other Sheep Kenya held on 22 August 2009 in Nairobi. Twenty five people drawn from the LGBTI community and PFLAG attended the seminar. They came from diverse religious backgrounds and organizations including United Methodist Church, Baptist, Anglican, Kenya Assemblies of God, Catholic Church, Metropolitan Community Church, Nairobi Pentecostal Church, Apostolic Church, Redeemed Gospel Church, Islam, Changing Attitude, Reconciling Ministries Network, Ishtar MSM, Daystar University and United States International University (USIU).

Rev. Henry Mayor described how he had come to Kenya to help the Anglican Church discuss homosexuality and told them about the Bondo Project. Henry said that there are people who say being gay is not African but a western import. He believes his calling is from God. He said, “there is no human being who is normal except Jesus Christ”. He said that homosexuality has become a great sin in the way it is dividing Christianity. Christians should love all people without discrimination based on sexual orientation Christian communities must change their attitude and be positive about LGBTI people.

Rev Michael Kimindu, Changing Attitude’s contact in Kenya, an Anglican priest, MCC minister and Other Sheep East Africa Coordinator, said that there are people whom the clergy and laity do not accept in the church such as divorces, homosexuals, people living with AIDS, polygamists and alcoholics. “These are the other sheep”.

Michael said that sexual orientation is not an issue that is to be fought but to be accepted. Religious leaders should serve God by serving the vulnerable such as gays and lesbians. The gospel is not about hate but about repentance, reconciliation and renewal. Jesus did not die so that our sexual orientation can change but our hearts. He said there are thousands of LGBTI persons who think God hates them. The message from Other Sheep is that God loves you.

Rev John Makokha, a United Methodist minister and Other Sheep Kenya Coordinator, said that most LGBTI persons who grapple with their sexual orientation have abandoned the church in Kenya. “You cannot worship God in a church where everyone is breathing homophobia”.

He said that Riruta United Methodist Church has officially moved out of the East Africa Annual Conference due to homophobia, isolation and rejection by the leadership. Riruta UMC is the only reconciling church in Africa and it is now looking to align itself to other annual conferences/churches outside Africa that share its vision and mission of inclusiveness and love of Christ for all people.

Anne Baraza, Other Sheep Advisory Counsellor and Riruta United Methodist Women President, said that that many LGBTI have travelled a difficult road due to depression, stigma and isolation perpetrated by the religious community. “I have had clients who have testified that they have visited charismatic conservative evangelical clergy to cast out demons and the witchcraft of homosexuality to no avail”. As Christians we should be concerned with looking below the surface to the real person.

She told the clergy to attend to LGBTI people as they would to any other child of God for whom Christ died. LGBTI people should not be judged, rejected or condemned since they have experienced much pain and hurt already. “Some have sought suicide as a way out”. Clergy were advised to be there for the LGBTI people in the name of the Lord and help them walk on their journey of faith.

She advised LGBTI people not to create room for heterosexuals to attack them. “You cannot hate homosexuals without understanding them. Start mingling with heterosexuals and when opportunity allows bring up the topic of homosexuality. Try to correct them where they are misinformed or under-informed about homosexuality. This is one sure way of breaking the ice existing between the two”.

Peter Wanyama, an Anglican and Other Sheep Kenya treasurer, said that some of the challenges facing LGBTI people in Kenya include access to health care, high HIV/AIDS infection rates, self stigmatization, religious bias, security threats and lack of legal representation on homosexual related cases.

The participants recommended for more seminars especially for PFLAG and counselling to address issues affecting them and their children. The issue of HIV/AIDS came up – the participants noted that homosexuals are at a higher risk of being infected so it should be given serious attention. Capacity building programs should be put in place to address issues affecting them.

The seminar was grant-aided by UHAI-EASHRI (East Africa Sexual and Health Rights Initiative).

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