The Church of Nigeria has issued a communiqué from the National Consultation on Human Rights which was convened by the Primate of All Nigeria The Most Revd. Nicholas D. Okoh in Abuja at the end of June.
The communiqué has the potential to make a very positive and creative contribution towards change in Nigeria. I’m writing against the background of friends in Nigeria whose daily experience is of corruption and blackmail, violent robbery and petty theft. The communiqué addresses the problem of endemic corruption in Nigeria.
It goes on to argue that all religions must in advocating and propagating their beliefs, respect the religious sensibilities of others. It argues for dialogue with people of other faiths to stem the tide of violence and the infringement of the rights of people of other faiths. If the Church of Nigeria is able to turn these sentiments into practical action, building trust, understanding and mutuality between different faith communities, it will achieve something of foundational significance and value.
Similar profound change will be achieved if the Nigerian Church can persuade Christians worldwide that they need to begin to build bridges through our common faith and establish sustainable synergy to enhance the defense of human rights. The need for caution comes in the concluding phrase. Human rights need to be defended in line with biblical injunctions and foundations.
Changing Attitude echoes and applauds the next section of the communiqué which states that the Biblical injunction “Love your neighbor as yourself” captures the values of human rights and requires that the expression of our love for one another should be aimed at promoting and protecting those rights in an atmosphere of mutual respect, within the boundaries of decency.
But the phrase which precludes a less than wholehearted welcome is “within the bounds of decency.” You know what’s coming next. The communiqué continues: “The Church must stand in the vanguard to resist any attempt to establish local or international platforms to foist societal vices e.g. homosexual behaviour, prostitution, etc as rights on others. These are redeemable conditions, by the power of the Gospel.”
Oh dear! It links homosexuality and prostitution as morally equivalent, talks about homosexual behaviour and not identity, and describes homosexuality as a redeemable condition.
No big surprise in the attitude to homosexuality, but it in the context of the whole communiqué, this would appear to be the one remaining obsession of the Church of Nigeria. If it can reach a position of much greater maturity, generosity and wisdom about interfaith and global Christian issues, there is real hope for change in the Church’s attitude towards homosexuality.
I’m an inveterate optimist, but I really believe this will happen. As the Nigerian Church is gradually exposed to a deeper understanding of homosexuality and encounters the experience of LGB&T people, she will be surprisingly changed by the Spirit who flows through creation.