African homophobia is rooted in pre-existing prejudice

Like those of you living in the UK and reading this, I’ve been reading the press and watching the TV news analysis of last week’s violence. There are too many simplistic opinions about a drama that has complex roots. There is a natural tendency to lay blame where an individual’s prejudice lies. I’ve been searching for the people who are careful in their analysis and their use of words.

Gary Younge in yesterday’s Guardian was careful, saying that it began with a political demonstration which ended in violent disorder that triggered a series of unrelated violent disorders devoid of any political coherence.

I have mused on the relationship (if there is one) between last week’s violence, the criminality exposed amongst the police, politicians and journalists, and the Anglican Communion’s conflict about homosexuality and same-sex relationships. Is there a connection or any kind of parallel?

On Sunday I very patiently took part in an hour-and-a-half long discussion on an internet radio station broadcasting for an African audience and managed by a Ghanaian. Homosexuality was the subject. I had to deal with all the usual issues and all the usual myths and prejudice. I also dealt all the way through with misinformation from the pastors and individuals who phoned in to say their piece and speak to me.

The hostile attitude to homosexuality is fuelled by prejudice and misinformation. Here are some examples from Sunday morning.

Callers want to apply the teaching of Leviticus 18.22 and 20.13. But they only want to apply half of verse 13 and don’t want men who have intercourse with men to be put to death. It’s obvious to me that they are making a judgement about what in the Bible should be taken literally and what should not. I willingly acknowledge that I make such judgements all the time.

Callers claimed that the men of Sodom were universally engaged in sex with other men. I asked them to quote me the verse from Genesis 19 to support their claim. None could, but they remained convinced. This is because people believe the sin of Sodom is homosexuality despite evidence to the contrary. They are reading their prejudice back into the Bible. It showed me that Africans do not read the Bible carefully.

I pointed out that the Sodom story is shockingly immoral, with the Lot offering his two daughters to be raped. I was told there is no moral equivalence because homosexual anal sex is an abomination and the daughters weren’t offered to be raped but for sex – in the caller’s mind in some way consensual, presumably.

I was told that the Bible doesn’t say the daughters were given to be raped by the men. Judges 19.22-26 which is clearly a parallel narrative says the men raped the virgin daughter.

I was told that the incidence of HIV/AIDS is much higher amongst homosexuals. I pointed out that it is also much higher in male same sex communities (miners) and in truck drivers, in both cases for obvious reasons. If you inhibit the freedom of gay men to form healthy, adult, faithful relationships, then it’s not surprising if sexual activity is less responsible than among the heterosexual majority.

I was told that there are no homosexuals in villages but only in cities and this proved that it was contact with westerners or the corrupting effect of cities (or some such argument) that produced homosexuality. So far as I know, there is no evidence for this claim, an I assume the caller relied on the ability of gay men in villages to pass for straight.

I was repeatedly told that homosexuality is un-African and was unknown before the white man came. I told them African languages have words for same-sex activity predating colonisation. What we, white men, brought, were the Victorian penal code and missionary teaching which introduced prejudice, guilt and disgust into people’s feelings about intimacy between men.

We in the Anglican Communion are dealing with prejudice and visceral feelings far more than we are dealing with a coherent Biblical and theological position about homosexuality. If we were dealing with the latter, we could do it with a reasonable conversation using the experience of having dealt with slavery, racism, abortion, contraception and the place of women in the Church.

People are not thinking clearly and they are misusing language and evidence in the same way as pundits are talking about last week’s violence. The Bible is used to justify anti-gay prejudice in the Church because they bring their homophobic prejudice to their reading of the Bible.

More tomorrow….

Comments

  1. Davis Mac-Iyalla says

    Colin those who called in are theological illiterate who read the bible but never understands a words out of it.
    I am sure nothing you said matters to them and they have not learnt any thing from you because they are blind with homophobia and lack communication skills.

    How can a reasonable person say there are no homosexuals in their village only in their cities when the chief priests and custodians of the African cultures are bisexuals, homosexual/lesbians and living in their shrines in those villages.

    30 years of my life I spent in West Africa and discovered my sexuality at home, there was no white man my in my community.

    Homosexuality is natural and its time for African religious leaders/governments/media and society to stop playing politic with this issue.

    What was imported to Africa is Christianity, not Homosexuality.

    • Anonymous says

      There is little point commenting here . It would be better to spend your effort visiting the Voice of Africa UK radio site and asking why there is space on their web page for what Colin’s critics had to say but no mention of what he actually said.
      It is worse than that because there are periodic anti gay asides in other religious broadcasts – adam and eve not Adam and Steve type remarks.
      To be really effective we would need to log all these in the way the National Viewers and Listeners Assoc did.
      Colin was remakable in his patience – measured and polite in the face of rudeness and hatred.
      I hope anyone who comments on the Voice of Africa site keeps to that behaviour.

  2. Graham Southgate says

    I have no experience and little knowledge of African culture and therefore I won’t comment on it.
    However the same mis-using of Scripture appears to be going on in some of the African churches as among some western Christians.
    “Over the centuries people who misunderstood or misinterpreted the Bible have done terrible things. The Bible has been misused to defend bloody crusades and tragic inquisitions; to support slavery, apartheid, and segregation; to persecute Jews and other non-Christian people of faith; to support Hitler’s Third Reich and the Holocaust; to oppose medical science; to condemn interracial marriage; to execute women as witches; and to support the Ku Klux Klan. Shakespeare said it this way: ‘Even the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.'” (Quoted from the Reverend Dr Mel White’s paper “What the Bible says — and doesn’t say — about homosexuality”. See http://www.soulforce.org)
    By the way, Mel White also makes this comment “Jesus and five Old Testament prophets all speak of the sins that led to the destruction of Sodom—and not one of them mentions homosexuality. Even Billy Graham doesn’t mention homosexuality when he preaches on Sodom.”
    So that just leaves us with prejudice, doesn’t it? Coupled, I fear, with (as Davis says) theological illiteracy.

Join the discussion