I have spent today at the NYAWEK (Nyanza Western Kenya LGBTI Coalition) office in Kisumu. The Coalition was formed from a number of pre-existing groups in the Western Region of Kenya which came into being as a result of sexual health and HIV awareness initiatives.
NYAWEK’s office is in a building originally built as a house. All who work there are volunteers, receiving assistance for housing and travel.
Twenty-five people came to the workshop, lesbian and gay, with Moses Musonga, a Quaker heterosexual man who had been involved with the Quaker’s internationally and is now working for a local NGO in the field of HIV/AIDS. Revd Michael Kimindu and I helped facilitate the workshop which was chaired by Daniel, the Executive Director of NYAWEK.
Those present came from various denominations and faith communities. There were Anglicans, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists and Moslems among others. They ranged in age from 21 to mid-30s.
The workshop began with each of them describing where they are spiritually. Nearly all had rejected the church because of the prejudice and ant-gay teaching and preaching they experienced. They were still spiritual, still prayerful, but they refused to be contaminated by the hostile attitude of the church to their sexual identity. They spoke eloquently of their experience of church and mosque:
“I feel like an outcast”
“I had a Catholic girl friend, a nun, but now I don’t go, I was feeling guilty. I still have a spiritual life, I believe in a supreme being who is God.”
“I was getting harsh words, being accused of being effeminate, getting negative comments. I started running away, for 3 years I haven’t been to church.”
“I belonged to Church of Christ in Africa, I became a Moslem, they tell me it’s a sin, I feel so left out.”
“I feel guilt, I joined a Pentecostal church which had good preachers but I’m not active any longer.”
“I fell out of the church quite early but I’m an artist and I draw and paint creatively. To me there is no church, I’ve got my Bible.”
“When I’m praying I know God is there. I pray on my own, read the Bible and the Koran.”
“It is a spiritual war. The church is condemning me as a homosexual. Something tells me I’m satanic. I have an internal struggle, I feel depressed, suicidal. I don’t want to read the Bible literally but contextually.”
From their contributions, a discussion evolved over the next two hours, extending across spirituality, relationships, and the ‘clobber’ passages. We looked at Leviticus, the Sodom and Gomorrah story and Romans 1 in particular. They are a remarkably literate group spiritually and theologically with great confidence in their personal faith and equal confidence in their rejection of so-called ‘traditional teaching’.
They have worked out something which took me years, that the church is simply wrong in its use of the clobber verses and wrong in its teaching and preaching about the nature of God. The people of NYAWEK are remarkably confident and faithful to the God of all creation.
The good news for them is that the Anglican diocese here is already thinking through its attitude to LGBTI people and preparing a strategic plan. There is also hope that the Quakers will review their negative attitude. We talked about the rapid change which seems to be underway at the moment. I hope and pray that many of them find their way back to a church which is going to pastoral, welcoming and open. They need the encouragement of a Christian community which can fill them with hope and surround them with love.
I assured them that they are all created in God’s image, infinitely loved by God, created intentionally as LGBTI people. They were all open about their identity and were willing for a group photograph to be take (which technology permitting, will be posted here). We finished with prayer, standing together to sing and praise and concluding with prayer by Moses. The day was truly inclusive and a great encouragement to those of us who took part.