Today the College of Bishops of the Church of England meets to discuss the Pilling Report. Among those discussing the Report are a number of gay bishops who are unwilling or unable to reveal their sexuality for fear of – well, fear of what? Reprisals? Shame? Rebukes from conservatives? I lived much of my life in the closet and I know what it feels like to be there and what a huge release I experienced when I began to come out. It has become intolerable for us in Changing Attitude England that at this meeting, not a single LGB or T voice will be heard in discussions about our place in the Church of England, present and future.
As the Bishops and senior women meet in England, in Nigeria, LGB&T Anglicans live in fear for their lives. The new Anti-gay Marriage Law makes it impossible for Changing Attitude Nigeria to function in any but the most secretive, clandestine way. Were bishops to know that one of their members is gay, the law requires them to report this to the police. Being open about your sexuality, let alone taking part in a ‘listening process’, has become impossible.
Today the College of Bishops faces an unwelcome choice. Are they going to collude with the deeply homophobic anti-gay prejudice enshrined in the Church of Nigeria or are they going to develop a culture of transparency and honesty in the Church of England, or are they going to prevaricate, held to ransom by conservatives represented on the Working Party by Keith Sinclair, Bishop of Birkenhead? In allowing the Bishop two significant chapters to present his dissenting views, the Report as published is already deeply compromised, moving the Church of England in the direction of Nigeria.
Davis Mac-Iyalla, founder of Changing Attitude Nigeria was granted asylum in the UK as a result of his public stance in Nigeria which led to attacks and threats of violence. Davis has brought together reports of the way the Anti-gay Marriage Bill recently signed into law by the President is affecting gay Anglicans and of the Bishop of Nsukka’s support for the Bill at LGBTQNation.
Last week, Aloysius Agbo, the Anglican Bishop of Nsukka said, “Every Christian in Nigeria is happy about the development … especially when he did that contrary to the pressure from the western world.” Being gay is “unnatural, unwise and ungodly,” he said. “If our forefathers have done that [same-sex marriage], many of us would not have been born.”
Davis has been phoning Nigerian friends and LGBT networks checking whether people are safe.
Tochukwu, a 29-year-old gay man from Aba, recounted how he ran away from home because his neighbors were pointing fingers at him saying he is “one of those homosexuals.” Tochukwu told Davis how in St Michael’s Anglican Cathedral, the church where he worships, people are rejoicing and thanking God for the new law anti-gay law. He said he was avoiding going into the city for fear of been identified, as the violent mobs often rush to attack anyone suspected of being gay. “You won’t be given a chance to deny or refute such claims before you are attacked,” he said.
Adams, a 25-year-old member of Changing Attitude Nigeria in Jos said he is “living in fear and scared to even reply any chat that has to do with being gay. I have not attended church since the law was passed because I don’t want to be attacked. You need to read the newspapers to hear what bishops and religious leaders are saying. My members, most of who depend on cyber cafes as means of getting internet services are now in fear of their emails being spied by the authorities.”
Nik, a 31-year-old gay man from Abuja said that landlords are now giving notice to tenants who “look feminine,” or are “suspected” to be gay, to leave their homes because they fear mob attacks which could vandalize their property. He said that on Monday, during a meeting in Abuja of a non-government organization to discuss the new anti-gay law, “we received an alert to run away from the village where we are meeting because the police will be there for random arrests. That was the end of the meeting … we all ran for our lives and have not been able to come together since then.”
Uche Sam, the current Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria, said: “As an Anglican and a gay citizen of Nigeria, I am not impressed with the silence of the Archbishop of Canterbury on the anti-gay law passed by the president of Nigeria. I want the Archbishop to speak against this law and call on the President of Nigeria to denounce this horrible law, and encourage the government of Nigeria to promote an inclusive Nigeria. I would also like the Archbishop to advise the Church of Nigeria to be welcoming to all people and not persecuting us.”
Sam described how the law makes the work of Changing Attitude Nigeria illegal in Nigeria. “We can get up to 10 years in prison if we are caught trying to organize a meeting,” he said. “As the law stands we can’t affirm our identity as LGBT members of the Nigeria Anglican church.”
Davis has launched a petition asking the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to speak out against human rights abuses in Nigeria and publicly condemn the Anti-gay Marriage Bill.
Davis says that remaining silent means turning a blind eye as some of the most vulnerable people on the planet are imprisoned or flogged. It also risks destroying the credibility of Christianity in England and many other parts of the world where homophobia is considered scandalous.
You can sign the petition here.