Millions of Anglican Church faithfuls are currently embroiled in a controversy surrounding homosexuals. The controversy can by no means be ignored as it touches not only on matters theological and spiritual but also on socio-political and economic matters. The African provinces of the Anglican Communion are most hit by this debate.
The boycott of the Lambeth Conference by some notable African Anglican provinces indicates that the debate threatens the basic fabrics of the much needed unity within the Anglican Communion. Schisms undermine faith and would also defeat the reason for the establishment of the Lambeth Conference in 1867 as a denominational ecumenical activity. Although the long story of Christianity is a panorama of lights and shadows, the Church continues to marvelously exhibit divine life in spite of human weaknesses.
The gay debate is an unfolding of the clash of cultures between the West, Africa and the Bible. Western culture is cosmopolitan and highly individualized. Individual rights and freedoms are emphasized to the extent that anything communal is deemed secondary. It is estimated that between 2% and 5% of men in the West are homosexuals. A majority of Westerners believe that gays and lesbians are normal human beings. This is true. However, when the gay and lesbian lobby groups (in the 1960s) ridiculously persuaded people that a human being could be born a homosexual, this thinking largely informed the sex orientation laws in many Western countries. To glorify individualism, some Western provinces have ignored biblical teachings and ordained homosexual bishops.
In Africa on the other hand, 'I am because we are.' Faced with the communal worldview that the community is greater than the individual; it is difficult to establish a reliable estimate of the homosexuals. Africans struggling with homosexuality do not receive help because they cannot be identified in the first place. This makes homosexuality a Western problem with Africans as 'judges,' an unfortunate position that many African bishops have taken or find themselves. They have put homosexuality into a category of sin that is unpardonable while overlooking the fact that heterosexual immorality or even mono-sexual stimulation is not different from homosexuality. Sin is sin. The African society is so used to polygamy for example, that polygamists are not shunned or their offertory rejected in the churches. Another glaring contradiction is the ordination of female folk as priests which is rampant in African provinces. This is hypocrisy.
The Lambeth boycott by some African bishops cannot be purely justified as doctrinal. Some African bishops, disregarding the position of their provinces, chose to attend both the evangelical gathering of conservatives in Jerusalem as well as the Lambeth Conference in Kent purely to tour England and solicit funds from ‘friendly dioceses.’ I have argued on this forum before that the church in Africa will never grow in depth as long as she continues to survive on handouts from the West. This dependency is so entrenched and the earlier it is corrected the better. African churches must plan without factoring in the West. It may be difficult at the beginning but it will save the African bishops a lot of humiliation from their benefactors.
Homosexuals need love, friendship and gospel truth. They should not be shunned or used for economic gains. The debate must be decisively removed from the level of confrontation where the battle for what the Bible says is lost in the ensuing noise to a level of education. This will save the young men and women who are seduced into believing such things as the existence of a ‘gay gene’ bent on persuading oneself that he or she is normal. Healing begins with the transformation of the mind.
By Ben Keah
Keah is the Program Director of African Institute for Contemporary Mission and Research
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