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Nigeria's gay church is reborn amid a climate of fear


Nigeria's gay church is reborn amid a climate of fear

House of Rainbow church offers underground prayer and preaching to Christians ostracised by rampant homophobia
Shyamantha Asokan in Lagos
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 24 April 2011 19.57 BST
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/24/gay-nigerians-church-services-secret

When Ade's aunt learned he was gay, the then 16-year-old Nigerian was made to go through an exorcism to expel "the demon of homosexuality".

"The priest came to the house with candles, holy water and anointing oils. I had to kneel down, holding candles in my hands," recalls Ade, now 25, as he sits in a cafe in Lagos. He does not wish to reveal his full name. "He kept shouting 'Come out! Come out! Come out!' in a fevered voice … I was allowed to go back to church after that but I had to pretend to be straight."

In a country where homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, it is no surprise that many of Ade's friends – those who, like him, are both gay and religious – stay away from church altogether for fear of being outed.

However, an alternative could soon be at hand. Ade is helping to resurrect a religious refuge for himself and his friends. He is part of the team restarting House of Rainbow, the country's only gay church, which was forced to close in 2008 after a witch-hunt stirred by exposés in local newspapers.

The Rev Rowland Jide Macaulay, the gay minister who founded the church, is leading the comeback even though he remains in self-imposed exile in London.

"Religion is a backbone to life in Nigeria, so we all want to go to church," he says. "But we don't want to lie to God about who we are."

Macaulay first set up House of Rainbow in 2006, when he openly held Sunday services in a Lagos hotel hall decked out with rainbow flags. A public backlash culminated in members being beaten as they left church. Macaulay fled to the UK after death threats.

This year, he has recruited a small team that includes Ade as his local leader in Lagos. In his voluntary role, Ade started holding prayer sessions and Bible study groups at his house at the end of last month. A full church might be set up again if it is considered safe.

The project could even spread beyond the borders of Africa's most populous country. Macaulay has recently recruited a local leader in Accra, the capital of nearby Ghana. He is considering applications from Rwanda and Zimbabwe.

Religious groups are central to Nigeria's culture of homophobia. Pentecostalism, an evangelical school of Christianity thought to have started in America just over a century ago, has blossomed in southern Nigeria and across Africa in recent decades. The "megachurches" in and around Lagos can attract tens of thousands of worshippers to a single service.

Pentecostal pastors often see gay desire as the work of demons. "You might start casually but, once you get into it, you will be possessed by the spirit," says Emmanuel Owoyemi, a pastor in Lagos.

Meanwhile, in Nigeria's mostly Muslim north, 12 states have adopted sharia law over the last decade. Gay sex carries the death penalty under sharia, although no executions have yet taken place. A national anti-gay marriage bill, which pushes for jail sentences for anyone who even assists gay marriage, has been before Nigeria's parliament since 2009.

Being gay is regarded as an offence across much of Africa. Uganda's parliament continues to debate a proposed law that would introduce the death penalty in some cases. Malawi's president only pardoned a gay couple last year sentenced to 14 years in jail after an international outcry.

Apart from being on the wrong side of the law, many homosexual Nigerians say exclusion from church is one of the hardest parts of being gay.

"We are brought up to believe that you should belong to a religion. We feel that, if we don't go to church, God will not answer our prayers," says a young gay man in Abuja, Nigeria's capital. "When I recently told a friend I was having financial difficulties, he said, 'When did you last go to church?'"

In oil-rich Nigeria, where corruption robs many of even basic services, religious groups provide more than spiritual assistance. Muslim movements such as Izala have built schools in the north, while southern pentecostal groups such as the Redeemed Christian Church of God run universities. "[We] lose out on all these services," says the young man.

Some argue that African homophobia is slowly waning. Marc Epprecht, an expert on sexuality in Africa at Queen's University in Canada, says the continent's growing number of gay rights groups are challenging negative stereotypes.

He adds that despite the bad press it attracts, African homophobia is not markedly stronger than that of poor or patriarchal parts of the Middle East and South America.

Macaulay, however, is not taking any chances this time. Prayer sessions are being held in secret locations. No unknown newcomers are being admitted. He continues to preach via YouTube from London – he thinks it would be unwise to return home. "We have learnt our lesson," he says. "It is a hostile situation."

1 comment:

House Of Rainbow said...

It is a pleasure to read this article, being gay in not a sin, but those who drive us out of the presence of God cannot understand that.

I am aware of the importance of being the light of the Lord to the world and I know that comes with so much pain including rejection from our families and country.

When I think of those who fought for freedom, they lost every protection to their own lives, in the bible Jesus was the most compassionate pastor and leading activist, he spoke against injustice and protected the vulnerable ones. Many people in history have done likewise, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Troy D. Perry, Gene Robinson, Yvette Flunder, Nancy Wilson and many more.

Many Pastors today spend time criticising gays and behind the scene they mess with us sexually and sometimes sexually harass us.

We are not here telling people anything new we are telling them who we are and that we are children of God, Rev 7:13-14, Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Those rejected from the church are now robed in white, they are accepted by God, Roman 9:25-26 ‘Those who were not my people I will call “my people”, and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved”. ’ ‘And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people”, there they shall be called children of the living God.’

Believe me even if that place is Nigeria where gays are most hated, one day they will apologise for the wrong doing, but today we must stand up speak out and then be the light on the lamp stand so that people can see, that Gays and Lesbians are children of God too.

When they drove the man that was blind out of the synagogue, what Jesus said in recorded in John 9:35-41,Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’* He answered, ‘And who is he, sir?* Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord,* I believe.’ And he worshipped him. Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

House Of Rainbow Fellowship is not in competition with any Church, we are simply reaching out where they have failed.

I get so much passion in sharing the word of God and it is my prayer that you and I and many others will take the gospel, bare the hardship of the cross in order to reach people on the margins, I welcome political activism for equality and justice, fairness to all people.

Principle 21 “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. These rights may not be invoked by the State to justify laws, policies or practices which deny equal protection of the law, or discriminate, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity” – The Yogyakarta Principles.

I believe that this is part of the mission. God bless you and I am truly glad Christ is Risen for all people.