Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Bill To Punish Gays Divides a Family

In Nigeria a Bill To Punish Gays Divides a Family >Theologian Is Pushing It;>His Minister Son's Church>Would Run Afoul of Law> >By Mark Schoofs>January 12, 2007> >LAGOS, Nigeria --

Augustus Olakunle Macaulay founded the Bibleuniversity >that trained his son in theology. He founded the evangelical ministrythat >ordained his son as a minister. And he is president of Nigeria's >Association of Christian Theologians, which counts his son as a member.> >But now Prof. Macaulay supports a proposed law that could criminalizehis >son's new Christian church and put him behind bars. That's because hisson, >the Rev. Rowland Jide Macaulay, has founded House of Rainbow, a churchthat >caters to Nigeria's gay men and lesbians -- a first for Africa's most >populous country.> >

The relationship between Prof. Macaulay and his son mirrors some of the >conflicting forces buffeting homosexuals in Nigeria. Gay men andlesbians >are becoming more visible, even as their society, which is hostile to >homosexuality, threatens to become still less tolerant of them.> >

In his New Year's Eve sermon, Rev. Jide, as he is called by his smallbut >growing flock, declared himself a "happy, holy homosexual." He said,"We >are all God's children, no matter what some people tell us." The morethan >100 attendees, all male, clapped and sang out their approval.> >

After the service, the church sponsored a party. In keeping with achurch >function, no alcohol was served. But the event featured exuberant drag >queens lip-synching disco hits. The party's highlight: a "Mr. Bloke"beauty >contest with contenders strutting their stuff in traditional Africangarb, >corporate wear and swimwear.> >

House of Rainbow -- a member of a gay-affirming U.S. umbrella church >organization -- would almost certainly run afoul of Nigeria's proposedlaw. >Homosexual sex is already punishable by up to 14 years in prison -- or >death by stoning in the Muslim north, though that Shariah sentence is >rarely meted out.> >

The sweeping new bill would punish by up to five years in prison anyonewho >enters into a gay marriage, "performs, witnesses, aids or abets the >ceremony of same-sex marriage" or is "involved in the registration ofgay >clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession ormeetings." >The U.S. State Department has denounced the bill, proposed in Januarylast >year, as a violation of basic freedoms.> >

But the bill is widely expected to pass. It is supported by mostmainstream >Christian and Muslim clergy in Nigeria, including Peter Akinola, the >Anglican archbishop who is leading an international revolt ofconservative >Episcopalians angry about the ordination of gay priests and the >consecration of gay unions.> >

Archbishop Akinola, who also opposes the ordination of women priests,has >become the spiritual leader of more than 20 American conservativechurches >that have broken away from the world-wide Anglican Communion.> >

Anglican Christianity was brought to Nigeria in 1842 by a particularly >conservative group of British missionaries, and "there has been ahardening >of attitudes as the West has liberalized," says Philip Jenkins,professor >of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University and >author of "The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in theGlobal >South."> >

Prof. Jenkins notes that many African societies still derive theirnorms >from agrarian life and that animal sacrifice and polygamy are common in >many parts of Africa. "The Bible carries a lot more weight amongordinary >Africans, partly because people can identify with the society it >describes," he says. "They recognize it as their world." This leads >Africans to a more literal interpretation of Scripture, he believes.The >rise of fundamentalist Islam also puts pressure on African Christiansto >draw a hard line against homosexuals, he says.> >But urban Nigerians are increasingly aware of the advance of gay rightsnot >only in the U.S. but also in South Africa, which enshrines equal rightsfor >homosexuals in its constitution and recently legalized marriage for >same-sex couples. The fact that Nigeria's legislature is consideringthe >new bill testifies to the growing visibility of gay men and lesbians in >Nigeria.> >

As for the Macaulays, the father and son are both polite, well-educatedand >well-traveled. The elder Macaulay is 69 but looks so young that he andhis >41-year-old son are sometimes mistaken for brothers. And they wereclose >even as the younger Macaulay was struggling in secret.> >Born in London, Rev. Jide says he had his first homosexual experiencein >Nigeria, where he spent his teenage years. Ashamed of his attraction to >men, he married a Nigerian woman in London in 1991 and had a son withher. >About three years later, increasingly depressed, he told his wife the >truth. They divorced and he was expelled from their church. He says heand >his wife now speak only to discuss their son, with whom Rev. Jideremains >close.> >Rev. Jide says that for many years he wanted to tell his father, but,he >says, "I couldn't find the courage." Then, during a visit Prof.Macaulay >made to his son's London home in 2003, he noticed some books on >homosexuality. He confronted his son, admonishing him thathomosexuality >was against God's will and urging him to change.> >

Rev. Jide remained silent, both men recall. "In truth, I felt for him, >because I am a father too," the younger man says. "I have twogenerations >on either side of me bearing the brunt of my being gay."> >Indeed, last September after Rev. Jide discussed his sexuality on a BBC >television show, his 14-year-old son sent him a cellphone text messagethat >read in part "i HATE u" and "ur not my dad nemore." The two reconcileda >few days later, but Rev. Jide believes his son's emotional turmoil is >stoked in part by relatives telling him the Bible condemnshomosexuality.> >Many Nigerians say they would disown a gay child. But Prof. Macaulay,who >comes from a family so prominent that a street in Lagos is named afterone >of his uncles, tries to take a love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin approach.In a >letter to his son shortly after discovering his son's homosexuality, he >wrote, "People in Nigeria here love you and rate you high in theirlives." >But in that same letter he warned that his son's homosexuality "is notonly >ABOMINABLE but a great DISGRACE to our family."> >

To the extent that his son's church affirms homosexuality, it is "of >Satan," the father says.>So, despite protests from his wife, Prof. Macaulay supports theanti-gay >legislation. He says he "won't feel very bad" if his son winds up in >prison, which he even sees as a possible means of turning his sonstraight.> >At House of Rainbow, Rev. Jide repeatedly encounters his own family >struggle in members of his flock. "The biggest issue," he says, "ispeople >have been wounded in their family by being rejected, by being totally >unloved."> >

Another key issue, he says, is nurturing healthy relationships in "a >society that is very, very brutal" toward gay people. Gay men tend tomeet >in the relative safety of the Internet, but relationships often founder >because the men can't build a life together, says Adebisi Alimi, amember >of House of Rainbow and one of Nigeria's very few openly gay activists.> >

Fearing gay bashers -- always a threat in Nigeria, where homosexualscan't >count on police to protect them -- Rev. Jide arranged for the NewYear's >Eve service and party to be held on the far outskirts of Lagos. Theevent >was held under the moon in an open-air courtyard with a dirt floor. >Electricity, always sporadic in Lagos, kept cutting out as the backup >generator sputtered. But as midnight approached, the congregationcounted >down the seconds with gusto, then hugged and danced before resuming the >service to take communion.> >When Rev Jide announced he would offer a blessing for gay singles,dozens >rushed to him, some kneeling. "May you find a fine boyfriend," Rev.Jide >prayed.> >

Write to Mark Schoofs at> >END

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