A prophetic exhortation about House Of Rainbow MCC Lagos Nigeria
I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that I may be heard.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Sovereign;
In the night my hand is stretched out without wearying.
My soul refuses to be comforted.
I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints. Selah
You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak…
Psalm 77. 1-4
“Pastor Pressley, things are bad here…” Those were the words I had both expected and dreaded to hear from my friend Reverend Jide Macaulay. From the time he went home to Lagos, Nigeria to organise House of Rainbow Metropolitan Community Church, I had felt like a family member was in a combat zone. I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving as I listened to Jide’s voice. He was shaken, but physically unharmed. It transpired that Jide was in hiding and in need of refuge. Members of House of Rainbow had fled two by two throughout the city after receiving a tip that kill men and officers were on the way to their meeting place. They left in haste, leaving the space prepared for Sunday worship--a full cup for communion; a paten of bread for sharing.
House of Rainbow members have been the victims of an egregious and sustained media campaign exploiting their inclusiveness. Undercover reporters deceived the church by introducing themselves as members of the rainbow community seeking an affirming church. They were welcomed and loved by Jide and the congregation. In return for their kindness, these reporters secretly wrote and published a series of articles that were sensationalist and reckless. My colleague was referred to as ‘the so called’ Reverend, and incendiary language such as ‘evil’, ‘abomination’, ‘un-African’, ‘sodomite’ and ‘sign of the end times’ was used by pundits, bloggers and religious leaders to slander the good work of Jide and House of Rainbow. Photographs from birthday parties the reporters had attended were published, wrecking the lives of several young people, making them homeless and vulnerable to abusive attacks in the streets and markets of Lagos. The papers continued to be self-congratulatory, claiming they had closed House of Rainbow. Because my friend had to hide from their incited violence, they declared that his behaviour was an admission of guilt. These journalists published Rev. Jide’s home address (which was robbed that night), listed names of his family members, and began a public relations assault on his father’s Bible University, which has no formal links to House of Rainbow. Lives were nearly destroyed and vulnerable people are suffering. In a proudly Christian city, the opiate of self-righteousness took effect with disastrous results. Cry aloud, Body of Christ, this story is worth our tears and reflection.
Sometimes, in Christian cultures, it is as if the events recorded in the New Testament had never happened. People forget about the life-giving, graceful message of Christ. Instead, we revert to practicing a scapegoating piety where we think it pleases God to cast out people of different perspectives living in our communities. Minorities and disempowered people have traditionally born the brunt of such pious violence. Please hear me, my fellow spiritual travellers, the time for crucifixions is over. Crucifying lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inclusively minded people is a New Testament abomination for our time. Jesus unambiguously demonstrated that the era for casting out and stoning others is over. His crucifixion was to end all crucifixions, not create a church with blood on its hands.
When it is unsafe for our friends to cry aloud to God as the Psalmist does, we who can must lift our voices and cry along with them. There is an image in scripture of the people of God as Rachel, crying for her children with no one to comfort her. The harsh reality of religiously condoned violence and prejudice is that there have been times in every human rights struggle when local religion has suppressed the voices of those seeking dignity and freedom. It doesn’t have to be this way. Historically, local religion has also shown the capacity to stand bravely with visionaries and outcasts until the casting out ceases, whatever the cost. We could be living out the best of our spiritual heritage instead of the worst. In a post-crucifixion world, we are responsible for working out our life’s purpose with a belief in grace and an attitude of care and generosity. It is not our calling to be judge and jury of the worthiness of our neighbours who cause us no harm. Christ’s harshest criticism was of those who would condemn others in the name of God, especially if the Spirit was doing a new work in their lives. I was in Lagos in January 2007, and I stand as witness to a beautiful and tender new work of the Spirit alive in the ministries of House of Rainbow.
As I reflect upon recent events in Lagos, I am reminded of the night of the last Passover meal that Jesus shared with his friends. What felt like an ending became a new beginning. From that time forward, people would gather around the cup and bread, telling the story of how Love was healing the world in the midst of fear and violence, carrying the promise of Christ to each new generation. But on the night Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, I wonder if the original communion cup was left behind in the panic? If so, what happened to it? Perhaps, through a mystery of faith, that cup is the same one waiting today on a makeshift altar in an abandoned room in Lagos--waiting for the beloved community to return, waiting to heal and bring forgiveness, crying out to God for her children. Did the kill men, officers, or robbers notice the cup and bread when they got there? If they did, could they sense the cup crying for them too?
“This is my body broken for you,
My blood shed as a new covenant of forgiveness.
As you do to the least of these, so you do to me.”
The cup of communion cries out for us to value righteousness and justice rooted in compassion. Vigilante justice is not justice, it is rooted in the belief that might equals right, which we know is not true. Today, I cry aloud to God with Rev. Jide and House of Rainbow; with disappearing and executed young gay and lesbian leaders in parts of the Middle East; with women-loving-women raped and murdered in South African townships and abroad. Today, I cry aloud to God for my own ignorance and fear of difference, change, and new scriptural understandings. And I cry aloud for a broken communion. How many times will the Body of Christ need to be broken before we learn to be merciful?
I believe that Rev. Jide and House of Rainbow MCC will not only survive to worship another day, but will thrive when ‘this too shall pass.’ They carry within their hearts a Spirit-given vision of a more inclusive Lagos and Nigeria, and this vision has wings. It is part of a distinguished global Christian renewal movement toward greater openness and understanding of diversity. House of Rainbow is a new work of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. UFMCC began as a group of 12 people in Los Angeles, USA in 1968, becoming an international fellowship within three years. The Spirit alighted like a spark in the midst of marginalised people throughout the world, and they began to gather in hopeful and visionary ways to live out a calling to Christian spirituality, inclusive community, and social justice. UFMCC does not set up missions as denominations did in the colonial and evangelical past. Our fellowship has grown by invitation and local initiative. An open communion remains the defining practice wherever MCCers worship.
My prayer today is that religious leaders across the spectrum of ideologies will decry acts of vigilantism and reckless media practices that endanger others, especially when dogmatic differences are at the heart of the situation. Perhaps the saddest point of reflection on the situation in Lagos is that no local religious leader has spoken out to stop the escalation. There are differing opinions when it comes to the ethics of sexuality, but surely we can find common ground in the belief in mutual dignity and the right to live without fear of violence. To understand why people of minority sexualities and genders would risk their lives to worship, one would need to understand the passion with which we value an open communion. The cup that cries aloud for her children is the ancestral voice of the suffering Christ. From this cup of bloodshed and forgiveness, we hear the cries of all who have been kept from the table before, as well as the lament of all who mistakenly became a stumbling block for others. An open communion celebration reminds us to remember the mercies shown to us in the past, while charging us to embody the breadth of Christ’s Love so that all who are thirsty may come and drink. It is the best that we have to offer one another. Cry aloud, Nigeria and all countries, your rainbow sons and daughters are bringing you a precious gift. May our world be blessed in receiving them.
God, teach us mercy along the way to understanding. Amen.