“Are black churches homophobic?” Yes. When Jide answered this question during our interview he looked at me dead in the eyes. He was calm, articulate and clear in what he had to say. There was no mincing of words as he was simply speaking from his personal experience. You see, Rowland ‘Jide’ Macaulay is a Black, Nigerian, Born-again Christian who openly admits to being gay. He is also an ordained reverend; a man of the cloth. He was once rooted in the Pentecostal church but left the flock disillusioned by the exclusive nature of its congregation. Now aged 40 and living in London , Jide is comfortable accepting who, he believes, he is - an African, gay Christian; a child of God.
The subject of homosexuality is rarely addressed in churches today, even more so the topic of gay/lesbian Christians. Most ministries refuse to accept that lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) individuals can be Born-again Christians. The belief is you cannot profess to walk with Christ if you make a conscious decision to walk in ‘sin’. From many church pulpits there is constant reference to Biblical scriptures like Sodom and Gomorrah which they say illustrates the consequence of this ‘chosen lifestyle’. These sentiments are also echoed in the lyrics of some well-known Gospel songs.
Whether you agree with this or not the fact remains that LGBT communities are often condemned to ‘fire and brimstone’ damnation and ostracism. They are seen as the ultimate of all sinners – ahead of the adulterers, idolaters and gossipmongers. There have even been extreme cases of this 'non-acceptance' with arson attacks on gay-welcoming churches – one such example in Hawaii a few years ago, as reported on 365Gay.com.
The irony of the matter is that the hatred towards LGBT Christians is more likely to come from the black church which was once oppressed by the white community pre-civil rights days. Yet despite this history, the perceived bigotry from the black congregation remains and Jide’s experience is testimony to that.
“When I was growing up, there were no role models and no education about being gay,” explains Jide. “The church was the last place to raise this issue for fear of victimisation, isolation and exorcism. It is commonly said in Africa that ‘It is better to have the corpse of my child, than for me to accept that my child is gay’. Most families believe it is an abuse of traditional values and a sign of western sexual corruption and immorality. Some people even believe it’s a disability or result of occult activity.
"My father is a pastor and bible school lecturer and I was more afraid of his reaction than I was of God, which is not right. I was always aware of my sexual orientation and that I was attracted to boys and as a child I prayed to God to remove this feeling from me. It was a confusing time and I had so many questions in my mind. 'Was it a sickness? If I got married would I be healed?'" Although he grew up in a Christian household, Jide re-dedicated his life to Christ and eventually joined a London Pentecostal church. It was there that he met a woman and after years of dating got married and had a son. Jide’s commitment to God led him to do a Masters degree in theology and was later ordained as a reverend in 1998. He also produced a book called Poetry Inspired in 2001 and carried his poetic ministry across the waters. But despite having a ‘normal’ life he was battling with his sexual orientation and eventually engaged in sexual relations with a man.
“I knew I had to separate from my wife at this point which was a painful, painful experience,” says Jide. “I told her everything. But it really got bad when she told the family and when the church got to know. However the important issue was my child. My sexual orientation has nothing to do with being a good father.”
Jide explained that the ‘out of the closet’ experience was also a battle of religious beliefs and cultural identity. He still loved the Lord but didn’t know of any support systems and so he looked for help in the gay community.
“I didn’t like myself and I wanted to be a whole person,” Jide explains. “However, I found a black gay and lesbian Christian fellowship in South London which I had visited before. They introduced me to the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) and I started to go there in 2002.”
Today, Jide is a part of the ministerial clergy of MCC North London. The church, which has many branches around the world – including parts of Africa – opens its doors to marginalised groups particularly the LGBT community.
“MCC is about Christians winning souls for Christ. It's an inclusive congregation where as many mainstream churches are exclusive. I think the Pentecostal church needs to be honest and realise there is a ministry for the LGBT community. There is also a need to look at the interpretation of the Bible, moral teachings and not to be judgemental.”
Jide’s ‘openness’ suggestion has also been echoed by religious leaders (including Rev Al Sharpton) who attended the Black Church summit in Atlanta, USA, in January. Its focus was on homophobia in the black church and the summit concluded that there is a need to have an open discussion on how to deal with the matter – especially as ‘in the closet’ lesbians and gays are already in church, not just in the choir, but in leadership positions and in the pulpit.
What does the future hold? God only knows. But Jide hopes things will change even though his siblings and father still refuse to accept who he is. “The future? Well, I want to be in full-time ministry, write books, plant churches in Nigeria and reach out to other LGBT Africans. I will also continue being a father to my son and even though I’m single I would love to get married one day!”