God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does God require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8
I have been a pastor at St. Francis in the Foothills UMC off and on for nine years. I rejoined the St. Francis staff last October as a half time Associate Pastor. St. Francis is a Progressive, over the top liberal, LGBTQ friendly, justice oriented church in Tucson, Arizona. During a two year hiatus from St. Francis in 2011-13, I checked out many different churches. I had the opportunity to preach in many of them. As a guest preacher I usually spoke on non-controversial subjects such as “Imagine No Malaria”, a program that I was coordinating for The United Methodist Church. I generally preached to the choir, whether in a progressive church talking about LGBTQ inclusiveness or with a conservative congregation speaking about global health.
Preaching at St. Francis is not without its challenges. I am usually very well received by the congregation, but I wish to move folks to action with unique messages. I often score high marks when preaching to my St. Francis Family, who generally have views similar to mine. At times I wished for more of a challenge, opportunities to reach out to others not so like-minded. I wanted to preach to groups other than the choir once in a while. God has provided.
I have a fair amount of experience with United Methodist Churches and Conferences in Africa. I have visited several Africa countries over the last thirteen years. I have worked with African United Methodists here in the U.S. as well. I have been involved in developing partnerships with Africa Conferences, HIV/AIDS ministries in Nigeria, malaria initiatives throughout the continent, drilling wells and building a school in South Sudan. I led a group of 41 people from the Desert Southwest Conference to Africa University in Zimbabwe where we celebrated a half million dollar gift to endow a health science chair.
Also in October 2013, I began a conversation with the Reconciling Ministries Network of which St. Francis has been a member for over twenty five years. I was invited to apply for the part time position of “Central Conferences Coordinator.” I was hired and began working for RMN on December 9, 2013. My focus is to engage with United Methodist Churches and Conferences in Africa in the areas of Full Inclusion of African LGBTQ persons and more importantly safety of African LGBTQ persons suffering not only from severe oppression but most grievous of all, imprisonment, torture, personal attack and death.
The purpose of the Central Conferences Coordinator position is to advance the mission of Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) to mobilize United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform our Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love.
My ministry focus will shift to include a most challenging group, our churches and conferences in Africa, who are generally very opposed to full inclusion for LGBTQ persons. I asked for the opportunity to preach to more than the choir. I got it!
A study of 39 nations published by the Pew Research Center in June deemed Nigeria the least-accepting nation of the lot for gays, with 98 percent of survey respondents saying society should not accept homosexuality. Many African nations follow closely behind Nigeria in their negative views on LGBTQ inclusiveness.
AP -January 22, 2014, Bauchi Nigeria
Anti-gay violence broke on January 22 in Nigeria in the wake of the enactment of the country’s new “Jail the Gays” law and the arrests of up to 68 alleged homosexuals. Thousands of protesters threw stones into the Shariah court in a north Nigerian city, urging the speedy convictions and executions of 11 men arrested for belonging to gay organizations.
Security officials fired into the air to disperse protesters in Bauchi city so the accused men could be safely returned to the prison.
The new national law, signed Jan. 7 by President Goodluck Jonathan, provides for prison sentences of 10 years for Nigerians belonging to a gay organization, supporting same-sex marriages, or displaying same-sex affection in public. It also calls for up to 14 years in prison for any Nigerian who marries a member of the same sex. Those provisions are in addition to the 14-year prison sentences for homosexual activity already provided under Nigerian law.
The sharia court in Bauchi last week sentenced a man, 20, to whipping for sodomy, which he admitted occurred once seven years ago (when he was 13). He expressed relief that he had not been sentenced to death by stoning, as he has expected. The court said its sentence was lenient because the man had “since repented.”
I have traveled through Bauchi several times over the past 13 years. We were always cautious in this often tumultuous city. Bauchi has often erupted into deadly conflict over tension between Muslims and Christians as well as over political and tribal differences. This is also an area where the terrorist group Boko Haram operates. Boko Haram is opposed to everything western, especially the influence of Western Education. This is also an area of extreme poverty. It is my belief that people living in extreme poverty are very susceptible to the influences of radical political and religious groups, including Christian Churches.
LGBT Asylum News January 22, 2014, Lagos Nigeria
A large proportion of Nigerians draw their intolerance of homosexuality from religious and cultural traditions ranging from fundamental Christian and Islamic teachings to centuries-old tribal norms.
I question to what extent our churches and conferences in the U. S. and in Africa are involved in supporting Anti LGBTQ legislation in Africa nations that create dangerous, hateful environments for millions of LGBTQ persons. If found to be the case, the General Church, starting with the Council of Bishops must call for justice and insist on dealing with our differences in a loving, Christian fashion.
I would love to go to Nigeria to begin conversations, but it is too dangerous right now, but I look forward to having conversations with fellow United Methodist friends and colleagues in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa around safety for LGBTQ persons. I will, however be attending the Board of Directors meeting in March at Africa University in Zimbabwe. I hope to network with fellow Methodists from all over the world, and discuss the possibility of doing a workshop on LGBTQ studies later in the year if we find Africa University to be a safe venue for such an endeavor. When I was at Africa University in 2012 I had a vision to do a workshop in that academic environment that attracts students from 27 different African nations. I believe this is a perfect place to begin conversations, but we need to operate with caution and discretion.
United Methodists have different points of view on sexual orientation, same gender marriage and ordination. We need to have conversations around these issues. But I believe we can all agree that nobody should be put in prison, tortured or executed because of who they love and nobody should be punished for organizing against unjust laws. Jesus commands us to Love One another. This is the law upon which all just laws are founded.