Africa / Faith and religion

Christian group expels Nigerian activist; he cites the Bible

Facebook banner for Levites Initiative for Freedom and Enlightenment

Facebook banner for Levites Initiative for Freedom and Enlightenment

Samuel Uchenna, a Nigerian LGBT rights activist whose particular interest is in working with LGBT persons of faith, granted an exclusive interview about how he was expelled from a Christian religious organization because of his firm stand on homosexuality.

This is his interview with NoStringsNG, a Nigerian website that provides a voice for the LGBTIQ community and is a partner of the Erasing 76 Crimes blog:

Can you please tell us about yourself and what you do for the LGBT community in Nigeria?

Logo of Levites Initiative for Freedom and Enlightenment

Logo of Levites Initiative for Freedom and Enlightenment

My name is Samuel Uchenna, a Nigerian human rights activist, philosopher, inspirational speaker, counselor, singer and actor. I work as a queer activist in Nigeria and currently the organizational director for Levites Initiative for Freedom and Enlightenment. Our focus is to reconcile sexuality and spirituality for all persons irrespective of sex, tribe, belief, sexual orientation and gender identity.

We provide sexuality and spirituality enlightenment, develop talents — especially in music — and promote the sexual health and religious rights of LGBT persons and other sexual minorities through education and policy advocacy.

About the current situation of LGBT persons in Nigeria today, what do you have to say concerning faith leaders, especially leaders of Christian churches who constantly preach against homosexuality?

Hosea 4:6 reads; “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” (KJV)  Jesus, who is the subject of Christian worship, in Mark 12: 28-31 maintained that love of God and man is the greatest of all laws.

Religious leaders, especially Christian religious leaders in Nigeria, have not only sown the seed of fear but that of hate and disdain for the LGBTQ community through their conservative and prejudiced stand, which is based on the six “cobber” scriptural passages against homosexuality. This is as a result of their inability to really comprehend the historical and textual implications of the cobber passages.

This approach goes against the sacrificial love that God has for all mankind by sending Jesus as atonement for humanity. There is a reformed view and approach towards the biblical texts and I do reject the biblical authority on homosexuality as a Christian.

I have a different interpretation of the texts to those who take the “traditional” view. I believe that with an unprejudiced mind and taking a non-literal approach towards the issues of homosexuality, religious leaders can study comprehensive human sexuality education and gain a firsthand insight into the daily realities of homosexuals, especially the ones within their congregations.

Leadership is a call to service, especially towards the advancement and improvement of humanity and also meeting the needs of the vulnerable and sexual minorities in our midst. Christian religious leaders should — instead of misusing the privilege of their positions to promote hate, shame and stigma towards same-sex loving persons — rather adhere and extend love, tolerance, equality, justice and inclusion, which was the core point and essence of Jesus’s ministry. Galatians 3:28, talks about us all being one in Christ.

It has been argued over and over again that there is no clear record of same-sex relationships in the Christian scriptures and, as a result, many have concluded that this implies that the Christian God does not support homosexuality. How would you address this concern?

There are about five scriptural passages, two from the Old Testament and three from the New Testament, which positively affirm same-sex persons and loving relationships. The challenge is that, like many other scriptural passages, they are interpreted literally without considering their historical and textual context; hence their true meanings and understanding are lost. I did research and documented my findings that will open our eyes to this truth embedded in the Bible but are often ignored or misinterpreted.

Painting of Ruth and Naomi by Jan Victors. Date: 1653.

Painting of Ruth and Naomi by Jan Victors. Date: 1653.

The first scriptural text affirming same-sex loving relationships can be found in the book of Ruth 1:14-17, citing the vow Ruth made to Naomi, which had been read at Christian weddings for centuries because it so perfectly captures the essence of the love that should exist between spouses.

In the book of Matthew 8:5-13, Jesus healed the servant of a Roman centurion. The Greek word used in Matthew’s account to refer to the servant of the centurion is pais. In the language of that time, pais had three possible meanings depending upon the context in which it was used. It could mean “son or boy;” it could mean “servant,” or it could also mean a special servant, one who was “his master’s male lover.” Often these lovers were younger than their masters, even teenagers. Thus, when this term was used, the listener had to consider the context of the statement to determine which meaning was intended.

In this passage, Jesus restores a gay relationship by a miracle of healing and then holds up a gay man as an example of faith for all to follow.

Also, Jesus in Matthew 19:10-12 indicates that being a BORN EUNUCH is a gift from God. Here Jesus refers to “eunuchs who have been so from birth.” This terminology (born eunuchs) was used in the ancient world to refer to homosexual men.

Some Christians confidently assume that God did not create homosexual people that way. This is important because they realize if God did create gays “that way,” rejecting them would be tantamount to rejecting God’s work in creation. In the ancient world, including ancient Jewish culture (as reflected in the Talmud), “natural” or “born” eunuchs were not associated with missing testicles. Rather, they were associated with stereotypically effeminate characteristics and behavior (just like modern gay men) and were assumed to be subjected to “cure” (just like modern gays). Moreover, as we have also seen, eunuchs were commonly associated with homosexual desire.

As a reasonably informed person of his time, Jesus would have been aware of this common view of eunuchs but, as a matter of fact, he asserts that some people are simply born that way.

Reading through the Bible, one would obviously see that there are several passages which seem to strongly condemn homosexuality. How would you tackle this and bring clarity which could possibly foster an alternative positive understanding of those scriptural texts?

There have been continuous arguments with LGBT faith community and the church over the Bible’s stand and authority on homosexuality. …The Bible is also against some heterosexual practices like adultery, rape, even casual sex. To apply the Bible authority on homosexuality, we should understand the kind of homosexual practices that was condemned rather than saying that homosexuals are condemned by the bible. It’s obvious that the book of Leviticus 18 and 20, which is Israel’s holiness code, was addressing the issues of cultic idol sexual worship. To understand the true meaning of this text, we must look at its context, both historical and textual.

Until we understand what prompted these rules in Old Testament times, we will not be able to determine if the rules should be applied to the case of same-sex persons in committed, loving relationship.

Apostle Paul in Romans 1:21-18 was clearly condemning idol worshippers and God haters. According to Paul, these “God haters” experimented with gay sex only as a way of seeking new thrills or in cultic worship. Clearly, he is not speaking about innately gay and lesbian people, who love God and want to honor God while living with integrity as who they are. The model of homosexual behavior Paul was addressing was explicitly associated with idol worship, probably temple prostitution, and with people who, in an unbridled search for pleasure or because of religious rituals associated with their idolatry, broke away from their natural sexual orientation; participating in promiscuous sex with anyone available. But this is not the experience of the vast majority of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Fundamentalists revel in the imagery of destruction in the Sodom and Gomorrah story, seeing it as a forecast of what's ahead for sinful nations. This image from the blog America's Last Days comes from the blog post "America is now Sodom and Gomorrah and will be destroyed by fire."

Fundamentalists revel in the imagery of destruction in the Sodom and Gomorrah story, seeing it as a forecast of what’s ahead for sinful nations. Samuel Uchenna says that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah “is at most about the condemnation of homosexual rape. And, as other Scriptures affirm, it is more generally a condemnation of the mistreatment of those who are most vulnerable, including strangers and members of the LGBTQ community who experience ‘corrective sex/rape’. ”

1 Corinthians 6:9 made reference to “effeminate” persons, which is often viewed as directed to gay men. The Greek word translated effeminate in verse 9 is quite broad. The word is “malakoi” and literally means “soft”. This Greek word had different connotations depending on the context in which it was used.

In terms of morality, it generally referred to something like laziness, decadence, or lack of courage. The connotation was of being “soft like a woman”. Bearing in mind the patriarchal culture of the time, women were thought to be weaker than men, more fearful, more vulnerable, and vainer. Paul wasn’t condemning men who swish and carry purses; he was condemning a type of moral weakness. “Malakoi” may further refer specifically to male prostitutes, who would have served as the receptive partner (soft, “woman-like”) in sexual intercourse.

Given your several years in the Christian faith, do you think that a gay person can be cured or ‘delivered’, to use a more suitable term in this context, given that there have been numerous gay cure claims within the Christian religion?

Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Christians poured money and muscle into promoting the message that homosexuality is a curable disorder. It advocated conversion therapy, which promised to turn gay men and women straight. In recent years, however, conversion therapy has been much maligned if not completely discredited. Almost all major medical and public welfare organizations oppose it, and even conservative Christians. It is now a known fact that the three human sexual orientations which are homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality are natural, innate and inherent in any individual.

I have had personal encounters with those who were taken for deliverance and I have witnessed a gay man confessing and denying homosexuality only to be seen months later even more gay than he ever was. Sexual orientation is part and parcel of every human sexuality. It is just unfortunate that some are wired to be attracted and enjoy sexual relations with the same-sex. Those who take their gay relations to deliverance or therapy do that out of sheer ignorance and indoctrinated prejudices. It has been confirmed that homosexuality is not a mental disorder that demands therapy or a demonic possession that demands deliverance.

It was learnt that at some point you were expelled from a Christian religious organization of which you were a member because of your firm stand on homosexuality. Can you tell us about what really happened?

A message from Praise Creations International.

A message from Praise Creations International.

I belonged to a Christian music organization named Praise Creations International, which had highly conservative views and homophobic leadership. I stayed and endured the hate messages and prayers against homosexuality, I saw members of the organization coming out and denouncing the spirit of homosexuality.  This stand was further backed up with the scriptural authority.

Earlier this year, I had an argument with the president of the organization when she quoted homosexuality and pedophilia as sexual and moral decadence. Since I could not hold my disdain at that ignorance and prejudice towards homosexuality, I tried pointing out to her that pedophiles are sexual deviants who prey on innocent children but homosexuality is the attraction towards persons of the same sex, and homosexual practice is between two consenting adults with mutual interests. As usual, she quoted the cobber passages and I was glad to discredit her with the reformed view and interpretations of those passages as well as enlightening her on human sexual behavior as different from human sexual orientation and gender identity.

Being a highly conservative Christian organization, the leadership felt that I was promoting and supporting homosexuality with my views. I was summoned to present my stand on homosexuality at the next meeting of which I did, stating that my stand is in Jesus who is God personified and his love for all mankind, citing John 3:16 and Galatians 3:28. I further advocated for inclusion, acceptance, and recognition of LGBTQ persons in the church, noting that many same-sex loving persons are of devoted service to the church but are made to either suppress or deny their sexuality in order to fit in the born-again box.

After my presentation and submission, I received series of hate comments and verbal abuse while confronting me to inquire if I am a homosexual, hence my knowledge and support of homosexuality. Since I can’t agree with them on the notion that homosexuality is sinful, I was asked to leave the organization since my view and stand is different from the president`s prejudiced view on homosexuality. Of course, I had already taken a walk before their expulsion. (Smiles).

Finally, what is your general advice to LGBT Christians who are battling with their faith and sexuality?

It is not a simple and easy experience to navigate sexuality and religiosity. LGBTQ persons regularly face the challenge to validate their sexuality among religious groups. This has led many towards low self-esteem, self-denial, shame, and hatred. Ignorance is the greatest enemy of man and most LGBTQ persons do not have the basic understanding of their sexuality, thus believing the prejudiced view and acting on such views to the detriment of their self-development and maximum attainment.

I advise that LGBTQ Christians should research and understand the Bible’s stand on homosexuality. This would foster high self-esteem, self-love, and acceptance. Again, they should find groups both online and offline that reconcile sexuality and spirituality like Levites Initiative, House of Rainbow Fellowship, Gay Christian Network, Changing Attitude and Reformation Project, to mention but a few, that would provide support and information as regards faith and sexuality. If they are in congregations that are constantly preaching hate, it is ideal that they leave such places as it can be toxic and contaminating to their personality and thus would limit their exposition to self-actualization. There is a huge difference between religion and spirituality. The most important thing is to attain inner peace and harmony with both God and man.

For many that would love to reconcile their faith and sexuality in Nigeria, through Levites Initiative we provide sexuality and spirituality enlightenment and pastoral care irrespective of sex, tribe, belief, career, sexual orientation and gender identity.  We can be contacted on levitesinitiative6@gmail.com or follow us on Facebook:https://web.facebook.com/liffenigeria/.

Resources about conversion therapy:

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