24 November 2013

Nigeria: The Gay Challenge

Recently, U.S. President Obama expressed support for same-sex marriage. This endorsement, coming from the most powerful leader in the world, brought the issue of homosexuality back to the front burner of public debate across the globe. The Nigerian senate has since outlawed same-sex marriage and reaffirmed the illegality of homosexuality and sodomy under Nigerian law. This came against the background of the increasing prominence of gay activists backed by international sponsors seeking recognition of sexual minorities and advocating the decriminalization of homosexuality and legalization of same-sex marriage. Some western nations led by Britain have threatened to suspend aid to African countries like Nigeria where homosexuality is criminalized. Opposing activists have denounced this as cultural imperialism - an attempt to impose western style permissiveness and licentiousness on African societies. More than ever before, there is a cry for freedom of individual expression.

Whereas the gay subculture was previously firmly locked away in the closet, now there are more overt attempts to present it as a legitimate alternative lifestyle. The Nigerian entertainment industry is currently filled with stories of homosexual liaisons. News of gay clubs and even gay churches in Lagos abound. For Christians, homosexuality is a strong issue because in recent years, there has been intense debate over the ordination of gay clerics in some denominations, notably, the Anglican Church. Significantly, the resistance of bible-believing Anglicans to this move was led by Nigerian Anglicans in concert with like-minded bishops. Christian activists oppose homosexuality on the grounds that the bible defines it as a sin, and that it runs counter to African values and threatens the sanctity of marriage as an institution designed for propagation and nurturing of children. Thus, Christian activists were very vocal supporters of the bill outlawing same-sex marriage. But homosexuality remains an issue that needs addressing because it is a fact of our society and our congregations. Stories of homosexual church members are now commonplace and this represents a test case of how Christians can demonstrate compassion for sinners in their midst while firmly addressing sin. The first point is that there is a Christian way of addressing the issue that is completely different from the society's knee-jerk resistance to homosexuals which, is steeped in revulsion and fear. Much of the revulsion that we feel towards homosexuals may simply reflect our own prejudices in terms of the kind of immorality that we are comfortable or uncomfortable with. Often, that which is not your sin is outrightly condemned. However, Christianity entertains no hierarchy of sin. Homosexuality is sin before God. But so is pride, adultery, stealing and lying. The demand for holiness is a call to heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. Heterosexuality should not amount to any sort of moral superiority.

Homosexuality has to be addressed on two levels - the individual and the social. On the social level, Christians are well within their rights to resist the global gay lobby. We must find ways to stand down the vocal activists backed by influential benefactors promoting a liberal agenda through politics, popular culture and civil society. Christians can and should resist any attempt to elevate homosexuality from a sexual orientation to the status of an acceptable alternative lifestyle. These days, there is a tendency to define the homosexual as a social category in the population. Christians should certainly oppose attempts to debase the family institution of man and woman as the foundation of family. We must resist attempts by the gay lobby to define our voices as prejudice, force Christians and their position into the closet in a matter that God so clearly identifies as sin. On the individual level however, homosexuality has both moral and psychological dimensions. The moral aspect consists of deliberate choices, lustful thoughts or sexual acts, all of which constitute homosexual behaviour. The psychological aspect is more complex and entails factors and events in early childhood that condition an individual to try meeting the perfectly normal need for love through abnormal homosexual relationships.

Christians often fail to appreciate the psychological aspects of homosexuality and prefer the comparatively simpler approach of defining it simply and solely as sin. It is. But much is left unsaid regarding the impact of environmental factors on the development of sexual orientation. Many homosexually-oriented men enter relationships not just for sex but to fulfill their deep psychological needs for unconditional love and a sense of identity. The sexual component of these relationships is only incidental at first. The deeper desire is a search for love and affirmation. Psychologists call this the sexualization of needs - the definition of sex as the answer to all emotional and psychological needs. Early childhood experiences of parental rejection or sexual abuse also serve to trigger homosexual orientation. In many cases, homosexuality is a rejection of repressive authoritarian fatherly figures where masculinity is defined in terms of a stern, brawny macho men. In such environments, boys with sensitive and emotional temperaments are often derided as being weak, effeminate and become targets of bullying and abuse both at home and at school. In many of these cases, the experience of a physical and psychological abuse by male authority figures may lead to a rejection of maleness by the young and timid boy. He simply does not want to be a man.

Homosexuality in other situations is a search for authentic fatherhood and brotherhood. This places a great responsibility on us as parents to create warm home environments in which children receive affirmation and unconditional love. In some instances, especially in cultures where sons are esteemed more than daughters, parents who want male children and have female children instead may treat them like boys or worse, project their resentment and rejection on their daughters. The daughters may grow up struggling to be the sons that their parents always wanted, despising their femininity while distorting their relationships. This potentially leads to gender identity confusion, trans-sexualism or lesbianism.

From these cases, it is clear that a healthy sense of self, nurtured in a climate of generous affection and parental affirmation are essential to constructing healthy relationships. These distorted relationships often flow from the search for unconditional love, and because unconditional love is God's province, it places a greater demand on Christians towards homosexuals. We must take on the responsibility of emissaries of God's love. Homosexuals and lesbians are, above all else, wounded souls needing fellowship and counseling. Sexuality is not a well-discussed topic in church but the homosexuality challenge calls for creative and compassionate forms of engagement. Ultimately, how well we engage the question of homosexuality depends on how well we are able to balance activist passion with Godly compassion.

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