When writer and curator, Nelson C. J., went in search of church as a queer Nigerian, he found something that fell just short of his desire of an affirming church that doesn’t have him negotiating his existence as a queer person at every turn – a ‘progressive’ fellowship whose motto may well be don’t ask don’t tell.
He is not alone in the quest for reconciling faith and sexuality, particularly in a country like Nigeria; where homophobia is not only an integral part of the social fabric but has gone so far as to be written into law. Reverend Father Jide Macaulay as far back as 2006, established Nigeria’s first ever openly queer affirming church, House of Rainbow.
Established against the backdrop of rising homophobic attitudes in Nigeria, the Same-Sex Prohibition Act 2013 was initially drafted in 2006 and brought before both houses of National Assembly in early 2007.
Reverend Father Jide Macaulay, an openly gay ordained priest of Church of England was responding to this reality and the fact that he was facing the same problem Nelson and queer persons like him have faced forever – the difficulty in finding church that is inclusive and welcoming to the gay community.
Scripture as Rev. Fr. Jide explained is accessible to everyone, gay and straight alike, it is a matter of coming to it in context. Citing his favourite scripture for instance, Romans 9:25, that says ”those who were not my people shall be called my people, those who were not loved shall be called beloved in the very place where it is said to them they are not my people,” the Reverend Father noted that one begins to see their place as a queer person in the light of Christ once they begin to read scripture in the context of their full being.
It is this allowance to come to faith with the fullness of our being that Nelson found an absence of, even in self-styled progressive fellowships. Yet these fellowships are able to pat themselves on the back for their ‘progressiveness’ that allows queer congregants to enjoy the teachings of Christ without the harmful intrusion of anti-gay preaching that is common in Nigerian churches across denomination.
It makes sense too, because in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. At least they are not sprinkling holy water at you and praying on you to cast out the homosexual demon in you, but the price you have to pay for it is the erasure of your queerness to maintain the pristine outward appearance of the hip youth-focused modern church. Respectability is a big deal for Nigerians, even the self-styled progressive ones.
This demand for self-curtailing where the Church doesn’t take it upon itself to curtail you has driven many a young gay Christian away from God. “It is a sad thing,” said Rev. Fr. Jide, “young queer people are walking away from the Abrahamic faiths – Christianity, Islam and Judaism, and embracing alternative spiritual practices.”
Rev. Fr. Jide isn’t altogether averse to alternative spirituality himself. His Church is open to interfaith and interdenominational worship. At present, House of Rainbow has two groups dedicated to LGBTQ+ Muslims in Ghana and Nigeria respectively. The goal is to find community in God. Homophobic religious Nigerians feel otherwise however.
Following publications in national newspapers about his Church and the work it does in providing community for the LGBT+ community, Rev. Fr. Jide had to flee the country when death threats began rolling in like heatwaves on the savannah.
The questions that inspired House of Rainbow remain with a growing number of young queer Christians now; not only asking them with growing boldness but also going ahead to assert their right to hold on to the faiths of their parents no matter what those parents have to say about it. Roseline Akahome* is one such person.
Born into a Pentecostal tongue-speaking, born again Christian family, Roseline could see her future clear before her eyes from a very young age. She would become a pastor’s wife and minister side-by-side her beloved husband. One thing got in the way of that dream however, she loves women.
She sought the Church’s help to fix what she considered a problem back then, thanks to the teachings of the very same church. The exorcisms, fasting and prayer that followed however, only left her a traumatized lesbian.
She left the church the first chance she got and has now embraced eastern traditions – yoga, meditation and chanting, for healing and communes with God on her own terms. “The world is bigger than the constrained worldview of conservative Christians. Once you divest yourself from the certainty of your religion of birth you begin to see that there is so much to learn from other religious traditions,” Rosaline said.
Rev. Fr. Jide echoes the same sentiment when he talks about the interfaith and interdenominational worship of House of Rainbow. “There is a lot of wisdom across the different faiths and denominations that is sometimes shunned by religious communities,” he said.
While young queer Christians like Rosaline and Nelson are doing just fine in their individual journeys with reconciling religion and sexuality, a sense of community will always trump that. Rev. Fr. Jide has a message for young queer Christians when it comes to that too, “[it is what I will tell my younger self,] God loves you just the way you are,” he said, “know that you are always right. The way heterosexual people don’t have to come out and are just accepted by social norms, you [too] are made gay by God.”
There is a striking play of acronym he does with the word gay that is so affirming, “I always say gay means God Adores You (GAY) – it is a mantra I live with,” he said. It is a message he hopes young gay Christian all over the world will take to heart and find the peace they, like everyone else, deserve on earth as in heaven.