If there is anything the body of Christ in Nigeria is well known for, it is their vehement rejection of persons on the LGBT spectrum. This manifests in many ways, from spectacular ‘deliverance’ sessions where LGBT persons are publicly humiliated or even physically assaulted to enthusiastic public support for government legislation that targets LGBT persons and denies them basic human rights. For many people, the church’s almost militant approach to any kind of difference has led to many Nigerians leaving the fold. But things might be changing.
The Anglican Church of England has long included queer people in its church activities and gatherings and even gone as far as inducting queer men and women into its clergy. There is, of course, the Unitarian church that accepts all people of all faiths and sexualities. Much of this progressiveness has not found its way into Nigeria but that might soon be changing.
The Church of the Day of Latter Saints (otherwise known as the Mormon Church) has a sizeable presence in Nigeria and has been embraced many for their very distinct doctrines on polygamy. However in 2015, based on pressure from other religious organizations under the Christian umbrella, the church’s leadership decided to institute policies that discriminated against LGBT persons, forcing them out of the church and refusing children born to LGBT couples the rite of baptism, effectively damning the souls of the children according to Mormon doctrine.
However, the church has just announced that it is reversing many of these decisions, removing gay marriage from the list of sins that qualify as Apostasy, and granting the right to children born to LGBT couples the right to be baptized into the church. This is a big deal considering the Mormon church will now treat heterosexual and homosexual relationships and marriages the same and only require that those relationships follow Christian doctrine of fidelity to one partner and the rejection of adultery and fornication. It is also important to note that this directive is to implemented by all the Mormon churches across the world. This doesn’t mean that the Mormon Church officially accepts homosexuality, it is just that it is choosing to not judge homosexual couples and acknowledge their ‘sin’ is no different from any of the other sins the faithful struggle with, sins they are not expelled from the church for.
There is a small but fervent population of Mormons in Nigeria, and as with many global churches with Nigerian presence, the church has spread to 33 of the 37 states with an estimated 200,000 active members. This new doctrine affects them too. Will they adopt it and become a safe haven for LGBT folk looking to find a balance between their sexual orientation and their faith? Or will the Nigerian church of Latter Day Saints follow the examples of other Nigerian branches of global church denominations who seceded because of doctrines from their parent church?
We will just have to wait and see?
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.