Archbishops fail to condemn violence against lesbians and gays

By staff writers
23 Jun 2008

Archbishops Peter Akinola of Nigeria and Henry Orombi of Uganda have declined to condemn violence against lesbian and gay men and women.

The incident occurred following questions put to them yesterday during a press conference at the Global Anglican Future Conference GAFCON, in Jerusalem.

At the press conference Iain Baxter of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) from the UK asked the Archbishops how they reconciled their faith with their support for jailing lesbian and gay people, which had led to cases of rape and torture.

He also asked why they had refused to speak out against such incidents which had taken place in their respective countries.

In response Archbishop Peter Akinola said that he was not aware of any such incidents anywhere in Africa. He also said he was unaware that anyone had been imprisoned for being gay or lesbian.

When given the example of a lesbian women from Uganda who had applied for asylum in the UK after being jailed, raped in the police station, and marched for two miles naked through the streets of Uganda, Archbishop Akinola said: "That's one example. The laws in your countries say that homosexual acts, actions are punishable by various rules. I don't need to argue."

"If the practice (homosexuality) is now found to be in our society" he continued, "it is of service to be against it. Alright, and to that extent what my understanding is, is that those that are responsible for law and order will want to prevent wholesale importation of foreign practices and traditions, that are not consistent with native standards, native way of life."

Archbishop Henry Orombi said it was not possible, or the church's role in Uganda, to speak out favourably about gay and lesbian people. "The church's practice is to preach, to proclaim" he said, "so that people who find themselves in a position where they go away from the word of God, the same word of God can bring them back to life. And that is in Uganda as already Archbishop Akinola is saying."

During the press conference an intervention was also made by Riazat Butt of the UK's Guardian newspaper who pointed out that the Archbishops had not condemned the torture and rape of Lesbian and Gay men and women.

Archbishop Henry Orombi said in response: "I would not believe a thing like that is done in the public knowledge of the people of Uganda because the gay people who are Ugandans are citizens of the country and we would cherish the fact that we would want to send it our people. For some of those things probably you get information in England and we may not even get information, I don't know how they get their information."

Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jenson, however subsequently intervened.

"Can I add to that, because I think it needs to be said, on behalf of these brothers, if not by themselves, any violence against any person, is in Christian terms wrong" he said.

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Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, edited by Simon Barrow, is published by Shoving Leopard / Ekklesia on 30 June 2008.

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The full transcribed text of the exchange is reproduced below:

Responses of Archbishops Peter Akinola of Nigeria and Henry Orombi of Uganda to question asked at GAFCON press conference 22.06.08

Iain Baxter, Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.
One of the things in "The Way, the Truth and the Life," one of the key points that you've written is to "prepare for an Anglican future in which the Gospel is uncompromised and Christ-centred" But the gospel is already compromised by bishops who support the jailing of lesbian and gay people throughout Africa, which then leads to rape, which leads to torture of people and yet they are not prepared to speak out against this and change the laws in their countries.

Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria: I am not aware of any.

Iain Baxter: You're not aware of any who are in jail for being lesbian or gay?

PA: I am not aware of any.

IB: But these are the laws in your countries.

PA: But where, give me an example?

IB: I can give you an example: one woman who has claimed asylum in the United Kingdom, she has applied for asylum, her name is Prossy, she is a Ugandan lesbian, she has been… first of all she was jailed, she was raped in the police station, before that she was marched for two miles naked through the streets of Uganda, the British government has accepted this, the fact that she was tortured, and have agreed this in her asylum application, but however they are saying she could be sent back safely to a different village in Uganda and she is appealing.

That's one example. The laws in your countries say that homosexual acts, actions are punishable by various rules. I don't need to argue. Do you support these laws, or do you think they should be repealed?

PA: OK. Every community, every society, has its own standards of life. In ancient African societies we had what are called "taboos", things you should not do, and if you break the taboos there are consequences.

Alright, so in your Western society many of these have arisen but in some of our African societies many things have not arisen and this happens to be one of them. In fact the word in our language does not exist in our language. So if the practice is now found to be in our society it is of service to be against it. Alright, and to that extent what my understanding is, is that those that are responsible for law and order will want to prevent wholesale importation of foreign practices and traditions, that are not consistent with native standards, native way of life.

So if you say it is good for you, it is not good for us …. If they say it is not right for our societies then it's not right, and that's it..

Archbishop Henry Orombi, Uganda:

Can I just come back to say that, that's an example given for my country. There's very little influence to stop the legislation of a law, an institute, in practice by the church. The church's practice is to preach, to proclaim, so that people who find themselves in a position where they go away from the word of God, the same word of God can bring them back to life. And that is in Uganda as already Archbishop Akinola is saying.

I would be in trouble if I were to say to my people in Uganda that tomorrow I can officiate at a same-sex marriage in my church. First of all the church will be closed.. Two, I might even be fired from my job because the question they are going to ask me is "Have you not read the word of God? And teach us now."

Simply saying that the Christian faith that we practice, which was brought from the West, by the way, taught us what biblically sexuality is. We've embraced that faith, we are practicing that faith, and moving away from that faith would be a contradiction to what we have inherited. First of all our communities will not accept them because they will want to let them know that if that is your orientation you can come back to life. It's a possibility there. We believe there is
a possibility culturally. Secondly, we believe there is a possibility according to Christian faith. And we believe that, that God can bring you back when you have gone out of what is supposed to be intended by God. Now there is a complement in believing there is transformation, there is restoration, that makes us stand on the word of God which can bring change to people, as it has done to us over a period of time.

When we first received missionaries, way back, if we go back to 1886 we had a young man and a king and he wanted to have a sexual, homosexual, relationship with him. Now this young man had already taken a new standard of Christian faith and said "No we can't do that because the word of God says this." They paid for their lives. This man on the 3rd of June was commemorated and about a million people went to remember them. So the thing which is plain in our African society, other than government rule, it is culturally our community of faith, and where they stand is rock solid now, the amazing thing is that it is the western church that brought this Christianity to us.

We believed it, we are practicing it, and now the western church is advocating for something which is contrary to what their ancestors brought us.

Supplementary Question from Riazat Butt of the Guardian:

I'd like to come back on the question asked by Iain Baxter earlier.. I didn't actually hear you condemn at all the rapes of gays and lesbians in your countries. He wasn't asking you if you could change government legislation he was asking you whether the Gospel had been compromised by the way they had been treated. Is there something in Christianity about forgiveness?

HO: If you were for the Shogah in Kampala a few weeks ago the gay demonstrated in the country and they were not arrested. The gay led a press conference and they were not arrested.

RB: We're not talking about freedom of expression, he was specifically referring to the use of torture and rape.

HO: I would not believe a thing like that is done in the public knowledge of the people of Uganda because the gay people who are Ugandans are citizens of the country and we would cherish the fact that we would want to send it our people. For some of those things probably you get information in England and we may not even get information, I don't know how they get their information.

Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jenson:

Can I add to that, because I think it needs to be said, on behalf of these brothers, if not by themselves, any violence against any person, is in Christian terms wrong, and that the suggestion that these things occur, which of course occur in the west, it's not just an African problem, if they occur in the west, if they occur in Australia, I would be the first to condemn it.

I certainly have public condemned and will continue to publicly condemn any violence against any people and in particular gay and lesbian people. I am certain that this is, I understand, what Archbishop Orombi says and that is exactly the position and I am very glad that this opportunity has arisen for the question to be raised again because I thought it was not answered in the answers which were being given to the others side of the question. But I think I am right in speaking for all of us here and, indeed, if that were not the case I would certainly stand alone here and say it but I am sure I speak for all in saying that any such violence, any such behaviour within the prison system, for Christians of another variety, or whatever, is condemned by us.

Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, edited by Simon Barrow, is published by Shoving Leopard / Ekklesia on 30 June 2008.

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