Tuesday, October 02, 2007

From Kenya

When I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church in 1997, I knew that the Episcopal Church was "Anglican" and had some connection to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England. As far as I recall, I had no sense of there being a worldwide Anglican Communion to which I or we related. I can assure you I had no sense that I was ecclesiastically connected to churches in Africa.

My understanding began to grow in 2003-04, when the so-called Global South Primates began hurling invectives at our church. It grew much more deeply when I spent a couple of weeks in Africa, as part of our companion diocese relationship. Now, I understand better our place within the Anglican Communion, and I am coming to understand more deeply our interconnections.

Now, when I read statements saying "the Global South" thinks this or that, I am more aware that there is diversity in the "Global South."

Isn't it ironic? The schismatics within the Episcopal Church have made us more aware of the importance of the Anglican Communion. I daresay that folks on the left, right, and center of our current disputes have grown to care much more about our brothers and sisters throughout the Anglican Communion. And that is surely a good thing.

So I was stunned by this opinion piece from a Kenyan newspaper. Most of us hear a steady drumbeat from the likes of Archbishop Akinola that gay men and lesbians are "worse than dogs" and a "cancerous lump."

This writer had the courage to talk about what is happening in some parts of Africa. I was stunned beyond words at what she revealed. And it reminds me that this is not just a U.S. battle. Our church – and our bishops – should be even more concerned for the folks in Africa than for those in New York or Chicago or San Francisco. It seems to me that there is a very quiet "killing field" about which we seldom hear. I am grateful for this writer at The East African.

Unholy? Why not cockroaches?
L. Muthoni Wanyeki

The American Episcopal church has backed down to preserve the unity of the Anglican family worldwide. It has promised to exercise restraint with respect to the ordination of any more gay or lesbian bishops. And it has promised no longer to authorise the use of rites to bless same-sex marriages.

African Anglican bishops are, for the most part, celebrating. As far as they are concerned, they have won a major victory regarding interpretation of religious texts relating to homosexuality. Kenya’s archbishop has gone so far as to say that the capitulation is not enough — he is demanding no less than full “repentance.”

My personal opinion, for what it is worth, is that the African Anglican hierarchy itself has something to repent. It has proceeded as though African gay men and lesbians do not exist, even though some are also members of its flock. It has endorsed the prejudice and stereotypes about African gay men and lesbians — namely that they are both “unAfrican” and “unholy.”

The outcomes?

At the worst end of the scale, consider this. On July 7 this year, two black South African lesbians were executed in Soweto. It is believed that they were followed home after a party. They were removed from their car, taken to a field and gang-raped before being executed.

Their deaths were not isolated. Another woman, also known to be a lesbian, was killed in Cape Town around the same time. And, in line with the ignorant idea that lesbians can be “fixed,” over 10 women known to be lesbians were raped. An atmosphere of fear has been created.

That is South Africa. Closer to home, the Tanzanian Lesbian Association has had to help relocate two lesbians following the publication of a picture of them kissing under the banner: “Uchafu.”

Lawrence Mute, formerly a commissioner with the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, remarked last week, “Being blind, I know what being disadvantaged, being vulnerable, being discriminated against, is all about.” He was, on behalf of the KNHRC, one of the drafters of the so-called Yogyakarta Principles — an attempt to being together, in one document, the range of already agreed upon international and regional human rights standards that apply (or should apply) to ensure the equal treatment of the gay community (or communities).

Noting that the history of human rights is one of claim, contestation and confirmation, sexual rights are human rights — but remain abstract until those oppressed begin that arduous and long process of first staking claim.

That no less than one of the most powerful mainstream churches on the continent does not seem to understand this — or to even be willing to try to do so — is a cause for deep concern. Prejudice and stereotypes both cause and enable systemic discrimination. When they are “sanctioned” by those considered to be authorities, the logical outcome is the kind of hate crimes now being witnessed in South Africa.

LET US BE CLEAR ABOUT THIS. WE all reacted with horror to the kind of human-rights violations seen during the genocide in Rwanda. We all asked ourselves: How could family, friends, neighbours turn on each other in such a devastatingly vicious manner. What we all should remember is that all it takes is sanction from authorities of any kind — the state, religious organisations and so on. We are all capable of being genocidal. We just need to believe that we are “right” in being so.

What the African Anglican bishops have essentially said is that African citizens are “right” in their prejudices and stereotypes about African gay communities. It is thus the African Anglican hierarchy that should “repent.” If we do not stop and check ourselves, we can rest assured that the damage ultimately caused will not just be to the Anglican family worldwide. The damage will be to our own.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is the executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission

Many thanks to EpiScope for bringing this essay to my attention. I have begun to take EpiScope for granted, but I shouldn't. Jan Nunley is doing an amazing job there, gathering Anglican news from around the world. I don't know how she does it!


Blogger Suzer said...

Thanks for bringing my attention to this article. What is at the same time sad and inspiring for her courage, is that the author even puts herself at risk even publishing such a statement. As you know, my trip to Africa was to Sierra Leone, where lesbian activist FannyAnn Eddy was murdered a few years ago. I am keeping all our GLBT brothers and sisters who live in such fear -- either at home or abroad -- in my prayers. Add to that, any person who lives under fear of persecution for whatever reason. May God have mercy on us, as a human race, when we finally meet Him in Heaven.

10/03/2007 2:20 PM  
Blogger Suzer said...

Having brain befuddlement today -- hope my previous comment made sense.

I woke up thinking it was Friday today, and was hit with the rude awakening that it is indeed only Wednesday. Oy. ;)

10/03/2007 3:18 PM  

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