Monday, November 1, 2010

The Nigerian Reverend

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Reverend Rowland Jide Macaulay agreed to see me but requested that the exact location of our meeting be kept secret. Although he now lives in the UK, security is still a concern for this openly gay Reverend who was forced to leave Nigeria recently amid a media feeding frenzy over his House of Rainbow congregation.

“Being gay in Nigeria is dangerous enough” he says, “but being out and preaching the gospel is double trouble. Your hated for being a homosexual and for your sins against god. A no win situation that drives pretty much all LGBT Nigerians underground. If you live in the Muslim dominated north there is death by stoning - if you live in the Christian dominated southern part of the country then you face punishment and/or jail time if you are discovered. It’s pretty buttoned down and you are trapped..”

I am very surprised when Jide tells me that, “Even here in the UK the gay Nigerian community keeps a very low profile. Conversations are coded and highly euphemistic as to not reveal any more than absolutely necessary. One still feels the danger of betrayal and the stigma around your sexuality hangs over you like a depressing darkness. There is no escaping it.”

Like Skye Chirape, the lesbian activist I met from Zimbabwe, Jide explains that he is working towards change on a few fronts. For the Nigerians in the UK, he is building a growing congregation with his House of Rainbow church which is modeled after the gay positive Metropolitan Community Church. Although quite dangerous, there is a counterpart House of Rainbow in Lagos where worshipers meet in rotating locations. For obvious reasons, membership is small (“but growing!” Jide stresses) and attendance can be sporadic.

Jide concedes that approaching LGBT equality from the perspective of faith and spirituality has always been an uphill battle. I notice the timber in his voice shift and the Reverend instinct within him engages. “ Jesus is love. That is his message. We must remember it and we must share it. God loves all of us - our sexuality is not a criteria for admission to heaven. It is important that all gay people, especially Nigerians, learn that they are not abominations. It took me a failed marriage, a child, and years of self-loathing to realize that myself.”
“The House of Rainbow is a missionary of love and it must be spread at the grassroots level. We can’t have one life for the church and another for being gay. They must be integrated. Balanced. He pauses for a moment before continuing passionately, “it’s how we live our life that is most important. Embrace the signposts of our humanity, look after each other and never be afraid to have love in your heart. This is what God wants from us.

Jide is also working via the internet to spread his message. He hosts a website Sexuality and Spirituality (for contact info visit Reverend Macaulay’s blog) that is attracting a fast growing membership of LGBT Africans and others in locations around the world. The site provides a forum for interaction and is carefully monitored for content. He stresses, this is not a hook up site - there are plenty of those. Jide pulls the site up on his laptop. I am surprised to see so many photographs of African men. I ask about the danger of this and says it is a membership only site so there is a modicum of security. Those who post are hungry for contact so they assume the risk in order to find community. The social network is a powerful tool. Finding each other and communicating is much easier these days. The internet is a way to learn about the world and discover that we are not alone.”

I ask Jide about something I learned online recently. There are Christian missionaries from the US and Canada who are in African countries preaching that homosexuality is the devils work. In fact, these individuals have been advocating strongly for the death penalty laws against gays in Uganda. “ Yes", Jide says, "it is true about these people. But it also true that African missionaries are promoting the same hateful message. In some ways they are even more dangerous than the Western preachers because they have the confidence and blind faith of the locals. It is easier for them to perpetuate stereotypes and stoke fears about us.”

Just when I think I cannot be any more in awe of this man, he begins to talk about his additional outreach activities. Jide has spoken at the UN in Geneva, participated in Human Sexuality Forums in Africa, attends the national MCC gatherings in the US, and seeks every opportunity to represent the needs of LGBT Nigerians on the world stage.. On a continent where at least 7 other countries would prefer to see us dead , the Reverend Rowland Jide Macaulay is most certainly a beacon of hope.

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