So a few days ago, I listened in on a long conversation in a Whatsapp group that I belong to. Someone (a straight man) was telling the story about his friend and church member, this friend happens to be gay and somehow, word got out (still in the realm of suspicion anyway), and subsequently, the church banned him from teaching Sunday school. He’d been a Sunday school teacher at this church that he grew up in, but following the chugging of the rumour mill, many parents approached the head pastor of the church to complain about being uncomfortable with him being around their children. The pastor promptly responded by asking him to stop teaching Sunday school.
Everybody in the Whatsapp group started weighing in on the conversation, each giving his or her own perspective on the matter, with many arguing that they would feel uncomfortable with a gay man teaching their children Sunday school. Now in very un-Dennis fashion, I was mute for the most part, just observing what everyone was saying and taking in their arguments. I did this because recently, many people have being calling me a bully who doesn’t allow others hold dissenting opinions or express them around me. So I have taken to learning to chill a bit and make some sense of your argument (no matter how stupid it is), and maybe when you are finished outlining your points, I’ll pull out my ever-ready Mack truck.
Now most people in the group know that I am a left wing liberal and were expecting me to pull out my guns, but I held my peace until they were all done talking. Then I responded to all the different arguments raised. I shared a few perspectives on the issue, and I want to repeat them here for you people to weigh in on them.
First of all, I told my group members that I’m not entirely on the side of the gay man in this matter. Here’s why. A church is a private organization. It is not a publicly-funded entity like a university or hospital, which then makes it your entitlement as a citizen. A church is free to set its rules, regulations and doctrines whatever way it deems fit, and if you cannot abide by them, you find another church whose doctrines you can abide by. Asking him to stop teaching Sunday school classes was the church’s right.
The very bitter truth is that biblical Christianity (especially the Nigerian kind) will NEVER be accepting of homosexuality. So why put yourself through the agony of trying to fit into a place you will never be fully accepted and/or included as a gay man? You may sing in the choir, be an usher, hold all sorts of positions in the church, but the minute word gets out about your sexuality, watch how fast these responsibilities will be stripped from you and you will be practically ostracized. To be honest, I don’t see the point in forcing inclusion when it is not offered. This is why I only go to mass (yes, I am a Cafeteria Catholic) whenever I feel like, which is not often by the way, because there is just no point.
Another person raised a point that if the church will not penalize their members who engage in fornication, some of whom are brazen about it, where then do they find the moral high ground to punish a gay man. I played the devil’s advocate a bit and told them that the fornicator realizes that he is committing sin and can look forward to restitution, but many gay people (myself included) do not see homosexuality as a sin, therefore it’s not something to be repented of. The church is therefore within its rights to ask that you leave if you are not going to align with its doctrine. Which again is why I say, sit in your house and pray by yourself if you must, because hypocrisy and double standards live in the church.
Now it often seems that people blur the lines between homosexuality and pedophilia so much that they cannot tell them apart. When a man abuses a little boy, the media often runs with the headlines: “Homosexual man abuses little boy”, and the Homosexual part is what screams at you and eventually what you take away from the article, which really is how propaganda works. While this conversation was still going on, a girl remarked that when she ran the children’s department in her church, they had a very effete male teacher whose sexuality she wasn’t sure of and really didn’t mind because he was exceptionally good with children. However she said that a parent later came and complained to her that her son had started behaving like a girl ever since he joined that class in the children’s church and she was afraid that the said teacher was influencing the boy. The girl used this analogy to buttress her opinion that children are impressionable and can easily glean things. She also continued that many boys who were abused by older men eventually become gay, opining that it was the abuse that turned them gay.
I later started debating this issue with one of the group members outside the group. (He knows I’m gay). His reasoning was that Nigeria is extremely homophobic, so gay people are often loners and are often not able to find sexual partners, so they turn to children to satisfy their urges because they can easily influence the children. I laughed and told him that that was the dumbest argument I’d ever heard in a long time. First of all, gay people do not necessarily find it very hard to meet people in Nigeria. Maybe 20 years ago, but not now. The social media and technology has changed all that. I told him that I am a gay man, and what that means is I like MEN. I like a man’s body and a child does nothing for me (you people should not make any silly jokes about twinks o, I have never shagged anyone below 19). In fact, the American Pediatric Association has put forward data showing that there are way more heterosexual pedophiles/predators than homosexuals. So this propaganda about children not being safe around gay people is just disgusting and puerile, because homosexuality is homosexuality and pedophilia is pedophilia. They don’t necessarily mix.
Now, back in the group, another person said that she believes that people do not chose their sexuality, and so gay people really have no choice in the matter, but that they also don’t have to act on their feelings since the bible has condemned it. I told her she was right somewhat; being gay and having sex with people of the same gender are not always the same thing. You can be gay and not be sexually active. However, what is very sad about this is that the church is against gay marriage, and we know that the church insists that sex outside of marriage is wrong. Now the heterosexual person can abstain from sex, get married and finally acquire the biblical license to have all the sex he/she wants. What happens to the gay person? You will not allow them get married and yet you insist that for you to accept them, they should not explore their sexuality even if they feel it. So they should just keep quiet and sit in the pews and be grateful that you even allowed them into church and not ask for anything more? Is this a fair thing to ask of gay people?
I recognize that religion plays a strong role in our lives and sometimes, it centers us and helps us not lose our minds in a crazy world. However, I really won’t throw myself so deep into something that will never accept me, something that will ask me to become another person so that I can be allowed in. I am not making a case for atheism and all what may; I am even too lazy to be an atheist (too much reading is required and I don’t have power abeg). However, churches have a right to their doctrines and rules of engagement; so ask yourself a question: “Why am I unnecessarily putting myself through torture to be let into a place where I will never be accepted the way that I am?”
PS: I used “Church” here in the Nigerian context, because I realize in many countries, there are churches that embrace and accept LGBT people.
Also ‘Cafeteria Catholic’, is a phrase I saw Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (one of my personal deities) use, which she says describes a person who is fundamentally Catholic but disagree with many doctrines of the Catholic Church.