On January 14, a communiqué was released from the meeting of Anglican Primates (leaders of the 37 independent provinces of the Anglican communion) that revealed a vote to sanction The Episcopal Church for its recent canonical changes to allow same-sex marriage by limiting its participation in the Anglican Communion.
Before the vote, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, warned that this decision would bring more pain to gay and lesbian Christians, and reiterated The Episcopal Church's position. "Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ."
Presiding Bishop Curry's statement is a welcome message for LGBTIQ people in the U.S. and around the world, and it is desperately needed. Despite The Episcopal Church's General Convention resolutions supporting same sex marriage and equal access to all levels of ministry (lay and ordained) for transgender people, many LGBTIQ Episcopalians in the United States still face discrimination in their churches.
Some Episcopal bishops in parts of Florida, Texas, New York, Illinois, and other dioceses are not allowing their clergy to perform same sex marriages. Transgender lay people and clergy face varying levels of discrimination at the parish level. Many times transgender people are not even considered for lay or clergy employment and in other cases, they face loss of employment and requests to remove themselves from parish ministries because others feel uncomfortable.
Many of the Primates from Anglican provinces in the Global South disagree with The Episcopal Church's movement toward same sex marriages, and this has been a source of conflict for years, beginning most publicly in 2003 with The Episcopal Church's consecration of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson.
These disagreements in the Anglican Communion are happening as LGBTIQ people around the world are struggling to secure human rights. Currently homosexuality is illegal in 79 countries around the world, and in 10 countries homosexuality is punishable by death. In 2015, there were 247 people around the world in prison or awaiting trial under anti-homosexuality laws. Thirty-four African countries have such laws and some countries' religious leaders support these laws, including the Anglican Archbishops of Nigeria and Uganda.
In 2014, Archbishop Stanley Ntgali, Primate of the Anglican Church of Uganda, criticized his country's constitutional court for striking down its Anti-Homosexuality Act on a technicality, saying, "I appeal to all God-fearing people and all Ugandans to remain committed to the support against homosexuality." That law has since been re-instated, although without the draconian death penalty for same sex sexual behavior.
In the same year, Archbishop Nicholas Otoh, Primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, praised Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan for signing an anti-gay bill into law.
Vitriolic religious rhetoric toward LGBTIQ people has real physical, social, economic, and spiritual consequences. LGBTIQ people in the global south are subjected to mob violence, imprisonment, and death. But there is no one religious or Christian view of homosexuality in Africa. The movie Call Me Kuchu documents Ugandan gay activist David Kato's life and work, as well as his death. In the movie, there is a scene at his funeral where a local pastor in David's community begins to speak of David, saying, "I wasn't aware of the work he was doing. Kato is gone. He can't repent, He can't change. The Lord is telling you to change. Sexuality immorality is enough. This is the prayer we ask for, the total destruction of your group. Completely! Completely! And every believer, every person that knows God, repent!"
In 2011, this scene and David Kato's death became iconic among LGBTIQ activists. Many of these accounts focused on how the circumstances of Kato's murder demonstrated the real consequences of violent religious rhetoric toward LGBTIQ people. But what many of these accounts failed to notice was that after this local pastor's remarks, David's friends and fellow activists lifted David's casket and took him themselves to his final place of rest. There, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, an outspoken Anglican bishop who was kicked out of the Ugandan Anglican church because of his support for the LGBTIQ community said to the mourners, "Please don't be discouraged. God created you. God is on your side. This is the gospel I am preaching." He continued, "We pray for the soul of David Kato.... God loves you Kato. He knows you. He brought you into the world. And you have done your work. So rest in peace."
Clearly, not all African bishops, nor even all African Anglicans are in agreement on matters of human sexuality. In the wake of the Primates' statement, African LGBTIQ people have already begun to speak out. According to the website Erasing 76 Crimes, a rally called "Listen to LGBTIQ People" was planned for January 15 outside Canterbury Cathedral where the primates are meeting. The African organization Out and Proud Diamond Group is coordinating the rally. They are calling upon the Primates to listen to LGBTIQ people and to campaign against the persecution of LGBTIQ people in their countries and communities. Juliet Akao, a member of Out and Proud Diamond group said, "We are African LGBTIQ people, many of us Anglicans, who simply want to heard. We want an opportunity to speak to the Primates. It is a fair and reasonable request."
As Christians in the United States respond to the Primates' statements, we must avoid the temptation to think that certain African Archbishops and African Anglicans are far removed from our day to day realities. They are not. They are our Christian siblings and this is a matter of life and death for them. We must resist the temptation to "blame the West" for imposing its views on homosexuality on African Anglicans. LGBTIQ people are not "western exports." We exist in every country in the world. There is a long history of sexual diversity on the African continent. LGBTIQ activism is not a "western export." If anything, the homophobia and criminalization of homosexuality is a western export.
On January 15, one day after their initial communiqué, the Primates released another statement. It reads in part, "The Primates recognise that the Christian church and within it the Anglican Communion have often acted in a way towards people on the basis of their sexual orientation that has caused deep hurt. Where this has happened they express their profound sorrow and affirm again that God's love for every human being is the same, regardless of their sexuality, and that the church should never by its actions give any other impression."
The action of attempting to censure The Episcopal Church for its inclusive stance towards LGBTIQ people does not in any way "affirm...that God's love for every human being is the same." LGBTIQ Anglicans and the countless non-Anglican LGBTIQ people will continue to suffer in the wake of the action of the Primates. For far too long, Christian churches and church leaders have been complicit in the violence and persecution perpetrated on LGBTIQ people. Statements such as the one from the 2016 Primates meeting further that complicity. In the name of "walking together," the Primates are quite literally endangering the lives of LGBTIQ people around the world.