Category Archives: Nigeria

Khanya on African Anglicans and Homosexuality

Through a pingback to my WordPress blog, which attracts a lot more readers interested in religion than my older mirror site on Blogspot thanks to WordPress’s tag aggregator, I discovered Khanya, a South African blogger who converted from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy, and who remains hard to pigeonhole politically. (That last characteristic I find most refreshing.) Khanya notes a very telling piece of historical perspective on African Anglican attitudes toward homosexuality, a perspective that seems little understood by many Anglicans outside Africa (or anybody else):

I’ve been watching from the sidelines as the Anglican Communion is tearing itself apart over homosexuality. The debate seems to generate more heat than light, and both sides seem to be talking past each other.

It seems to be a war of polemical slogans. The African “intransigence” has provoked a storm of racist bigotry in the Western homosexual lobby, with some bloggers being quite free with racist insults. The West [in turn] is accused of immorality and decadence, but very few have looked at the deeper issues.

An exception to this is a piece by Rod Dreher, St Charles Langa and African homosexuality, which looks at some of the missiological underpinnings of the African attitudes at least. Rod Dreher in turn quotes an article [in TNR] by [noted scholar of religious history] Philip Jenkins, in which he says

The Muslim context helps explain the sensitivity of gay issues in one other key respect. In the region later known as Uganda, Christianity first arrived in the 1870s, when the area was already under Muslim influence and a hunting ground for Arab slave-raiders. The king of Buganda had adopted Arab customs of pederasty, and he expected the young men of his court to submit to his demands. But a growing number of Christian courtiers and pages refused to participate, despite his threats, and an enraged king launched a persecution that resulted in hundreds of martyrdoms: On a single day, some 30 Bugandans were burned alive. Yet the area’s churches flourished, and, eventually, the British expelled the Arab slavers. That foundation story remains well-known in the region, and it intertwines Christianity with resistance to tyranny and Muslim imperialism–both symbolized by sexual deviance. Reinforcing such memories are more recent experiences with Muslim tyrants, such as Idi Amin, whose victims included the head of his country’s Anglican Church. For many Africans, then, sexual unorthodoxy has implications that are at once un-Christian, anti-national, and oppressive….

South African Anglicans seem to have been fairly neutral in the battles being waged elsewhere in the Anglican Communion, and the account above gives a lot less information than that of Philip Jenkins. The protagonists in the Anglican battle, on the African side, seem to be Uganda and Nigeria, both countries on the border of Muslim and Christian Africa. South Africa is far removed from the tensions in those countries.

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A White Nigerian?

“Where are you from?” I ask, directly, for this is what I have learned to do in North Carolina whenever I hear someone from West Africa. She answers, “We live in Cary,” once a town outside Raleigh but now a tidy upscale suburb.

But this isn’t what I mean. “No,” I correct her. “Where are you from originally?” And she sturdies herself. “I am from Africa,” only it’s more like Ah-free-ka, with the emphasis on the Ah and the ree vibrating on her tongue. Still she doesn’t take me seriously. “No.” I venture, more sternly this time, “what country?” And now she says, relaxing, “I am from Nigeria.” She draws it out: Nigh-jyyy-rria.

Tears come to my eyes and then my body warms, as if I have had a transfusion. “I know,” I tell her, I was born in Ogbomosho.” Every Nigerian knows Ogbomosho, in Yoruba land.

“Ah,” she replies quietly, as if this is a mystery, and we stand for a moment in recognition of a kinship impossible to speak. She is from Ibadan, just down the road from my original home. Her name is Joanna. Finally her husband approaches, for he is in no hurry at all; he wears one of those West African print shirts with the embroidered necks and sleeves to the elbows, and you can see his stomach protruding slightly. “Johnny,” she calls out, “this woman is a Nigerian.” I am as happy as the child was moments earlier.

So few people know me. I am white. I have blonde hair and blue eyes. I teach American literature in the English department of North Carolina State University. No one in my neighborhood would imagine that I grew up in Africa. For years, even I forgot where I am from. So I am thankful for Joanna’s discernment. In Nigerian thinking, anyone born in Nigeria is Nigerian. She may be a bad Nigerian or a lost Nigerian, but she is still a Nigerian.

SOURCE: Gods of Noonday: A White Girl’s African Life, by Elaine Neil Orr (U. Virginia Press, 2003), pp. 2-3.

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To Keep Nigeria One Is a Task That Must Be Done

On August 16 [1966], my father’s birthday, the Biafrans reached the Ofusu River Bridge which marks the border with the Western region, our region. On my birthday, August 19, the Biafrans were continuing to advance. All around, the savannahs were quiet; there was a lull in the rains. The air was as dry as a stone. Around that beautiful dining room table, I had a birthday party with our little compound clan. I was thirteen and my mother made a white cake with yellow icing and on it she placed a ceramic Siamese cat as a decoration. I wore a dress pink as a carnation. My birthday gift appeared in a small box, a birthstone ring–peridot–in an oval setting, rather plain really, like my face. I didn’t like it. I was disappointed. My mother explained that we were in a war and it was not a good time to buy record players when we were so uncertain of our immediate future. She said this to me in our living room after the party and I stared at the philodendron as she spoke, determined not to look at her or signal the least agreement. She could speak if she liked; I would not listen.

The Yoruba had finally got off the fence and appeared to be aligned with the North in its mission to keep Nigeria unified. This was a blow to the Igbos. On the radio you could hear the refrain, To Keep Nigeria One Is a Task That Must Be Done.

The next day, August 20, the Biafrans attacked Ore, putting them within 130 miles of Lagos and about 90 miles from Oshogbo where I was unhappily viewing my new ring in its box, for I would not wear it. If they reached either Ibadan or Lagos, the Federation of Nigeria would fall like a bulleted elephant. But just as Gowon was about to flee, the British and Americans intervened. Who knows what happened in Ore. We never knew. But the war turned around. Perhaps today there is an old woman in Ore who was there that day, who saw what happened when the Biafrans stopped and then backtracked. Her eyes may hold the secret.

SOURCE: Gods of Noonday: A White Girl’s African Life, by Elaine Neil Orr (U. Virginia Press, 2003), pp. 238-239.

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