The mystery of religion is its mercurial nature, its plurality. It is a tool that both harbors and wields incredible power. Religion has inspired the pursuit of scientific knowledge and been used as a mechanism to demonize that same pursuit. Religion has been used to dehumanize and marginalize, and has also been relied on to provide proof of and defend our shared humanity. At numerous points in our human history, it has been used to liberate and oppress – sometimes, as was the case during the abolitionist movement in slave-holding America, congruently.
This month, to the great shame and dismay of many who share my faith, religion has been used as weapon to oppress and imbrute the LGBT+ community in Ghana at large.
Same gender loving and queer relationships remain criminalized in Ghana under laws that are relics from our colonial past. Ghana’s current Penal Codes , last updated in 1960 and based on Criminal Codes written for the Gold Coast in 1892, are antiquated and out of touch with our current realities and identity as global citizens. A cursory look at some of the issues that the criminal code addresses are offenses like “sending a false telegram”, “using horse, etc., with farcy or glanders in public way, etc.” and a definition of rape that is limited to “…the carnal knowledge of a female of sixteen years or above without her consent.” A deeper look will reveal a country guided by principles out of step with concepts of African liberation, equality and restorative justice. And how could they be? These laws were written by white men -colonizers and enslavers – for the protection of their property and that of their African born collaborators – to punish anyone who threatened their supremacy. They were not created to build a society that benefitted all. And yes, like the slave trade that decimated the Continent and tore apart families, parts of these laws employ religious texts for their justification.
I first learned to hate from a prayer mat and then from a pew.
When I was a young girl and a Muslim, I was taught to despise Christians. They served a false god, a man born of flesh and blood whom they turned into a deity. It was not difficult to harbor hatred for Christians, because in their institutions where I was educated and even as age mates, they were so unbelievably cruel. Even then I could not commit myself to that hatred because both my grandmothers, whom I loved dearly were Christians. How could I despise the two objects of my greatest affections?
Later, when I got to college and was coerced into Christianity by my well-meaning boyfriend, I started going to different churches and listening to “Christian” messages on TV. Some of the themes in Islam were the same (preaching modesty for women, tying one’s value to their virginity, and other forms of misogynistic and patriarchal messaging), but it was in (certain circles of) Christian preaching that I first heard messages describing my Blackness as something to be redeemed from (i.e. the curse of Ham) and to look at Islam as the ultimate evil…second only to homosexuality, of course. The gays – who committed “abominations” were the first destined for the Lake of Fire. The two holy books I received my instruction from could agree on very little, but on hating homosexuals, they were in lockstep. For a time, I held similar views. And because I didn’t know any openly gay people until I entered the workforce, it was easy to espouse the cruelty that emanated from the pulpit one Sunday after the next. That cruelty often followed suggestions of violence, with my bishop gleefully describing how sissies should be “punched in the chest”. Oddly, he encouraged us to invite our gay friends to church. Why would you invite someone into your home to make them feel unloved and unvalued? Is that really the best way to demonstrate God’s affection? As was the case with my grandmothers, because I had developed friendships – and in one case a sisterhood – with gay women, I could not commit myself to that level of hatred under the guise of spirituality.
My experiences with faith, phobias and sexuality are not uncommon. In fact, they are endemic to our current iteration of Ghanaian culture. I say current iteration because it is impossible for me to believe that in the many millennia of our existence as Black people, we have always harbored this level of hardline, irrational homophobia independent of foreign influence. My doubts aside, there is a wealth of body of research that backs up not only the occurrence of same sex relationships in Africa, but how members of this specific group were integrated into our varying societies. What we are seeing now, with President Akufo-Addo’s sanctioning of force to close down LGBTQ offices, arms of the government and clergy inciting hate speech and ramping up attacks on a marginalized group and the general public’s gleeful braying at this chaotic performance is indicative of two conditions that keep the Ghanaian mind captive and benighted: willful ignorance and vehement denial. Our “culture” reflexively uses these as defense mechanisms to shield us from anything that makes us uncomfortable. We’ve seen it when we’ve tried to expand the conversation on mental health and/or depression (i.e. Black people can’t get depressed); the collective cognitive dissonance when our faves are accused of rape (powerful men don’t rape. Ghanaian women are just ashawos); and now – and as always – that being gay is “un-African”…and therefore any violence meted out against queer people is in the nation’s and culture’s best interest in order to preserve African culture.
There are many areas I want to explore and discuss on this topic, but there is a plethora of excellent writing being done by great thinkers that spares me that duty. So, let’s talk about your faith and the homophobia you’ve likely been indoctrinated with. How does that square with your professed love for God…as a vessel of His grace and an ambassador for His Kingdom? How does taking a hardline approach to the issue of the LGBTQ’s human rights lead to possible infringements on your rights, and have you even thought of that?
Let’s touch some basic areas you all seem to be so concerned about
What makes a family?
The definition of a ‘legitimate family’ in the strictest Judeo-Christian/WASP terms is a heterosexual household with 2.5 kids sired by one man who is in possession of a pet. As the West has evolved, they have expanded that definition to include blended families, single parents, adopted children, etc. For Ghanaians, the definition of family has always been complex. In some of our cultures, any children sired during a man’s marriage(s) do not belong to him. They are his wife’s. The children of his sister are his legitimate heirs, because only then can filial ties be unquestionably established. This reality does not fit with what your pastor teaches you on Sunday – the myopic views on family structure as defined by 17th century Europeans who enslaved you. The views that you now use to oppress others.
When I was delivering my first child, I was asked if the man accompanying me into the emergency c-section was the biological father of the child. He was not, and we were honest about that. The man responsible for the pregnancy was also the man whose antics led me and my unborn child to the ER at Northside hospital, our lives in the balance. Had the State of Georgia taken the same hardline approach to women’s reproductive rights as the one Ghana has failed to mature into, I would have had to endure not just a frightening emergency c-section, but also the loathsome presence of my tormentor during one of the most vulnerable moments of my life; because he and I fit the Judeo-Christian definition of a “family”.
Queer families are just as legitimate as the narrow definitions you cling to.
What is the purpose of your humanity?
Among the many poorly conceived (pun intended) defenses against homosexuality that have been lodged over the ages, the threat of the ‘extinction of the human race’ always comes into play. This is desperate and pathetic at best, for many reasons. 1) There are plenty of gay men and women who engage in reproductive sex, and have done so throughout the course of human history. 2) Even if every gay person was to only engage in same sex relations, their lack of contribution to the gene pool could not provoke an extinction level event. 3) What about all the other people who cannot – or choose not – to procreate? Shall we now strip them of their rights? Shall we now persecute the thousands of nuns and priests who take vows of celibacy? Why didn’t the existence of eunuchs deplete humanity’s numbers? Should we harass men with low sperm count because they cannot father children? Are you really saying that at the core of our humanity, we are only good for pollinating little humanoids and nothing else…that we serve no purpose higher than that? Jesus didn’t have children (that we know of) and He is our greatest example of a purpose filled life. Are you going to fight God for not scattering His progeny all over the Earth?
I’m glad you asked about Jesus…
The greatest Commandment
In Matthew 22, Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was. He said:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Tell me, great champion of Christ and lawfullness: How does your homophobia demonstrate a love for God? And if queer people are your neighbors (and they are, whether you like it or yes), is the violence and vitriol you spew reflective of how you love yourself…or expect to be loved?
A word on consent
As I wrap up, please do not think I do not sympathize with your dilemma, Mr./Ms. Christian Zealot. I know Paul said some things about abominations and women wearing braids and hoop earrings, and that’s got you all messed up about what can wear what and who can love who and lends to your inability to understand consent. In one of the more reasonable messages I’ve heard over my years in church, the best advice I’ve ever heard is “look to Christ”. Neither Jesus nor the Holy Spirit forces themselves into your heart or your life. Only you have the power to let them in and influence the direction of your life. Likewise, how would you possess the power to turn a straight man gay or vice versa? With the law? At best, you can suppress their rights, beat them in the streets and block access to their resources (like you’re doing now); but that flies in direct opposition of the greatest commandment of the God you claim to serve. Your hatred isn’t just irrational, it’s exhausting.
The truth of the matter is: neither the government nor the fanatical religious bodies – many of whom are financially propped up by right-wing extremist groups in the West (how’s that for irony?) – that hold so much sway and influence over it can give either lawful or logical reason for sanctioning anti-gay laws. The constitution does not support it. Ghana is not a theocracy or a “Christian nation”. It belongs to and must serve all law-abiding citizens of the country. All the LGBT community is asking for is not to have their humanity criminalized, and it is up to us with straight privilege to listen and support this fight. You cannot foretell what Foh Amoaning and his ilk might decide which aspects of your life “flies in the face of our core values” in the future, deciding that force, invasion and persecution is the proper cause to root out their arbitrary definitions of evil.
These beliefs are not always some that I’ve held. I had to grow out of a lot of harmful church doctrine in order to live the abundant life God has for me. That has included letting go of anger for a community that has not -unlike the sitting government through its fraud, corruption and ineptitude – done anything to harm me or the people I love. If you cannot find it in your heart to embrace them, then leaving them alone is the second-best course. I plead with you to try that, at least. Because remember, we all have a judgment coming, and you know you will be held to account for every idle word you’ve uttered, and every deed done in the dark.
The following links provide some context on what’s happening in Ghana now and the sudden attack on the LGBTQ community.