BTM Correspondent Melissa Wainaina spoke to Reverend John Makokha CEO of Other Sheep Afrika (Kenya chapter) about religion, prejudice and sexual minorities.
The following are excerpts from that interview:
Please tell us about Other Sheep. Who are you and what is your core mission?
Other Sheep is a concept with a theological implication from the Bible. John 10:16 has a narrative of inclusiveness and non-discrimination of all persons under the shepherd hood/watch/care of God.
Hence, “other sheep” are the marginalized group of persons in any given society due to a given code of holiness, puritanism and religious moralism in any historical context.
Other Sheep Afrika-Kenya is a faith based non-profit organization that has a focus on LGBTI issues in Kenya so as to reduce religious homophobia, transphobia and hatred. Our vision is to create a community where there is non-discrimination and protection of the marginalized on the basis of sexuality, gender identity and human rights.
Our mission is to restore human dignity, social justice, hope and purpose among LGBTI communities in Kenya.
Tell us a little about some of the prejudices in church and in society that sexual minorities face in Kenya?
We need to understand that the issue of homosexuality threatens to fracture religious institutions and denominations, as the issue of slavery did more than 150 years ago.
The official church has promoted the view that the Bible condemns homosexuality. It is an abomination since homosexuality violates scripture. Homosexual behaviour is mentioned in seven texts of the Bible; four in Hebrew scripture and three in the New Testament. This has escalated religious homophobia and transphobia in Kenya, regionally and globally.
The thinking by the official church is that you cannot be gay as well as Christian.
The church in Africa is entangled in theological and moral controversy citing biblical passages that indicate homosexuality as sin and a crime against humanity and God.
Rejection and stigma perpetrated by the church and the society since homosexuality is seen as a Western import and therefore un-African. Indeed isolation and social stigma associated with being gay can be emotionally a huge challenge since it provokes guilt and anxiety.
In what ways does Other Sheep Kenya intervene?
We have been training religious leaders and laity on “What the Bible really says about homosexuality- and what the Bible does not say about homosexuality” in Kenya.
In Biblical times, the Israelites did not think about sexuality in terms of sexual orientation, identity or behaviour; those concepts have been developed and understood only within the past hundred years. Jesus’ central message was of love, reconciliation, and mercy. Christ has a bias for the poor, the unloved, the marginalized, and society has its own mind about those whom it sees as not “fitting in”.
We have been doing capacity building programs both for the religious leaders, LGBTI and parents/friends of gay and lesbian to understand the science of sexual orientation. This is done through dialogue on issues of gender identity and human sexuality, human rights and faith. We also distribute researched materials and showing video clips on real narratives of LGBTI persons so that the church and society can understand their perspectives.
We are using the method of dialogue as a culture of managing diversity of sexual identities; training both religious leaders, human rights activists, civil society leaders and policy makers. Dialogue is a self-enhancing alternative to debate, argumentation, apathy and rejection.
So Reverend, what made you choose to do what you do?
Mine is a calling from God to reach out to the marginalized, rejected and stigmatized group of persons in the community, LGBTI being the major emphasize.
My role model is Jesus Christ who identified with harlots, tax collectors, the diseased and maimed, outcast and poor. These were the marginalized and rejected in the Jewish culture of the time.
Jesus refused traditions that excluded and condemned people.
Secondly, since my youth I have witnessed and met LGBTI persons in my village, schools/colleges, church and work places who are living in the closet, fear, confused and some even taking their lives because of what they are.
I have also experienced religious leaders who have promoted discrimination and hatred towards LGBTI through their selective interpretation of Biblical texts on homosexuality. My purpose is to correct this scenario so as to reduce religious homophobia and transphobia towards the wonderful children of God who are LGBTI.
What challenges have been faced?
We lack adequate financial and material resources to implement more programs so as to achieve our goals.
There is also a serious challenge registering Other Sheep Afrika-Kenya with the government of Kenya because some government officials have raised homophobic flag.
Most of the religious leaders we have trained as allies fear coming out openly in support of LGBTI for fear of losing their income from fundamental top church leaders.
Evangelical fundamentalists from the USA who have been promoting homophobia in Africa are another challenge. They come with huge amounts of money to fund crusades that preach against gay persons.
There is the cultural perspective in which is often held that homosexuality is essentially a western society ‘disease’. This perception leads to the notion that gay and lesbianism is still remote and should not be given a priority in the area of advocacy in Africa.
The death of David Kato and violence around homophobia in Uganda has forced gays and lesbians in the region to live in secrecy and social exclusion.
Most of the media have been reporting negatively about LGBTI persons/activities due to ignorance.
Our politicians have also been using homophobic statements to whip up public emotions and support. This has gone a long way in undermining the work we have already done.
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