Before the Rev. Mote Paulo Magomba attended a gathering of Episcopalians and African Anglicans in
South Africa last fall, all he knew about gay and lesbian Christians was what he had been told by others.
“The stories I had heard before was that gays and lesbians are evil people,” says Magomba, a priest in the Diocese of Ruaha in Tanzania. “They were people who have gone astray. People who have left the faith. But still they want to be in church.”
The conference, sponsored by the Chicago Consultation in partnership with the Ujamaa Centre of the University of KwaZulu Natal in Durban, “was an eye-opener,” he says. “What came to me as a new understanding is that they are faithful people, committed people, committed to the work of the Church, committed to Jesus Christ, people who are in faithful relationships, committed for 10, 15, 20, 25 years!”
Furthermore, he says, from hearing the stories of gay and lesbian Christians, both lay and ordained, he learned that “they are doing awesome work in their churches. Their churches are lively and full of life.”
“It is better to have these stories,” he says. “That is the way we discover ourselves.”
When it comes talk about the Anglican Covenant, he says, “I’m trying to think of any time when we had very binding statements when we had very good relationship after that. In local churches, those binding statements don’t work.”
“But,” he says, “when we sit and talk and talk to each other and develop relationships, things become better. The sharing of stories would be a better way of enhancing our unity, our communion.”
“Unity,” he says, “is sometimes confused with uniformity. We want to be alike. [But] we in the Anglican Communion are in different contexts. We have the context of Africa. Of the West. Far East. Japan. All are different contexts.
“There are things that we will always agree on,” he says, “and things that we will never agree on depending on our context. … There are lots of issues that have to be decided pastorally in a particular context because pastoral work is more a theological work than legislative work.”
Dr. Masiiwa Ragies Gunda, who joined the consultation in Durban, said he participated in the meeting because “I wanted to know more about the issues around sexuality. … I wanted to explore the issues. … As a clergy person, as a theologian, I was kind of trying to get to the truth.”
Gunda, formerly of the University of Zimbabwe and currently the Alexander von Humboldt post-doctoral research fellow at Bamberg University in Germany, said it was “an opportunity to move away from abstract stories to putting faces on issues of sexuality. I could say that a lot of people felt the difference. It is easy to do without faces, but when you put faces to the stories … you could see the benefit down away from the media and the issues of political correctness.”
Both Gunda and Magomba agreed that, by holding the conference in the context of the Indaba listening process, all of the participants were more willing to listen and to learn.
“The consultation did so much … people were in a safe space so they could freely air their views,” Gunda says. The meetings made it possible for people to agree to disagree “without necessarily agreeing but without necessarily fighting. These are aspects you cannot find when this is discussed in the public domain. The consultation did so much … people were in a safe place so they could freely air their views. They could talk without saying, ‘OK, you are going to hell.’ It was an opportunity to meet, not to convict each other but to explain each other.”
The Rev. Bonnie Perry, deputy from Chicago and co-founder of the Chicago Consultation, says she learned so much from the discussions. “I heard Ragies say that frequently the Bible is sometimes the only book in someone’s house in Africa. And that people who are African read the Bible in such a way that their aspirations are not frustrated. And you know what? So do we!”
Perry says she also learned that “we come from vastly different perspectives. I also heard from Ragies say that men and men being involved with each other exists in Africa, and women and women being involved exists in Africa.”
Gunda explains that in the West sexuality is fairly exclusive, “men who are having relationships with other men and women with women. In the West, people are exclusively gay. In Africa,” he says, “people are never really exclusively gay.” In Africa, he says, men and women are expected to fulfill the social obligations of marrying and having children. “But that doesn’t stop them from experiencing that other side of them. As long as they met their social obligations, society looked aside.”
Gunda and Magomba are at General Convention at Perry’s invitation.
“Attending General Convention for me is something that I really treasure,” Gunda says, “not only as a scholar but also as an Anglican. It is something I think any Anglican would love to do.”
Magomba adds, “I think for me I have learned more than what I learned in South Africa. I have met more and more people who are lesbian and gay and very good people who are priests in the Episcopal Church and have asked them about their ministries. Their parishes,” he says, “seem to be doing far, far better than other churches.”
“I think there is something that we miss if we become exclusive,” he says. “If we become inclusive, it means you accommodate different talents and gifts that God gives you, and through that we can build the body of Christ.”
–Lauren R. Stanley