Nigeria: Why homophobic pastors should remain outside politics

By 'Tofe Ayeni

Posted on Tuesday, 27 July 2021 22:11
Signs showing the situation for LGBTQ people in Africa. (Photo by Alexander Pohl/Sipa USA

In Africa's most populous nation, a differing of opinions is a given. But when it comes views on homosexuality and queerness in the country, those of the elite take precedence. The colonial legacy in Nigeria has left the country, like many others, with a bias against non-heterosexual relations. And this has in turn been eaten up and spat out by the major religious institutions in the country.

On 12 April 2021, following an inquiry from openDemocracy, YouTube shut down the channel of late Pastor TB Joshua – one of the 20 richest preachers in the world at the time of his passing on 5 June.

The channel, which had over 1.8 million subscribers, had posted at least seven clips between 2016 and 2020 showing the pastor, born Temitope Balogun Joshua, engaging in violent exorcisms to ‘cure’ gay and lesbian congregants of their sexual orientation by casting out the “demon of homosexuality.”

This rhetoric, and even the act of casting out queer demons, is rampant in Nigeria, by educated and uneducated Christians alike.

Chioma*, a queer Nigerian woman, says although she was not religious, this decision does indeed have something to do with her sexuality. She sees these acts by religious leaders as “sad and abusive.”

Did YouTube silence TB Joshua?

YouTube’s guidelines prohibit “content which alleges that someone is mentally ill or diseased because of their membership in a protected group including sexual orientation.” As a result, the platform “removed flagged videos and comments that violate these policies.”

However, YouTube was alone in going against the pastor. Although Facebook removed some posts, many are still available. Furthermore, all videos can still be found on Emmanuel TV, owned by Pastor TB Joshua’s church, which is broadcast throughout Africa by DStv (owned by South African entertainment company MultiChoice Group).

The Group did not respond to openDemocracy’s query into whether the channel’s content violated South African’s constitution, which prohibits discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Was TB Joshua unique in his views?

Arguably, laws passed in Nigeria suggest that government administrations have taken a homophobic stance. With the high level of religion in a post-colonial country that received the British Empire’s homophobia as well as other less than ideal traits, this is not surprising.

There is a lot of hate peddled by different religious and strict rules that have no head or tail as the world has evolved

“The heteronormative preachings did push me away,” says Enitan*, another queer Nigerian woman. “There is a lot of hate peddled by different religious and strict rules that have no head or tail as the world has evolved.”

She does note, however, that “there are really a lot of people who are religious and queer, so I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive.”

In some northern states, where sharia law is practised, homosexuality is forbidden. In addition, the federal government under former president Goodluck Jonathan passed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill (SSMPA). However, this law prevents more than just marriage for same-sex couples.

The law prohibits any “public show of same-sex amorous relationship and states a punishment of ten years in prison for anyone who “registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies or organisations, or “supports” such organisations.

Well-known and influential pastors have supported the government’s homophobic views, with David Oyedepo being a prominent example. Nigeria’s wealthiest churchman, he claims that his church can cure homosexuality through prayer.

This is not to say that homophobia encouraged by religious leaders or the church is restricted or unique to Nigeria.  There are various examples from across the globe. In the US, the most famous is perhaps the Westboro Baptist Church, whose members believe their government is immoral due to its tolerance of homosexuality – they often go on protests encouraging others to ‘Kill the gays!’

The larger problem at hand

The law of the state, namely the SSMPA is homophobic; and many of the religious leaders (in this article we have focused on the Christian ones) are also homophobic.

When the bill was in discussion, Senator Ahmed Lawan in 2011 told the BBC that: “We are protecting humanity and family values, in fact we are protecting civilisation.”

He continued: “Should we allow for indiscriminate same-sex marriage, very soon the population of this world would diminish.”

Such comments from public servants, along with the passing of the bill itself, paints a picture of a homophobic ruling elite.

In addition to the Islamic Shari’a law in 12 northern states that punishes same-sex relations to death by stoning, the federal criminal code in most southern states give a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment to sex acts between men.

Pastor power

We have been seeing a trend of pastors entering or at least attempting to enter politics.

Current Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo of Pastor Enoch Adeboye’s Redeemed Christian Church of God is a good example. As well as being a southerner, his religion and sway in the country (due to Pastor Adeboye being arguably the most influential man in the country) made him the perfect running mate for President Buhari to win the elections.

Osinbajo won the election, making him one of the most known pastors in politics. He is not, however, alone.

Nigerian televangelist and lead pastor of the Household of God Church International Ministries, Chris Okotie, has run for the presidency four times.

I believe there should be a separation between church and state as not everyone wants to follow the rules of religion.

British-Nigerian Pastor Jide Macaulay, a Christian minister who is founder and CEO of House of Rainbow in London, described as ‘a safe space for the spiritual growth and inclusion for black LGBTQ+ people’ is an exception to the rule. He was willing to speak on the topic when other, more traditional, pastors refused to do so.

“The conversation about church and state in Nigeria is necessary now because people have used religion to violate the rights of other people,” says Macaulay. “It is not necessary that a Christian should participate in certain jobs if their religion is going to get in the way of that job. Unfortunately, a lot of religious people use their religion as an excuse not to fulfil or deliver their dues to civil society – which is wrong.”

After all, he says, even if the pastors believe that queerness is wrong: “The LGBTQ+ people in Nigeria need legal protection. The constitution is very clear. Everyone has a right to life. But they are taking that away from the LGBTQ+ community.”

For Chioma, religious leaders entering politics is dangerous because “I believe there should be a separation between church and state as not everyone wants to follow the rules of religion.”

Bottom line

It is dangerous for wealthy and influential pastors to promote anti-queer rhetoric. For Pastor Macaulay: “If your church is not good enough for gay people, it is not good enough for anyone.”

The situation could worsen if these pastors are able to enter political office – giving them power in both the private and public sphere.

*real names not used to maintain anonymity 

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