I remember during classes our African language teacher brought up homosexuals.
The moment sticks in my head, even though we made nothing of it at the time. My mission group and I were spending eight months in a very poor, rural area of Africa. A local teacher was instructing us in the language of the country.
He was an okay teacher, but sometimes it seemed like he just picked words at random to teach us, instead of those that would be most useful. One day he had us learn the word for ‘homosexual,’ and gave us a sample sentence: “There are not many homosexuals in this country.”
“Back home in my village,” he said, “my family will kill any homosexuals if they find them out.”
We didn’t really know what to say. I don’t remember if anybody said anything. Someone might have said, “We don’t kill them in our country,” or even, “You shouldn’t do that,” but I don’t remember if anyone spoke. I know I said nothing.
We all believed that homosexuality was wrong. We (or at least myself and the majority of the others) had bought into what we were taught—being gay is a sin and God can help you endure the temptation, or even cure you and make you straight. So none of us were going to stand up for gays here. But also, none of us were in favor of violence.
We were Mennonites, sent to Africa through a Mennonite mission organization. One of the most fundamental, defining traits of the Mennonites is their opposition to violence.
It was our grandfathers who served in Civilian Public Service camps instead of answering the draft to fight in World War II. It was our relatives who fought for Conscientious Objector status to keep from being drafted into Vietnam. It is our church which counsels its young boys, 15-18 years old, how to create documents explaining our commitment to peace. If the draft is ever reinstated, we then have documentation supporting our conscientious objector beliefs to show to the Selective Service board. Some boys even refuse to register with Selective Service, even though that makes them ineligible for many kinds of college aid.
In addition to fighting poverty and hunger, the missionary arm of the Mennonite Central Committee establishes peacebuilding programs all over the world. They try to teach people how to resolve conflicts non-violently. (See page 5 of this booklet.)
I say all this to let you understand our background. We weren’t some kind of militant, take-back-the-world-for-Jesus-by-force type of Christians. We were peace-loving, non-violent Christians who quote “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you,” regularly.
We were the sort of people who should stand up against violence. Should speak out against violence. But when faced with accounts of violence against homosexuals, I said nothing.
Because we don’t support homosexuals. Being gay is wrong.
It blows my mind today to think that my sense of ethics could be warped in this way. That I could be ashamed to speak up against vigilante murder. That—even for a brief moment—I could be unsure whether or not killing gays was really wrong, or just an American value.
I think of this because I was introduced to the anti-gay law recently passed in Uganda. Following a link on that page, I read about how young gay men are in hiding in Ethiopia, where their sexual orientation is illegal. These horrors seem directly connected to Western Evangelical Christians pushing their agenda in those countries.
I have read stories of children in Africa killed because they were accused of being witches, as well. Here’s a recent story about adults who are thrown out of their homes after accusations of witchcraft. I heard about none of this when I was a Christian missionary, and I was in a country very close to Ghana.
It breaks my heart to see American beliefs hurting Africans in this way. This is not something you learn about if you are a Christian. You learn, instead, that the Christian worldview is always better than any other view. It’s better than Islam, or Hinduism, or especially the traditional African animism. Animism is darkness, oppression, and superstition, while Jesus brings light and freedom. We never got to see the darker side.
I don’t even know how to react to this. Some of you are angry at religion, and this is one of the reasons. I don’t hate religion, but I see how it can be so damaging, that maybe one can’t help but hate it after a while. I feel a deep sadness, a sense of loss, to think that my beautiful religion that was ‘mostly good’ even if it wasn’t all true—really isn’t that good after all.