“I am a true Nigerian!”

Apparently, the state of New York has approved same-sex marriage legislation.

Even if I had missed the news online, I would have heard about it this morning when I attended church at the chapel in the governor’s office. (It’s just down from the mosque.) The bulletin contained a message from the chaplain thanking the congregation for their support at his daughter’s wedding yesterday. It added that the “perversion of the world has distorted God’s concept of marriage,” citing New York as an example. “This is a sign of the last days and as Christians we need to be cautious of these times.”

I was at the government chapel because Bishop Marcus was preaching. New York was on his mind as well. He was especially concerned with what it would make the congregation – the movers and shakers of state government – think of him. They all know about the issues in the Anglican Communion. He reassured the congregation that he thought homosexuality was wrong and that they could be sure he would not allow same-sex marriages in his church. He wasn’t polemical or offensive about it. He just said he thought it was wrong. He concluded with an emphatic, “I am a true Nigerian!” as if opposition to homosexuality is part and parcel of Nigerian identity. (It may well be.)

Later, I was introduced as a visitor from America who was “brave” enough to come to Nigeria when bishops and priests refused to. The chaplain thanked me for coming and prayed for me, making some serious assumptions along the way. “We send you as a missionary to your country to quench this fountain of sin that has welled up in your society, this menace that threatens your country. We pray for righteousness to spring up in your land and for true followers to gather around you.” I was left feeling more than a little uncomfortable but there was no chance for me to speak, nor, if there had been, was I sure what I would have said.

Lest Americans forget (and we often do), the rest of the world is watching us all the time. Our actions have impacts around the world. I saw this in Sudan last year with priests who told me how people accuse them of belonging to the “gay church.” That doesn’t change the rightness or wrongness of our actions. But I hope we spare a thought for how our actions affect our brothers and sisters around the world, who have to spend lengthy sermon minutes defending themselves.

At the same time, I regret the assumption by the chaplain that only certain kinds of Americans would bother to visit Nigeria. Why does he think that only people who toe the line on one narrow issue are worthy of visiting? The answer is clearly that this issue has become a short-hand test for fidelity to a certain Biblical “orthodoxy.” Why is that? I think that’s a question for another post.

One thought on ““I am a true Nigerian!”

  1. I welcome the comtnems about seeking and finding the Holy Spirit. I think that this is a critical area for the church in this country at the moment. The question is how do we discern where the Spirit is and has been, both in scripture and in the tradition of the church, and in contemporary experience? How do we encounter the Spirit who comes with the gifts of intimacy and of otherness, close to us to reassure us, and other than us to draw us out of our comfort zones? Thanks for this helpful blog.

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