Recently, the Vatican’s doctrinal office issued a ruling reiterating that catholic priests aren’t allowed to bless same-sex unions.
“God does not and cannot bless sin,” the edict said.
This came as a response to multiple dioceses across the world sending in questions on whether they were allowed to bless same-sex unions after a documentary apparently showed Pope Francis saying that he supported same-sex unions. And once again queer catholic all around the world found themselves stuck with the rejection of a religious organization they consider a spiritual home. It is not a new feeling. The Catholic Church is known historically for its well-coordinated, well-funded opposition to any advance in the rights of queer people. Over the past week, as the government of Ghana, egged on by the mainstream press, has cracked down on queer activists in Ghana, the Catholic Church in Ghana has been prominent supporters of this crackdown, calling on the government to close down the LGBTQ+ office and to condemn homosexuality and queer rights advocacy.
“We also urge the Executive and the Legislature never to be cowed down or to succumb to the pressure to legalize the rights of LGBTQIs in Ghana,” The Ghanaian Council of Catholic bishops said in a public statement.
In Nigeria too, the Catholic Church has been busy. In 2014, after former President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same-sex Marriage Prohibition Act into law, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) welcomed the law, thanking President Jonathan for his “courageous and wise decision.”
Other denominations of the church have not been left out, nor have Muslims. From Ghana to Uganda to Tanzania to Morocco and Nigeria, religious organizations of both Christian and Muslim adherence have been steadfastly committed to preserving a queerphobic social and legal environment, one that pushes queer people into the shadows and preserves cisheteronormativity.
Africans are overwhelmingly religious. Due to the history of colonization, this religious affiliation tends to either be Christian or Muslim. But it has become overwhelmingly clear that these established churches and mosques are not only unwilling to recognize the humanity of queer people and the validity of our sexual and gender identities but that they are committed to waging a war against the well-being of our community.
So for the African queer individual, it becomes a burning question. How do you reconcile religious faith with a religious establishment drenched in bigotry and committed to queer persecution? How do you love and worship a God when his Priests and Imams are saying this same God will torture you for being who you are? When from every quarter, other faithful are telling you you cannot be a child of God and be yourself at the same time? We irreligious people largely ask the same question of our queer siblings. How can you worship a God that hates you? We Ask. Is it possible to be a Christian or Muslim and queer? Is it possible to believe in and love a God who does not accept the validity of your existence? Are both not inherently contradictory?
To honestly answer these questions, we must first look at how religious belief works. It is a personal condition, one that is not accepted or shirked by sheer willpower. Let’s do a simple experiment. If you believe in God, try for the next minute NOT to believe in God. Or if you do not believe, try in the next minute to believe in their existence.
Did it work? Were you really able to change what you truly believed simply because you wanted to? My guess is no.
It is important to start here because to answer this question we must recognize the nature of queerness and the nature of religious belief. Queerness is inherent, and belief(or lack therefore) in a God, is not. Nevertheless, both are not something an individual can decide to drop when they decide it is inconvenient. Whereas there is the possibility of losing one’s belief, it is not something that happens by just sheer will.
With this settled, we must then understand that “God” is political. Who she/He/Them is, has always been fiercely personal and at the same time fiercely political. It is important to contextualize the current mainstream religious adherence and the claim to God as being informed by cisheteronormativity. The plane of mainstream religious faith in our society, like everything else, is ordered around cisheteronormative conformity. Cisheteronormativity inexplicably dictates which path mainstream religious doctrine must follow. It engenders an entitlement to the very idea of who God is. Under it, God as a being must be the God of the heterosexual and the cisgender. He(Yes, apparently He is a He) must be a God of vengeance, a God that punishes autonomy, that burns unrepentant offenders in an eternal hell, and demands heterosexuality, cisgenderism, monogamy, and purity culture.
As society has evolved, many edicts of this construct of “God” which are no longer convenient. As with everything under a capitalist dictatorship, an unequal society where the power to influence culture is denied to the marginalized, these changes have been decided along the comforts of the ruling class. That is to say, men. Specifically, classed, cisgender, heterosexual men. They have enjoyed the power to not only define faith but to force this absolutist definition on all of society and through doing this, have shaped God in their own image. For instance, in how many Nigerian churches will you hear that Jesus said that it would be easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God? In how many Nigerian mosques will you hear that there should be no compulsion to religion?
Even as organized religion has evolved, it has done so along the planes of facilitating wealth accumulation and a world order where the capitalist ruling class keep the masses in their place.
The claim that queerness is incompatible with religious faith is one that concedes the nature of God himself to the dictates of cisheteronormativity. Even though belief isn’t something you can just change on a dime, people expect queer people to do exactly this because the alternative, that queer people have just as much a right to God, is too much to swallow in a world so beholden to cisheteronormativity as ours. It basically, concedes God as the property of cisgender-heterosexuals. If queer theists advance a different more loving theology, then it is them changing the “real” nature of God. In fact, this is considered a slight against the sensibilities of CisHet theists who fully expect queer people to defer to them on the very definition of who God is. Relationship with God can be personal, except when it doesn’t follow the same guidelines set out by bigoted religious institutions like the Catholic Church and fundamentalist mosques.
Make no mistake, it is necessary that we discuss the harm that lies in belonging to these bigoted religious organizations and supporting their progress with our own individual labour and resources. Especially in the African context where this support is funnelled into campaigns to oppose queer liberation and women’s autonomy. As queer people committed to queer liberation, we must always remember to recenter ourselves, in all spheres of life, including when the question is faith. We have to follow a path that is healthy for our own personal development, not subject ourselves to psychological and verbal abuse in a quest to remain faithful to the flock.
But this doesn’t mean that queerness is incompatible with the belief in God, even the Christian and Muslim ones. What it means is that it is necessary to also understand that no sphere of society is immune from the violence of heteronormativity, not even the house of God. Even as mainstream religious organizations have maintained a definition of God that hates queer people, queer theists must develop one that does the opposite – that rejects this hateful definition, and reiterates one that is accepting of queer people. In the end, God must be THEIR God, not the God constructed by cisgender-heterosexuals. And their faith must be authentic to them, one that is liberational and self-affirming. Because the development of self-liberating theology is a right that every believer deserves, especially queer believers.
(Image by Medium)