Monday 19 May 2014
On Saturday 17 May, St. Martin’s hosted a major conference titled ‘Living in Prophetic Hope.’ The conference was for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender asylum seekers – mostly African – who have fled homophobic persecution in their home countries; and for the allies and supporters here in England who want to deepen our commitment to ‘the sojourners who dwell in our midst’ (Exodus 12:49).
It is our own Christian churches that play a crucial role in supporting homophobic rhetoric and policies of hatred in countries like Uganda, Nigeria, and Russia. Homophobia is also still very much present in the UK. It is woven tightly into racism and classism. It feeds people’s irrational fears about immigrants, and ongoing repression within immigrant communities. And most sadly, it can be found in Christian pulpits, and in many conversations between pastors and LGBTI Christians who are in need.
The conference drew more than 95 participants – at least half of whom were themselves asylum seekers. (Thanks to the many people, especially at St. Martin’s, who donated time, talent and funds, especially those who sponsored asylum seekers and other low-income participants so that they could attend free of charge.)
We began by viewing the award-wining documentary ‘Call Me Kuchu’ (2012). The film recounts the story of David Kato (who resisted the anti-gay witch-hunts in his native Uganda and was murdered) and the story of Anglican Bishop Christopher Senyonjo (who supported David’s work at the cost of his own exile and persecution by Church authorities).
We also heard the stories of local leaders from Africa and Britain, who have fought for LGBTI and immigrant justice here in London: Revd. Ijeoma Ajibade of the Diocese of London; Godwyns Onwuchekwa, founder of Justice for Gay Africans Society; Revd. Sharon Ferguson of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement; Edwin Sesange, Director of the African LGBTI Out & Proud Diamond Group; and Jide Macaulay, founder of the LGBTI welcoming House Of Rainbow Fellowship.
After both the film and the leaders’ panel, we broke out into small groups for discussion: ‘Where do I see God at work in the stories of David, Bishop Christopher, and our leaders in London?’ ‘How is God calling me to be a prophet in my own life?’ ‘Where is God showing me hope?’
(For some Biblical reflections on these topics, see Numbers 11:16-17, 24-30 and Jeremiah 1:4-10; each of these scriptures were part of our reflection during the conference.)
The final part of the day was a powerful prayer service led by Revd. Ferguson and the Ugandan choir of Metropolitan Community Church North London. With singing, clapping and (yes, even Anglicans!) swaying and dancing in the aisles, we all felt God’s powerful Spirit bringing us together in hope and in joy.
The conference was organized by Changing Attitude Greater London and co-sponsored by Catholics for AIDS Prevention and Support, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, and a number of other organizations.
We also benefited from the prayers and support of the Anglican bishops of Southwark, Lichfield, Gloucester, Horsham, and Repton, and from the prayers of parishioners and clergy here at St. Martin’s.
As Christians, we believe that God reveals Godself uniquely and powerfully in the lives of those whom human beings have marginalized and oppressed. Let’s continue to pray for our brothers and sisters who are fleeing from homophobic oppression. Let’s continue to love and support them. Let’s continue to pray that we will learn what they have to teach us about prophecy and hope.