By Rev. Stephen Parelli, Bronx, NY. June 15, 2010
On June 14th, 2010, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office hosted a day-long consultation on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and the international decriminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity with Ugandan Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, LGBT advocate, ally, and exiled Bishop of the Church of Uganda.
Executive Director of Other Sheep Rev. Stephen Parelli, a panel member of the first session, citing Mary Wangila, author of Female Circumcision, The Interplay of Religion, Culture, and Gender in Kenya, said the problem of, and the answer to, homophobia in East Africa is one and the same: religion. Citing Mark A. Noll, The New Shape of World Christianity, and concurring with Julius Kaggwa the panelist who spoke before him that Uganda is an evangelical country, Parelli referenced "The East African Revival" of the 1920s as the historical reason for the present day evangelical fervor in East Africa. Parelli said evangelicals believe in the final authority of the Word of God and that when addressing evangelicals about homosexuality one need's to understand the evangelical's starting point: the Word of God.
Parelli provided two hand outs to the participants: A critique on Ysufu Turaki's featured article on homosexuality in Zondervan's Africa Bible Commentary and "Kenyan Coming Out Stories: Creating Communities of Listeners."
Parelli, referring to Ysufu Turaki's homophobic, intolerant article as an example of how religion is the problem, said the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church and Dr. Douglas Carew of Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology endorse Africa Bible Commentary. Parelli said Other Sheep, in view of the intolerant article on homosexuality, has written board members of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa asking them to give their position on the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill and that no reply was received.
By contrast, showing how religion is part of the answer, Parelli said on May 27, 2010, Other Sheep Kenya held a discussion with Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School Apologetics class on human sexuality, gender identity and Christianity and that one student said this was her first time to learn about homosexuality in an academic setting.
In addition, Parelli referenced two seminars on homosexuality and religion conducted by Other Sheep Kenya on the cost of Kenya as an example of how education is crucial. Parelli, reading from the recommendations of the Other Sheep Christian Religious Leaders' Seminar (March 5, 2010) and the recommendations of the Other Sheep dialogue with Muslim Religious Leaders (March 6, 2010), said Christian and Muslim religious leaders in Kenya are asking for more seminars and educational materials that will address their respective sacred writings, sexual orientation, human sexuality and religion.
Parelli said that Other Sheep has distributed in Africa The Blue Book and The Children Are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-sex Relationships. Parelli said in 2008 Other Sheep conducted a full day seminar in Kampala, Uganda, on the Bible and homosexuality with 40 plus LGBT Christians in attendance. Parelli indicated the teaching on the Bible and homosexuality was liberating for Ugandan LGBT Christians. Parelli, reporting on the Other Sheep seminar on the Bible and homosexuality in Rwanda 2008, showed how the Bible, in its literal usage, as is the evangelical custom, has a far reaching impact for good or for ill.
Parelli, citing Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe's book Boy-Wives and Female Husbands as his source, said the African language has many native words that refer to same-sex sex which were in use before the white man came to Africa. Europeans brought homophobia to Africa, not homosexuality, he said. Homosexuality was there before the white man came.
Parelli read three written testimonies of LGBT Christians in East Africa whose lives were changed because of the educational materials or teachings they received on homosexuality and the Bible from Other Sheep. Parelli, quoting from the first testimonial, read "You gave me a book, The Children are Free. Very inspiring. Talk of people who have been transformed by the book . . . here I am. Kindly return to Africa . . . I appreciate your Other Sheep ministry . . . Good job." Quoting from a second testimonial and highlighting the idea of education, Parelli read, "We thank God for sending Jose and Steve to this country in such a time. We're blessed and going back to the glory that we'd left because of ignorance." Quoting from a third testimonial, Parelli read "I've been with Other Sheep for almost four months now. Other Sheep East Africa, through Rev. Kimindu, enabled me to reconcile my Christianity with my homosexuality. I've come out to my sis. … I just wanted to thank people like you for what you do. It saved this life. Glory be to God."
In the final session of the day, Parelli said the most valuable resource for the battle against homophobia in Africa is already in place, i.e., the religious leaders and the LGBT activist in the pew in East Africa. Parelli said, they are educated, they know their region and their people; they know how to work their situation. It is for us to learn from them, understand them and the strategy they would employ; to work with them and to provide the tools they require and need.