Are Africans Grown? A Response to Bishop Minerva Carcanó “Dealing with ‘Wounded’ United Methodist Church”

Francine Tshisola, a delegate from South Congo, listens to a translation during opening worship at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, OR.Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

Francine Tshisola, a delegate from South Congo, listens to a translation during opening worship at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, OR.

by Yoknyam Dabale*

The proverbial wisdom of my ancestors the Yotti/Bali (Chamba) people of Middle-belt, Nigeria teaches us to, “Kiti da mang mpape” (look before you jump). The United Methodist Church just opened its 2016 general conference. This event brings together Methodists globally every four years to fellowship and assess the church’s mission in the world.

Bishop Minera Carcanó (USA) wrote a wonderful summary of the previous general conference held in Tampa Florida. Carcanó outlined her frustration with the decision making body of the church for its lack of empathy towards marginal members: women, people of color, and most importantly homosexuals.

However, she spoiled her commentary when she condescendingly directed her ire at African delegates who declared their opposition to homosexuality. According to Carcanó, Africans ought to “grow up.” Contrary to her profession of love and support of marginal members of the church, she dehumanized the very “wounded” Methodists she purports to champion.

Many Africans, as Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti puts it, suffer from, “colo[nial] mentality.” Many of us, whether on the continent or in the diaspora, see ourselves through the lens of whiteness. This distorted self-reflection dating back to colonialism and slavery, is evident in how we interpret biblical texts. For example, most Africans teach their children that Jesus and other biblical characters are muzungu (Kiswahili, “white”) notwithstanding the fact that Jesus would likely have been dark complexioned because he was born in the Middle East.

Pre-colonial African societies valued heterosexual relationships over homosexual relationships because they are communal based. A family does not live in isolation; their survival is the collective responsibility (Kiswahili “ujima”) of the whole community. Heterosexual relations were also favored because there was (and is) a strong emphasis on having children, something that homosexual couples could not do biologically. From the African point of view, institutionalizing homosexuality prioritizes individualism, a western prerogative, not necessarily palatable for the African context.

Although many heterosexual relations were favored in pre-colonial Africa, gender expectations were flexible enough to embrace non-normative individuals. For example, my grandmother coached young boys on handling pain during their participation in rites of passage ceremonies. And amongst some African groups a barren wife can “marry” a woman. The children born during this symbolic “marriage” belong to the family of the barren wife.

Christian missionaries from Europe suppressed gender flexibility in Africa. Consequently, the Christian missionary imposition of rigid gender roles informs how many African Christians respond to sex and homosexuality on the continent. Western evangelicals have made a bad situation worse. For example, Uganda’s “Kill the gays” movement had the backing of Americans such as Rick Warren and Scott Lively.

As the world debates the complexities of sexuality. I urge Africans to participate in this global dialogue by digging deeper and build on their indigenous philosophical concepts. The Akans of Ghana, West Africa instructs us to Sankofa (go back and fetch). Africans must use their best ideas from the past to go forward. They cannot continue depending solely on colonial methods or allowing non-Africans to dictate our outlook on morality. African views on homosexuality must be informed by the experiences of African people.

 

Yoknyam Dabale in Traditional African Wear*Yoknyam Dabale is a scholar of African Traditional Religions, Pan-Africanist, Environmental and Gender Rights Advocate. She currently lectures at Knox College in Galesburg, IL

 

 

 

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3 Comments on "Are Africans Grown? A Response to Bishop Minerva Carcanó “Dealing with ‘Wounded’ United Methodist Church”"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao
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As an Asian who is the former Bishop of the affiliated autonomous Methodist Church in Malaysia and Singapore. I, like you, value our status of Post Colonial Christian. Far too long we have been dominated by the colonial mentality or in our case of orientalism and let western culture define us. We too suffer from seeing reality through white colored lenses. Homosexuality was never an issue in our human relationships in Asia. You have identified individualism of Western culture as the cause. It is much more than that. Because the majority of us are heterosexual we of course favored heterosexual… Read more »
WHM
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How very condescending. You don’t think they are thinking for themselves now and you want to replace colonialism with white western liberalism. How very sad.

Gilbert Caldwell
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Professor Dabale “opens the door” to conversation that could transform the 2016 General Conference. African voices free of the impact of western conservative Christianity, can
Help to rescind the legislation of 1972.

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