|Rowland Jide Macaulay|
A Nigeria born Gay Pastor now in exile, Rowland Jide Macaulay used to run a secret gay church in Ojodu Berger Lagos known as House of Rainbow Fellowship. He relocated abroad some years back after a major newspaper did a story on his homosexual church and he started to get threats. He's still running his gay church in the UK and has been speaking out publicly against the recently passed anti-gay law in Nigeria. Jide Macaulay recently penned an article about being rejected by his father
Towards Full Acceptance - By Rowland Jide Macaulay
I am writing this article to share my story with people who want to reconcile sexuality, faith, and family. It is a sequel to “My Father, My Faith and My Sexuality: The Dialogue” (in Q-zine’s first issue). Readers of that article will understand how much I have looked forward to visiting Nigeria again after years of estrangement. That long-postponed visit finally took place in January 2011, after a three year absence. This is the experience I want to share with you now.
Some background first. I came out as gay in 1994 after a troubled heterosexual life. My coming out was a disaster of, you might say, Biblical proportions. I was hated and denounced on mainly religious grounds, called a sinner, a defiler, an abomination, etc.
When my family found out I was gay, many of my siblings stopped speaking with me. My mother was the only one who comforted me. With my father, it was three years of hell. I had to face the fact that I could lose him. I wondered, as a person of faith, what my “heavenly Father” would do if my earthly father could react with such hatred.
Many people at the House Of Rainbow Fellowship in Nigeria (and a few more outside Nigeria) have met my Dad. He is a wonderful, typical Yoruba man, but when my “gay church” hit the headlines in 2008, he was caught unawares in a Nigerian media frenzy that nearly crippled his reputation as a high-profile pioneer of African Theology.
I believed that I was wonderfully made, created in the image of God. My only answer was prayer and more prayer. “My Father, My Faith and My Sexuality: The Dialogue” gives an account of the long healing process between my father and me, culminating in our reconciliation at a conference on faith and sexualities in South Africa in November 2009.
By 2011 we were ready to see each other in Nigeria again. As we sat down for lunch on Victoria Island in Lagos at the beginning of the year, my father announced, “I am pleased that I am having lunch with my gay son.” Even though I knew we were father and son again, I almost fell out of my chair. This is what we all need to hear as we struggle with our relationships, especially with parents and families. If we are not loved at home, we can never find love abroad. But my experience shows that even if being LGBTI is poorly understood in Nigeria, one day those who reject us will accept and celebrate us.
As far as I can remember, I have always been gay, but my first awareness of it was at about the age of seven. I was interested in being female. All the roles girls played were of great interest to me. I wanted a boy to cuddle me in games such as Father/Mother or Husband/Wife. I had no names to describe these feelings, but they were deeply rooted in my understanding and feelings.
At 14, I experienced my first same-sex love, but with my upbringing, I could only react with confusion, guilt and personal rejection, feelings that followed me well into adulthood. Growing up in the 1980s in Nigeria, there were no visible gay role models to provide assurance or comfort.
Still, I am grateful for my upbringing in a traditional African Christian family with no shortage either of love or strict parenting. My only heartache was my sexuality, which, sadly, I could not share with anyone in my family or religious community. I was forced to carry the burden alone for most of my young adult life.
In the mid 1980s, I went to the United Kingdom and plunged into a new environment with a strange culture, but I made my home in the Nigerian expat community. With strong Nigerian social customs, ethics, traditions and religious focus, it was like a replica of Nigeria. Except, of course, that we were in the UK, surrounded by a much more diverse approach to both private and public lives that I could not ignore. I was a very confused young man. I spent most of my time praying for healing and deliverance from my homosexual feelings, yet the more I prayed the more confused I became.
In 1987, I met the woman who was to become my wife and bear me a son. In all this obscurity, I decided that I should marry this woman I had fallen in love with. I hoped my gayness would be cured when I married, and so in 1991 I stood at the marriage registry taking my wedding vows. I had no one to talk with. I could not approach the Nigerian community on such a delicate and, as I thought, shameful matter.
Marriage, even fatherhood, needless to say, did not dissipate my feelings for other men. Nothing changed. I had only managed to join the hierarchy of married Africans. I had promised to satisfy, honour and cherish my wife, but married life soon became a nightmare. It took just three years before the relationship broke down. I hated myself more than anyone hated me. I had done what no one should ever do.
My life felt like a bad dream and a plague on society, but all I could do was leave my community and religion behind and go in search of who I was, all the while with responsibility for a young life I had helped to create. At the time of my divorce, my son was just two years old.
The bitterest part was that the church and the religious community I had cherished and adored were the first to ostracise me. Indeed, the bitterness was too foul to swallow. This was the beginning of a love-hate relationship with Nigeria, Nigerians and the church. My family’s discovery of my sexuality came later and was the worst of all, when both my father and my son turned against me.
As a person of faith, my focus was always reconciliation, first with God and then with the people who mattered most to me. It took me several years to come out to my close family members, friends and colleagues. Each step bears its own mark of pain and anguish. I was psychotic at one point. It was difficult for me to trust anyone. I was ill-treated from one African Christian community to another whenever it was discovered that I was gay.
Yet I knew I was a “child of the living God.” The more strongly I held on to this belief, the more I walked towards my healing. I also found a Christian community, the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) movement, that accepted and welcomed LGBTI people of faith. It was a joyful experience, and I revelled in this new community, but outside of it I still had to deal with discrimination, not only because of my sexual orientation but also due to racism.
However, my faith only grew stronger, and I had no intention of giving up. I knew there were many people like me, in Africa as well as in Europe. I went for further theological training with the MCC, and in 2006 I founded the House Of Rainbow Fellowship in my native country, the first Christian denomination to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex people in a country hostile to all of these.
I spent the next two years in Nigeria building the House of Rainbow and, by September 2008, we were thriving. Indeed, we became a household name, but for all the wrong reasons!
The hatred and insecurity these harmless initiatives created were intense. Some of us were threatened with death, and many of our members suffered rejection and violence. Some fled the country abroad. My home was vandalised, and my entire family were threatened for my actions. Leading religious leaders and politicians spoke of me with hatred and incredible malice. But we had grown a movement of LGBTI Christians in a hostile nation, and there was no going back.
At the same time, I got more involved with my father’s organisation, spent more time with him and introduced as many of our LGBTI members to him as I could, so that he got to meet many LGBTI people. I became part of his daily life again, and he was my mentor and advisor on many issues, my first port of call when it came to challenging conservative theological rhetoric and getting political advice. I spent invaluable time with him, learning from his wisdom.
I also seized this opportunity to raise the issue of homosexuality and the church and to search for answers to the religious community’s exclusion of LGBTI people. I studied theological texts that spoke to the issues. I laboured intensely, debating these matters with my father, whom I respect dearly and consider a great thinker.
However, in 2008 I was forced to flee Nigeria. My father was the first to tell me it was time to leave the hostility behind. He even promised to clear up any mess I had to leave behind. I was amazed he was willing to help me in my dark moment.
Our long dialogue paid off further when he agreed to attend the conference in South Africa that I wrote about in the last issue of Q-zine. At the conference, to my amazement again, he revealed a new openness to the inclusion of LGBTI people in the church.
But I had been forced to return to England shrouded with hatred, feeling cheated out of my mission. Back in the UK, I embarked on a long journey to raise and address issues of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It is no longer a Nigerian battle but one for the entire African continent, and I believe our persistence will pay off in the end.
On returning back to the UK, I also focused on rebuilding relationships with my family. It has not been easy, but with the grace of God, I have been making progress.
I have a son who is now a grown man. For years he struggled to understand why his father was gay. The numerous headlines and snide remarks from the church and the Nigerian community did not help. He was desperate to understand, but he was surrounded by people sending messages of gloom and doom.
Just before his 18th birthday, he told me he was ashamed I was gay and regretted any connection with me, that he was not proud to mention me or tell people we are related.
This hurt me deeply, but whatever my son thought about me, I knew that to deny my gayness was to deny God. As a person of faith, I have to believe God will never give anyone a burden they cannot bear, yet my son’s statement made me almost lose patience with God. Nevertheless I have managed to stay firm in my spirituality and prayers. I believe my “investment” in faith must one day pay off, so I have rededicated myself to bringing the gospel of inclusion to everyone.
In 2011, my son agreed to spend the Easter weekend with me. It was the first time we had seen each other in months, though we had spoken over the phone and I had written him a few letters, working towards understanding and reconciliation.
At our Easter reunion he told me that he and his partner had discussed my sexuality and that he no longer had a problem with it. I have pondered what caused the sudden change of heart and must admit I was a little confused about it and the prospect of reconciliation after all this time. It was a shock that the most precious people in the world, my father and son, now both accepted me as a gay man, but what a wonderful shock!
All I am sure of now is that it is never wise to allow the insecurity of our families to cause us to be estranged from them. Deep down, we will always be part of these families, and everyone knows that. Never give up on yourself or your family. Reconciliation is possible. We just have to be willing to pay the price towards full acceptance.