Dear Readers,

A few weeks ago, I shared a short photo essay about my best friend, ChiChi. We’d been estranged for four years due to my sexuality and her Christian faith, but then recently reunited to find our friendship changed for the better.

Not only has it been as if we’d never been apart, but she’s now also one of my biggest cheerleaders; she donated over a thousand dollars to support my Africans for Africa project (via which I’m traveling through Southern Africa for 6 months, training African women’s and LGBT organizations in social media, communications, and storytelling).

When I published the piece, ChiChi was very moved, and told me that the only way she felt she could adequately respond was to write something for my blog. Hence, I’m so delighted to share her post with all of you.

All too often, ally voices are regarded with a deep (yet justified) suspicion; either allies are great, or not so great, advocates or saviorists. Due to our fear of being overshadowed, silenced, or having our narratives sidelined by society’s dominant voices, we rarely affirm their own stories. But there are certainly occasions in which we should.

In my experience, stories like “Confessions of a Straight Girl: What It Means to Be an Ally” (written by my Sister) or “My Straight African Brother’s Reflections on a Very Queer Christmas: Two Couples and a Sibling” resonate just as deeply with LGBT people of color who hope to someday experience love and acceptance from their families. I still receive emails from people who have been touched by how much I’ve shared about the ups and downs I’ve experienced with the allies in my life. Yet, we distance ourselves from their narratives, call them “allies” all the time — just to make sure they know their place. But these “allies”, sometimes, are simply the people we love, and hope to be loved by.

Given the ongoing battle between religion and sexuality, what ChiChi has shared below re: her faith, journey to deeper connection with God, her Love of me, and even her own exploration of her sexuality — not in spite of, but because of her faith — is nothing short of brave. This offering of Love from the place of a traditional practice of Christianity is most appreciated given how much oppression of LGBT exists in the name of religion.

I am very proud to share ChiChi’s words here, and encourage all of you — as we often preach — to affirm her own experiences with the Love and respect we expect in our lives. In any case, I hope her words encourage you, heal you, and give you hope that the loved ones you may have shunned you on the basis of religion will eventually come around.

Warmly,
Spectra

 

—————–

“Anyone Who Loves God Must Also Love Others”

When Spectra published “Keeping the Faith: Religion, Sexuality, and My Best Friend’s Pool Party” her piece about me, our friendship, the pain of 4 years apart, and the beauty and joy in our reconciliation, I was humbled and moved by how many people were touched by our story. The response to it reminded me of the power of stories to inspire, to unite, and to encourage. So I decided to write a response piece to affirm her words, and to tackle the loaded combination of religion and sexuality as I’ve experienced them.

For nearly four years, Spectra and I sought our identities in divergent paths—she as a queer activist, and I in exploring depth in my spiritual Christian faith. Because our paths seemed irreconcilable, I never anticipated that valuable lessons learned during my quest for a deeper relationship with God would bring me full circle back into relationship with my friend. But they did, and I’d like to share a few of the lessons I learned with all of you:

1) In my attempt to practice sexual abstinence, I have come to the conclusion that SEXUALITY is OVER-POLICED in Christian communities.

OK let me back up on this one—

In the 20 years that I have been Christian, the constant rhetoric in the Christian community has been that the sex life of a single, Christian woman should be, well, NON-EXISTENT. Therefore, as I grew in my knowledge and faith in God, I decided that I was not going to cut corners on the sexuality issue. I would practice sexual abstinence. Yes, I would remain abstinent until my wedding bed where with multiple orgasms, my husband will make the wait well worth it, and from thence we will live together in a one-partner, heterosexual marriage till death do us part.

But while this paradigm worked for me, was this the “correct” sexuality for everyone? Is there such a thing as “correct” Christian sexuality? What about those people for whom there is no biblical precedent, e.g. intersex individuals? What does a “heterosexual” marriage look like for them?

If abstinence is always the way to go, why is there an epidemic within the Catholic church of repressed priests unleashing on little boys and girls? Why is masturbation discouraged? Why does the Pope get to have an opinion on how a man and his wife should stem the number of children they would have? And, hmmm… why am I, suddenly, physically unable to insert this tampon???

Yup. In my abstinence practice, I unwittingly programmed the muscles around my vagina to SLAM SHUT when anything approached. And because the contraction was involuntary, gynecological examinations and tampon insertions had suddenly become terribly difficult. Even when I wanted to “open sesame”, it’s was like my vagina never received the override memo. (This is a sexual condition. It’s called vaginismus. If you’ve never heard of it, read about it here.)

Luckily, I don’t have this issue anymore. A couple investments in books and toys, and I was able to RETRAIN my vagina to function correctly. But more importantly, I learned that any sexual practice that undermines YOUR PERSONAL spiritual, mental, emotional, AND/OR physical health cannot be “correct” for you.

2) At the Core of My Faith is LOVE

The more I learned about God, the more I learned to open my heart, to be vulnerable, to be humble, to admit when I have been wrong, to ask for forgiveness, and to LOVE. Why? GOD IS LOVE. From the bible:

(1st book of John, Chapter 4, verses 7-9)–
7- Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8- Whoever does not love does not know God, because GOD IS LOVE. 9- This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

3) Homophobia is UNChristian. (phobia = fear, hate)

Again, the Bible says this is so:

(1st book of John, Chapter 4, verses 18-21)–
18- There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19- We love because he first loved us. 20- Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a Liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21- And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

4) People are PEOPLE, not ISSUES.

When Spectra first came out to me, in an attempt to avoid coming to terms with her new identity, I instantly compartmentalized her being out as “her politics” and “her sexuality” which I placed as separate entities from the Spectra that was my college bestie, my sister. When she realized this, we had the falling out. As painful as the period apart was, it was important that it happened so that I could learn to wrestle with the issues that made me uncomfortable instead of simply sweeping it under its compartment. It was important that I learned to love her COMPLETELY in the way that she deserves to be.

So there you have it: four lessons learned from four years deepening my relationship with God and re-commitment to practicing the core principles of my faith. I hope it offers some guidance to Christians who are still struggling to reconcile their spirituality with the LGBT community. Choose Love. It always wins.

Spectra, I love you.  I am proud that your search for yourself culminated in the unearthing of the earth-changing, ass-kicking, turn-the-universe-up-on-its-head, Nigerian, Igbo, queer, activist tour-de-force that you are. And I pray that as you travel to spread your love, knowledge, and solidarity at home in Africa, God will guide your path, and reveal to you all his plans for you. AMEN.

13 Responses to Lessons Learned from a Straight African Woman: Homophobia is UnChristian

  1. African Mami says:

    Chichi,

    Continue to love and support this woman! For if you don’t Africa is doomed oo!l On a serious note, these words touched the core of my heart, as they were powerful and a testament of what sisterhood is all about! Glad that you guys reconnected, as if you never left each other’s life! If we could all embrace and accept each other, regardless of whatever differences, be they sexual orientation, political views, etc, Africa is would well be on its way to glorious possibilities. Your friendship is a start, to the progressive state of the motherland. Wish ya’ll the very best in this beautiful journey of sisterhood!!

    Spectra,
    I quietly follow you on twirra and I think you are phenom! You speak for the voiceless in the LGBT community in Africa, if you didn’t know. Wishing you peace and triumph in your South African sojourn.

    • Chidinma Obi says:

      Thanks for the comment! Yes Spectra is a phenom!!! She will always have my love and support, and she knows it :). And AMEN to a progressive state of the motherland!

  2. Speedhakoo says:

    Very powerful. Thank you so much for sharing this

  3. Hi ChiChi!

    It's really great to be privy to your introspection here. I believe we met about a year ago and it's nice to know this little more about you.

    As I was reading the first point you make, I found it very explorative. But by the end of it, I had huge qualms with your syllogism. Your conclusion was a surprise and I do find it a bit defective. Since I feel this is a loaded point and would rather go to war on this later, I wish to comment here more fully on your subsequent three points.

    I should start by saying I do wholesomely agree with your statements: "At the Core of My Faith is LOVE; "Homophobia is UnChristian"; "People are PEOLE not ISSUES."

    I think very often people underplay the centricity of love to the Christian life. Very often it's too convenient to divorce that aspect of faith from situations, people that make us uncomfortable. And as you mentioned, that space of mind was ultimately what made you and Spectra to be far apart for the four or so years that you were.

    In the Gospels, we repeatedly saw how Jesus went into the houses of folks who by all standards of the day, he should not be seen with. Like you said, people are not issues, they are people. I think it was this overriding principle, laced with love that made Jesus to fraternize openly with folks teachers of the law had qualms with.

    At the same time, I am afraid we move from one end to another–which I think you might have done. Homophibia is "unChristian" as you say. We should never hate or despise anyone who is not heterosexual. But that should never translate into us accepting the lifestyle. Jesus, as I mentioned earlier, though he repeatedly dined with men of so-not-favorable-ratings, he never abdicated his positions and beliefs. We can love without condemning, which is one of the issues you had with Spectra.

    People are great irrespective of their sexual orientation. From what I've read of Spectra, she is a force of a human being and a source of joy. Some of my best people that I love so much are gay; Ellen DeGeneres and Elton John for example. But my love for them will never translate, nor should it, into an acceptance of their orientation–simply because my faith expressly marks it as wrong.

    It is that thin line of embracing people of the LGBT community without sanctioning their lifestyle that I believe we struggle so much with. At times we make the hideous mistake of ostracizing some of the mist talented and good people we know, and at times, we disregard our mores cause we feel we should be progressive.

    • Chidinma Obi says:

      Hello Pelumi. Yes, I remember you :)

      Yes, the first point is loaded. Please feel free to share your qualms and the “defects” in argument that you found here so that I can clarify for the benefit of all who read. Regarding your analysis of the subsequent 3 points—yes, love is central to the Christian life and Jesus is the perfect model of the way Christians should comport themselves in society. I am glad that we both understand and agree on those points.

      It seems to me that our viewpoints diverge on the question of the sexual orientation itself. You view it as a sin, and your comments are in line with the “love the sinner; hate the sin” rhetoric that has become the prevalent response to homosexuality in most churches. Five years ago, when Spectra and I were divorcing over this issue, I approached homosexuality that way. I WAS where you are NOW.

      However, I don’t believe that the Christian community has a good and complete labeling system on what constitutes “sexual sin”, what shouldn’t, and how to deal with it. As with some of the questions that I posed above, e.g. the case of intersex individuals and on the issue of masturbation, the Christian community should answer truthfully and simply say: “I DON’T KNOW”. And for a community that really doesn’t have all the answers, we are pretty quick to label many acts as “sin”.

      It is for this reason that I went the abstinent route. I figured that to be safe in the “sinless” box, I better rid myself of it all. But as my body proved, the human body was not made to be abstinent. This is not to dissuade those who practice it; I find their resolve and dedication admirable.

      Now back to “sexual sin”, in the oft-cited bible verses that people use to argue against homosexuality, other words that usually pop up in those passages is “FORNICATION” and “ADULTERY”, and based on the prevalent interpretation by our churches, those two words pretty much encompass EVERY voluntary sexual act between adult persons that are not husband and wife. Since I know that you’re single, please let’s explore— Are you abstinent? As a Christian, have you engaged in any sexual acts of any kind? If the truthful answer to the former is NOT “yes”, and the latter is NOT “no” for you and everybody in your present Christian community, then please drop the stone, leave this forum, and go and address that issue within your Christian community before you come and address the LGBT community.

    • I think it is important that we take a step back here. Maybe I can somehow give a wholistic view of my argument. I will start by quoting, as you referenced, one of the "oft-cited bible verses that people use to argue against homosexuality."

      1 Corinthians 6:9 "Don't you know that those who do wrong will have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don't fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, who are idol worshipers, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals,10 thieves, greedy people, drunkards, abusers, and swindlers–none of these will have a share in the Kingdom of God." NLT

      From this passage, it is unequivocal what Christ considers a sin; homosexuality among many others. If we can agree on this, we are closer to a resolution. You are indeed right, "love the sinner; hate the sin" is what I indeed believe to be the ultimate showcase of the LOVE that Christ asks of us. That said, such approach does not mean Christians are a group of perfect human beings who are forever on patrol in search of "imperfect" beings (sinners). After all, we are all imperfect and working toward that perfection that the grace of God provides.

      As you aptly pointed, and the above passage does show, homosexuality is the not the gravest of sins. Being a heterosexual does not make anyone more likely to see the kingdom of God. If I were a perpetual liar, as far as God is concerned, a murderer, a con artist, a homosexual, and I are all in the same boat. So, if the church in any way has made you believe in their self-righteousness, that somehow their poop don't stink, I sincerely apologize for that.

      In your last paragraph, you did ask me a couple of questions, and according to you, a failure of this your litmus test precludes me from having the opinion I have about homosexuality. I should state this, "God alone, who gave the law, is the judge (James 4:12 NLT)." As a result, you won't find any stones in my hand. It is not my position or that of the church to raise a finger in condemnation, but rather in admonishment, cause that's what the bible proscribes. This is the way the Bible wants us to view Christendom, and humanity to a bigger extent–that we are all part of a family. Our nurture and enrichment is dependent on our abilities to correct one another. So that means, if I struggle with lying and you struggle with homosexuality, we should be able to correct each other in love toward building a more perfect union in Christ. As the Bible says, "iron sharpens iron." Inasmuch as I realize my own shortcomings and I'm actively working on it, I still can also assist a brother or sister in realizing their fullest potential in Christ. This is LOVE.

      **I understand we may not ultimately agree, but I believe a forum as this is good for our development.

    • I think it is important that we take a step back here. Maybe I can somehow give a wholistic view of my argument. I will start by quoting, as you referenced, one of the "oft-cited bible verses that people use to argue against homosexuality."

      1 Corinthians 6:9 "Don't you know that those who do wrong will have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don't fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, who are idol worshipers, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals,10 thieves, greedy people, drunkards, abusers, and swindlers–none of these will have a share in the Kingdom of God." NLT

      From this passage, it is unequivocal what Christ considers a sin; homosexuality among many others. If we can agree on this, we are closer to a resolution. You are indeed right, "love the sinner; hate the sin" is what I indeed believe to be the ultimate showcase of the LOVE that Christ asks of us. That said, such approach does not mean Christians are a group of perfect human beings who are forever on patrol in search of "imperfect" beings (sinners). After all, we are all imperfect and working toward that perfection that the grace of God provides.

      As you aptly pointed, and the above passage does show, homosexuality is the not the gravest of sins. Being a heterosexual does not make anyone more likely to see the kingdom of God. If I were a perpetual liar, as far as God is concerned, a murderer, a con artist, a homosexual, and I are all in the same boat. So, if the church in any way has made you believe in their self-righteousness, that somehow their poop don't stink, I sincerely apologize for that.

      In your last paragraph, you did ask me a couple of questions, and according to you, a failure of this your litmus test precludes me from having the opinion I have about homosexuality. I should state this, "God alone, who gave the law, is the judge (James 4:12 NLT)." As a result, you won't find any stones in my hand. It is not my position or that of the church to raise a finger in condemnation, but rather in admonishment, cause that's what the bible proscribes. This is the way the Bible wants us to view Christendom, and humanity to a bigger extent–that we are all part of a family. Our nurture and enrichment is dependent on our abilities to correct one another. So that means, if I struggle with lying and you struggle with homosexuality, we should be able to correct each other in love toward building a more perfect union in Christ. As the Bible says, "iron sharpens iron." Inasmuch as I realize my own shortcomings and I'm actively working on it, I still can also assist a brother or sister in realizing their fullest potential in Christ. This is LOVE.

      **I understand we may not ultimately agree, but I believe a forum as this is good for our development.

  4. Olayinka Awofodu says:

    Lovely Piece Chidinma Obi. You never seize to amaze me.

  5. I think there are two great mistakes that we as Christians make when it comes to dealing with homosexuals. First is the mistake of compromise. The Bible is very clear on the fact that homosexuality is a sin. Passages like Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:24-27, 1 Corinthians 1:6:9 and Jude 7 paint a very vivid and clear picture of the Bible’s undeniable condemnation of all sexual perversion, including homosexuality. We must proclaim the truth of God’s word and declare that homosexuality, like all other sexual sin is wrong. But, I believe the other mistake we often make is that fact that we lack compassion. We have failed in our love toward homosexuals by condemning the sinner along with the sin. The Bible is replete with passages that tells us that God loves sinners and backsliders and we all better thank the Lord that he does, because if he didn’t none of us would be saved.

  6. Beautiful piece! I’m an Episcopalian–which is what Anglicans in the U.S. call themselves. And when our church has struggles with sexuality issues, I have always been heartened by the fact that Desmond Tutu has vocally promoted full civil rights and church inclusion for queer Christians. To me, he’s the the most morally authoritative Christian living.

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