A house of worship has arrived in Gaborone and it preaches universal acceptance for all LGBTQI+ Christians.
Religious institutions in Africa are typically known to be safe spaces for those who need spiritual guidance and a sense of community. However, the church or mosque – a few of the common religious institutions dispersed across the continent – have in many cases become spaces of violence for the LGBTQI+ community. And various interpretations of certain passages in the Bible for example have inadvertently affected the lives of sexual minorities.
Fortunately, a new inclusive fellowship called House Of Rainbow has become a safe space for sexual minorities to feel affirmed in a religious community. At House Of Rainbow, “GAY” stands for “God Accepts You” and “DIVA” means “Divinely Inspired Victoriously Anointed”. It’s a community that is forming a new haven in the heart of Botswana’s capital, Gaborone. Key Correspondent Mmabatho Motsamai spoke to the fellowship’s founder, Reverend Jide Macaulay, about its expansion into Botswana. As well as its formation and journey into creating an inclusive space.
What inspired you to create the organisation?
The inspiration for House Of Rainbow came out of my own need to connect with God as a gay man, to reconcile my faith and sexuality. I have been a victim of misunderstanding, religious oppression and abuse from my family, and my church and my community had become toxic.
House Of Rainbow was established in September 2006, in Lagos, Nigeria. I had journeyed painfully through life hiding who I was and believing that God does not love me and that I was an abomination. I believed the hate speech of doom and gloom and that homosexuals are hell-bound – a theology of abuse I embodied out of my primarily Christian community.
Several years after I came out of a heterosexual marriage I also realised that I was not alone in the abusive church. I felt more passion for ministry which is geared towards welcoming lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people on the margins of society. What further inspired me was having a better understanding of the inclusive gospel of Jesus and the ineffable love of God for all people – and that includes LGBTIQ+ people. I started to search for the way forward. There are many gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons who love the Lord and want to worship in and be part of a church. But finding a safe space in Africa was difficult. I was inspired to start an inclusive church movement on the continent. Welcome to House Of Rainbow, where GAY means God Accepts You.
How have your outreach efforts and engagements in SADC region been?
The outreach in the SADC region has been overwhelming and amazing. We started exploring this region in 2014. We have mission work commitments in Zambia, Lesotho, Malawi, Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania and more. House Of Rainbow is currently working in fifteen African countries and three in Europe; the numbers are increasing.
The reception in SADC has been better, especially for LGBTIQ people. We continue to seek ways to work with faith leaders and academics. This means we must put ourselves out there and be more visible and vulnerable. The important thing is that many people are connecting. There have been objections and challenges too – many have objected to our movement, calling it satanic and corrupt.
Recently in Gaborone, Botswana, a group of young people who are mostly LGBTIQ started to meet frequently to pray, share devotion and discuss many of their issues around their sexuality and faith. I had a great opportunity to meet some of them on the 1 October 2017 and I listened first hand to their stories of love for God and their journey of reconciliation. For many the church was a painful place. So to find a group like House Of Rainbow brings a much needed theological change and reflection on their humanity.
We are also working with academics in the theological field including faith leaders in Botswana who are beginning to understand the need for inclusion. We are encouraging LGBTQI people with a passion for ministry and religion to follow their pursuit for Christian mission.
In Lesotho, we are looking to work with the traditional churches and academic institutions, and similarly in Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania.
With a new branch opened in Botswana what challenges do you believe the new group is likely to face, and how do you believe it can overcome them?
Every new assignment, though exciting at first, must be reviewed to ensure that it lives up to its original intentions. There will be challenges within and outside the groups. What is most important is the message and focus on the journey of reconciliation of the people.
There will be scepticism from all sides. Many LGBTQI people strongly believe the hate messages which fuel self-stigma, shame, denial and discrimination. So we must work hard to bring a message of hope and self-acceptance. Many church leaders hold a view that homosexuality is dangerous and not in God’s plan. This is no doubt fuelled by a heteronormative interpretation of the scriptures. This is why it is important for House Of Rainbow to connect with LGBTQI+ people and allies.
External challenges would be those who object to the reconciling of sexuality and faith and that is not a new challenge for this community. Politicians and conservative religious leaders, including some within the African Spiritual communities, still hold a differing position on the inclusion of LGBTQI+. We are here to take them on our journey and share our narratives.
There is a need to raise the theological awareness of members and leaders of this group. It is in their willingness to learn and be vulnerable that I believe they will become stronger and resilient against the forces of rejection, and ostracism.
To overcome we must focus on the goodness of God and what the Bible says in favour of being LGBTQI+, which is that we are all loved by God and we are the children of God the Father. The group can also overcome challenges by being open to new teachings and different ways of understanding theological debates on human sexuality.
House Of Rainbow has a Christian and Muslim branch in Nigeria and Ghana respectively. What created a more inclusive form of spirituality for the LGBTQI+ community and how is its genuine effectiveness there?
We believe in a God that does not discriminate. We believe all are welcome whether they believe or not. While I personally do not have any background in Islam, it was important for House Of Rainbow to consider the needs of LGBTQI+ people at large.
We started the Muslim group because both Muslim and Christian LGBTQI+ people came together in Northern Nigeria. We felt that whilst both groups wanted to reach a place of reconciliation, the dynamics and theological understanding differs. We have been working with Inner Circle at Al-Fitrah Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa to train and develop the Muslim leaders. We believe in God and or Allah who loves all the LGBTQI+ members of the human family.
A more inclusive form of spirituality is about respect for all faith and a clearer understanding of what unites us rather than what divides us. We found primarily some commonalities within the Abrahamic faith which in my opinion can be extended to other faiths where we can find inclusive theology and welcoming.
Times are changing and knowledges are getting better when it comes to faith and sexuality. Popular conservative positions have for too long caused divisions between diverse faith. It is our hope that House Of Rainbow can be a uniting movement for LGBTIQ+ people of diverse faith.
House of Rainbow has support services that extend into family and friends of LGBTQI. Is there a goal for similar outreach in Botswana?
Our goals are universal. Yes we do have plans for Botswana however we want the members to channel their effort into prioritising what is more important for them. We are working in collaboration with LEGABIBO a leading LGBTQI+ movement. It is important that we allow the people in Botswana to lead and we must listen to what are the most needed actions for the community, then do our best to meet some or all of those needs.
A few realistic ideas and services include: pastoral care and support; focusing on mental health and sexual health especially HIV; creating space for dialogues with faith leaders, parents and families; and a Bible-based study group.