Rev. Jide Macaulay is the founder and CEO of House of Rainbow, which seeks to be a welcoming ministry for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) people. Rev. Macaulay discusses the persisting discrimation that LGBTIQ people in faith communities face, especially in various African countries, and what inspired him to get involved changing this. Here he is interviewed by Terri Murray
Which came first: your realisation that you wanted to become a Christian minister or your realisation that you were gay?
I have always known that I was gay since I was about 7 years old. In ‘Yoruba’, my culture and language, we didn’t have a specific name for gay or homosexuality, it was just part of our lives and understanding. However, as a child raised in a Christian home by both Christian parents (my father as a leading pastor and theologian and my mother was a dedicated Christian who later in her life embraced Catholicism) I naturally wanted to be a Christian minister. I had a deep calling to ministry, and this was more apparent from the age of 13 onwards after I was baptised and preached my first public sermon.
How hard (or easy) was it for you to reconcile your homosexuality with your Christian faith?
Reconciling homosexuality and Christianity is a nightmare. You have to first undo all you have learned about being gay, and you have to undo the fact that you have somehow accepted hating oneself and accepted all of the derogatory ideas such as being an “abomination”, a “sinner” and having “rejected God” – all of this will not disappear overnight. The upbringing of gays and lesbians in faith communities includes destructive behaviours such as self-shame, self-stigma, self-denial, and self-discrimination. In order to reconcile and undo these years of damage, you have to embody the new dispensation of loving yourself and a new way of reading and understanding the Bible and other sacred texts.
For me personally, it was an uphill struggle. I so badly wanted to believe they were right and I was wrong. I tried to believe those who told me that homosexuality is wrong. Every attempt to exorcise the “evil spirit of homosexuality” I submitted to. All of this, of course, I accepted until it became apparent to me how stupid it was for me to do so!
I have been asked to pray my homosexual feelings away, asked to confess my sexual feelings, thoughts and actions. These are deeply troubling and demeaning.
The reconciliation and healing started when I began to accept that I am a child of God, and that I need not repent my homosexuality as this is part of who I am. I also took time to learn more about the Bible and immersed myself in progressive teachings and studies that cared to explain the humanity and dignity of the homosexual as a child of the living God.
This process of reconciliation also triggered my love for an inclusive and liberating theology, especially for the oppressed LGBTIQ people. Once I was able to find my pathway to liberating my mind I could not wait to tell other gays and lesbians that for every day I am alive I believe my mandate is to share the inclusive gospel of Christ to all who yearn to hear it.
Can you tell me a bit about your coming out? How did your family respond?
Coming out took several stages and, amazingly, I still find myself still coming out today. The first time I had to deal with this was during my heterosexual marriage. I had a seven-year relationship with my ex-wife and, at the time of coming out as gay, I was experiencing both a psychological and emotional breakdown. I had time to think of what was happening in my life, and one summer evening I broke the news to her that “I am gay” – her response was “I can’t compete with that”.
It took three months after this revelation before anyone else knew about it. My ex-wife decided to tell her family and the leaders of the church where we worshipped. This created a lot of problems for us as the homophobic abuses became intense from her family and the church. I was accused of being “sick” and “immoral”, there were doubts whether or not our son was mine. My family were either in denial or I was trying my best to protect them from this news. At the time it was summer 1994, no one in my family talked to me about it, what happened following this were stages of separation and divorce. I was alone and in despair. My family choose not to talk about it but their actions leading to several patterns of ostracism became more intense.
In 1997, it was summer and about the time as the Gay-Pride in London. My mother asked me about my divorce and asked if I were gay. By then I had more time and confidence from being by myself that after the divorce I slowly accepted the reality of being homosexual. My mother’s reaction surprised me, she said, “why didn’t you tell me” as she told me that she had prayed for the last three years of my divorce for another wife when she could have prayed for a husband. My mother had a way of making things funny. She became very supportive of me and most of what I do both privately and publicly as a gay man.
It was not until 2003 that my father was informed – I am certain my siblings told him, they have avoided any direct conversation with me about it. My father’s direct approach was deeply painful and insulting. He accused me of being an abomination and that my homosexuality will send the entire family to hell. He also requested that I didn’t bring the family name to disrepute- he was more worried about his reputation in Nigeria and around the world. Having a homosexual son for him was unbearable, that he would prefer to have the corpse of such a child. My father’s militant approach to my sexuality created a division between us. He later supported and congratulated the Nigerian government on the introduction of an anti-gay bill which later became law which introduces the possibility of me being locked away in prison for 14 years merely for being gay.
My family have responded in different ways. Over the last few years it hasn’t been easy, but I think by now everyone is getting used to the idea that I am gay and nothing is going to change that. I believe that my nephews and nieces don’t really care as their responses have been rather more peaceful.
To what extent was their response influenced by religious teachings?
My younger brother and father responded with religious attacks. My younger brother who himself is twice married had concluded that only hell will accept me for homosexuality and there will be no redemption unless I denounced homosexuality. We have not spoken nor be on friendly terms for years.
My father went further. He had called me an abomination and a disgrace to his family and he supported the Nigeria Laws that criminalised homosexuality with 14 years’ imprisonment. He based this on the Christian principles that homosexuality is abhorrent in God’s eyes. My father advises the Nigerian Government as he is the President of the Association of Christian Theologians and the Founder/Principal of United Bible University, the second largest Bible University in Nigeria. Whilst he had claimed that he loved me, he cannot accept homosexuality because of what the Bible says according to his interpretation.
My other three siblings are indifferent, dealing with this in different ways as they see fit.
Can you tell us about the situation for homosexuals in Nigeria? Has it changed (for better or worse) since your youth?
Homosexuality for Nigerians has been the worst it has been for decades, and it remains terrible today. There is terrible societal abuse, arbitrary arrests, religious abuses, legal discrimination, gender based violence, etc. The British Empire left an inherent penal code which criminalised gay-relationships and same-sex sexual behaviours. The fact that many people are bold enough to speak out on the issues makes things even more worse, and it shows that the issues cannot be swept under the carpet and expected to just disappear. The moment that we are able to give voice to homosexuality and challenge the government and society about the human rights of sexual minorities, through public debates and dialogues, confronting injustices at every level including at workplaces, health services, we create a visibility on the subject.
For both the House of Rainbow and myself, bringing the debate to the religious spaces also makes matters worse as we can see how deeply divided the nation is over human sexuality.
As a young person in Nigeria, I was unaware of the battles for gay-rights, I believe I am one of the first generations of activists to be openly gay in Nigeria. It was more important, personally, to bring my faith and religion to the debate and fight to end religious oppression and spiritual violence against LGBTIQ citizens.
What prompted you to found the House of Rainbow Church in Nigeria? What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced as the House of Rainbow pastor?
The establishment of House of Rainbow in Nigeria was a response to the level of hatred and injustices against LGBTIQ people. It affected me personally, emotionally, mentally and physically. As a community, we wanted a safe space for inclusive Christian fellowship, a new understanding of the ineffable love of God.
To be told every day of your life that you are an abomination is just wrong. To have your family turn against you on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is insane. To use religion to justify hatred and inhumane forms of treatment of gays and lesbians, bisexual and transgender people, is just ludicrous. A safe Space for a gay Christian has become a premium in Nigeria. By the time we established House of Rainbow many LGBTIQ people of faith have reached a point of despair. We strongly believe in the timing of our organisation, and for over ten years our services remained highly relevant, life saving and transforming.
There are several obstacles: we were attacked by mobs, we were infiltrated by the media, and we believe that people working for the national Church of Nigeria and the government were trying to displace us. We were pitched almost like a “David and Goliath” kind of situation. We were relevant and powerful and this created a furore in the minds of Nigerian legislative bodies and society at large.
Other obstacles also came from the gay community, who felt that the establishment of House of Rainbow was seemingly an attack on traditional faith denominations (which was not helpful). We were radical all too soon and we paid the price when we received unprecedented threats to the existence of House of Rainbow.
We faced obstacles as we also started a sexual health outreach for gay men as part of our weekly programme during Sunday services. We were accused of promoting illicit behaviours. We catered for homeless LGBTIQ people and provided meals for those hungry, and we wanted to create communities and provide a response to immediate suffering.
The Nigeria Anti-Gay Bill 2006, which later became law in 2014, was also a huge obstacle to our work in the country, the issues of assembly became a big problem for us. We were simply outlawed by legal measures, and this makes our work in the country far more difficult to complete.
We are nonetheless undeterred. We have grown from strength to strength, we strategised and moved all our interventions underground, and we are still active and most directely engaged with LGBTIQ communities. There are currently five groups of House of Rainbow in Nigeria, with 8 volunteering local leaders addressing Christianity and Islam who meet in cities including Lagos, Enugu, Bauchi, Jos, and Asaba.
Who are the biggest inspirations in your life?
The Holy Bible and Jesus remain the biggest inspiration in my life. My late mother and faith leaders including Bishop Yvette Flunder, Revd Troy D. Perry, Revd Canon Steven Saxby, Revd Cathy Bird, Revd Jape Mokgethi-Heath, Revd Phumzile Mabizela, Seun Kuti, Bisi Alimi, Micheal Ighodaro, Imam Muhsin Hendrick; the teachings of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King Jr and many more.
Troy D. Perry, the founder of the Metropolitan Community Churches, has a story which I found very inspirational that resonated with mine. His journey of faith and reconciliation is very inspirational.
Many others inspire me in unique ways that has allowed me to grow and it has given me the freedom and liberty I don’t deserve.
What projects are you involved in now? Are you still actively involved in House of Rainbow or have you passed on the torch?
House of Rainbow is a lifetime project for me. Despite ten years of uphill struggles and interventions, we are still looking to do more. In the last few years we have been working on “Destabilising Heteronormativity”, focusing on Southern-African countries and Europe. In the coming years we are hoping to expand to West Africa, including francophone regions. We are educating LGBTIQ people, faith leaders, parents, allies and communities about what the Bible and Quran says about same-sex relationships. We are also helping parents and faith leaders understand and accept LGBTIQ people.
We have been working on multiple publications that support the education process.
We have several projects including safe spaces, psychosocial support, pastoral care, counselling for LGBTIQ people who want to come out and for those infected or affected by HIV. Faith remains very important for many LGBTIQ people, regardless of HIV status. There are many questions that people are seeking answers for.
Projects that we are currently building include a video web-based “Questions and Answers” project which will focus on the many responses around faith, sexuality, spirituality and human rights.
We are also working towards a higher profile and impact of collaboration with organisations around the world, particularly in the global south.
What are some of the biggest success-stories in your career ministering to the LGBT community?
The establishment and expansion of House of Rainbow and providing a pathway to reconcile faith and sexuality has been one of our biggest successes
I am listing below a few “Facts and Achievements” in the past decade
- On the 2nd September 2006, 32 people worshiped at the first service of House of Rainbow in Lagos Nigeria.
- House of Rainbow registered as an NGO in Nigeria April 2008 and as a CIC in United Kingdom in January 2015.
- House of Rainbow appointed 31 volunteer local leaders in 11 countries in the last decade. We currently have 19 active volunteer local leaders and 2 on special duties in 10 countries. We said goodbye to 9 due to various reasons and one passed away.
- House of Rainbow is a fellowship with an additional mission on human rights, sexual health, PLWHIV, pastoral care, support and counselling primarily for LGBTIQ people.
- In February 2007, alongside other human right Coalitions, we challenged the Nigerian government on the introduction of the anti-gay bill.
- In a decade, House of Rainbow has distributed (free of charge) over 100,000 copies of resources including Pocket Devotional, I say a little prayer, Real Conversation, The Children Are Free, etc.
- Training seminars and workshops on “What the Bible says in favour of Same Sex” were delivered 13 times in 6 countries to over 350 delegates including faith leaders and parents in less than 12 months.
- House of Rainbow has two groups dedicated to LGBTIQ Muslims in Nigeria and Ghana.
- House of Rainbow has performed over 10 Same Sex weddings or blessings in the last decade in Africa and Europe.
- House of Rainbow Co-Sponsored the UK Black Pride and PrideUganda 2016.
- House of Rainbow provided and managed a Safe House for LGBTIQ people in Nigeria between 2012 and 2015.
- House of Rainbow is very active on social media with a massive audience and followers estimated at over 300,000.
- House of Rainbow works with other multi-agency organisations providing VCT, immigration advice and support, child rights, information and referrals etc.
What is the most important goal you still hope to accomplish?
So many, yet, the most important is the Radically Inclusive Mission to Africa (RIMA), and a mission to gay people in Africa living with HIV.
Another goal is to reconcile families, especially parents, with an understanding that their LGBTIQ children are not an “abomination” but a gift from God.
I will like to achieve change through efforts to decriminalise homosexuality and also to end religious oppression, but I will like to bring more services to LGBTIQ people, families and relatives on their journey of reconciliation.
What do you see as the biggest obstacles to your work at the present time?
Lack of funds. This is a major obstacle. It is our hope that we are able to access funds and be supported adequately for the mission we are setting out to do. Also, the dogma of faith based teachings, ideologies, religious oppressions, and spiritual violence have been obstacles as it creates a wedge between families and members of LGBTIQ people.
What do you enjoy doing to unwind when you’re not working?
Traveling, reading, movies and enjoying a well deserved rest on sandy beaches.
Reverend Jide Macaulay is on Twitter: Follow him @revjide
For more information, please drop Reverend Jide Macaulay an email
Donations can be made to House of Rainbow Fellowship here
Terri (PhD) is an author, blogger, and has taught philosophy and film studies in Secondary and Adult Education for over ten years