A Discussion with Rev. Jide Macaulay, Founder and CEO of House of Rainbow

With: Jide Macaulay

September 8, 2016

Background: As part of the International Higher Education Interfaith Leadership Forum, in September 2016 Sara Singha conducted a phone interview with Rev. Jide Macaulay, 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. Macaulay discusses the persisting stigma against LGBTIQ members in faith communities, especially in various African countries, and his personal inspiration for getting involved in this cause.
Please tell us about your current work/role, and in what capacity it influences/incorporates interfaith efforts?

I am the founder and CEO of House of Rainbow, which is based in London, which seeks to be a welcoming ministry for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, intersex, and queer people. The bulk of our work is in Africa, and our focus has shifted, so that we are not only ministering to Christians, but also to Muslims in Nigeria and Ghana now.

Can you tell us more about your work with religious minorities and LGBTQ minorities?

We do a lot of training, with seminars and workshops, focusing on what the Bible and Qur’an say about homosexuality. We look at Bible passages that have been used as a form of discrimination and try to take people on a journey of reconciliation. We also work with faith leaders; we’ve felt that faith leaders who are gay or lesbian can become role models for other LGBTIQ people. We also have been focusing on parents, because a lot of parents have listened to churches or Islamic institutes that have persistently condemned their children. They, too, need to be empowered to understand what the texts say about LGBTIQ people, who are their own children. So these are mainly our target audiences at the moment, and we keep broadening our focus as we continue to discover more about the work that we do.

Can you share a story about your personal background to illustrate how it inspired you to engage in interfaith service efforts?

I was born into a Christian home, and my dad is a pastor and leading theologian in Nigeria; he is the founder of United Bible University. I grew up in a strict and conservative Christian household. I was surrounded by a lot of love, but that was not enough when it came to the issue of my own sexuality. I discovered passages of the Bible that condemned homosexuality, so I grew up as a young, terrified, gay man. I was born in London and lived in Nigeria growing up, but returned to England when I was 18. When I returned there, I continued going to church, and eventually I met and married a woman. I didn’t get the chance to work through the issues around my own sexuality before that. I believed getting involved with a woman would heal my sexuality, and three years after the marriage, I came out to my ex-wife that I am gay. Our relationship fell apart.

I struggled because the church I dedicated my life to ostracized and discriminated against me for being gay. For a number of years, I didn’t go to church but maintained my relationship with God. When I decided to go back to church, I lived a double life: as a faithful Christian, but with a different set of friends outside the church. About three or four years later, people found out I was gay and I was ostracized again, and I fell out of church again for a couple of years. Then I was introduced to the Metropolitan Community Church, which started in the United States in 1968, and I loved it. I was able to begin my journey of reconciling my sexuality with my faith. I was ordained into a Christian minister position nearly 18 years ago now. At the time that I was struggling with my own sexuality, I didn’t think it was right for me to be a Christian leader myself. But after, I decided in 2005 that it would be my desire and will to start something that would be welcoming to the gay community in Nigeria. I did a lot of background work and felt compelled to start the ministry of House of Rainbow. So I moved to Nigeria in 2006 and started House of Rainbow on September 2 that year. I knew it would be a very long journey. But we’re very grateful to have recently celebrated 10 years of House of Rainbow.

To what extent should higher education institutions play an active role in interfaith service work and projects?

I think part of the way higher education can play a part in this is by bringing young adults together to have symposiums and forums and discussions about sexuality; it’s something that needs to be opened up. I think they can look at racial discrimination, subjugation of women, etc. and how those themes impact sexuality. I think House of Rainbow has been holistic in the way it addresses issues broadly. It’s important that higher education allows opportunities for this narrative to take place. We cannot be ignorant of the fact that there are young people who are growing in our communities and churches and mosques who are experiencing changes in their bodies and sexualities, but they don’t have a safe space to change and grow. Higher education can provide this. We need young LGBTIQ people of African descent to be able to come up and speak about these issues.

For example, in Benoni, which is a township in South Africa, since 2011, the Mothers of Queer Children has been a part of the church and has been challenging the churches and Mothers’ Unions in this part of South Africa to begin to address the issues of discrimination against LGBTIQ people. We are hoping to have a convention with young people to address issues of discrimination in 2016. Globally, a lot of young people are expressing their sexualities more openly, but in Africa, the trend is opposite, and people are repressing themselves more. We need a curriculum suitable for universities and theological institutions so we can begin to address specific issues.

What have been your greatest challenges regarding peacebuilding and interfaith/intercultural dialogue and cooperation?

I think that peacebuilding is primarily working with faith leaders who disagree with you, and that in itself is very difficult. Anglicans, Catholics, and Pentecostals are rooted in a traditional view that homosexuality is an abomination and sin against God. One challenge is trying to shift the ideas of those people. Another challenge is in countries like Nigeria and Uganda, where there are anti-homosexual views and laws. I worked with many others and challenged the Nigeria government when we stood in the Nigeria parliament and addressed the parliament members about the pending anti-gay bill in 2007. Unfortunately, the law passed in 2014, but we have been working with several faith leaders and communities to look at the fact that sexual minorities also deserve human dignity and expression of religion and faith. We’re working with LGBTIQ communities in Nigeria and Ghana where we have groups that support Muslims, so the interfaith dialogue is also very key to that. We are also working with faith leaders in other countries—Zambia, Malawi, South Africa, Botswana—in these four countries particularly, we’ve worked with Christian and Muslim faith leaders in order to help them understand that scriptures alone don’t dehumanize and discriminate against LGBTIQ people, and we’ve gained a lot of progress.

Please tell us about your current work/role, and in what capacity it influences/incorporates interfaith efforts?

In Zambia, we have had the most senior Muslim leader come and work with House of Rainbow, and he carried his clerics as well. In August 2016, in Kenya, I had the opportunity to address a workshop with about 30 faith leaders from the eastern and southern African regions with three LGBTIQ people who gave their testimonies about their experiences. The other thing is to build interfaith documentation. I contributed to a book called Behold I Make All Things New, edited by Reverend Loraine Tulleken and Reverend Jape Mokgethi-Heath, in which I contributed the Christian LGBTIQ perspective, about being able to reconcile sexuality and faith. But this is not enough unless we have the faith community working along with us.

For the future, we want to work with academic institutions and theological training universities and colleges and have a more open dialogue. We are currently developing a curriculum for workshops and seminars for academic studies, to help bridge African culture with Christian theologies. In Africa, we have an organization called Inner Circle, which is a counterpart to House of Rainbow, because both are LGBTIQ inclusive. We send all Muslim candidates to Inner Circle to be trained, and it’s an amazing partnership and collaboration at the moment.

What do you enjoy most about the work you do?

Just seeing the changes and transformation in people’s lives. I guarantee you I get a lot of hate mail and abuse. But for every 10 hate mails, when I get one message of encouragement and hope, it makes a huge difference and enables me to go forward with sheer determination. I think the urgency for reconciliation and salvation and redemption for sexual minorities is extremely important right now, and that makes me happy and hopeful. Just a week ago, I started posting two or three minutes reflections on WhatsApp, and I’ve been seeing encouraging feedback. We’re using almost every form of social media—WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, etc.—and these are mediums that allow you to communicate instantly. The audio and video features are very helpful to connect with people. We have about 300,000 total followers on social media. That’s a lot, so we think if we continue this and use mobile technology, we can connect with millions. Our website is under construction right now. We’re particularly proud that we’re working with and targeting the black African and Caribbean communities that are extremely behind. Even in the United Kingdom, we need to begin a radical ministry that will go into the South, because our work is life-transforming and life-saving, and people just need to hear it.

I’m optimistic, and I think we are developing leaders in local capacities. I hope we can bring all of these people together to give them more leadership training in the future.

What is one thing you would like to see change in your community in terms of interreligious relations and understanding?

What I would like to see is the decriminalization of homosexuality, which I know is a big request at the moment. I think it can be effective—if community and faith and political leaders will engage in research and empirical evidence about the existence of sexual minorities. This is at the top of my list. Next to that is protection for the lives of LGBTIQ people. Nobody should be hurt or harmed or killed, and we should be able to live safely in any place in the world. It is always my hope that common sense will prevail and people will listen and have dialogues.

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