While many of us were on our knees on Maundy Thursday, reflecting on Christ’s impending Passion, the leader of the branch of the pro-gay lobby group Changing Attitude in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, was attending a friend’s funeral. There he was beaten up by a gang of homophobic thugs.
A few days later, the director of Changing Attitude in Nigeria was attacked in Lomé, Togo, by a man armed with a knife and a suspicious syringe. The man who was attacked has to live in Togo because he fears for his life in Nigeria. He, too, wanted to attend the same funeral, but was told that he would be killed if he did. Text messages after the syringe assault warned that his attackers would be back “to finish the job” (News, 11 April).
I get my fair share of hate mail writing this column. But I don’t get half the nastiness received by the Revd Colin Coward, the UK director of Changing Attitude. Here is a sample: “Evil homosexual promoter, we gave your Nigerian homosexual representative and his followers long time to repent but he underrated us. Come and save them if you can.” Then there was the equally charming: “You will loose ur life for what u re doing go and write todays date u have few days to live.”
And again: “WE HAVE NOT STARTED AND YOU ARE PANICKING, HOMOSEXUAL PROMOTERS. WAIT AND SEE WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO ALL YOUR AGENT IN NIGERIA SOON, ONE BY ONE.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury has rightly commented: “The threats recently made against the leaders of Changing Attitude are disgraceful.” But I do not think we as a Church are taking all this nastiness seriously enough. It is not at all impossible to imagine that the hatred coursing through the veins of the Anglican Communion could soon result in somebody’s death.
There will be those who say that the Church of Nigeria cannot be held responsible for a few bad eggs. This would be true, if the Church did not describe homosexuality as “devilish and satanic. It comes directly from the pit of hell. It is an idea sponsored by Satan himself and being executed by his followers and adherents who have infiltrated the Church. The blood and power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth will flush them out with disgrace and great pains.”
Language matters. The history of human violence suggests that if you can persuade people to describe others as “cockroaches” or “rats”, or “unclean” or “evil”, then those thus described are not far from harm. And the Bible tells of a God who is for ever by their side.
The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney.