It would be better to starve to death than to accept homosexuality, said a top African church leader while asking government officials to reject foreign aid allegedly tied to advancing LGBT equality.
Cardinal Polycarp Pengo of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, made his comments during a Mass last month that celebrated the harvest. A news report posted by the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa explained:
“[Pengo] said that there are some threats from developed countries alleging that ‘they will stop support us if we are against homosexuality. It is better to die of hunger than to receive aid and be compelled to do things that are contrary to God’s desire,’ Cardinal Pengo said adding that ‘the sin of homosexuality was the cause of destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and that, these things are contrary to God’s plan in creation and should not be accepted at all.’
“He thanked the Tanzanian Government for its position on the matter while stressing that all Tanzanians should say no to homosexual which apparently is encroaching very fast in African countries.
“‘We cannot accept such displeasing things to God; and if we are starving because we have refused to engage in such acts, then we would rather die with our God. Accepting homosexual is denying God,’ Cardinal Pengo further expressed.'” [Editor’s note: What may seem like grammatical errors or typos in the above quotes from the cardinal are actually variations in spoken English used in Tanzania.]
The cardinal’s remarks during Mass came while the LGBT community in Tanzania, and specifically in Dar es Salaam, suffered renewed persecution. In late October of this year, the city’s governor announced a new team of vigilantes to identify and jail LGBT people. Hundreds of people have either fled the city or gone into hiding since, and the risks remain high to this day. Being lesbian or gay is still criminalized nationwide, and incidents of discrimination and violence in Tanzania overall have been increasing since the 2015 of President John Magufuli. HIV/AIDS activists and workers have also been targeted by the government.
Pengo is not the first Catholic official to claim Western donors have sought to impose LGBT rights on unwilling recipient nations. Lack of evidence that foreign aid to any nation has been withheld over a recipient nation’s LGBT record has not stopped these false ideas from spreading. These ideas made it into the Synod on the Family’s 2015 final report, and Pope Francis has criticized repeatedly what he terms “ideological colonization” (e.g. here, here, and here). Even though the ideas he promoted further are not novel, there is something uniquely cruel about Pengo’s words. I offer two reasons for this claim.
First, the foreign aid that Tanzania’s government receives, funding a third of its budget, is desperately needed. According to Crux, the nation has “one of the highest percentages of malnourished citizens in the world” and “more than 75 percent of the country’s population have in the last year suffered food shortages.” To suggest to an already suffering people that faithful Catholics should starve themselves to death rather than, for instance, end anti-LGBT criminalization is grotesque and abusive logic.
Second, in the midst of anti-LGBT persecution which has caused great suffering, a church leader should be injecting the words of Christ’s love. Pengo should be calling for everyone’s life and dignity to be protected, not conceding to his own prejudices and stoking the homophobic fires well ablaze in Dar es Salaam. He has made himself actively complicit in all the violence being carried out.
Often when church leaders make insensitive or harmful comments about LGBT issues, Catholics rightly call on them to apologize. But an apology will not be sufficient in the case of Cardinal Prengo. He must also use his authority to stop the very anti-LGBT persecution which he has helped foment.
To learn more about anti-LGBT criminalization and ways Catholics can take action against such laws, click here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 7, 2018