LGBTQ+ advocates have strongly criticized a Zambian archbishop’s queerphobic letter in which he claimed government leaders were not sufficiently enforcing criminalization laws. Significantly, the advocates rooted their critique using a decolonization lens.
The Global Interfaith Network, an advocacy group based in South Africa, challenged Archbishop Alick Banda of Lusaka in a declaration reported by 76 Crimes. More than 100 mostly African organizations and LGBTQ+ leaders signed on after Banda had his anti-LGBTQ+ letter read at parishes, which also caused the Zambian Conference of Catholic Bishops to re-affirm its support for criminalization.
The declaration states that its signers “deplore” the archbishop’s letter, which they believe will “will provide further justification and support for those inflicting violence on the LGBTIQ+ community.” The declaration continued:
“Religious leaders are the shepherds of their flocks and have a responsibility to provide guidance, care and support to the faith community. Although we understand that for the Archbishop of Lusaka, same sex sexualities and non normative gender identities are unfamiliar we do not believe that it is appropriate, especially in a context in which people are already marginalised and subject to violence and discrimination, for the Archbishop to (in effect from the pulpit) put his stamp of approval on further violence.
“It is from a Christian perspective that we ponder the effects of such statements on LGBTI Zambians. What does it mean to their sense of safety and mental health? They are pitted against their parents and families. Even supposedly hope-inducing institutions such as churches are listed as their hunters, to hunt them out.”
The declaration notes that Zambia’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws are the result of British colonization, noting the nation’s constitution includes non-discrimination protections for other protected classes. Citing advances in biblical interpretation that have undermined anti-gay readings, the declaration also explains:
“The claim that sexual diversity is ‘un-African’ is refuted by well-researched traditional practices in some communities such as women having female husbands and men having male wives; and African traditional religious leaders who are inhabited by an opposite sex ancestor and therefore exhibit characteristics of that sex, including their choice of intimate partner. People with non-normative gender identities and sexual orientations have always been part of our communities and families in the African context and claiming that LGBTIQ+ people are a ‘Western’ import is false and historically inaccurate.
“In the African context, human sexuality has generally been conceived as a divine life-affirming gift which holistically embraces diverse human relationships and sexual expressions that lead to sexual pleasure and renewal as well as, in some cases, procreation.
“In African traditions, sexual difference has never been a reason for exclusion from family and community life. Punishing people for sexual difference by denying them the right to full participation in society is a colonial notion being advanced by the extreme religious right and those they have co-opted, and is distinctly un-African.”
The declaration states that “pitting faith and sexuality against each other is a false dichotomy,” one which harms not only LGBTQ+ people, but all people of faith. It concludes:
“The people of Zambia, just as it is the people of the African continent, deserve an opportunity to see humanity beyond heterosexuality. That opportunity has the potential for a reclamation of the African people’s history of dealing with diversity, an opportunity of understanding beyond the common narrative of dehumanization.”
The Global Interfaith Network’s declaration is timely and important, not only as a necessary response to Archbishop Banda. It amplifies a truth often too hidden in debates over anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments in Zambia and other previously-colonized nations: it was European colonizers who introduced many of the criminalization laws. Decolonization is a process and tool used by many communities, and in the discourse of LGBTQ+ rights, it is one advocates must rely on, too.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, October 24, 2022