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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Faith-Based Efforts to Promote LGBTI Rights in Asia and Africa

Bishop Joseph W. Tolton, Executive Director, The Fellowship Global; and Reverend Boon Ngeo, Director of Asian Outreach, The Global Justice Institute
New York, NY
January 12, 2016




Date: 01/12/2016 Location: New York, NY Description: Bishop Joseph W. Tolton and Reverend Boon Ngeo brief journalists on faith-based efforts to promote LGBTI rights in Asia and Afria at the New York Foreign Press Center.
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2:00 P.M. EST

NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR

MS SHIE: Okay, so we’re going to go ahead and start the briefing today. We’re very honored to have with us here in the middle Bishop Joseph Tolton, who is the Bishop of Global Ministries at the Fellowship Global. He’s going to focus on Africa today, which is ground zero for global LGBTI rights and a defining moment for Christianity. We have Reverend and Doctor Boon Lin Ngeo. He’s Director of Asian Affairs of the Global Justice Institution of Metropolitan Community Churches, and his focus will be on Asia and the social shifts in the midst of economic growth and tremendous spiritual diversity. Finally, we have Marianne Duddy-Burke, who is executive director of DignityUSA, a member of the Equally Blessed Coalition. And she will discuss the Catholic Church and its relationship with the LGBTI global reality.

So I think it’s wonderful that we have all of you here today. Thank you so much for coming, and we look forwarding to hearing from you. Please go ahead.

MR TOLTON: Excellent. Well, first, let me thank you, Monica, for the work that you’ve done to help facilitate and to coordinate this. And thank you for your vision in identifying the importance of this issue. Thank you so kindly. And to the reporters that are here, we’re very gracious – graciously welcoming you and thank you for your time today.

I bring you warm greetings on behalf of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, and our presiding bishop, Bishop Yvette Flunder. The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries is the largest network of African-American-led churches and faith groups that are focused on LGBTI empowerment and inclusion. I have the pleasure of serving as the bishop of global ministries and the executive director of the Fellowship Global.

I first visited Uganda in 2010 as an ambassador of goodwill to stand in solidarity with Uganda’s LGBTI community. The year before, the world was shocked when Uganda’s parliament began to debate anti-gay legislation that would make same-sex intimacy punishable by death. LGBTI Ugandans were hurt and betrayed by the homophobia of their countrymen, but they were outraged and confused by the involvement of America’s religious right. The anti-gay bill in Uganda was not a random act of social or political hostility, but it was the result of over 25 years of coordination between conservative American and Ugandan Christians and politicians. The enterprise of turning Uganda into a Christian kingdom funded by American money is the height of spiritual colonialism, purposed to ensure African resources and markets remain subject to exploitation.

As a black American, I quickly realized the hypocrisy of the religious right who present themselves as interested in Africa, but here on the domestic front they are clearly motivated by racial insensitivity. Conservative Americans understand that their country has embraced liberal social values. American religious leaders are aware of the anxiety and disaffection, particularly among fundamentalist congregants. African faith leaders know that their populations are young, poor, and feeling betrayed by the unfulfilled hopes of the liberation movement which swept the continent in the 1960s.

The ecclesiastical elite in Africa also realize that they are the gatekeepers of social change and economic possibility. Autocrats on the continent are focused on hoarding the wealth of their natural resources as they manipulate the economic competition between the West and China as well as the religious aspirations of America’s vocal and activist minority.

These interconnected and complex factors have resulted in a very simple social dynamic. African LGBTI people are the targets of national strife and violence resulting from a global web of economic exploitation, moral panic, political manipulation, and personal greed. The oil that keeps this machine moving is bad religion. And as bad religion has brought us to this point, I believe that good religion will deliver us.

In December of 2001, Secretary Clinton declared, “The Obama Administration defends the human rights of LGBTI people as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a priority of our foreign policy.” The secretary went on to state, “This policy goal was an organic extension of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly in December of 1948.” As a bishop and an advocate for the inclusive message of Jesus Christ, I certainly celebrate the U.S. Government’s commitment. But I’m clear that policy can influence a change in the law, but only the moral urgency of a call to faith can change hearts. This places a burden on all faith leaders to speak out against unjust laws and vigilante violence targeting LGBTI people.

The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries is working to inspire African clergy and LGBTI activists to connect with African Americans to build a pan-African open and affirming faith movement guided by a progressive, intersectional social justice agenda. The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries is working with partners in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, the eastern region of the DRC, and Cote d’Ivoire to discern a path toward the full dignity of LGBTI people, to promote the sacredness of feminine identity, to confront structural poverty, and to encourage interreligious harmony.

Over the last year – five years, the Fellowship Global in Africa has launched the United Coalition of Affirming Africans. Our core programs are theological education, reconciliation between faith leaders and LGBTI activists, engagement of the media, and supporting economic sustainability projects. Africans are engaging the Fellowship Global to challenge Biblical inerrancy and to present new understandings of tradition and culture. Since 2001, the Fellowship Global in Africa has trained over 250 faith leaders. We have established official ties with three denominations, and we’ve helped to facilitate the founding of a flourishing congregation, Cosmopolitan Affirming Church – the only openly gay communion in Nairobi.

During multiple visits to Africa as an openly gay bishop, I have been embraced; I have been loved, welcomed, and asked to come back to be a leader among African leaders. Many of my African brothers and sisters were relieved that they could rest from carrying the burden of hate, spiritual violence, and suspicion toward LGBTI people. They were filled with joy to see my genuine love, particularly as an African American, for the continent, and they were inspired by the message of black reconciliation.

In October, in an interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN, President Kenyatta made his most compelling LGBTI-affirming statement when he declared that violence against LGBTI people would not be tolerated in Kenya. He went on to say, “You will not create the United States or Britain overnight in Africa. These things take time and need a process.” The acknowledgment by a sitting president in Africa that a process of social change regarding human sexuality is viable is proof that change in Africa has begun. And may I also note that those comments were given just three months after President Obama visited Kenya and, standing on stage next to President Kenyatta, made very strong pro-LGBTI statements that we believe reverberated. And the result of that as well as all of the great activism happening on the ground in the health care arena, the faith arena, and the legal arena paid off in that statement.

Change in Africa certainly has begun. Thank you so very kindly.

MR NGEO: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for coming. I would like to report to you what I have been doing – some of the works that I have been doing in Asia. I started my LGBTI activism and LGBTI Christian ministry in Asia in 2004 in my home country, Malaysia, which is dominated by Muslims. Malaysia is not a Islamic country; I have to emphasize that. It’s a Muslim country dominated by Muslims.

I came out publicly by publishing my coming out story, which is the first of its kind in Malaysia. And in 2006, that is when I published a book. As a writer of many bestsellers in Malaysia, I was considered as the first openly gay public figure in Malaysia. And in 2007 I was ordained as a Christian minister at Metropolitan Community Church in New York. And the news was widely reported in Malaysia, and I was recognized as the first openly gay Christian minister in Malaysia. And in 2011, my husband and I were legally married in New York City and the news was spread like wildfire in Malaysia. And the next year we went back to Malaysia to host a Chinese wedding banquet, and 260 guests were invited. And it again created intense media coverage in Malaysia.

And in 2009 I was appointed by the Global Justice Institute of Metropolitan Community Church as the director of Asian affairs and become – and began by biannual trip to Asia. So I go to Asia at least twice a year. I focus heavily on mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and – in addition to Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, and Indonesia.

Mainland China has become more tolerant of homosexuality. Being Christian actually is a more sensitive identity than being gay in China. The Chinese Government policy on homosexuality could be summarized as “don’t ban, don’t support, and don’t promote.” Because of one-child policy and family pressure, most of the gay people there are hiding in heterosexual marriages. According to some research, at least 80 percent of gay men in China, they are in heterosexual marriage.

Taiwan perhaps is the most LGBTI-friendly and most progressive place in terms of LGBTI activism in Asia. They have their first LGBTI pride parade in 2003. Last year, they held a massive pride parade attended by nearly 80,000 people. A bill to make same-sex marriage legal was first proposed in Taiwan in 2012. The greatest opposition to same-sex marriage in Taiwan, however, is coming from a small but extremely vocal and organized Christian minority called Chen Ai Alliance, Chen Ai Lien-Meng, which translated as “True Love Alliance.”

In 2011, the ministry of education even succumbed to their pressure and suspended the releasing of three reference books that contained gender and sexual diversity teaching materials for elementary and high school and junior high school, even though it was required by the Gender Equality Education Act of 2004 in Taiwan.

Hong Kong, which is the premier gateway to mainland China, one of the world’s largest trading economies, also has vibrant LGBTI activism. They started their first gay pride parade in 2008. Hong Kong, however, also has a powerful antigay lobby, the Society for Truth and Light, an extreme right-wing – which is an extreme right-wing Christian organization.

In both Taiwan and Hong Kong, their anti-LGBTI rhetorics come from ultra-conservatives of the religious right in the United States. They have two strategies – namely, appealing to the religious text, namely the Bible, and also the manipulation of pseudoscience research. Unlike the United States, most of the population in Taiwan and in Hong Kong are not Christian – in Taiwan, less than 7 percent and in Hong Kong, less than 12 percent. So they just cannot simply say homosexual is a sin because the Bible tells me so like in the United States. So it’s why they have to appeal to pseudoscience research, which are highly paranoid, mostly from the religious right in the United States. The Chen Ai Alliance in Taiwan even has to say they are a group of concerned parents or sometimes call themselves concerned citizens instead of acknowledge themselves as a Christian organization.

My ministry in this country is simply to come out, to be who I am, and to make queer theology available to them and to introduce the recent research in biblical studies and theological discussion related to LGBTI issues. In 2012, I drafted a public statement, “Homosexuality is not a sin,” in Hong Kong, and it was supported and signed by 22 LGBTI Christian minister and LGBTI-friendly Christian minister in Asia. For the very first time in Hong Kong and also in the Chinese-speaking world, a group of Christian minister came up publicly to have a press conference to support LGBTI people. So it was deemed as a historic event in the Chinese LGBTI Christian movement in Asia.

In Asia, I also argued forcefully that LGBTI rights are not about LGBTI people, because our lives are all highly intertwined. LGBTI rights are not only human rights for LGBTI people, but for everyone, because in China, as I said, for instance, at least 16 million heterosexual women are married to gay men without knowing the truth. So it is a social justice issue; it’s not only about gay issue. Thank you.

MS DUDDY-BURKE: Thank you, and thanks to you for being here and covering this important issue. I’m Marianne Duddy-Burke and I serve as the executive director of DignityUSA, which is the U.S.’s foremost organization of LGBTI Catholics and supporters. And we have worked for justice and equality for LGBTI Catholics and our families since before Stonewall in 1969, so a long time.

With over one billion followers, the Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination on the planet. It sponsors the world’s largest private network of schools, health care providers, and social service agencies. And Catholics hold significant, sometimes even disproportionate numbers of political and judicial roles in many nations. So the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church clearly impact a disproportionate proportion of the world’s population, both Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

The church’s official teachings label homosexuality as an objective disorder and same-sex relationships as intrinsically evil. Popes and other high-ranking Catholic officials have called same-sex marriage, quote, “a threat to civilization” or “a threat to the family,” and have said allowing lesbian and gay people to parent does violence to children by depriving them of their natural right to a mother and father.

The church does not have an official teaching on transgender or intersex individuals, but in practice has forbidden changes in baptismal records to reflect a person’s non-biological or birth-assigned gender, prohibits these persons from ministry or religious life, and has recently been talking a lot about the danger of believing gender to be a human or cultural construct rather than a natural construct.

And while there has been some softening of the harsh, condemning rhetoric against LGBTI people during the papacy of Francis, no policies have changed. And he has, in fact, continued to lend his personal and office support to initiatives that would ban civil marriage for same-sex couples as well as adoption of children by LGBT people. He speaks about the need for respect and care for all people, but the dehumanizing rhetoric from Catholic Church officials as well as other religious leaders over recent decades has, in fact, convinced many people that LGBTI people are somehow less than human or threats to mainstream cultures, and that criminalization and violence are still appropriate responses. Church leaders’ failure to condemn the criminalization of homosexuality or gender expression lends itself to at least tacit reinforcement of this reality.

The situation of LGBTI Catholics varies widely around the world. In September of 2015, a new organization called the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics was launched in an effort to better network LGBTI Catholics and allies from around the world. And actually, Jeff Stone, who’s sitting over there, was one of our representatives to that kickoff meeting, so he may have some more personal information about that. During the kickoff meeting, much of the time was spent sharing stories about the experiences of people from the just under three dozen countries who were represented, who came from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America.

As we know, in many Western nations, LGBTI people, including Catholics, are enjoying significant gains in civil rights and social acceptance, although many – especially the young and gender-nonconforming people – still face substantial prejudice and dangers. Public surveys regularly find that majorities of Catholics support LGBTI equality and recognition of same-sex marriage, but church officials refuse – remain in the forefront of equality movements and refuse to recognize same-sex marriage. They, in fact, have embarked on a campaign to fire employees found to be married. And due to church teaching, some families still believe that they should be disowning children who come out, leading to high levels of homelessness, addiction, poverty, and educational difficulties among LGBT Catholic youth.

Representatives from several South American countries spoke of colleagues and friends being murdered because of their sexuality and gender identity and of their inability to get any church officials to speak out against this violence. They said there are small groups of people of faith coming together to support LGBTI people, but they are often afraid to be public, so accomplishing anything is taking a very long time.

In some countries such as Brazil and El Salvador, orders of priests and nuns have taken the bold step of organizing meetings or conferences to bring LGBTI people and supporters together, and advocacy groups are beginning to emerge. However, even in these countries, activists often have to flee their countries due to threats to their lives.

The Asian representatives at this meeting spoke about how the cultural emphasis on family and on the desire for grandchildren negatively impacts LGBTI people, and how the church teaching actually supports these cultural norms. In some Asian nations, there is also a profound problem with the church’s ban on condoms to slow the spread of HIV, such as in the Philippines, where activists talked about 150 percent annual increases in infection rates, mostly among LGBTI people.

African activists said the threat of imprisonment is very real to them, and that many LGBTI people flee their countries. Even in South Africa, where LGBTI human rights are constitutionally protected, people feel socially isolated, are unwilling to come out, and women spoke of being homophobically raped. The African Catholic bishops are widely seen as preventing the adoption of gay-positive statements during the recent Synod on the Family, citing cultural imperialism.

In Eastern Europe, while the predominant faith in most countries is Orthodox, there are countries like Poland and Hungary where Catholicism is dominant. Anti-gay and anti-trans violence is rampant in nearly all of Eastern Europe, and LGBTI people report that many clerics regularly preach anti-gay sermons and respond with harsh words, even condemnation, if they attempt to discuss their situation in confession.

So in many ways, much of the world is like the 1950s and ’60s U.S., where homosexuality is considered sick, sinful, and criminal, and people mostly stayed in the closet. There is a tremendous need for safe space for LGBTI people and allies to come together to support one another and to start work for the increasing – the social and religious support we have garnered in the Western world in recent years. I truly believe that as Catholics begin to hear the stories of their intersex, trans, or gay loved ones and colleagues, the Catholic values of love, compassion, and justice will motivate Catholics in nations all around the globe to support the kind of social changes in policy and church teaching, just as they’ve come to do here in the U.S. Thank you.

MS SHIE: Great. Thank you so much. Let’s open it to questions.

QUESTION: Can I have two questions, because I have to leave shortly?

MS SHIE: Identify yourself.

QUESTION: Thank you. Glenville Ashby, syndicated journalist, religion and culture, syndicated through the Caribbean, Guyana, and Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago. One question concerns you – bishop, you mentioned something on economic evangelization and economic deprivation and spiritual colonialism.

MR TOLTON: Yes.

QUESTION: I want to tie in – I want you to – if you can clarify or if you can elaborate on how evangelization of African peoples by evangelicals, right-wing evangelicals, has something to do with economic deprivation and the continued rape of African resources.

And the second question concerns bioethics, and that question: Is there, like Kent would say, a universal moral code, a universal ethical code that transcends culture, space, time. Is the Bible, the word of God, is it – supposedly the word of God – is it immutable? Is it unchanging, or is it relative? Are we dealing with relativism and absolutism, and if so, how then do you justify or how then do you explain the justness of homosexuality?

MR TOLTON: Absolutely. In terms of addressing your first question, I think that the economic experiment kind of goes as follows: You have high-level clergy from the United States who go over to Africa and they befriend high-level clergy on the continent. We can take Uganda or Rwanda to be a very good example. These high-level clergymen give them carte blanche access to the autocrats that are running these country and high-level political figures whom they know control access to the natural resources within these countries. And so that’s how the connection is made. And spiritual colonialism – it creates a sense of moral panic among these populations so that their focus is not on issues of economic equity, not on issues of economic justice, certainly not on issues of driving democracy within their nations. But their concerns become focused on moral issues.

And what happens is that they’re giving – given a perverted sense of being empowered. So if you don’t have economic clout, if you don’t have social capital, what you do have is some spiritual heft, as it were, that allows you to speak against a targeted population whose rights you can strip away. And by stripping away the rights of that population, demonizing that population, actually enacting laws that target that population, it creates a sense of – a perverted sense of empowerment among the population. Meanwhile, you’ve got Western companies that are going in, and they’re just grabbing resources out of the ground.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Thank you. And concerning the absolute/relative aspect of homosexuality, or bioethics, so to speak, and its relation to homosexuality?

MR TOLTON: Well, I think we all probably have a perspective there, and so I don’t want to take up all the time.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TOLTON: But what I will say is I am very – I take the Bible seriously, but I’m so glad I don’t take it literally. If I were to take it literally, perhaps African Americans would still be slaves because the Bible justifies slavery. If I were to take it literally, the women who introduced the gospel of Jesus Christ to me would not have been able to do so because the Bible demands that they have to keep silent. When we talk about marriage in the – marriage as it relates to biblical marriage being betrayed by marriage equality, it’s a head scratcher, because you’ve got all sorts of situations in the Bible where people are polygamist, people are marrying relatives – I mean, there are all sorts of kind of sexual dysfunction and marital arrangements throughout the scriptures. So we see marriage evolve throughout the scriptures, and I think it’s important for us to understand that it has to continue to evolve as we become far more enlightened as people. So yes, it is relative, and thank God it’s relative.

QUESTION: So the moral codes in general are relative?

MR TOLTON: There are some hard, fast, and true rules.

QUESTION: Right.

MR TOLTON: But then there are other things that are absolutely subject --

QUESTION: Subject to time and culture.

MR TOLTON: Absolutely.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MS DUDDY-BURKE: I would just echo – I mean, in Catholicism the Bible has never been seen as a literal document. It has always been interpreted in time and culture, through that lens. And I think that as we have increases in social sciences and physical sciences, all of that information is being brought to bear on the interpretation of things that were written in particular cultural settings.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I have three questions.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

MR TOLTON: Thank you.

MS DUDDY-BURKE: Thank you.

QUESTION: Alexey Osipov from Russia, from Komsomolskaya Pravda. Bishop, let’s say this is African map. Briefly give the dots where is the situation with LGBTI people are – the better --

MR TOLTON: Is --

QUESTION: Yeah, just by countries. Where is the situation in Africa with LGBTI people are good, worst, better, bad?

MR TOLTON: Sure, sure. Well, the places where the LGBTI situation is certainly the worst – we would have to start with Uganda. We’d have to go to the Gambia and Nigeria. Nigeria and the Gambia stand out because they actually have laws that have been signed by their respective presidents that are actually on the books and being enforced, where LGBTI people are being rounded up. And in particular, in Nigeria the law really speaks against the ability for people to come together to even assemble themselves to have conversations about LGBTI issues. The same is pretty much the case in the Gambia. And in Uganda, of course, the anti-homosexuality bill was overturned by Uganda’s high court. But you still have parliamentarians who are trying to introduce legislation that would forbid the freedom of assembly and legislation that is specifically targeting NGOs that have a specific relationship to the LGBTI issue or issues of gender expression.

QUESTION: Where is the situation is – let’s say better?

MR TOLTON: Well, certainly --

QUESTION: Who is the leader?

MR TOLTON: Absolutely. Well, I’m – do you – as Marianne spoke to, in South Africa, LGBTI rights are constitutionally protected. Same-sex marriage is the law of the land. But at the same time, Marianne lifted up the fact that there are some cultural and social realities that are on a collision course with what’s happening with the law.

There are some countries where things are shifting. In Cote d’Ivoire, you do see the influence, interestingly, of the French, as a Francophone country, where there seems to be some minimal amounts of social tolerance. I would even highlight Rwanda being a country that has clearly said we’re not interested in embracing the tactics of our neighbor, Uganda. So that’s a place I would lift up. And Mozambique recently passed some legislation that was fairly positive. And I would also lift up Botswana, where the government has allowed the local LGBTI group to legally register. And we could also add Kenya to the list, where their high court last year, toward the end of the year, made it legal for an LGBTI group with the words “gay” or “lesbian” in their name to legally form and to register.

QUESTION: Okay. And second question: We are talking now and behind of you, opposite of me, the Department of State logo and the American flag. It’s not possible in Russia that we are in Kremlin and will discuss LGBTI issue. Why? Why do you think?

MR TOLTON: Why do I think in Russia?

QUESTION: Yeah. Why? We are quite the same countries. I mean, the same stage of the civilization – less religious and let’s say democratic countries, but we can’t talk about LGBT rights officially, I mean, in Kremlin, in Moscow municipality.

MR TOLTON: Sure. I have a thought, but Marianne, do you want to --

MS DUDDY-BURKE: I would say I had a chance to meet some Russian Christian activists at a European --

QUESTION: Christian?

MS DUDDY-BURKE: Yes, Christian activists at a European forum of LGBT Christians meeting a couple a years ago, both of whom had suffered incredible violence to themselves – marching in pride parade, burned, just – beaten by a crowd. Their belief was that they were being scapegoated because of the economic and the political instabilities in Russia. They felt very much as if the government was intentionally turning its lens and scapegoating the LGBTI community to keep the focus off of government policies that were bankrupting and weakening the country.

QUESTION: And one more question to Marianne. You several times in your speech and during the conversation clarified that Catholic Church is kind of the – not the enemy but the main – make the biggest problem for LGBTI people worldwide. But why you are framing specifically Catholic? For example, I am Russian. I am not Catholic. Probably I am Jewish by religious. But so we are on the different boats, or you will help me even the case if I will ask you about any kind of the consultation of it? Why Catholic? Why you notified the (inaudible) that you are related to the organization of the Catholic?

MS DUDDY-BURKE: Yeah. I think the point that I’m trying to make is that structurally the Catholic Church is such a large organization that its policies and practices just permeate pretty much everywhere on the globe. Because it’s providing social services in almost every country around the world and Catholic social service agencies are supposed to act according to the teachings of the church, their hiring practices, their healthcare practices impact many people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, everywhere.

I’m certainly not saying every Catholic believes this way. There’s clearly a lot of diversity of opinion across Catholics. But the official structural part of the church has rigid anti-gay policies, practices, and beliefs that influence laws, that influence what happens at schools, what happens at hospitals, family structures, all of that. And I think until we can start to dismantle those beliefs or the structure, the situation of LGBT people is really – we’re really going to be struggling as a community across the world.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR TOLTON: And can I just add to that, that I believe that in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of China that Putin has been very focused on what will it take to – for Russia to reemerge as a real dominant power again. And core to his strategy is rejecting the West, and he’s done so politically with what he’s done with encroaching beyond his boarders; but I think socially he’s leveraged the LGBTI issue as a clear rejection of the West’s social agenda, which I think he perceives to be very tied to America’s influence around the world because of how our culture is exported around the world. And so I think that much of this is not about his real moral convictions, but it’s really a social rejection of the West influence.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the agenda – West agenda is not relevant to Russia. Don’t forget that we are different countries and --

MR TOLTON: Sure.

QUESTION: -- 50 years ago in the States it was race segregation of black --

MR TOLTON: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- black Americans.

MR TOLTON: That’s right. Absolutely.

QUESTION: So maybe it’s a difference, kind of the different steps of the stairs, and maybe it’s too early now or a bit early now – it’s just example – talking Russia about the West agenda, just it’s not relevant.

MR TOLTON: Potentially so.

MS SHIE: Other questions?

QUESTION: Yes, I have a question, but it’s so complicated. I mean, thank you all for your presentations. I mean, it’s really fascinating to me. But one of the things that’s sort of – I wasn’t clear about, and I think this gentleman from the (inaudible) press sort of touched on it, is this idea – I heard you say that, for example, that the church is the gatekeeper of social change in Africa.

MR TOLTON: Absolutely.

QUESTION: I mean, I’m – I’m with – my name is Adam Phillips. I’m with Voice of America, English to Africa service, so that’s primarily my interest, so with Catholicism would come into it as well and what you have to say very much so, and of course, this comparison to the Asian case is of interest. But it seems to me like you’re talking about the sort of the moral and the legal force for a more liberal attitude and also the spiritual rationale for a more liberal attitude toward homosexuals in Africa.

We come from two places from what you said. One would be the Obama support and all that and the sort of very Western value of tolerance, which you – it sounds to me you’re inviting us to put in a primary place before the cultural – the native cultural norms, at least at present within Africa, which is a very different kind of thing. So it seems more like a cultural import, in a way, to use that as your rationale unless these countries are signatories to a declaration of human rights that they have to abide by. I don’t know.

So how do you justify both the – I mean, the church also seems to be bit of an alien presence in Africa, some people would argue. So it seems to me that you’re sort of having it both ways, where you don’t want this cultural imperial position, as you call it, but at the same time you’re intolerant of the intolerance of people who already live there and have strong opinions about it, the economic question aside, which is another interesting wrinkle on the whole thing, of course.

So that’s – I guess that’s not really a question, but how do you reconcile those ideas? That’s my first question.

MR TOLTON: Mm-hmm. Well, certainly, the anti-sodomy laws on the books in the Anglophone countries we know are holdovers from colonialism, and so --

QUESTION: See, that’s fascinating.

MR TOLTON: So they’re --

QUESTION: So before --

MR TOLTON: That’s right.

QUESTION: So is it true? Because I’ve heard this --

MR TOLTON: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- that a lot of the virulent anti-homosexual animus in Africa is actually rooted in the colonial experience?

MR TOLTON: Absolutely.

QUESTION: And that is amazing to me.

MR TOLTON: Well, absolutely.

QUESTION: You know what I mean? So you could almost have a pan-African rationale for being more tolerant about it, but it’s difficult to do that in the church, so you’re playing a very tricky game here.

MR TOLTON: Absolutely.

QUESTION: So anyway, that’s fascinating.

MR TOLTON: Yeah. And culturally, I think we can speak to the fact that in certain African cultures we know that those who were presented as priests or shamans were oftentimes --

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TOLTON: -- particularly men, who embodied both and articulated both feminine and masculine attributes, because that two-spirited --

QUESTION: Right.

MR TOLTON: -- to put it in Native American terms – sensibility presented themselves in a way where they were seen as more of a reflection of God’s being in totality. And so I think that there’s an argument for wanting to – to do more exploration around more indigenous understandings and spirituality and as that relates to issues of human sexuality on the continent.

MR NGEO: And I think this is pretty much the same in Asia too. That is why I always believed that LGBT rights is not the product of colonialism, but homophobia is.

QUESTION: That’s right.

MR NGEO: Homosexuality is not from the West, but homophobia is.

MR TOLTON: That’s right.

MR NGEO: For example, in China we have the phrase about homosexuality. We call it the passion of the cutting sleeve, because it was the king who one day he slept with his lover and as he took a nap, and then he wanted to get up out of the bed, and he found that his lover was sleeping on his sleeve. So instead of waking him up, he cut his own sleeve, okay. And this story was written 2,000 years ago, and obviously this homoeroticism was celebrated by Chinese people.

QUESTION: Well, that’s not the question at issue so much --

MR NGEO: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- as you said, which is really interesting.

MR NGEO: Yeah.

QUESTION: But you are – you’re representing yourself, obviously, as an historian, a Catholic too.

MR NGEO: Sure.

QUESTION: And I wonder also about the scriptural dimension of the abomination – the “a” word associated this in the scriptures. It seems like – again, I don’t know how – it sort of says what it says. It’s a huge leap for people to say that it’s not literal, even though I know that there’s a tradition of things meaning different stuff. So I don’t know, this is such a bouillabaisse, how you reconcile that, for example, to clergy ministries in Africa and Catholics – now of whom there are very many in Africa, of course.

Anyway, that’s – I don’t know if you have anything more to say, but I’d like to do some more stories about it.

MR TOLTON: Well, the Bible is a story about a people and their relationship with God and their struggle with some very basic human realities. And when we look at particularly the text of Terah (ph) in the New Testament, what Paul is trying to do is reconcile Jewish people who are becoming Christians and those who are Greek who are becoming Christian. And so we have all of these cultural differences that he has to overcome. And so he plays a game with same-sex love in a way that he could have played the same game with food, because it was probably more ghastly outrageous to a Jew at that time to eat shrimp than it was to bless a same-sex wedding. And so I think Paul was really savvy in how he used the issues to drive the reconciliation of cultures to get to a place where these cultures could coexist within a certain spiritual context. And I think we’re just too --

QUESTION: So you’re boiling it down to a sort of realpolitik in part, which is not a traditional scriptural interpretation.

MR TOLTON: I understand.

QUESTION: I mean hermeneutic, whatever the word.

MR TOLTON: Absolutely. And he also evolved because this is the very same man who said that salvation was first for the Jews and then for the Greeks, and then years later he wrote, oh, it’s very clear to me that in Christ there’s neither male nor female, there’s Jew nor Greek.

QUESTION: Yeah, there’s that.

MR TOLTON: There’s that, right. There’s bond nor free. And so I think we see him grappling with the issues and we see him evolving, which should give us license to evolve in the same way that Jesus, when he first met a woman who was not Jewish, she wanted a miracle for her daughter, he rejected her on the grounds --

QUESTION: Even the dog eats the crumbs.

MR TOLTON: Absolutely. But it was her persistence that then transformed Jesus in his ministry. And when he left her, he then went and he ministered to the multitudes, a mixed congregation of the Jews and the Gentiles. So I think we’ve really got to look at these at lived stories where we actually find what I like to call the big W, the Word, the logos, God himself, in the midst of the little w, which is the text.

QUESTION: Okay, to be continued. (Laughter.)

MR TOLTON: To be continued.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MS SHIE: Anything else?

QUESTION: Yeah, I have one question for – I just wonder, you mentioned that about 80 percent of gay in China, they are – get the heterosexual marriages. So I just wonder where does the data come from?

MR NGEO: For something like in China, there’s a very famous scholar. He’s the first one who did research on gay people, is Zhang Beichuan in Qingdao University. Yeah, he has estimated at least about like 10 to 16 million heterosexual women in heterosexual marriage with gay men. And the --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) issue for them, right?

MR NGEO: Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the women because the women don’t truth.

MR NGEO: The women don’t know the truth.

QUESTION: And that’s a violation of their human rights.

MR NGEO: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. And that is – they even coined a term for these kind of women called tongqi, wife of heterosexual – of homosexual man. It is a serious social issue in China. Three years ago in (inaudible), and I believe in 2012, a graduate student, she happened to – she found that her husband was gay and she just committed suicide and she jumped from the seventh floor. So --

QUESTION: Sounds reasonable.

MR NGEO: Yeah. So and so – and her family, her family wanted to fight for the – wanted to sue the man for cheating on his wife, but there was no such law to say that you cannot hide your sexual orientation.

QUESTION: Yeah. And because you know like because of the Asian culture, like many grandpa, grandma want their grandchildren, and that force some, like, gay to marry with – to get into these kind of marriage.

MR NGEO: Yes.

QUESTION: And now China announced that they’re going to, like, cancel the one-child policy.

MR NGEO: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: Like, what do you think this kind of new policy will have, like, any impact on the LGBTI group?

MR NGEO: Yeah. Well, I think that the biggest problem in China is not only about the one-child policy but because of fear, and I always say that fear is the worst enemy. And I also happen to know that a lot of gay men, they are not the only child in the family, but they’re still afraid to come out. So of course, things will change a bit, especially those who were born in the ’90s, but still I think a lot – even I know a lot of LGBT centers’ leaders, directors that’s still not out to their parents in China.

QUESTION: And I think mentioned that I guess in Asia culture is more of a problem compared to religion.

MR NGEO: Yes.

QUESTION: And --

MR NGEO: Well, it depends on what country you are talking about in Asia, okay? First of all, in Malaysia, there will be Muslim Islamic fundamentalism. Of course, I can’t emphasize enough it is not Islam that is problematic, but fundamentalist, right? Fundamentalist. And we also have sodomy law in Malaysia, sodomy law in Malaysia, and also in Singapore also have the sodomy law. So this is also – in China we don’t have sodomy law, but in Malaysia the sodomy law is very interesting. Singapore they changed the sodomy law. Sodomy law in the very beginning is about – is to argue that anal sex and oral sex are against nature. It doesn’t matter between two men or heterosexual couple; they are both against nature.

But interestingly enough, only the one who penetrate is – will be found guilty. Bottom is okay. Okay, that’s why in the case of Anwar Ibrahim the man who confessed to have sex with him was not found guilty, but only Anwar Ibrahim was found guilty because he was the one who penetrate, not – according to the man. So this is one of the problem for religion. In some country it’s about religion. Some country it’s about culture. Some country it’s about laws.

QUESTION: Right. I think I do have some friends from Singapore. I think it’s pretty much the same case as what you just mentioned.

MR NGEO: Yes.

QUESTION: I don’t think you’ve touched on Singapore. I’m just wondering if you have --

MR NGEO: Yeah, yeah. Singapore they changed the law, so only homosexual will be found guilty, not heterosexual. (Inaudible) Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister, they promised to the gay community that they are not going to use this law to go after gay people, but because the society is not ready to change, so they cannot change the law. But a lot of lawyers in Singapore will argue that this is a very bad example to say that because you are suggesting to the people that there are some laws in our country that you don’t have to follow.

So in – but in Singapore, thing is a little bit better because at least they can Pink Dot. Pink Dot is an annual event that gather together in order to show support for freedom to love. In Singapore you cannot have demonstration on the street, so but you’re only allowed to have demonstration on a certain spot, which is a park, so they gather together on the day of Pink Dot. The first Pink Dot was done in 2009. So – and in Singapore, at least 20 percent of the country population are Christian, so there’s also another reason, and a lot of Christian in Asia, they’re evangelized by missionary from UK or U.S. so they are Christian – most of them are Christian fundamentalist.

QUESTION: So are these sodomy laws similar to what Bishop Tolton was saying about sodomy laws in Africa are some of the Western imports that were brought by the occupied countries?

MR NGEO: Yes, yes. Yeah. Hong Kong changed the law in 1990. They just get rid of the law. But in some – Malaysia, because of the Muslim government, so they still retain the law.

QUESTION: And I was wondering, is there any help for these women? You mentioned the woman who committed suicide when she found out that her husband was gay. Is there – are there any resources now? I mean, now that this has sort of been acknowledged as a problem, are there resources for women who might be in these marriages?

MR NGEO: Well, there are some women who came out from this kind of marriage, pseudo marriage, that started some organization in order to help these women who are in the heterosexual marriage with gay men. But it’s a very difficult job to do because a lot of people are in the closet so you just really can’t find them. And because of the economic issues that women a lot – a lot of women in China that don’t have the power to live by themselves, economic power to live by themselves. So sometime even though they knew that their husband were gay – are gay, they still couldn’t do anything. But at least because of this – the case in 2012, this issue become something we can talk about in the newspaper – homosexuality, talk about it in newspaper.

But homosexuality is a very tricky issue in China because, as I say, there is no law against homosexuality in China, and being Christian is much more sensitive than being gay. But still it depends on the local government. Some local government are much – have much more negative attitudes toward gay people, then things will be very different.

MS SHIE: Well, thank you. That was fantastic. We really appreciate your time.

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