A friend of CAL on Facebook, Evans Adofo, who lives in Monrovia, brought this new story to our attention. The continent is in a silent diplomatic panic about the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, which has killed over 1000 people across West African countries, with Liberia and Sierra Leone leading with the number of cases reported, and deaths.
As African countries rush to limit access to West Africa, by banning flights into and out of a number of countries, local efforts to contain the spread of the virus and to mitigate the number of people succumbing is commendable.
The Catholic Church and other religious bodies have come together to offer a ‘spiritual’ response to the epidemic. Their advice? God is punishing Liberians for their lax morals, and condoning of homosexuality. Which really means that it’s our fault that there’s Ebola in the first place.
Apart from being homophobic and careless, this statement creates further complications for queer and gender non-confroming women and men in Liberia who we are sure are affected or infected with the Ebola virus wanting to seek help. This in many ways, can be seen as an incitement to violence against transdiverse and non-heteronormative women and men in West Africa. It is irresponsible of the Catholic Church to allow such flippantly intolerant statements to be aired and given voice.
Concerned community members and civil society in Monrovia have come together to start a campaign that calls for the Pope to intervene and put an end to this ‘hate speech’.
See the full news brief shared with us below, and join this campaign, to show solidarity with other Africans affected by the Ebola epidemic.
Liberian Archbishop Signs Statement Linking Ebola and Homosexuality
Archbishop Lewis Zeiglier, Liberia’s top Catholic official joins more than 100 religious leaders in linking that nation’s Ebola outbreak to homosexuality, lending his support to a prejudiced and potentially dangerous statement according to The Daily Observer.
Archbishop Lewis Zeiglier of Monrovia joined a Liberia Council of Churches meeting this week, which discussed a “spiritual response” to the epidemic that has claimed more than 1,000 lives in West Africa and caused a state of emergency in several nations. The meeting, a potential response to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s comments that ignorance and religious practices were contributing to Ebola’s spread, released a unanimous resolution which said in part:
“God is angry with Liberia, and that Ebola is a plague. Liberians have to pray and seek God’s forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism, etc.) that continue to penetrate our society. As Christians, we must repent and seek God’s forgiveness.”
The resolution also suggested the government restrict movement for three days of fasting and prayer, something which Liberia’s Catholics had already done this week.
Being gay is illegal in Liberia and same-gender marriages are banned, which has been insufficient for some politicians and clergy. Legislation was introduced in 2012 that would have sentenced anyone convicted of being in such a marriage to death. A Catholic priest used his Easter homily to attack President Sirleaf’s silence on the question of marriage equality.
AmericaBlog points out that Archbishop Zeiglier himself harshly condemned lesbian and gay people in April, warning that God would punish Liberia if it allowed same-sex marriage:
“The Archbishop said Liberians are ‘whole-heartedly’ engaging themselves in this act and that is being promoted in the country.
“The Catholic Archbishop also stated: ‘Where are we going as Liberians if we are advocating for homosexuality? Are we not calling for curses upon ourselves? How will a man marry his fellow man, this is an abomination. These are the same things that brought down Sodom and Gomorrah.’ “
Negative comments against LGBT people are often made by members of the Catholic hierarchy, but Archbishop Zeiglier’s support for a resolution linking the deadly Ebola outbreak and homosexuality is particularly dangerous. In an anti-gay climate like Liberia’s, an archbishop’s words can easily be used to justify discrimination and violence against LGBT people. This is doubly true when an epidemic like Ebola has created a climate of intensified fear and people are seeking an easy scapegoat.
When several African bishops made anti-gay comments in May, essentially endorsing the discrimination of LGBT people, Bondings 2.0 asked how the Church can respond. At that time, we quoted CNN columnist LZ Granderson who called on Catholics to end their silence on anti-gay laws, writing:
“To move Pope Francis’ question from a global headline to global change, Christians must stop allowing silence to be the de facto weapon of choice against the senseless persecution of gay people.”
Looking for a first step to make your voice heard and counter voices like Archbishop Zeigliers? Participate (again if you have already) in the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, asking Pope Francis to condemn in no uncertain terms laws and language which encourages prejudice and violence against LGBT people. To find out more information and take action, click here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry