In the aftermath of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LBTI) issues making prominence in Malawi, faith leaders have taken a bold stand to declare their unshaken resolve not to allow their faith groups to employ a lenient view on people with different sexual orientation other than heterosexuals.
This comes at a time the Government of Malawi is being accused of acting indifferently on the issue of homosexuality. The Sate recently arrested an alleged gay couple in Lilongwe to the chagrin of LGBTI campaigners and representatives of some of the country’s donor partners.
In the past few weeks, faith leaders from across the religious divide, who have seldom spoken with one voice on issues, have vehemently dismissed threats by some donors to plug out aid as they say it is time to re-think on how to make Malawians become truly economically independent.
Although one of the donor partners, the US, through its special envoy on LGBTI issues Randy Berry was quoted by The Nation as saying while his government was not attaching the LGBTI issue to aid, there was a thin line between good governance, rule of law and human rights.
But chairperson for Malawi Council of Churches (MCC) Reverend Alex Maulana in an interview on Tuesday said the collective approach by churches in Malawi was to accept the donors’ position and move on.
“It is unfortunate when some donors attach this LGBTI issue to aid. As Malawians, we have the way we have always lived and the church has its ideals that cannot be moved. With these developments, we feel it is high time for us to rethink our position regarding how we can develop our country.
“We have depended on aid for many years yet we have not fully developed. What this means is that we should all forget about free things and change our mindset to start working hard for ourselves. The church must take a leading role in that noble task, instead of just declaring that we can survive if donors pull out,” he said.
Maulana said the church must re-adopt the first missionaries’ concept of ‘Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation’ where the churches lead the people in developing lives of rural citizens.
According to Maulana, Christian churches in the country will not relent on their position despite threats of repercussions from donors.
“It is obvious that we use the Bible as our yardstick, therefore, we would not accept these things to be taking place among us because they are simply against biblical teachings. But we cannot throw away those that have been practising homosexuality. We realise the need to give them both spiritual and psychological counselling and we are ready to support them,” he said.
Maulana’s sentiments were echoed by Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) Secretary General, Father Henry Saindi.
“To a certain extent, donors might be justified for attaching their aid to fiscal discipline and financial prudence. But it is wrong that some donor countries attach their aid to LGBTI issues. As Catholic Church, we are saying Malawians should not be forced to accept foreign practices and tendencies contrary to the will of God because of money. These practices are contrary to our culture, religion and laws. We, therefore, urge all Catholics and people of good will to stand up for what is morally right today in the face of the hugely funded campaign for homosexual rights,” said Saindi.
He added that the stand of the Catholic Church before homosexuals was non-judgemental.
While Christian churches are sticking to their guns on the LGBTI issue, spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) Sheikh Dinala Chabulika said there should be a way out of the problem the country is facing.
“You should understand that it is only Western countries that are putting such a pre-condition for their aid. There are other donors who will not come and impose any foreign morals on us as a condition to their support. Look, out of the 54 countries in Africa, how many legalised homosexuality apart from South Africa? This is the time for Malawians to rise up to the challenge, work hard for ourselves and our country. That should be the message of mindset change, faith leaders must be preaching about,” said Chabulika.
The stand by the clergy has received a warm reception from a cross-section of Malawians who have bemoaned the conduct of some of the country’s donors.
Patrick Masambuka of Blantyre said: “My stand on the first point is that I totally agree with the stand taken by the clergy as well as other well meaning Malawians. Donors will never stop giving conditions to their aid because they feel like it is a favour to give aid to nations in need rather than a commitment towards the upliftment of lives of the poor. Now, under these circumstances we should learn to graduate from the donor dependency syndrome. The country has all that it takes to develop, we cannot be beggars forever,” he said.
Bauleni Chiwoza of Lilongwe said the clergy were right in standing on their principles but asked Malawians to embrace a spirit of hard work.