Simon is a friend of Lead Them Home. He was granted asylum in America a few years ago due to serious persecution against LGBT+ people. Nigeria has now criminalized homosexuality, and he cannot return to visit family. Simon’s words offer one of the most moving and important messages that Lead Them Home has ever published on this blog.
While I experience same-sex attraction, my goal is to follow Christ and honor God’s Word. I am not perfect, but I know what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. As a matter of personal faith, I cannot live in a gay relationship. I do not judge those who do.
I was invited to share about the residual impact of growing up in a culture that persecutes people like me. The most notable impact is how easily my fears and anxieties are triggered by daily events. At church – yes, here in America – someone may say something about homosexuality that leaves me feeling judged or unaccepted. Near daily headlines really impact me: like Arizona’s recent attempt to allow businesses to deny service to gay people.
The most difficult trigger for my anxieties was the recent passage of a new law in my home nation of Nigeria that criminalizes homosexuality. While I never plan to live in a gay relationship, I could still be assaulted or arrested simply for my appearance or mannerisms or the type of business I specialize in. Any of these external traits could be interpreted as gay by some people.
These fears are not imaginary, but layered upon a long history of intense persecution. I lived most of my life with deep fears about being harassed, beaten up and excluded by friends – including Christian friends. I lived my life fearing that one disclosure would mean the end of my family relationships. While that disclosure has never been made, they must know about my SSA. I sense the lack of connection to my family. It deeply grieves my heart.
While I never wish to differentiate the value of people who experience SSA as a sin-struggle from those who identify as LGBT+, I simply want to say that in Nigeria there was never a distinction between acting homosexually and appearing homosexual. To be perceived as gay meant one was acting homosexually.
In this kind of society, it is impossible to please the written (and unwritten law) that drives so much hate. My appearance alone – or my gifts and talents – exposed me to these threats most of my life. I am just now realizing the psychological and emotional impact of living with anxiety and fear for so much of my life.
When the Arizona law was proposed (and many other recent headlines), I felt this pain arise in me. When my church went through a difficult situation related to homosexuality, the same pain arose inside me. When my homeland passed its recent law, deep anxiety and fear exploded within me. Since much of this persecution occurs in the name of Christianity, I sadly can be triggered by my brothers and sisters in Christ.
My personal experiences with persecution allow me to feel the emotions of LGBT+ people. When I read about them being discriminated against, persecuted or threatened by bullying and suicidal ideation, I very much feel the emotions that they experience.
I am saddened when people in my faith community do not notice gay people being treated poorly. In being vulnerable in this post, you might think my sadness originates in my own pain. While that is true, are you not sad that in the name of Christ we overlook many people suffering from poor treatment? I relate to their pain because it is my pain, but shouldn’t all Christians relate to it simply because it is a tragedy?
I ask that Christians consider what the impact of a law criminalizing homosexuality has on a gay teenager or young adult who has little family or church support. I hope followers of Jesus will think about that. We can never ignore LGBT+ persons being harassed and arrested.
When I fail to see Christian people stand up and speak against such laws, that old trigger hits my heart. I am once again alone, abandoned and anxious. I attend church and everyone is smiling and living their life as if nothing is wrong. I am grieved by the lack of Christian attention to these justice issues.
I believe that it would be a sin to act upon my SSA. I want to follow Jesus and honor God’s Word. Yet it is nearly impossible for me to internalize acceptance from my church family. They try very hard, but I cannot internalize their love and retain it. I am constantly triggered into fear of harm or conditional acceptance. I am learning that this is the impact of long-term persecution.
I am a person who has survived long-term trauma. Living with the fear of personal harm for decades has not healed just because I was granted asylum into America where civil rights are constitutionally guaranteed. The trauma follows me. At times, it cripples my hope. Sometimes, I want to die.
I write this to suggest that societies that discriminate against and criminalize gay people end up hurting many people whom God loves. The people impacted fall across a spectrum – from those who identify as LGBT+ to those like me who consider SSA a sin-struggle. It harms all of us who experience homosexual temptation. In addition, it harms the Gospel for Jesus never treated people this way.
I continue to look to Jesus and wonderful Christian friends to help me heal. I know God is working in my life, but there are still tough times. To those in the gay community, I would say that for me to “accept myself” does not fix this trauma. It is cemented into my history and oozes out as potential threats trigger fears inside me.
I believe God will heal my fears. Yet my message is that so far, I am still deeply impacted by the long-term trauma of living in a persecuting nation. I feel strongly that gay people should not have to live in constant fear of harassment, persecution, physical harm and imprisonment.
When Nigeria recently passed its criminalization of homosexuality law, I saw old friends who I grew up with now in leadership positions vocalizing hateful sentiments against people like me. Had I not been granted asylum several years ago, my life would be under constant threat of attack by even friends who would all too quickly turn the law against me. All within a Gospel narrative – with Christians leading the charge.
I am thankful to be living in America. My gratitude never lessens, because for me it means life instead of death. Yet my anxiety and fear remain. Even though I am safe, I am triggered by the threat of harm against others in my homeland for I understand their fears all too well.
Silence in the wake of Nigeria’s law is proving to be deadly. Voices that praise the Nigerian and Ugandan church for its rapid growth only come across as draconian and un-Christlike. I feel that my nation is lost in a dystopian story except this story is real. It is surreal to me.
Holding so high a principal against one particular sin without also holding high a biblical grace yields a half truth with devastating effects upon minority peoples who do not have a voice. It is fine to teach “go and sin no more,” but where is Jesus asking the teachers of the law to drop their rocks? Who will have the courage to let a voice of compassion and grace – yes, for sinners – be heard loud enough to make a difference? The silence of American Christians is deafening.
Will you lift your voice to speak up for the human rights of gay people? I am not asking you to legislate gay marriage. I am asking you to speak up for the right of gay people to live in peace and safety and work hard in a good job to make a decent living free from discrimination. Will you do that?
As I close, what needs fixing is not just a law that criminalizes vulnerable people. Every time a Christian says something insensitive, it hits me as hard as a rock. Imagine what that does to a gay teen. We, the church, in the name of Christ must ensure that we are loving people well – and protecting them. God bless you.
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