Ghana: “Grandma, What Big Teeth You Have….!”

Ghana: “Grandma, What Big Teeth You Have….!”

Ghana: “Grandma, What Big Teeth You Have….!”

This article was written for Via Media News on the 25th October 2021.

On social media this last week I saw a light-hearted post which questioned how Little Red Riding Hood fails to recognise that a wolf has replaced her grandma in the famous fairy tale. It is a good question but not seeing or responding to the danger in front of you is not sadly restricted to fairy tales.

The parliament of Ghana is about to discuss the “Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill” which proposes that anyone who identifies as gay or transgender face imprisonment for up to five years and anyone who promotes or supports non-straight sexual identities be sent to prison for up to 10 years. It also requires Ghanaian citizens to report so called ‘suspects’. This is potentially the toughest anti-gay legislation in the world and the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church in Ghana has issued a statement in full support of the bill stating that to be LGBTQI+ “is unbiblical and ungodly”. They further state that they will “open their counselling and support centres for the needed transformation services required by these persons” – also known as conversion therapy. You can read the full statement here.

Despite the media coverage of this statement neither of our English archbishops nor any bishop in the Church of England has said anything about the Ghanaian bishops’ actions. It is as if they have their red hoods pulled down and are still choosing to see grandma rather than a wolf. Although it is interesting how quick they are to respond when an Anglican province makes a more progressive statement about the LGBTQI+ community isn’t it?!

I am particularly impacted by this statement because I serve in the Diocese of Portsmouth, which as part of the Inter Diocesan West Africa Link scheme is partnered with the Anglican Church in Ghana. Portsmouth has a long history of supporting the church in Ghana financially, in prayer and through mutual visits. The diocese is due to be hosting the Ghanaian bishops and their wives in the run up to the Lambeth conference next year. I have been aware of their anti-LGBTQI+ stance for some time and that has been problematic for me as a civil partnered gay man and for others.

But this new step presents me, and many other ordained and lay members of Portsmouth Diocese with a challenge. I am already being contacted by people asking what they can do. I know of churches who are withdrawing their financial support immediately and asking for action in terms of a statement from the Diocese of Portsmouth and more direct steps when the Ghanaian bishops visit. What form that action could take is uncertain – is it more effective to refuse to host them or to challenge them and protest when they are here?

One of the joys of being within the Diocese of Portsmouth is that it has felt a relatively “safe” place to be an openly gay member of the clergy and there are many churches which are fully inclusive of LGBTQI+ Christians. To invite the Ghanaian bishops into that safe place makes it considerably less safe, not only for those of us who work for the diocese but also for those members of the church, clinging on by their fingertips, who will see welcoming them here as a statement of support for what they have said.

For anyone outside of the church who sees the diocese welcoming the Ghanaian bishops also places us squarely in support of them. The only way to address this is a clear and unequivocal statement condemning the bill and their support of it.

To be clear, this is not about whether you support equal marriage, this is not about whether or not you think LGBTQI+ people can be part of the church. This is about that fact that LGBTQI+ people, or even those who are suspected of being LGBTQI+ will be locked up. If I were in Ghana I would be in prison as would my partner and many other people I know, or we would be being subjected to the tortures of so-called “conversion therapy” which even the UN has now condemned. Members of my family and friends would also be locked up for supporting me. Worse still it will result in people being hunted down in Ghana, beaten, and potentially killed. This is not an issue of culture or of different biblical interpretations – this is a matter of life and death for some. This is not the fabled “Good Disagreement” that is so often spoken of, but little seen, this is not a matter for “Pastoral Principles” however good they may be on paper.

This is homophobia. This is oppression. This is injustice and it is the absolute opposite of how Christ lived and what he taught.

I have said before, and it is a great sadness that it remains true within the Church of England, an apology with no action to change the behaviour is meaningless. The Archbishops and the House of Bishops can make as many apologies for the way the Church of England has treated the LGBTQI+ community, they can set up as many shared conversations and LLF type programmes as it likes but until something changes these are meaningless. Their silence in the face of such blatant homophobia and abuse of human rights puts them on the side of the oppressor.

It is time to call out the wolf and stop pretending we are still looking at grandma.

Peter Leonard, Chair of Trustees, and Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight.