Voices of Witness Africa is a new 30-minute documentary intended to help Episcopalians listen to the views and experiences of Anglicans who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) and to emphasize that homosexuality is "not just a North American or European issue," says the Rev. Cynthia Black.
Co-produced by Black, rector of Christ the King Church in Kalamazoo/Texas Corners, Michigan, and Katie Sherrod, a writer and commentator based in Fort Worth, Texas, the documentary features GLBT Africans who talk about their lives and their relationships with God and the church.
"The voices of LGBT folks from around the world need to be heard," says Black.
Among those interviewed for the documentary is the Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyonjo, retired bishop of the Diocese of West Buganda in the Anglican Church of Uganda, who leads a study and prayer group for gay Anglicans. "I'm sorry about what the church is saying. God loves you, God loves you," Senyonjo says in support of GLBT Christians. While he acknowledges that speaking out has been "very risky," Senyonjo adds, "When you know the truth, it should make you free."
Although homosexuality is illegal in most African countries, "several people in the film cite cause for hope," said a news release from the Chicago Consultation, a sponsoring organization of the documentary.
"Many, many years ago, when the townships were in smoke and people were dying, we never thought that we would be where we are now," Yvonne Daki, manager of iThemba Lam Center of Inclusive and Affirming Ministries in South Africa, says in the documentary. "We will have one day a situation where gay people can speak openly about their sexuality."
For Black, one of the surprises when working on the documentary was "how willing participants were to have their name and image used publicly, even when they knew their bishop would be receiving a copy of the film, and even when there could potentially be horrific consequences for doing so ... Their courage is incredible."
Sherrod was most impressed how the interviewees' faith "informs their actions every minute of every day. All of them spoke of God as a intimate part of their lives, a presence who gives them hope and strength in the face of terrible oppression and active persecution, not only by the state, but in most cases by the Anglican church leaders in their country. To witness the depth of their faith was inspiring and humbling."
"Viewers who have followed the plight of GLBT people in Africa will hear familiar and tragic stories of fear, imprisonment and abuse," the Chicago Consultation news release said. "However, they may also be surprised by the support and hope voiced by some of the film's subjects, including African Anglican bishops and priests."
Black said that much inspiration can be found in the stories of hope that were heard -- "hope that one day the church will have moved beyond the issues of sexuality that divide it."
All the instruments of communion have supported a process of listening to the experiences of homosexual people throughout the Anglican Communion. At the 1998 Lambeth Conference, resolution 1.10 committed all the provinces of the Anglican Communion to a listening process. It was not until 2005 that the Listening Process was officially launched with the appointment of a facilitator who would monitor the work being done, share the results and enable further listening.
The Anglican Consultative Council, the communion's most representative policy-making body, met in Jamaica in May 2009 and supported the renewal of the Listening Process, which has received a 2.5-year grant from the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia to run five "pilot conversations" around the communion.
The "Voices of Witness Africa" documentary is being released just before the Episcopal Church's General Convention, which will be held July 8-17 in Anaheim, California. "At the meeting, deputies and bishops will discuss both the church's mission in the developing world and the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people," the Chicago Consultation news release said. "The film is being mailed in advance to all deputies and bishops. It is also being mailed to all bishops of the Anglican Communion, including those who lead churches that are hostile to GLBT Christians."
"With General Convention approaching, some people focus on what effect its actions might have on the part of the Anglican Communion that is more conservative than the Episcopal Church," said Black. "I think the film helps us to remember that there are hundreds of thousands of LGBT folks in the communion who are watching what the Episcopal Church does."
Further information on the film, including a study guide for use in Episcopal parishes, is available here.
Public screenings of Voices of Witness Africa will be held on:
- June 5: All Saints Church, Pasadena, California
- June 6: Christ Episcopal Church, Dearborn, Michigan
- June 7: Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts
- June 10: Church of the Ascension, Silver Spring, Maryland
- June 12: Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis, Missouri
- June 14: St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Houston, Texas
- June 15: All Saints' Episcopal Church, Chicago, Illinois