Friday, January 12, 2007

Human Comedy

[posted by Callimachus]

Like most newspaper readers (according to readership surveys) I rarely start a front-page story and then track down the jump once it goes inside. Few stories are compelling enough to justify the minimal effort to "please see more on page A7."

This one is.

Augustus Olakunle Macaulay founded the Bible university that trained his son in theology. He founded the evangelical ministry that ordained his son as a minister. And he is president of Nigeria's Association of Christian Theologians, which counts his son as a member.

But now Prof. Macaulay supports a proposed law that could criminalize his son's new Christian church and put him behind bars. That's because his son, the Rev. Rowland Jide Macaulay, has founded House of Rainbow, a church that caters to Nigeria's gay men and lesbians -- a first for Africa's most populous country.

Whew. It has it all: pathos, bathos, saving grace, bad religion, bad reporting, great storytelling, and humor, intentional and unintentional.

If you never got to the jump you'd miss the cameo by "Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University and author of 'The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South.' " I confess I don't read much about modern Christianity in a global setting, so this point of view was fresh to me, though it probably is not to some of you:

Prof. Jenkins notes that many African societies still derive their norms from agrarian life and that animal sacrifice and polygamy are common in many parts of Africa. "The Bible carries a lot more weight among ordinary Africans, partly because people can identify with the society it describes," he says. "They recognize it as their world."

Is that a veiled insult to Biblical literalists in more developed societies? Is it true? Is it both?

It leads directly into this:

The rise of fundamentalist Islam also puts pressure on African Christians to draw a hard line against homosexuals, he says.

How do you figure that? Does Christianity necessarily mimic Islam everywhere they share turf? Yet the statement is allowed to stand without explanation or contradiction.

The family story at the heart of this article is tragic and, in parts, humanly beautiful.

Rev. Jide says that for many years he wanted to tell his father, but, he says, "I couldn't find the courage." Then, during a visit Prof. Macaulay made to his son's London home in 2003, he noticed some books on homosexuality. He confronted his son, admonishing him that homosexuality was against God's will and urging him to change.

Rev. Jide remained silent, both men recall. "In truth, I felt for him, because I am a father too," the younger man says. "I have two generations on either side of me bearing the brunt of my being gay."

Indeed, last September after Rev. Jide discussed his sexuality on a BBC television show, his 14-year-old son sent him a cellphone text message that read in part "i HATE u" and "ur not my dad nemore." The two reconciled a few days later, but Rev. Jide believes his son's emotional turmoil is stoked in part by relatives telling him the Bible condemns homosexuality.

The unintentional humor? That comes courtesy of the elder Macaulay. First, put down your cup and swallow that drink. Now read:

He says he "won't feel very bad" if his son winds up in prison, which he even sees as a possible means of turning his son straight.