By John A. Azumah, First Things.
As an African and an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana teaching at a seminary of the Presbyterian Church (USA), I have keenly followed the fractious debate on the subject of same-sex relations within the Presbyterian family of churches. It is hard to generalize about African and American societies and cultures in all their respective complexities and contradictions. But one distinction can be sharply maintained: The mainstream acceptance and promotion of same-sex relations in the West and America is solidly opposed in African societies.
My first “welcome to America” moment occurred when I invited an imam to my Introduction to Islam class at Columbia Theological Seminary.The imam talked about the basic tenets of Islam for an hour and asserted, among other things, that Jesus is not the Son of God, denied that he was crucified, and maintained that the Bible has been falsified. My students listened respectfully throughout the lecture. When he paused and invited discussion, the students replied with rather timid and politically correct queries, at which point the imam said: “Why are you not asking me about jihad, about terrorism, women? I know you have all these questions. Why are you not asking me the hard questions?” So one student queried him about Islamic teaching on homosexuality. The imam answered by defining the practice as un-Islamic, not of God, unnatural. Suddenly, the faces of a good number of the students went red with shock and rage. I stepped in and gently steered the discussion away from the topic.
After the class ended, the few conservative students in the class approached and slyly suggested that I invite the imam again. Other students urged me to cancel a scheduled visit to the mosque the following Friday. I resisted those efforts and we all visited the mosque, after which the imam and his elders unexpectedly hosted the class for an Ethiopian feast. A lesbian student who had been most upset after the class confessed that she was glad she came, because she saw a hospitable and warm side of the imam.
As I look back upon the whole episode, I think I ended up more unsettled than my students. They were agitated by what the imam said about homosexuality, but seemed wholly at ease with his negation of fundamental Christian beliefs. If this were a seminary in Ghana, my home country, the reverse would have been the case.