The interplay between religion and law is a fascinating and intricate one. Like other institutions in society, religious institutions and their leaders play an important role in how persons who engage in sex with persons of the same sex or who are gender nonconforming are seen or treated. Christians have often sought to influence legislators in ways which furthered the creation of a society based on Christian principles. Christian churches have historically supported the civil power in its establishment of legislation to prohibit same-sex relations and to punish offenders. Yet Christian churches and individuals have also, in some instances, actively advocated for the decriminalization of same-sex activity, and have witnessed against the homophobic attitudes of society.
Religion in general has no doubt played an enormous role in encouraging homophobic attitudes. Religious fundamentalists use the Bible to denounce homosexuality by pointing to the fact that “God, throughout His book, variously declares homosexuality to be an ‘abomination’ (Ezekiel 16: 50), a ‘vile affection’ (Romans 1: 26, 27), ‘unseemly’ (Romans 1: 27), ‘not natural’ (Romans 1: 26, 27), a form of ungodliness (Titus 2: 12).” As such, those who commit this sin have to be punished by God. The LGBTI who are in our society, places of worship, our neighborhoods and even our families continue to face discrimination and rejection. They have been told by their families that they do not belong to them, they have been told by religious institutions that they are desperate sinners and by the law that they are criminals. We therefore cannot limit our discussion on homosexuality but rather focus this discussion on religious perspectives on the LGBTI and on what role if any, religious institutions can play to positively change how the LGBTI are viewed and treated in Kenyan society.
It is in recognition of the above that the Nyanza Rift Valley and Western Kenya LGBTI Coalition (NYARWEK) has been partnering with organizations like IAM, PEMA and other religious groups in increasing levels of awareness and advocating for safe space, tolerance and acceptance of the LGBTI community within religious contexts. Since 2012, NYARWEK’s approach has been to reach out to religious leaders in an effort to make them aware of the existence of the LGBTI community and to provide a platform for interrogating the relationship between sexuality and spirituality. In addition, religious leaders are encouraged through a “clergy to clergy” concept to be champions of tolerance and acceptance of the LGBTI persons.
In May 2015, NYARWEK commissioned a survey to examine the perspectives of religious leaders and their institutions towards on gender nonconformity. Gender nonconformity refers to persons who think, feel, or behave in a way that deviates from the conventional, normative social expectations based on their biological sex. The survey also sought to discover some possible determinants of religious attitudes and perceptions towards the LGBTI in Western Kenya, to identify gaps, suggest a way forward and consequently develop a contextual resource that can be used for training religious leaders on how to spiritually engage members of the LGBTI community who also belong to their various religious groupings.
Based on the results of the survey and the Focus Group Discussions held with religious leaders, it was resolved that:
Currently the trial draft manual was out in September 2015 and this has been on trial with several religious leaders in western Kenya. The first trial training was with 15 religious leaders In Kisumu who were drowned from different denomination i.e. Anglican, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, The second trial training was with 15 Pentecostal religious leaders and the third trial training is currently taking place with 10 indigenous churches.