Did the Archbishop of Monrovia Blame Ebola on Gays?

Did the Archbishop of Monrovia Blame Ebola on Gays? October 25, 2014

A very unsettling report from Reuters. I saw this report about “churches” in Liberia blaming the Ebola outbreak on homosexuality and thought, here we go, more crazy Fundamentalists/Pentecostals/Evangelicals.

But the report includes this line:

In May, Archbishop Lewis Zeigler of the Catholic Church of Liberia said that “one of the major transgressions against God for which He may be punishing Liberia is the act of homosexuality,” local media reported.

The local media source seems to be this story in the Liberian Observer.

There are aspects of the story that are unclear and that would set off GetReligionista alarm bells–the quotes are indirect and without context. It seems, from the point of view of orthodox Catholic theology, insane to say something like this. But I can’t write it off. The behavior of the Church with regard to, for example, Uganda’s anti-gay laws, has been dishonorable and cowardly. And giving bishops the benefit of the doubt has not generally been a good idea.

Here is what I think is growing on: there are many fast-growing Pentecostal/Evangelical groups in Africa, many of whom are well-funded from the US, and many of whom are quite virulent about homosexuality. Many places/cultures in Africa already have anti-gay prejudice and pressure from Western nations to conform to the postmodern doxa on gay rights feeds into anti-colonial narratives, making an explosive mix. Homosexuality gives something for Catholics, Protestants (and Muslims!) to agree on. And so Catholic leaders are feeling pressured to “join the bidding.”

Reading between the lines of the Liberian Observer story, one gets the sense that +Zeigler felt pressured to say something like “the gays caused Ebola” and tried to both give the impression of saying it while not saying it outright.

Understand, I am not trying to excuse anything. To the contrary, I am writing about why it seems believable to me that something otherwise so breathtaking could have happened.

Anyhow, suffice it to say that if something like this did happen, it is absolutely wrong–and should be condemned loud and clear by Catholics, including by Catholic authorities. I have written before how we live in a paradoxical moment where, in many precincts of the West, orthodox Christians are scapegoated for their views on sexuality, but in many places in the world, it is gay people who are the scapegoats. Neither excuses the other, and neither should be tolerated by Gospel-believing Christians. Bishops and bloggers spend hours arguing over turns of phrases in a meaningless synod document, but if bishops are going around saying things like this, the Curia should respond.

In any case, I will pray for the people of Liberia, whose country certainly has a lot of problems to deal with, none of which, either corporeal or spiritual, will be helped by scapegoating any person or group.

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