Churches in Kenya command a huge influence over society, with an estimated eighty percent of the population identifying as Christian, according to the International Centre for Law and Religion Studies.


Although many churches in Kenya have openly expressed their opposition to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons, some are seeking to change this narrative by preaching inclusivity and welcoming gender and sexual minorities.


Reverend John Makokha of Riruta Hope Community Church, a protestant church based in Nairobi, ministers to LGBTQ+ people. He decided to welcome gender and sexual minorities to his church because of the large number of clergy preaching hatred and discrimination against them.


“I want people to understand the role of science in sexual identity and sexuality. Gay and lesbian [people] are children of God and created in his image,” he said.


According to Reverend Makokha, there are scientific reasons why people choose to identify as gay or lesbian, and therefore they should not be perceived by the church as sinners and subjected to prayers to rid them of their identities.


Reverend Makokha was a schoolteacher before joining the clergy in 2004. He was inspired to help gender and sexual minorities when one of his students committed suicide after the school kicked him out because of his sexual orientation.


“God is love, and we cannot say as Christians we are practicing that love when we are closing doors for persons who are created in His image. Gay and lesbian persons should be accepted. They deserve a place where they can worship God,” he said.


With a rainbow flag painted on its church marquee — a symbol globally associated with the LGBTQ+ community — Riruta Hope Community Church stands out in Nairobi.

LGBTQ peaceful campaign

According to Sandra (not her real name), a lesbian woman who fellowships at Riruta, it is one of the few places where she does not have to hide her true identity.


“In this church, I worship and get spiritual nourishment as well as encouragement. I can talk to Reverend Makokha without feeling judged, unlike in other churches where I could not reveal my identity because I would be made to feel unwelcome,” she said.


Another safe haven for LGBTQ+ Christians in Kenya is The Cosmopolitan Affirming Community (CAC) church, also in Nairobi. The church works with other religious leaders under The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries to fight discrimination against LGBTIQ+ persons in religious institutions.


Joji Baro, the communications director at CAC, said CAC leadership decided to open their own church in 2013 in response to the discrimination LGBTQ+ people face in most mainstream churches, which often exclude gender and sexual minorities.


“Other churches do not welcome us, yet we worship the same God. We formed our own church where gay and lesbian communities can worship without being bashed,” Baro said.


Andrew (not his real name), who worships at the CAC church, said he joined because it humanized his experiences as a gay man and he did not have to hide his identity.


“I had not attended church for a long time because I felt people like me are not accepted. I would hide that I am gay because if people knew they would treat me differently. Other churches use the Bible to discriminate against people in the LGBTIQ community,” he said.


Unlike Andrew, who feels welcome in the LGBTQ+ affirming CAC church, Salim (not his real name), a gay Muslim man in Mombasa, says he hides his sexual orientation from his faith community in order to continue praying at the mosque amid ongoing anti-LGBTQ+ protests.


“Even though I am a gay man, I am married to a woman and live a double life because otherwise my family will not accept me. I am yet to identify a mosque that will accept a gay man, but even if I did, I would be too scared to worship there because my family and community will shun me,” he said.


Reverend Makokha encourages fellow faith leaders in Kenya to provide inclusive, non-discriminatory places of worship open to all LGBTQ+ persons.


“It is wrong for clergy to preach messages that can create spiritual violence by excluding people and even making people hate themselves, especially members of the LGBTQ+ community,” he said.


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