Jesus, torture and homophobia in Nigeria

Anti-torture vigil 2010.

Melissa Block of NPR interviewed Michelle Faul of the Associated Press from Lagos about reports from human rights advocates in Nigeria that dozens of gay men have been arrested under a new law that makes homosexual clubs or associations illegal.  Some of those arrested have been tortured to give up names of others.  

Listen here:

 NPR: Reports of Arrests and Torture Under Nigeria’s Anti-Gay Law

Torture is a crucial biblical and theological issue because it is all about the abuse of power.  That’s what the Romans knew, and why they would routinely torture those about to be crucified. 

The purpose of torture, according to Elaine Scarry in her book, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, is to produce an excess of pain in order to control, to destroy one world and create another. 

Scarry says that torture is employed by political regimes to illustrate a “spectacle of power.”  What actually happens, however, is that the regime is revealed as “so unstable, that torture is being used.”  In other words, torture, as systematic brutality, is supposed to look like power, but that is a fiction.  

What is exposed is that when a political power resorts to torture in order to exercise its power, it is actually doing so because it is weak and unstable.  This is evident in regard to this new law and its function for Nigeria. Faul says, “Nigeria has many, many problems and the president, by signing this bill, can distract attention away from that and make many people happy.”

Making some people “happy” by torturing others will always be a cancer at the heart of a society, as it was in Jesus’ time, as it has been since the U.S. tortured after 9/11, and as it is in other places around the world today.  Think of Vladimir Putin and his manipulative use of homophobia and ‘getting religion’ in shoring up his own power. 

It is crucial, however, to analyze the relatively “recent roots” of homophobia in Africa, in particular, from a post-colonial perspective. It is equally crucial to note the “influx of evangelical and pentecostal preachers” often from the U.S. who are exporting homophobia as “Christian.”

Torture is always wrong because it unmakes the world for those who are tortured.  What is a world that allows that to happen, over and over again? 





About Susan Thistlethwaite

I am President Emerita and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary; I write for the public here and in local papers. I am interested in what I call "public theology," or how deeper meaning is made and contested in the public square.
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