Quaker Justimore Musombi was a pastor in Kenya. That is, until he came out of the closet. Now he can’t go home. His heartbreaking story is this week’s QuakerSpeak.
- Subscribe to QuakerSpeak
- Read Doug Bennett’s Friends Journal article “Homosexuality: A Plea to Read the Bible Together.”
- Read Justimore’s Blog post for Earlham School of Religion
- The Quaker process of a “clearness committee” helped Justimore on his journey of self-discovery and reconciliation. Learn more about clearness committees in this resource from Friends General Conference.
- Find Quakers near you on QuakerFinder and Friends Journal’s meeting listings
- Quaker Voluntary Service has opportunities for social and personal transformation through service work and living in Quaker community
- Justimore spent much of his earlier life fasting and praying for “God to lift this curse” of homosexuality from him before he went through a journey of reconciling his culture, his faith, and his sexual orientation. Have you experienced this kind of dissonance in parts of your self? How do we go through that process of reconciliation?
- With regards to the biblical arguments against homosexuality, Justimore says that we need to look at the context under which certain passages were written. How do you experience the Bible? Does it provide a way to lead our lives? What is the value of knowing the context in which it was written?
- In part 2, Justimore says, “I am here to sacrifice my life and my gift that God has given me to bless my community.” What does this attitude impress upon you? What gifts has God given you to bless your community?
Part One: Being Gay in Kenya
I’m looking for a new family honestly, because my family has disregarded me. They did a ceremony in the African context of when you are gay or you commit suicide, they perform a certain ritual that people don’t want to associate themselves with you. To me, they performed it. They burned my clothes. They destroyed my things. They have sold my commercial plots in town. Some of the things I have bought. They have sold my things, meaning they don’t want to associate themselves with me.
I don’t have family in Kenya. I don’t have support in Kenya. I don’t have friends in Kenya.
Being Gay in Kenya
The law of Kenya is against homosexuality. If you are gay and found having sex with a person of the same gender you are jailed for 14 years. People need to understand, you know, what we mean by sexual preference and sexual orientation. I think that is the big thing that Africans are struggling with. So if they come to the fullness of understanding what is sexual preference and what is sexual orientation I think they can distinguish that and not demonize people and I think it is just homophobic, you know.
Being brought from where—I just don’t know because people say it is a Western thing, but honestly speaking it’s not a Western thing because I have done research and I found out that in the African context we have some terms that they used to refer to people of the same sex having sex—and so it is something buried down that they don’t want to bring it up. And yet it is there.
When I came out, close friends of mine heard about my coming out and they demonized it. They started calling me—that I am evil, I am possessed—and they treat me as someone who is suffering from mental illness.
“Praying for God to lift this curse”
I can say that what Paul says, “a thorn in the flesh,” something that disturbed me for many years and so I wanted this thing to come out. But it didn’t come out. It is something that I have grown up with my entire life. The first time that I discovered that I was gay it was far away in high school. I was being attracted to men sexually—those who dress well and they look nice. It was just me.
I would go to people to ask, “I have these feelings about my sexual desires. How am I going to do it?” Most of the time people advised me to pray and fast because they were telling me that it is a demon. And so I believed maybe, you know, people who are heterosexual and they engage themselves into gay sex: it is an abomination. It is a curse.
So I was praying God to lift this curse away from me.
So it has been so difficult for me to reconcile my faith, to reconcile my culture, and my sexual orientation. People refer me to books like Leviticus: “It is wrong for people to be together, have sex with the same gender,” and then they quote so much what Paul said. But you know, they don’t look into the culture of that time. The context and the content.
Why did Paul say this? Why did the writer of Leviticus write this? They take the scriptures literally the way it is and they want to apply it. Maybe it was that time, it is not this time.
Can’t Go Home
So right now I am operating as a refugee. Not on student status, but student vis-a-vis refugee. So I can’t assure you I will be going home right now, but I do love my country and I want to go back and support my country. But I have no means of going back because of the fear that I have for my life. Sort of like, I have shifted my minds to be here and to look for the Quaker organization and work with the Quaker church to support me and to be there.
Hakuna Mungu kama wewe
Part Two: Being Gay is Just OK
Homosexual is an inborn thing. You can’t get it out of you. If it is in you, it is in you. You can’t change it. It is just like heterosexual.
My name is Justimore Musombi and I’m from Kenya. I come from Algon East Yearly Meeting of Friends Church. I was a pastor in Kenya after graduating from Friends Theological College in 2000.
Quakers are well known for peace work and in Kenya we have the tribal clashes and fighting among the people in Kenya so I thought I really wanted to work to unite my country together and I couldn’t do that unless I have basic knowledge about peace.
So I joined the Quaker church simply because I wanted to know more about peace and work towards peace in Kenya, so that’s one thing that attracted me to Quakerism.
Well I have been through rough times. I can’t say that it has been easy for me to come out openly as a gay Quaker Christian. It has been a lot of challenges in my life. Because I was a pastor in Kenya, I preached and people consider me as a very spiritual person and charismatic. Yes I am a very powerful pastor, very charismatic. Sometimes I can even speak in tongues. But now, coming out as gay, it was a shock to many people.
My Monthly Meeting wrote me a letter that was a very bad letter telling me how I am evil, I baptized children there and I held them in my hands and I was preaching there, and all that I did – now it is null and void, it is rubbish.
And so I had a clearness committee to help me sort out my way out because I wasn’t sure where to go with all of these threats and phone calls. I had to report it to the police. So talking to the clearness committee, they helped me to apply for political asylum, and I applied for political asylum, which I was granted last year.
Supporting Young People
My plan was to go back home and support the young Quakers. I’ve worked with the young Quakers for long and the young Quakers understand me so much and they love me so much in my country and I have a heart for them. These are people that we can rely on for the future generation of the Quakers and I think in Kenya it’s the highest population of the young Quakers probably in the whole world. So my main focus of coming here was to get the studies and go home and support them. I have so many young Quakers who are gay and lesbian but people in Kenya lead a double life. I wanted to go there to start a different Quaker church that is welcoming and affirming to support the Quaker young people.
I have felt so good because, for example, Earlham School of Religion is the liberal college and is welcoming and affirming. I’ve seen so many transgender, gay and lesbian people. And I felt good because they are supportive. I have been going to West Richmond Friends Church, which is welcoming and affirming.
Pastoring from Afar
I am working to write my story from the time I was born, how I grew up with my stepfather and my stepmom, how I came to know that I was gay. It will include my coming out story. So it’s going to me my life in Kenya and my life in the US, just to let people know that being gay or lesbian is just OK and God loves you just the way you are. And it’s not that you are suffering from mental illness and it’s not that you are a demon or anything, it is just the homophobic people just being afraid. But I really want to write my book so that people can read and create that awareness in the community and I think it will be a great place for people to read my story.
I’m also inspired to look forward to what articles Quakers have written about homosexuality and the Bible and I’m looking forward to translate those articles if people can give me that permission—into Swahili so that people can get that knowledge. Even though I will not be there physically, if I get my book there and some material there for people to read, I will have helped my society so much. If I don’t do it, who will do it?
I am here to sacrifice my life and my gift that God has given me to bless my community.
There is none like you my God. There is none, there is none, there isn’t one like you my God. Hankuna Hakuna Hakuna kama wewe. Hankuna Hakuna Hakuna Mungu kama wewe.