Updated: Feb 15
If you do not know the context in which Jesus said the following: "He that is without Sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her," let me refresh your memory. A group of Pharisees and Scribes brought a woman to Jesus who they accused of committing adultery. According to the law commanded by Moses, they wanted her stoned. In fact, I believe the Pharisees and Scribes wanted to evaluate Jesus's moral stance on an issue as contentious to what we can assume is similar in social weight to the LGBT issues in Ghana today. They knew he will exonerate her and with that they were hoping it would derail his increasing popularity. I mean... she was about to be stoned for having sex.....literally. The story is so profound in many ways. Initially, Jesus ignored them, but they persisted, demanding his unequivocal stance on the matter. Eventually he answered the question they did not ask (I believe) angrily. "He that is without Sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her," Let that sink in for a second. What question was Jesus indirectly asking them? Predictably, those with the stones (not surprised they were all men) dropped them and left. Every time I have read this passage I am reminded that Jesus was too revolutionary for his time. He broke all rules, and he paid the ultimate price for it because of dogma and nonsensical laws that he realized did not benefit society at large.
This brings me to my point. Again, I have seen media reports of Foh-Amoaning’s invocation to the Ghana Police to shut down what is a safe space for a group of people who have suffered bitterly from one of the remnants of colonial laws that we still use to punish and oppress. It is not as if Foh -Amoaning does not know that criminal code Act 29 of 1960, amended in 2003 is a colonial law. He has gladly accepted it as a mandate to exclude a cross section of Ghanaian from their rights." Think about this, he is using a colonial law to strip away a group of Ghanaians from their rights. How insane is that??
Now, let me take a detour for a bit. What is the "Ghanaian culture" Foh-Amoaning is referring to? Really, I want to know. Is it the one that the Ga people celebrate or the one in Mamprusi? Is it the Asante culture or the Ho culture? We can talk about the semantics involved in such an argument, but I digress. Culture is not only something that a group of people have and celebrate as we were taught in high school. It is always contested––meaning we are always producing meanings around something called “culture” and we do not always agree on exactly what that is. The various disagreements on what constitutes shared cultural values both within and between ethnic groups (which sometimes led to relentless conflicts among different ethnic groups in Ghana) is also what motivated the British colonialists, together with scholars, scientists and writers to manufacture something called "African culture" and "native laws." In that way, they could work with a single colonial administrative office and siphon our resources without having to deal with 20 different "tribal” leaders. It is that culture that Foh-Amoaning is referring to––a colonial culture that eventually became "Ghanaian culture." For instance, all Ghanaians are heterosexuals, and the most annoying of all is that there is something called the "African family" that needs to be protected. Really? which one? Because there are several types of families in Ghana. Notably consanguineal, nuclear, mixtures of the two, polygamous, matrilineal, patrilineal, dual-descent, matrifocal, patrifocal, patriarchal, and matriarchal. What African family is he referring to? The nuclear family? Is that African? no. Cultures are always in flux and in our case because of histories of colonization, globalization, the emergence of new technologies, among others, the claim to some manufactured colonial culture as Ghanaian culture in order to deny LGBT people their rights is quite disturbing. Our culture is not some static thing that seems to emerge whenever we need a reason to oppress another group of people. It is largely the resilience of a group of people who have experienced dispossession, colonial oppression and still pick up the pieces of what is left to construct something robustly human than what colonialism taught us about ourselves.
Many Ghanaians are claiming that LGBT rights are not human rights because it is against our “Ghanaian culture.” Of course, the LGBT rights framework in its contemporary form didn't emerge on the African continent because several societies in Africa did not place prominence on sexual identity as a fundamental aspect of an individual's overall personhood. This does not mean that same-sex sexualities and gender nonconforming people were not visible, several historical studies prove gender nonconformity and non heterosexual individuals were integrated into our societies in various ways. Furthermore, many African societies did not criminalize or evoke violence and death as a remedy to one's ability to live freely as whom they chose in relation to the constraints of communal welfare. For the sake of argument, let me agree with Foh-Amoaning for a moment. Even if LGBT rights is not part of "Ghanaian culture" does it mean that our supposed culture did/does not have a principled framework on how we should treat each other before British colonialism and Christian religion gave us new ways to do so? What about all the Akan proverbs and Adinkra symbols with the wealth of knowledge about how we should treat each other and confer personhood, including on those whose sexuality is different?
The question that Ghanaians are refusing to ask Foh-Amoaning is the same question that Jesus answered without being asked. Because besides its patriarchal flaws, the potential murder of the woman in Jesus’s story was about the principle, not the law. What principle are we using as the bases to prosecute LGBT people now? Based on those principles, (not the law), have you sinned too? Do you deserve death and mistreatment?
We can disagree on several things as a country, but we should not and must not compromise on the value of human life. Once we begin to make excuses for why someone deserves to die or be mistreated by the state and fellow citizens, we will be normalizing a form of human existence that British colonialism charted. Which is, certain people's lives matter, others don't so we can do anything we want with them. The very principle that the life and memory of Jesus refused.