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Abundant Life: The Churches and Sexuality 

Series of essays from academics in Africa addressing a variety of issues around sexuality, seeking to identify and cultivate the positive role that churches must play 

The Churches and SexualityAbundant Life: The Churches and Sexuality
Chitando, Ezra & Nyambiura Njoroge (eds), 
WCC Publications, Geneva. 2016
ISBN: 978-2825416747
Reviewed by Alec Gilmore

An attempt to counter the 'the dominant stereotypes of churches in Africa' as 'conservative, rigid and unwilling to contribute toward Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR)', with church leaders cast as 'stifling women and girls' SRHR'.

The stereotype is not without foundation, but many churches are open to change. As the response to AIDS has shown church leaders are quite capable of transforming harmful cultural practices, death-dealing theologies, and oppressive systems into helpful practices and handling the issues simply in terms of human rights is not sufficient. What is at stake is the language and idiom of religion and theology and in this case the basic text is 'abundant life for all' (John 10:10).

With this objective, and inspired by the hope that they can bring to homosexuality the same level of sensitivity, creativity and empathy that they mobilised in response to HIV and AIDS, a dozen specialists in the field, from seven African countries, all holding academic positions, have contributed ten essays to address a variety of issues.

These include youth-centred church programmes; using new media to communicate sexuality issues with young people; women's sexuality with emphasis on the sexuality of older women, women with disability and women's voices on the whole range of SRHR issues; problems and prospects for sexual rights in African initiated churches; masturbation (perversion or freedom?) and the role of men in women's sexual and reproductive health and rights.

A final chapter calls the churches to be courageous, especially when it comes to churches and sexual minorities.

All the contributions are well backed by academic papers and official reports and the references and the reading lists will be an eye-opener to those who live with the illusion that Africa is far behind the rest of us.

At first sight a book so highly focused on Africa may appear to have little to offer to the west in terms of detail, but the problems and the way they are handled, including the language, are not all that different. In light of the way the British churches have all tied themselves in such knots on so many of these issues and the level at which such matters have too often been discussed, you have to wonder where you can find comparable British thinking and a similar production to what African Chuches have produced. Oh for the days of the British Council of Churches!

The Revd Alec Gilmore is a Baptist minister 

Baptist Times, 23/09/2016
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