Hosted by Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) in partnership with The Rainbow Project (TRP) of Namibia from 2-5 November 2009, Stellenbosch
The past few days 77 participants from 13 African countries met for the first time ever to dialogue about the issue of sexual orientation from a Christian faith perspective. The participants included clergy (pastors, Bishops, National Church Council leadership and Academics) and an equal number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and intersexed (LGBTI) people, of whom a few were also clergy. The countries represented were Botswana, DRC, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
During the Introduction we discussed Faith, Cultural and Human Rights issues that made this dialogue necessary: polarization in the Church, diversity in Bible interpretation, patriarchy, lack of knowledge, the fear of persecution of LGBTI people and all those in solidarity with them, laws criminalizing homosexuality in most African countries and right–wing USA groups influencing the agenda of Church and Politics, as in Uganda (read statement attached as appendix).
We introduced the method of DIALOGUE as the preferred Biblical way in which people of faith should discuss this very sensitive, and to many painful, issues – as opposed to DEBATE which only polarizes, rather than pull us together. During the very first session the participants grew to appreciate the safe space that this method of dialogue offered them and started to share freely and often very personally.
Participants moved from a place of fear to a place of empowerment and hope. LGBTI individuals were initially fearful, because of their history of rejection and persecution by the church or government laws, were apprehensive of their fellow clergy participants and on the other hand some clergy admitted that they have never before been exposed to LGBTI Christians.
We experienced dialogue as a way to grapple with the challenges we are facing regarding sexual orientation and our faith. We were able to listen to the stories and testimonies of painful and challenging journeys that touched us all, without fear of rejection and condemnation. The dialogue offered us for the first time to be hopeful of a journey that can bind us together as fellow Christians, rather than divide us.
We therefore affirm and call upon all fellow African Christians to engage in dialogue in finding our way forward, together. There is a great need for safe spaces for dialogue within our faith communities. We need to listen more deeply to all the diverse journeys fellow Christians on our continent are finding themselves on regarding their spirituality and sexuality.
We acknowledged that there are major stumbling blocks that hinder us from fully engaging in dialogue, these include:
· lack of knowledge about sexual orientation,
· scriptural interpretations,
· silence and often invisibility of LGBTI people within faith communities,
· taboo’s on discussing sexuality in Africa,
· hierarchical church structures,
· oppressive laws etc.
These stumbling blocks forced most of the Church into debate ABOUT the issue rather than engage WITH fellow brothers and sisters who happen to be LGBTI.
We entered into a hopeful journey of finding and discussing stepping stones for us in Africa to enable us to start a long and rewarding dialogue process.
· provide information to lessen ignorance
· commitment from participants to create safe spaces for dialogue in their countries
· reading Scripture inclusively that reflects the spirit of love and compassion of the Gospel
· In order to counteract stereotyping – training and education of the media
· Telling our stories through our culture and faith communities in order to bring more exposure
· The importance of self acceptance and affirmation of LGBTI people etc.
We believe God has gifted us with both sexuality and spirituality as aspects of our humanity. It is our duty and responsibility, as members of the same Body of Christ, to affirm amidst our diversity and differences that all of us are made in the image of God. We are equal in value and thus deserve to commit ourselves to this process of encounter, listening and sharing.
We belief that the Holy Spirit is guiding us through dialogue to find our way forward, even in the face of so much fear, anger, pain and even hatred.
We have asked all participants to share the letter underneath from one of our Ugandan participants with their constituencies and call for more tolerance in their country.
We also submit this letter to this press conference for the notice of the wider public in the hope that the South African Council of Churches and worldwide Christian Bodies will give it their serious attention:
A CALL ON CHRISTIANS TO OPPOSE THE BAHATI’S HATE BILL WHICH HAS BEEN TABLED BEFORE THE UGANDAN PARLIAMENT
“Every day millions of Christians pray to be spared from being put to the test. This prayer is especially applicable for Christians everywhere in regard to the “anti- homosexuality bill”, which has been put to parliament in Uganda, by Member of Parliament Bahati. This extremely unpleasant proposed bill targets not only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people but also Human Rights and HIV/AIDS prevention activists and people in positions of trust and authority. While some in the church are backing and propelling the bill, other Christians face a challenge to the principles at the heart of their faith.” This statement reiterates why all Christians everywhere should not support this HATE bill:
· The bill breaks rather than build the family. It makes family members ‘spies’ of each other rather than “keepers” of one another. It turns parents into prosecutors of their children and siblings into accusers of one another.
· It makes everyone suspicious of any kind of affection in case it is interpreted as intent to commit homosexuality.
· It undermines and totally dispels the place of compassion, understanding, and love within the Christian Faith.
· It totally undermines the pivotal role of grace in the Christian Faith. “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us…” The work of salvation was done for us before we were aware of it or even accepted it. God’s gift of love was not dependent on our identities or sexuality or even willingness to acknowledge the gift. It was just given. The Church has the duty to exemplify this understanding and demonstration of love.
The same scriptures that are being used to persecute and demonize LGBTI people are very clear on the duty of all Christians to bear with one another’s differences – to be tolerant, to desist from judgment, and to practice the golden rule where we give others the treatment that we would have.
Some people think that being homosexual, we are sinners but many people know that we are children of God created in God’s image. Whatever you believe, we call upon you to appreciate that Bahati’s bill is not about any of this; it is not even about homosexuality. It is about politics. It is about hate. It is about intolerance. Among its draconian and hate-inciting provisions, the bill proposes that;
· Any person alleged to be homosexual would be at risk of life imprisonment or in some circumstances the death penalty;
· Any parent who does not denounce their lesbian daughter or gay son to the authorities would face fines of $ 2,650.00 or three years in prison;
· Any teacher who does not report a lesbian or gay pupil to the authorities within 24 hours would face the same penalties;
· And any landlord or landlady who happens to give housing to a suspected homosexual would risk 7 years of imprisonment.
· Similarly, the Bill threatens to punish or ruin the reputation of anyone who works with the gay or lesbian population, such as medical doctors working on HIV/AIDS, civil society leaders active in the fields of sexual and reproductive health, hence further undermining public health efforts to combat the spread of HIV;
God calls on all of us to act with compassion, not to call for unfair treatment and oppression of those with a minority voice. God calls on all of us to build family, not to tear it apart by sowing seeds of discord, hatred, suspicion, and intolerance. God calls on all of us to understand and appreciate our differences not to use these to oppress one another.
Even if you think that homosexuality is a sin, we call upon you to oppose this bill.