‘CHURCH OF INTOLERANCE’
SHOWN THE WAY
ARMED with placards that cleverly made use of biblical Scriptures that preach unconditional love, a group of men and women held a picket outside the Grace Bible Church in Pimville, Soweto, to ask the church to promote unconditional love instead of homophobia.
Yesterday’s picket was brought on by a sermon delivered last week in the church by visiting Ghanaian bishop Dag Heward-Mills that referred to homosexuality as unnatural.
Heward-Mills said animals have multiple partners, but one would never see creatures of the same sex partnering up. “Dogs, cats, leopards, mention the animal. Which one has one partner? It is just like homosexuality, you don’t have male and male.”
Prominent South African radio presenter and entertainer Somizi Mhlongo, who was at the church, left the sermon and posted an outraged video on social media.
The picket was organised by various activist organisations. The group stayed outside the main gates of the church, with picketers standing with their rainbow-coloured flags and placards with messages such as “Hatred is not holy” and citing biblical Scriptures John 13:34 and Galatians 5:14. The picketers said they intended to hand over a memorandum to the church.
One of the participants, Motsau Motsau, said they were there to clear up confusion.
“We are not asking the church or faith spaces to be accepting of us, it’s clear. We are not here to argue on moral theological grounds that they should accept us or love us, but are asking for people to be in solidarity with us. People who know the oppression.
“We are saying let us stand together against religious intolerance that promotes discrimination and violence against our bodies,” Motsau said.
“Everyone is entitled to understand the Bible and interpret it in their own way. That’s fine. But when you compare me to an adulterer, the adulterer is not denied access to medical care when they go to a hospital, they aren’t kicked out of their homes or denied food. This is what we face. These are our bodies on the line,” he said.
Geoffrey Ogwaro from the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, said the picket was to remind the church to function within the country’s constitution and that they were in solidarity with Mhlongo.
“We are calling the church out because we live in a constitutional democracy and, as much as they have their right to worship and assemble, they have the responsibility to respect the constitution when it talks about discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
In response to the debacle, the church’s leader, Bishop Mosa Sono, read out a statement to the congregation at the beginning of yesterday’s sermon.
Sono said the church respected the constitution and the rights enshrined therein to freedom of sexuality. However, the church was duty-bound to promote heterosexual relations and marriage.
“That is the only form of partnership approved by God for sexual relations. We neither believe nor accept that holding this theological and ethical view on biblical grounds is, in itself, discriminatory,” he said.
Commenting on the issue, Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said it was important that religious leaders remembered at all times that they functioned within a constitutional democracy and that they were in a powerful position within the community. “Religion must not be used to punish, but rather it must be used to foster tolerance, nation building and social cohesion.”
THE DECISION by the Grace Bible Church in Soweto to host gospel star Lundi Tyamara’s memorial service this week should go a long way in mending relations between the church and members of the gay community.
Tyamara, 38, lost his battle against stomach tuberculosis and liver complications on Friday, plunging South Africa into deep mourning.
The Grace Bible Church, which also hosted the memorial service of another gospel star, Sfiso Ncwane, swiftly moved to offer its premises for fans, family and friends to celebrate the life of Tyamara, who was one of the genre’s most colourful figures.
Yesterday, members of the gay community protested outside the church following visiting preacher Dag Heward-Mills’s homophobic sermon last week infuriated some people. Actor, musician and radio personality Somizi Mhlongo staged a dramatic walkout and lashed the church.
Since then, the church has been at pains to explain that it embraces all people and that Heward-Mills’s sermon was not meant to offend.
Tyamara’s memorial service will go a long way in showing that the church puts its money where its mouth is. For many years, the gospel star used his music to spread the word of God.
His sexual orientation was never an issue as his many fans embraced him and the message in his music. No wonder his death touched many in our country and in neighbouring states such as Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia, where he was loved.
We hope that his memorial service will be used to preach tolerance and to narrow the gulf between the church and the gay community.
UNITED: Members of the LGBTI community hold a peaceful protest at Grace Bible Church in Soweto in solidarity with socialite Somizi Mhlongo. Last week, he walked out during a sermon that he found to be homophobic.