The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - MASEGO PANYANE

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.

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