Christian conservatism ‘does not translate into hate speech against gays’

2013-09-10 00:00

WHEN lesbians are being raped and even killed for their sexual orientation, as was recently the case, alarm bells go off. There is no justification for such crimes and the perpetrators deserve to face the full force of the law.

The discussion in this newspaper on the appreciation of homosexuality that followed was fuelled partly by the natural indignation many feel when confronted with these assaults.

Alleyn Diesel’s article on homophobia in The Witness (August 26) was an illustration of the genuine concern and heartfelt anger against discrimination and violence against gays and lesbians in general.

Her resentment against homophobia attacks was understandable, but in my view she did cast her net too wide, also including criticism that should not go under the homophobia label.

Looking for the guilty, she largely blames religious fundamentalism, in particular from Christians who, on religious grounds, reject a homosexual lifestyle. With the culprits identified, she proceeded to interpret my criticism of Desmond Tutu’s defence of homosexuality as hate speech. This response will argue that this accusation is misplaced and misleading, and constitutes a false claim of a logical, direct link between a conservative Christian conviction and the promotion and perpetration of violence against gays and lesbians.

It will further touch on the damaging role liberal Christian churches and leaders, such as Tutu, play in all of this, which was the actual bone of contention of my letter that provoked such strong reactions.

Diesel’s defence of homosexuality is, apart from being founded on a general pro-GLBT bias, largely built on four pillars: South Africa’s legal framework, the achievements of gays and lesbians, medical denialism and the rejection of biblical Christianity.

Our Constitution prohibits unfair discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender. What this does not mean is that all discrimination against homosexuals and women is prohibited. It is, for example, not unconstitutional to bar men or married women from taking part in a Miss South Africa pageant. Likewise, churches can appeal to the Freedom of Religion, Belief and Opinion clause if they insist on the appointment of heterosexual ministers, or refer to Section 16, which protects the freedom of expression. Although this right does not extend to “the incitement of imminent violence or the advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion”, one would be hard-pressed to find such sentiments, overt or covert, coming from your average conservative pulpit. As for the hate-speech legislation, here again, rejecting homosexuality within the context of a loving and forgiving God who rewards repentance from sin, will hardly constitute “the promotion or propagation of hatred” or “the dissemination of false facts, flawed argumentation and dehumanising metaphors”, as Diesel puts it.

Christians are held to proclaim what the Bible says and have no choice but to reject homosexuality. Christianity’s claims are, therefore, entirely constitutional, do not advocate violence, but will rather seek the power of verbal persuasion to promote change. Diesel’s argument that equality and acceptance of homosexuality are justified because of exceptional achievements by gays and lesbians is beside the point. Few would contest her observation. Following that same logic, however, we could hail the blessings of one of her bug bears, patriarchy, for the sheer fact that many men who have been, willingly or unwillingly, pawns in the building and continuation of society’s patriarchal structures have been outstanding citizens. Contrary to Diesel’s assertions, an active homosexual lifestyle does increase the risks for and prevalence of certain diseases, also outside the GLBT community. It is no secret that the spread of HIV in the eighties was primarily via contacts between homosexual men.

Research by Beyer et al, as published in 2012 in the Lancet, found that the average HIV transmission rate during anal sex is estimated to be 18 times higher than the rate during vaginal intercourse. Various independent studies report exceptionally high rates of promiscuity among gays and lesbians, many of whom are bisexual. This, in tandem with the negligent use of condoms, is contributing to substantially lower life expectancies for gays and lesbians.

The scape goat in all of this, according to Diesel, is fundamentalist religion. If considering homosexuality a sinful and undesirable lifestyle qualifies as homophobia, where does that leave our freedom of religion and expression?

The biblical rejection of homosexuality is 3 500 years old, was reiterated in New Testamental times and accepted for almost 2 000 years thereafter, even by non-Christians.

What is so special about our generation that could justify our belief in a change of heart of the God of the Bible who claimed he was an unchanging God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow?

Are we, in accepting homosexuality, not just following a postmodern moral fad? Should the term homophobia not be reserved for those who actually hate gay and lesbians and want to harm them?

Ironically, many activists condemn counselling attempts by churches and other Christian organisations which, in an enabling and loving environment, help those who seek voluntary reparative therapy. And the amazing thing is: it works, as thousands of ex-gays can attest to. Yet this loving approach, which is anything but homophobic, is largely condemned by many GLBT activists.

In spite of the outcome of scientific research to the contrary, they argue that homosexuality is innate and seldom use violence against ex-gays and lesbians to bring their intolerant message across to the extent that some ex-gay leaders fear for their lives and that of their families.

It is hard to overestimate the damage that is done by the misrepresentation of the original Christian teachings by people such as Tutu and the ex-archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

Matters like the acceptance of homosexual clergy and same-sex unions have essentially split the Anglican Church in two. In the case of Africa, our country stands out as a sore thumb in its backing of the liberal Western wing of the Anglican Church. It is against this background of a growing dilution of core Christian teachings that I criticised Tutu. Churches should proclaim absolute truth. They are not doing that at the moment, and we can blame our church leaders for it.

In conclusion, I would express the hope that church leaders and well-meaning activists would be able to discern between genuine homophobia and love-inspired, critical attempts to provide gays and lesbians and their parents and friends with the support and tools for change, as required by the Bible.

• This issue is now closed.

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