Guest Column

The Grace Bible Church pastor is wrong and so are we

2017-01-23 14:11

Mondli Zonde

On Sunday, social media was ablaze following news of a Grace Bible Church visiting pastor who made homophobic remarks during a sermon.

The pastor apparently said that homosexuality is disgusting, sinful and that not even animals "practice" it. It is these comments that led celebrity choreographer Somizi Mhlongo to walk out during the sermon. Mhlongo then took to social media to describe what had occurred and a heated debate ensued with some supporting the pastor while others agreed with Mhlongo.

Personally, I don’t care if you believe homosexuality is right or wrong. If you oppose gay marriage for example, then don’t marry a person of the same sex as yours. I have similar sentiments about people who berate a woman who has an abortion. If you believe having an abortion is sinful and goes against your beliefs then don’t have an abortion but please don’t require everyone else to live their lives according to what you have determined is "right" or "wrong". So I am not here to convince you to accept homosexuality. I am here to tell you that who the next person sleeps with or marries is none of your business.

But back to Somizi and the pastor. Various reports have identified the pastor as a visitor from Ghana. I don’t know if he had shared his message with his South African counterparts before the sermon but he should have. We live in a constitutional democracy and whether we like it or not, everyone is seen as equal before our law. We cannot therefore ever give a platform to anyone to spew vitriol that undermines the rights enshrined in our Constitution.

Ours is a country where people were legally discriminated against because of who they were and discriminating against homosexual people is no different. Discrimination is not only unlawful when it directly affects you; it must be condemned whenever it occurs. 

The pastor should have therefore been repudiated by Grace Bible Church in recognition of the freedoms we all enjoy under our democratic order. Let me be clear: this does not mean accepting homosexuality as a way of life for you. It is not about you. This is about acknowledging another person’s right to be who they are freely.

Many religious folk do not subscribe to the idea of divorce and yet our laws allow people to terminate their marriages if they wish to do so. I am not aware whether animals divorce or not, as I am yet to hear of a pastor declaring that divorce is sinful because not even animals practice this.

The point I am trying to convey is that churches must not be selective in what they condemn. Even the church must accept that individuals have agency. If you believe in God, then let Him deal with who is right or wrong.

Furthermore, the pastor is also factually wrong. Empirical research tells us that homosexual behaviour can very well be identified in animals. I would advise him to read Bruce Bagemihl’s book, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity. Yes, if he can advise others to read The Bible then he should have no issues taking reading advice from others, right?

Bagemihl makes an important observation which I believe applies to human beings as well as animals. He states that amongst animals, homosexuality is different from sex altogether. I believe the pastor and certainly many other people think of homosexuality is a sexual act between two people of the same gender. Interestingly, this is never the case when we think of heterosexuality. When it comes to the latter, people are simply thought of as ‘straight’ without thinking of what sexual activities they get up to. This is hypocrisy but it tends to be the case with religious fundamentalists. 

Regarding Somizi, he had every right to storm out but I am concerned about the effectiveness of this. When it comes to other forms of discrimination for example, we encourage each other to stand up and speak out. We don’t encourage walking out. 

When a black patron faces discrimination in a Cape Town restaurant we tell them to fight back. When a woman is harassed at work we tell her to fight back. When a homosexual person is attacked for who they are: we are silent.

So no, walking out should not be the default position. We should all be willing to stand up and defend the rights and freedoms of all people, even those who are different from us and whose struggle we do not share.

Imagine if when the pastor spoke, the congregation expressed the same outrage black folk did when Penny Sparrow called them monkeys (an animal)? The pastor would have been isolated and Somizi wouldn’t have had to walk out. The fact that people walk out when they are discriminated against is a reflection on us, not them.

- Mondli Zondo is a Mandela Washington Fellow, President Obama’s initiative for young African leaders and he writes in his personal capacity. Follow him on Twitter: @MoZondo.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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