Siya Khumalo | Church, weep not for LGBTI deaths but for yourselves and your children

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We’re stuck with a colonial understanding of scripture while the global church progresses because we don’t grasp the connection between a weak economy and anti-LGBTI violence, writes Siya Khumalo.


Dear Churches,

We've discussed how the short-term gains of homophobia affect the political landscape and your finances.

Let's discuss scriptural connections between enslavement or economic exploitation and the recent surge in LGBTI killings, bearing in mind that the global north that colonised and Christianised us is moving forward on such matters because it's ironically gained the economic stability to see the illiberality of profiting off of others' marginalisation, even as you help keep it intact here.

Your scriptures discuss two archetypes, the Old Adam and the Last Adam, the Accuser and the Acquitter respectively. The Old Adam ate a fruit God told him not to (from the tree of knowing good and evil) and then defended himself by putting everyone else in the wrong and himself in the right. "The woman, whom [God] gave, she gave me the fruit and I ate."

Christ, the Last Adam, let himself be put in the wrong to make others right.

The possibility of enslavement

Adam had tried to be "wise like God", denying that the Creator was creation's final arbiter of good and evil. He embraced an economy where ownership wasn't a function of having created. This introduced the possibility of enslavement as well as the exploitation of creators and labourers. He was trying to externalise the cost of his own access to life's resources by shifting blame to others. God himself would have been victimised if he hadn't dried up the stream of Adam's provision: "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food" – and work yourself to death in the process.

So death exposes that beneath bravado, exploiters like Adam are broke because the very exploitativeness they try on others severed them from God's provision. So his offspring immortalised themselves by making gods in the images of the strength they had to project if they were to intimidate anyone who contested their exclusive claim to natural resources. In Egypt, such gods underwrote the enslavement of the Israelites.

On their way out of Egypt, the first generation of liberated Israelites said they wanted to return to Egypt – so God let them die in the desert. Their children reached the Promised Land. The New Testament appeals to this story to argue that religious law was given as a stop-gap, a codicil to God's dealings with Israelites who'd been taken out of Egypt but hadn't had Egypt taken out of them.

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The Israelites projected the role of slave-master onto God because they thought slave owners like the Pharaoh had a legitimate claim to their servitude. Indeed, they'd enforced this system against one another. Prior to the liberation, Moses had asked one Israelite, "Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?".

Biblical power structures

Power structures like biblical Egypt and South Africa's apartheid put people "in their place" with the complicity of oppressed people who oppressed one another like "izimpimpi", spies who snitched on fellow black people to preserve the status quo. Even today, those who were once less dehumanised than queer black people (that is, straight black men) remind us through violence that the system prioritised them over us. They police us, and when their economic needs aren't being met, they assume, as your churches have taught them to, that we have broken the system they thought protected them just as the first generation of Israelites "missed" Egypt.

South African lesbians get castigated for getting jobs (while men have none), or for getting jobs as security guards, for being pallbearers at their friends' funerals, playing soccer and in some places, for wearing pants. Sometimes the death threats and rape threats (the assumption being that lesbians should be "put in their place") are forwarded into queer WhatsApp groups I am in.

In the bible, the persistence of such intra-group trauma is why the religious Law limits the number of times a slave owner can beat his slave instead of abolishing slavery. It specifies how women on their periods are to separate themselves instead of interrogating misogyny. It assumes the observer's bondage within the Accuser archetype. Your God solved this problem in the New Testament. Colossians 2:14 shows him dealing with the impulse to accuse by cancelling the debt "ascribed to us in the decrees that stood against us". He confronts our idolatry by disarming "the powers and authorities" through death on the cross. Apart from this intervention, people project their idolatry onto God and make him out to be the slave master.  Law's purpose is to unmask the emptiness of the Old Adam's self-righteousness.

The apostles believed their countrymen viewed God through a veil that filtered him to look like a Pharaoh demanding compliance to a religious and moral code he'd never supplied the power to obey. The actual Pharaoh had said to his overseers, "You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don't reduce the quota." Indeed, the Law's purpose is to unmask the emptiness of the Old Adam's self-righteousness, whoever it happens to be in, including those in bondage who project the role of slave driver to God.

Our idea of God is influenced by others

Christ's death fulfils the Law because his nakedness on the cross vindicates the Law's premise that the flesh has been a moral and religious scam since Adam. If humanity reflects God, religious law exposes that our notion of God is often whatever idea suits our or our enslaver's agenda. Outward idolatry is solved by imposing Old Testament rules, but this inward idolatry is solved by ensuring those rules could never be kept in the first place.  By offering us his own righteousness, Jesus disarms human self-righteousness.

But while a critical mass of people play the self-righteousness game, the world becomes a political dystopia where spin is passed off as truth until very real threats sneak up unnoticed. In Jesus' day, this threat was the Siege, a "lockdown" by an occupying power that had "captured" the nation's conscience with its religious establishment's complicity. "So when you see standing in the Holy Place 'the abomination of desolation' described by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand) those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains…"

When you see a jet landing in an airbase it shouldn't, you have been sold out and it's only a matter of time before the full horror of your disposability and nakedness is exposed.

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The religious and political establishment that brought the woman caught in adultery before Jesus sought to take attention from its own wrongdoings, not realising they were enacting Old Testament prophecies about Jerusalem as an adulterous wife about to be betrayed through political treaties. The literal woman in idolatry was a canary in the mineshaft signalling that time was up, so Jesus cried out to Jerusalem, "Look, your house is left to you desolate".

To hide their treachery, the leadership concocted charges and handed him over for crucifixion. On his way there, he said to those crying for him, "Do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children", because if they "do these things in the green tree, what will be done in the dry?"

Complicity in the broken system

It's like the First They Came poem. If accusers or their minions can attack and "other" queer people or "deviants" instead of owning up to their complicity in the brokenness of the system that's falling on them, no one is safe.

Jesus' death prefigured perhaps 500 crucifixions a day for months, "great distress unequalled from the beginning of the world" where the city's food, water and money was controlled by the edge of General Titus' sword. And no one was coming to save them. "At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Messiah!' do not believe it" because no peace treaty can stick when fork-tongued leadership is the norm. To die in the desert like the first generation of liberated Israelites is nothing compared to dying in the Promised Land – or to grasping democracy, Eden, only to lose it.

As you watch us die, consider parents who may have eaten their own children during such sieges. Youth unemployment is at 74%. Perhaps do leave your tears for yourselves and for your children.

- Siya Khumalo is the author of You Have To Be Gay To Know God (2018). He is also a Mr Gay South Africa runner-up and Mr Gay World Top 10 finalist.

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