Who protests school policy on gender identity and sexual orientation when homophobia’s taking lives? A supposedly Christian party with a self-serving agenda disguised as theology, writes Siya Khumalo.
In 2013, Duduzile Zozo's body was found with a toilet brush in her vagina.
My church's teaching on homosexuality had been, "God loves the sinner, but he hates this sin". From religious people's online comments on hate crimes, I realised these teachings let churches have it both ways - appearing merciful while capitalising on people's prejudices.
Downstream, these "God loves you, but" ideas translate to, "Society would accept you, but you're not enough of what you're supposed to be" to someone who then kills LGBTI people for reflecting their gender identity insecurities back to them.
Sexually repressed religious men once preached, "God loves witches but will send them to hell if they refuse to repent" as justification for persecuting women who didn't yield to their institutions' control.
The Spanish Inquisition singled out redheads for supposedly stealing the flames of hell. "God loves them, but" exchanged the problem of men burning with lust over women they couldn't control for the problem that those women's souls would burn forever if they weren't purified by earthly fires first.
The book of Job
Religious institutions monopolised access to ancient scriptures for 1 500 years because they condemn judgmentalism and hypocrisy. Consider possibly the Bible's oldest book, Job, where an innocent man's life is ruined first by a debate in heaven, and then by the "God loves you, but" brigade.
In the story, Job's life was destroyed due to a conversation between God and an entity that accused God of running a Machiavellian protection racket for people who only pretend to be pious. Three of his friends visited him, and the bulk of the book revolves around their attempts at convincing him that he needed to repent of whatever unknown sin that had led to his suffering. The book's dramatic irony lies between what the reader was let in on at the start of the book (that Job is blameless) and his accusers' escalating insistence that he must be harbouring a pet sin. The climax of the story is when God speaks from a whirlwind.
The term just world hypothesis was coined by sociologist Melvin Lerner after observing that "people work backwards in their reactions" to victims: "They assess what is happening, and then calculate what it would take for someone to deserve that fate."
When there's a hate crime in South Africa, for example, "God loves, but" inevitably soften Christians' condemnation of rape and/or murder. "We're all just sinners saved by grace" allows them to claim a non-existent distance from the perpetrators. But when we or our particular group have been victimised, we start at the assumption that we're innocent.
This bias is why Mourid Barghuoti wrote, "Start your story with 'Secondly', and the arrows of the Red Indians are the original criminals and the guns of the white men are entirely the victims. It is enough to start with 'Secondly', for the anger of the black man against the white to be barbarous."
Why is religion often used to sugarcoat blame-shifting world views that privilege their holders over everyone else? This is precisely what ancient scriptures address, with the New Testament saying that people who have been given a set of rules to supposedly make them righteous will inevitably project their repressed guilt on "the other" by using that other as a scapegoat.
But no religion of sacrifices and scapegoats (human or animal) can make the religious feel truly cleansed of sin; on the contrary, victimising the innocent adds to our guilt. This is why scripture repeatedly says, "By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in God's sight."
God ended this vicious cycle by getting crucified at the behest of priests and religious law experts. Job's story likewise ends with God telling him to pray for his accusers. We see this pattern throughout the Bible in the resurrection of Jesus and in Joseph's elevation after his brothers sold him into slavery. "Pray for those who persecute you," taught Jesus.
The crucified God is found not by the religious who crucified him, but the irreligious "sinners" who are crucified alongside him. "Those who were not my people I will call 'my people'".
If Jesus bled to death in our churches, the so-called saints would step back lest his blood stain their snow-white clothes. In the parable, it wasn't the priestly class that stopped to help the man beaten and bleeding on the roadside, but a Samaritan, the member of an ethnic group despised by the priestly class.
Warnings from the Scripture
Scripture repeatedly warns against thinking God shares the sensibilities of religiously privileged people whose "secondly" stories can only be true if God takes what they do wrong less seriously than what they accuse others of doing.
Christ died to save people from their just world hypotheses. You can't believe in your self-righteousness and believe that Jesus was innocent at the same time just as Job's friends couldn't believe their theories and believe in his innocence at the same time. For God to rebuff the accusation that he runs a protection racket for hypocrites without letting an innocent die, he'd have to directly judge judgmental people.
So who's got to die next for the message to sink in? Line up the nails, the crosses and the crowns of thorns: the death of the ACDP's Jesus wasn't sacrifice enough to end the cycle.
In Romans 1:27 (which is a favourite of anti-gay theologians) Apostle Paul seemingly vindicates his audience's assumption that men who "committed shameful acts with other men" received in themselves "the due penalty" for their sin.
But there's a problem: if your heterosexuality is threatened by another person's homosexuality, your religion only puts you in the right by putting others in the wrong.
This proves that "by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in God's sight; rather, by law, we become conscious of our sin". This is why Paul turns on his anti-gay crowd in Romans 2:1 to say, "You are inexcusable, whoever you are that judges."
He then argues that the basis of acceptance before God is the story you believe about suffering people in general and his Son's suffering in particular. For unless God is prepared to be crucified on judgmental people's behalf, their attitudes are inexcusable.
Still, the ACDP opposes the Western Cape draft policy on gender identity and sexual orientation in schools for reasons theologians have argued about. The party is un-African because it's aligned with the Trumpian version of Christianity once weaponised by Africa's colonisers, which exchanges the grace of the accusation-bearing God for the narcissism of the accuser.
It undermines the secular constitutional democracy that allows it and its opponents to co-exist on the condition that they tolerate each other's rights.
What's left in the ACDP's name, then? A persecution complex? Pretend victimhood? Crocodile tears? The brood of evildoers shall never be named lest names sugarcoat what they really are - inexcusable.
- 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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