Christianity's credibility — and the financial support churches get — is jeopardised whenever the ACDP shores up homophobic positions by special pleading (i.e. "God's Word says"), writes Siya Khumalo.
This Pride Month letter appeals to your financial self-interest ahead of your theological beliefs because many of you are struggling with revenue crises that make social justice concerns seem secondary.
What if your survival lies in repositioning yourselves to lead on those issues, owning upon where you've erred or remained silent?
What if the pandemic didn't create new business risks but revealed existing ones?
Beyond the impact of lockdown and other tangible fiduciary concerns, there was a risk in your relationship with your congregants and society. You weren't selling a product people could and would pay for come hail or shine: you were selling a grudge purchase (hereafter insurance) to customers stewardship over this life at personal, social and political levels was traded in for emotionally cathartic experiences. These religious experiences substituted for, and distracted from, active citizenship and sustainable entrepreneurialism.
If you disagree, why has South Africa been a mess since before the pandemic when much of the nation spends hours in your churches?
Your particular denomination may not spray people's faces with Doom, but you may be guilty of more insidious patterns. Do your white congregants wear the same church uniforms that your black members wear, for example?
My point is that you've primarily avoided the work of empowering your congregants to think critically through the structural factors that determine their (and therefore your) financial and political futures. The emotional experiences many of you provide apart from this robust engagement with social, economic and civic issues (or engagement that's constrained by the politics of your conferences, councils and synods — by resolutions for gender equality, for example, that don't translate into action) distracted the laity from here-and-now threats in ways that vindicate Karl Marx's description of religion an "opium of the people".
Worse, many of these experiences were based on the thrill of being holier than "those sinners over there". Do your church communities analyse the challenges faced by sex workers, for example? No, because you're in bed with the sanctimonious power-brokers that Marx and Christ condemned from opposite ends of the belief spectrum. Many of you learned, as did Aaron when the Israelites gave him their jewellery to make the golden calf, that people gladly surrender their wealth to idols. Unfortunately, the price you're paying is that you, too, are exploited by whatever con jobs those power brokers perpetrate on your congregations because your congregants' losses and risks are yours. That's what it means to be a Body: if the arm lets the hand get duped, it risks losing a few fingers.
Judging from some of your membership and donor lists (well done to the denomination that refused to let a politician whose troubles with the law are dominating news headlines send out an "Easter message"), you're renting platforms and pulpits to scoundrels who justify their corruption by positioning themselves as protesters of secular Constitutional democracy's "godlessness". Is that why you're treated with kid gloves when lockdown regulations tighten — because the governing party needs to appear sympathetic to your critiques of the law when it suits its agenda?
Homosexuality as a sin
No wonder homosexuality is treated as a sin more significant than any Constitutional violation.
Across Africa and right here, homophobia is one of the ways you channel your congregants' need to find a scapegoat (for a world that's worsening for reasons you don't want them to understand because you're complicit) to a target they can see themselves as different from.
This "otherness" reinforces the sense of moral superiority for which you then collect a tithe that locks in their understanding of belonging with the inner group of saints.
But as your politician friends pit the Constitution against your congregants' moral sensibilities while robbing them outside the church once they've been voted in, who's blamed for the world's worsening? Who gets killed in waves of hate crimes: the politicians who violated the Constitution and lowered the general quality of life, or members of the LGBTI community?
First, they came for the foreign nationals, and then the homosexuals, and you did not speak out.
The ACDP's appeal to God's word as the reason it supported Hoërskool DF Malan's opposition to Pride gatherings is the final hammer in the coffin your credibility lies in. It's special pleading that, instead of using the Bible to support a self-evident argument on why Pride gatherings are wrong, says the mysterious reason they're wrong is hidden in the Bible. And since you preach from that Bible, you're seen in the same light as the ACDP. (Even affirming ministries are harmed).
This misuse of scripture contradicts God's offer to "come let us reason together". Reasoning together means God won't appeal to mystery or pull rank to shut questions down.
This is consistent with the incarnate Christ's challenge to established readings of scripture ("It was said to you of old") and his conclusion of parables with the question, "What do you think?" which invited his listeners to assess the choices of his stories' characters. We've known since the Reformation — remember that joyride? — that scripture should clarify rather than obscure meaning. The printing press put the Bible in the hands of people. So an interpretation of it that displaces common sense is suspect.
Why, then, do you keep quiet when the ACDP tells society that their position against queer children is justified by your scriptures?
Anticipating this impasse, the ACDP agreed with the school that a Pride gathering would "cause tensions". This is like saying a #BlackLivesMatter protest is the reason there's racism. But the Bible itself, by portraying God's Word as crucified on account of how people weaponised God's words, says people who hate in God's name don't know God.
Nevertheless, acting as your proxy until you say otherwise, the ACDP shores up its position through gaslighting and victim-blaming. With regards to me, they wrote, "By claiming that the ACDP is not 'Christian', he is doing something that he appears to be against, imposing his ideas of another's identity on that person or group of people. He makes himself a theological high priest by telling others that they are only Christian if they follow his teachings."
By this logic, a victim of racism who tells racists that they're racist is "imposing his ideas of another's identity on that person or group" and not describing their abuse of social privilege just like the queer students were the reason there was homophobia at their school.
Continue like this, and your teachings will be identified as the reason domestic violence victims get accused of provoking their abusers by failing to be submissive wives, or rape victims get told they should have cooperated during instances of sexual grooming.
When I was in school, the Straight Pride Gathering ("Matric Dance") was the biggest reminder that the school's social architecture had not been created with those like me in mind. That there are students at D. F Malan who refuse to let that be their story says enough of your straight children have developed convictions on social justice that they, with those queer students, are ready to take society forward into a more inclusive future. Will you be in it?
God didn't let Moses enter the Promised Land either so your irrelevance in this coming day puts you in excellent company.
I said, you aren't selling a product people want even at their most vulnerable hour: that's because they've seen what you do to vulnerable people. Your own congregants are among your victims you're going to learn the meaning of the scripture, "When one part suffers, every part suffers with it".
- 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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