Siya Khumalo | The urgency of honest conversations about pastors like Israel Makamu on AmaBishop

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Endless Hope Bible Church pastor Bishop Israel Makamu. Picture: Instagram
Endless Hope Bible Church pastor Bishop Israel Makamu. Picture: Instagram

When a religious leader (net worth ±R118 million) is accused of sexually grooming girls, the heteronormative church must recall the fire and brimstone God unleashed on Sodom and Gomorrah, writes Siya Khumalo.

AmaBishop unpacks scandals at South African churches on TV. The latest involves Israel Makamu (alleged net worth - US$9 million) and a woman who says he sexually harassed her when she was 17.

Makamu has received much congregational support. The lady has been called names. How's he the golden calf and, she, the scapegoat?

Jesus said, "by their fruit you will recognise them" because the symptoms of bad church leadership arise from the tree of theology that worsens rather than eliminates idolatry. Many think the solution is throwing the bathwater of these pastors' bible interpretation out with the baby of the bible itself. I submit it's reading the bible in a way that strengthens conscience.

Consider the story of Phineas and Hophni, sons of Eli, the High Priest. By force, they kept for themselves portions of sacrifices intended for God and slept with the sanctuary's serving women. This would be analogous to a modern-day preacher abusing church funds to seduce a congregant.

This undermined the sacrifice system's goal of countering idolatry, the veneration of a thing's appearance over its substance.  Hypocrisy is how an idol projects an appearance that's prettier than his substance to trick people into idolising him. None of this is to romanticise bible-era or modern-day Israel, but to underscore the importance of ideological rigour in protecting a nation's sovereignty.

Personal copy of the law

The groups around biblical Israel identified with idols that accepted children as burnt offerings in exchange for enslaving their devotees' enemies. Biblical Israel identified with a deity who'd rescued them from slavery and advanced some equality under the law through the rule of judges. When God conceded to the people's demand for a king ("We want to be like the other nations"), he insisted said king kept a personal copy of the law, lest he think himself better than the people and sell them back to slavery by being "captured" in his corruptions. So the centrepiece of Israel's worship wasn't an image, but an atonement system for an invisible God. 

On the day God punished Eli and his sons for being idols in this anti-idol scheme, the box at the centre of the atonement system was captured by the Philistines, an enemy group. It was too late to examine the leaders' fruit because the axe was already at the root.

Elsewhere, the Philistines defeated the Israelites by setting a trap through Delilah for Samuel, a judge with an appetite for sex workers. Whenever "state capture" is facilitated by women (or has female victims of sexual violence), the man is often idolised and the victim demonised. Remember Khwezi? Yet when Israel had a female judge, named Deborah, who worked out in the open under a palm tree, where no one could bribe her, the land enjoyed 40 years of peace.

READ | Siya Khumalo to Christians comparing homosexuality to paedophilia, bestiality - call me when you're vegan

The idol of toxic masculinity threatens such by weaponising the bible in its hypocrisy. 

Compare the homophobic use of the Sodom and Gomorrah story with a similar story that's rarely weaponised against xenophobia or heterosexuality: a man travelling with his concubine. He takes shelter in a house that gets surrounded by a mob.

"Bring out the man who came to your house, so we can have sex with him."

The host replies, "No, my friends, don't be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don't do this outrageous thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine." 

They literally rape the concubine to death. In the morning, the traveller cut her body into pieces and distributes it to the tribes of Israel, sparking a genocide against the tribe that the mob was from. 

The hypocrisy of mainstream churches is why they haven't the consistency to read the sin of heterosexuality/misogyny/xenophobia into this story as they do the "sin" of homosexuality in the Sodom/Gomorrah story: the idol of male toxicity, too, requires sacrifices.

The backstory of Sodom and Gomorrah matters. 

Separation of Abraham and Lot

Abraham and his nephew, Lot, separated to expand their families, with Lot moving towards Sodom and Gomorrah and falling into a turf war that included the places' kings. Abraham rescued him, and the king of Sodom offered him a reward. But along came a king-priest, Melchizedek ("king of righteousness") from Salem ("peace"), with bread and wine for Abraham. 

He had no "father or mother", being "like the Son of God", carrying the communion elements Jesus would serve at the Passover supper before his crucifixion.

Unleavened bread symbolises consistency between appearance and substance; yeasted bread looks fluffy, but is full of hot air like most idols. Wine represents blood. In feasting with Melchizedek, Abraham turned down the gifts of Sodom's king: "I've sworn to God that I'll accept nothing from you."

It's said that Sodom's law stated, "Whoever will give bread to a poor person will be burnt at the stake" and that Sodom's sin was being "arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy". Despite this, Lot returned to Sodom's lush plains, but the residents likely remembered how his uncle had pulled his nose at their kings' gifts.

God later took human form to eat another communion meal with Abraham, where he told him Sodom and Gomorrah were doomed for destruction. Two angels had been sent there and were sheltering with Abraham's nephew, Lot, who served dinner with unleavened bread. After bedtime, the men of Sodom came and yelled, "Where are the men who came to you tonight?  Bring them out to us, so that we can have sex with them."

Lot also told them, "No, my friends.  Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters, they're virgins. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them." The Sodomites probably looked at one another as if to say, Like uncle, like nephew.  "This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them."

As Benjamin L. Corey writes, "The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were likely harshly disapproving of being gay — which is precisely why they weaponised it" and, "Had Lot seen them as being gay, he would never have offered to let them have sex with his virgin daughters instead." As with all forms of rape, the issue was power.

In this case, divine intervention prevented this display of the misogyny that characterises oppressive systems: the angels blinded the men and told Lot, "Flee for your lives! Don't look back! Don't stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!"

Corrupt leaders 

This paraphrases what Jesus said to do when corrupt leaders have sold you out: "Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak."

It's the pattern of the Exodus (which means "mass evacuation") from Genesis to Revelation. It's the reason we had a Reformation: absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Exodus is why there was a Passover, where bread and wine appeared. Jesus had a tendency of waiting for people to get hungry before explaining the significance of bread, in the reminder to beware the leaven of hypocrisy, reject idolatry and resist enslavement.

"This is how you are to eat [the Passover meal]: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste". Each firstborn of Egypt died to finalise God's "judgment on all the gods of Egypt". Just as the sin of Eli's sons and the sin of Sodom were the exploitation perpetrated by men who had a God complex, the Pharaoh was considered a god, but turned out to be an enslaving exploiter.

When believers don't apply their conscience to avoiding idolising hypocrites, they neglect their role as salt in the preservation of the earth. Speaking truth to religious or political power is the prophetic response to scripture's call for justice.

- 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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