Experts in various different fields from all over South Africa spoke at the Learning to Love Conference in Durbanville, Cape Town last Saturday, in an event aimed at equipping the church to better love people struggling with same-sex attraction.
Advocate Nadene Badenhorst, the Legal Counsel of Freedom of Religion South Africa, spoke about the legal, social and constitutional aspects of the gay issue. She laid the foundation by explaining the Constitution’s provision of religious rights and freedoms as it is contained in the Bill of Rights.
These rights includes that everyone has the right to freedom of religion, belief and opinion. Section 9, the equality clause, prohibits unfair discrimination on various grounds including religion.
Section 15 protects freedom of conscience and allows religious observances in state and state-aided institutions, provided they follow public authority rules, they are conducted on an equitable basis and attendance is free and voluntary, and also provides for the recognition of religious legal systems and marriages that are not inconsistent with the Constitution.
Section 31 protects the right of persons belonging to a religious community to practice their religion together with other members of that community and form voluntary religious associations.
Badenhorst also clarified that freedom of religion does not allow anyone to commit hate speech or infringe in an unlawful manner on another person’s rights.
She said that sexual orientation is also a ground on which there may not be unfair discrimination against a person. This brought the topic of “weighing of rights” and “unfair discrimination” into the discussion and how one right does not automatically trump another right.
True events, case studies and current matters in our courts and with the various chapter 9 institutions were discussed, making the discussion very practical, understandable and interesting.
What became clear is that religious rights and freedoms in South Africa are under attack and practical suggestions were given as to how religious communities can take caution in being more vigilant in protecting their rights.
Dr Johan van Niekerk, PhD, a zoologist from Bloemfontein, in his presentation answered the question, “Where do sexes come from?”
In a presentation that started of by comparing creationism with evolution, he concluded that creationism offers the only logical basis from which to speak sensibly about the origin of sexes.
He quoted Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” From this premise he discussed the cycle from conception to birth and what it all entails.
As expected, the question of, “Has a gay gene been found?” and “Are hormones the cause of a person’s orientation?” also came into play.
In US psychologist Lisa Diamond’s words it was said that “In essence, the current scientific revolution in our understanding of the human epigenome challenges the very notion of being ‘born gay,’ along with the notion of being ‘born’ with any complex trait. Rather, our genetic legacy is dynamic, developmental, and environmentally embedded.”
Van Niekerk said it has been found that sexual orientation is somewhat – but not mostly – genetic, and that it is unquestioningly influenced by environmental factors. Genetics contributes to same-sex sexuality, and more so in males than females, but sexual orientation is not genetically determined.
Another active line of research concerns exposure to perinatal hormones, sometimes called the neuroendocrine model. This model proposes that variations in exposure to androgens and estrogens in utero may shape later sexual orientation, he said. As with the genetic data, the evidence does not support straightforward causation, but suggests that prenatal hormones potentially contribute to same-sex sexuality in some individuals but do not determine it.
Dr Chris van Wyk has his doctorate in Old Testament Theology and is a pastor at the Dutch Reformed Church in Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth. He is currently serving on the moderature of the General Synod of his denomination. He was tasked to speak on the “Historical and Biblical perspectives on same-sex relationships.”
In his first session he spoke on “The Historical perspectives on Same-Sex Relationships,” and started it with the provocative question “Can love ever be sinful?” The answer, “Yes, love can be sinful if it departs from the way God has revealed His will in Scripture.”
He explained that when we love other things or people more than God Himself, or we do not love in the way He has commanded us, it is sinful. Even when we love somebody with all our heart. When love deviates from the path God has commanded, it is sinful.
He continued by showing from historical writings that same-sex attraction and relationships are known throughout history. He gave examples from the Greece and Roman period and the unanimous witness of Jewish exegetes and historians like Philo and Josephus.
They concurred that same-sex activities were unnatural and as such an abomination to God. That was also the unanimous teaching of the church throughout the ages.
He shared the insights of S. Donald Fortson III and Rollin G Grams as found in their book Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition who worked through 20 centuries of church history to underline the unchanging witness of the church on same-sex relationships.
It was highlighted that texts from the second and third centuries confirm the church’s long-held views on homosexuality. The church in the fourth and fifth centuries continued to regard various homosexual practices as sinful.
No single textual evidence from Christians disputes this. The same goes for the Middle Ages. Christian leaders unanimously instructed believers that sexual relations were only acceptable in heterosexual marriage. They had an exclusive view of sexuality specifically connected to gender differences.
The sixteenth-century Protestant reformers reiterated traditional interpretations of the Bible on homosexual practice. Aware of such activity in their societies, they discreetly condemned it in their writings and commentaries on Scripture. He concluded with the witness of the Confessions and Heidelberg Catechism.
In his second presentation Van Wyk spoke on the “Biblical perspectives on Same-Sex Relationships.” He made it clear that the Bible truly is unambiguous in its rejection of same-sex relationships by referring to “The hermeneutical problem” and the witness from the Old and New Testament.
It is evident that the teaching on same-sex relationships is part of the essential teachings of the Bible and the division in church arises from a disagreement over the interpretation of Scripture. He offered the good news, “When you however take your starting point in the unchanging witness of the Bible as reflected in Christian history as well as in all the creeds, you realise we have a good story, a better story than the world offers, the good news of the Gospel.”
He offered the five pillars the Christian story is built upon: 1. God has spoken: you don’t have to figure it all out for yourself. 2. God welcomes human beings into his reality. 3. We flourish as human beings when we work with, rather than against, the grain of God’s reality. 4. Therefore, human identity is not discovered within the self, nor autonomously constructed by the self; it is revealed to the self. 5. The final pillar states that no matter what happens, because of the cross of Christ, we know that God is good.
He concluded his presentation with the recommendation that we need sexual discipleship. Juli Slatter made the statement, “Although sexuality presents an enormous challenge to Christians and to the world at large, it is not a problem to be solved but a territory to be reclaimed.”
André Bekker is a sexual reorientation coach involved with “Learning To Love” and has a diploma in theology and a BA degree with biblical studies and Greek as main subjects. He lived in the homosexual lifestyle for 34 years before he started his healing journey and got married in 2004.
He assists people with unwanted same-sex attraction and lives in Kempton Park, Johannesburg. He presented on the subject “Caring for same-sex attracted persons in the church,” and urged the church to treat everyone with dignity and respect and as a person wants others to treat himself.
He set the scene, stating that God made males and females and not gay and straight people. He emphasised that building an identity on gender orientation is misleading and that homosexuality is something a person does and not an identity of who he is.
He introduced a model called the “order of salvation model” and pointed out the importance of understanding God’s calling, and especially conversion and being united with Christ and being born again and taken out of the First Adam and placed into the Last Adam. He combined the spiritual with psychological and neurobiological insights and showed how it is helpful in dealing with temptations and the renewing of the mind.
André Webster is a pastor at El Shaddai Christian Church in Durbanville, Cape Town and is at present in the last stages of completing his masters degree in sexology. He presented on “Understanding sexuality development and helping family members of same-sex attracted persons.”
He dealt with sex and sexuality from a Christian perspective within the covenant. He presented it in a positive manner as God intended it to be. He presented the stages from conception onwards, identifying unhealthy perceptions about sex and sexuality that could play a role in a person’s perceived sexual orientation.
With his wife, Jennifer, he introduced attendeed to a 6-week support program for parents having to deal with same-sex attracted children. The practical examples from real life experiences were a great encouragement.
The conference concluded with Lorraine Fouche and Danie du Plessis giving their testimonies of God’s grace and intervention leading them out of gay lifestyles on to the path of healing, sanctification and renewing of the mind.