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Lessons from groundbreaking sexual identity conference — Afrika Mhlophe

 

Pastor Afrika Mhlophe speaking at the recent ACSI conference on sexual identity in Randburg, Johannesburg (PHOTO: Facebook).

I am privileged to have been part of a groundbreaking conference held recently by the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). The conference was from February 6 to 9 in Randburg and its focus was on sexual identity.

Various contributors tackled issues related to the LGBT community, with the focus on assisting independent schools discern their respective standpoint and then implement policy and strategy around this difficult issue.

Educators and school representatives gathered there focused on five discussion points:

1. Understanding what God says about identity
2. The stand of the Church
3. The physiological facts and conclusions
4. The legal side of identity and discrimination
5. The activist standpoint
6. Where Christian education standS

Due to my late arrival, I missed many sessions but was able to sit through one addressed by Ecclesia De Lange. De Lange is an ordained minister of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA). She was discontinued as a Methodist minister in February 2010 after announcing her plans to marry her same-sex partner.

De Lange litigated and her case went all the way to the Constitutional Court which found in favour of the MCSA. Today she works for Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM), an organisation that exists to empower faith communities to recognise and celebrate LGBTI people in Africa.

De Lange was not the only LGBT activist invited to speak at this conference. In fact her talk was followed by breakaway testimonies, where LGBT individuals shared their personal stories and struggles with their sexuality.

I listened to the story of Eli Rosen, a medically-trained sex educator. Doctor Rosen provides comprehensive sex education at schools across South Africa. She shared her struggle with heterosexual relationships and her eventual decision to marry a same-sex partner. They have been married for 12 years and are raising two children — both conceived through artificial insemination.

It’s about people
I enjoyed her non-combative approach and her willingness to engage people with differing views. As you would know, the issue of LGBT rights is often difficult and emotive. In involves philosophy, theology and legislation. But most importantly, it involves people.

As Christians we are caught between two competing priorities. A duty to love and accept people, regardless of their sexual orientation, and also to hold fast to the standard of Biblical truth. But finding this standard is often not easy, especially around certain moral issues.

Take for instance the issue of abortion. I recently had a discussion on Facebook with Christians who are in favour of abortion. The majority used the exceptional cases of non-viability of the foetus and threats to a mother’s life to rationalise the wholesale killing of unborn children. I pointed out to them that they had actually done three things:

  • They subordinated their faith to social conditions.
  • They defied natural science.
  • They absolutised human rights.

Strangely enough, a person opposed to abortion is seen by many abortion supporters as lacking empathy towards women who have had to make this choice. And to muddy waters, the word “judging” is thrown around with alacrity.

Robert Meyer derisively refers to “thou shall not judge” as the “misunderstood 11th commandment” because of the regular usage of this phrase today. The extended misuse of this phrase means anyone taking a moral position on anything is judgmental towards those who have chosen the alternative.

For instance, according to this flawed view, my extended family should feel judged by my choice not to participate in rituals for ancestors. It holds that I have no right to a contrary view.

Well, on LGBT issues I want to mention two things. Firstly, I believe the Bible is in favour of the idea that gender is binary (male and female). Connected to this idea is the one of procreation (Genesis 1:26-28). Secondly, I believe that there are complexities we can’t easily explain — such as androgyny (where a person has elements of both masculinity and femininity).

However, these relatively rare anatomical occurrences cannot explain all psychological phenomenon of same-sex attraction. Therefore, we should seek to understand them — as we do other birth abnormalities, rather than allow them to define the new norm.

The conference did not reach consensus, because this was never its intention. But delegates left with increased understanding and wisdom on how to deal with LGBT-related issues. And the robust nature of our discussions did not diminish our duty to love one another.

 
 

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2 Comments

  1. Jenny Lowen says:

    Thanks for this report, especially your insight into ‘judgementalism’ , and our need to love every person, whatever choice they make.
    From my experience with some LGBT friends, that’s hard but vital.. loving unconditionally though they may choose to live in what I believe is sin: as this is what God does. He loves and gave Himself for me, when I lived with sin as a normal part of life. He gave me revelation of the ‘normal ‘ sin, and I was desperate to be redeemed! He did it and continues to do so.

  2. P Flynn says:

    As a believer who identifies as gay let me say first and foremost great article well done. My identity lies fully and first of all in CHRIST seated in heavenly places. I have always known I am gay and fought my sexuality for many years living a lie of a closeted supposedly straight person to please the church and my family. I went on my own personal journey of discovery and searching the scriptures for myself only to find that the theology I was taught all those verses were misquoted and taken out of context. Once again the word homosexual in modern scripture is in fact a mistranslated word from a male prostitute (arsenekoi and other greek words used) weather we choose to believe it or not. The common misunderstanding is that we “choose” our sexual orientation which is not truth we do not choose. The only choice I made was to come out and be free and to stop living a toxic lie which was killing me inside. Nobody has the right to judge we are called to love as Christ loved us. Nobody can take your testimony away from you weather you were an alcoholic saved by grace or a drug addict or addicted to gambling. If Christ has set you free we do not question it but rather we celebrate your freedom because IN CHRIST we are totally and utterly free in deed. Let’s learn to love one another. If anything needs to change – let Jesus do the work through his precious Holy Spirit.