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.