It’s come to light that a Dutch Reformed Church (NGK) in Pretoria is hosting a regular support group, apparently with the aim of “overcoming” homosexuality.
A member of the Moreleta Park congregation, who asked to remain anonymous, contacted Mambaonline after he was given a pamphlet promoting the group at a church service on Sunday.
The group is called the “H20” or “Homosexuality to Overcome” support group and promises to offer “Jesus’ love and help to homosexual individuals”.
The Moreleta Park church was famously found guilty in 2008 by the Pretoria High Court of unfairly discriminating against Johan Strydom after it fired him as a music teacher from its arts academy because he was gay.
The church was ordered to apologise to Strydom and to pay him almost R87,000 in damages.
The verdict noted that the church “exacerbated the situation” by offering Strydom the opportunity to take part its H2O programme. “This request would have added insult to injury,” said Judge D A Basson.
Mambaonline contacted Ronel Van Dyk, who runs the H2O support group. She said that she had started the group in April and that it was unconnected to the previous H2O programme, except by name “because people remember it and are comfortable with it”.
“I prayed about it. I was not sure if I should start the group. God answered my prayers and told me to start the group,” she told Mambaonline.
She would not say that the group’s intention was to “convert” homosexuals, but “it is what you want out of it. It’s not like we are forcing anything on anyone. It’s not like anyone gets cross. It is on the basis of Christianity.”
Van Dyk, who says that she’s studied counselling, explained that the group is “very relaxed. It’s not like there’s a speech or it’s formal. We drink coffee and talk about what comes up”.
When asked if she believes that homosexuality can be “cured,” she responded that “it depends on the person. I believe that with God anything is possible”.
Van Dyk revealed that two members of the group “had changed their lives” thanks to God, although they had done so before they joined the group.
Mambaonline asked her what kind of impact the pamphlet, which suggests that homosexuality is something to be overcome, could have on a teenager struggling with his or her sexuality.
Van Dyk responded that she did not believe it would have any negative consequences and said that she was available to answer any questions or help such a young person.
There seems to be a recent growth in religious reparative therapy services in South Africa.
In January, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development slammed a Christian-based Bloemfontein arts training centre that had banned gay students from attending unless they accepted its “ministry to help people that want to change their sexual orientation”.
“The notion that a person’s sexual orientation can be changed at will, or by compulsion, feeds the very same homophobic attitudes that encourage the criminal and abhorrent practice of so-called, ‘corrective rape,’” said the department’s spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga.
In February, it was revealed that Andr� Bekker from New Living Way Ministry, also in Pretoria, was offering a three day seminar promising to “help” people who are living with “unwanted same-sex attraction” and their families.
It is not illegal to offer members of the public “gay cure” or reparative therapy services, although the South African Society of Psychiatrists says that it “opposes any psychiatric treatment such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy designed to change a person’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual”.
It has also warned that this kind of therapy “runs the risk of harming patients by causing depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behaviour”.
There is a focus by LGBT groups on barring reparative therapy when it comes to minors. Last year, the US state of California moved to ban this kind of ‘counselling’ for anyone under the age of 18.