Members of the LGBTI community took a stand against religious homophobia on Sunday with a protest at the Grace Bible Church in Soweto.
The demonstration was sparked by a recent sermon at the church given by Ghanaian evangelist Dag Heward-Mills in which he said that homosexuality is unnatural.
The church also does not recognise same-sex relationships and asserts that “adherence to this stated principle of sexual behaviour is an inherent requirement of membership of Grace Bible Church”.
On Sunday, around 40 protesters gathered on the church premises, holding up placards with messages such as “Love conquers hate” and “Church is not meant to promote religious bigotry”.
Shortly after starting their silent protest, the group was escorted off the premises by security guards who told them that the grounds were private property. The demonstration continued outside the gates.
At the same time, the church’s leader, Bishop Mosa Sono, addressed the controversy in a statement read out to the congregation inside the building.
He said that the church “respects” the rights enshrined in the Constitution outlawing discrimination “with no reservations” and claimed that LGBTI people are welcome. Sono nevertheless argued out that the Constitution also protects the church’s right to establish “our rules and conditions of membership”.
To a swell in applause from the congregation, he further proclaimed that marriage between a man and a woman is “the only form of partnership approved by God for sexual relations”.
Sono insisted, however, that this view is not “in itself discriminatory” and went on to say that the church is “extremely concerned” about the hate and abuse faced by LGBTI people.
“We cannot in anyway abuse anybody, hate anybody, dislike anybody, and that is our stance as our church,” he said.
Thami Kotlolo, founder of the Feather Awards and one of the participants in the demonstration, questioned Sono’s statement in light of the response to the peaceful protest.
Pic: Twitter / @CamModisane
“They should have invited us into the church” he told Mambaonline. “Instead they insisted that our placards were put down and told us to leave. You’ve just read out that the church welcomes everyone but then you say it’s private property…”
Kotlolo said that the demonstrators want the church to apologise for Heward-Mills’ “irresponsible” sermon and to begin to engage with the LGBTI community.
“We want to start a conversation. Why won’t they have a public debate with us and engage on media platforms? What are they afraid of?” he asked.
“We want the church to know that they can’t say anything derogatory about us and think we will not react to their utterances,” added activist Cameron Modisane. “We are going to write another letter to church leadership and invite them for a dialogue and discussion with us as the LGBTI community.”
Kotlolo said the demonstration reflected the growing frustration of LGBTI Christians with religious homophobia in South Africa. “We won’t be quiet anymore. This is a conversation that must be had.”