Racism which has been practiced and institutionalised in South Africa for many years may be outlawed according to the Constitution but it remains written in the hearts of many people. Similarly, with sexual discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender minorities like me who belong to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexed people (LGBTI) community are protected by our Constitution.
Unfortunately, the Christian church, the body of people constituted and appointed by Christ to be a counter-voice in our world, is not totally immune to the virus of racism and homophobia. By and large, the people who have been the racists and homophobes of the modern world have been Christians. There is an undeniable relationship between racism, homophobia and religion.
This past Sunday, the Senior Pastor of Rivers Church in Sandton, Pastor André Olivier said he does not understand why people want white South Africans to leave the country, because they contribute so much. He then went on to say that the reason white people have money, is because they work for it. The undertone of his sermon was very offensive implying that black people in South Africa are poor because they are lazy and not hard workers like white people.
It is a well-documented fact in history that white colonisers came to Africa, killed in order to take possession of the land, and reduced native blacks Africans to slavery in order to exploit their work. The colonial capitalist system has ensured that whites became rich through land dispossession and slave wages to black labourers. At the same time, they began to develop a racist theory in order to justify their actions.
People like Pastor André Olivier fail to appreciate that a majority of whites are still largely privileged and the majority of black youngsters in this country will have to work much harder than their white counterparts if they intend to go to get a decent education; be accepted at university and rise above a minimum salary wage. The apartheid government used the Bible and religion to segregate blacks from whites and viewed themselves as a superior race and “chosen people of God.”
At the same time Pope Francis said on Sunday that Christians owe apologies to gays and others who have been offended or exploited by the church. He said; “I believe that the church not only should apologise to the person who is gay whom it has offended.” The Pope further added that: “The Church must ask forgiveness for not behaving many times — when I say the Church, I mean Christians! The Church is holy, we are sinners!” For many years religion and the Bible has been used to persecute and judge homosexual people like me.
A couple of weeks ago 49 people were killed in Orlando by a fundamentalist who thought he was doing the “work of God” by directly attacking the LGBTI community at gay night club. Some religious fundamentalists have hailed what this cowardly act and said “all sodomites should be shot.” Some have even said that it is God who has the right to punish yet fail see what is wrong with that statement.
It is clearly evident that the church has not always been a space for love and hope for everyone, including blacks and especially for sexual minorities like me who belong to the LGBTI community. Too many of us have had to endure the pain, Sunday after Sunday, as most of our pastors incorrectly quoted the story of “Sodom and Gomorrah;” and said that all homosexuals are going to burn in hell. I remember years ago I used to attend a church and I became an usher as a form of service to the church. Word got out that I was “gay” and I was asked by leadership to step down and stop serving as an usher. I vowed never to set foot back in the church ever again. The pastor gave me a phone call to ask why I stopped coming to his church but I simply couldn’t reconcile myself with attending a church that saw me as “sinner and flawed human being” that couldn’t serve God because of my sexuality.
Many people including pastors use the church and religion to hide their thinly veiled homophobia, hate and racism. Racism has never been practiced alone and in isolation. It goes hand in hand with many other forms oppressions like misogyny, sexism, classism, ethnicity and homophobia. We cannot fight racism in this country while ignoring other forms of oppression.
Individual members of certain churches should protest when worship services become a platform for teaching anti-gay sentiments and racism like it happened at Rivers Church. I am extremely disappointed at all those black individuals who sat and listened until the end of the service to the likes of Pastor André Olivier preaching racism without being challenge. The least they could have done is staged a walk out. Similarly, if any pastor that spews homophobic bile from a pulpit we as homosexuals should not sit and listen. If homophobia and racism is to be eradicated within churches, such attitudes must be challenged.
Often when people think of religiously-fuelled bigotry they think of slogan seems to be “God Hates Fags” but “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin,” has driven more people to suicide and torn apart more families than “God Hates Fags” ever has, or ever will. False prophets who claim to love the sinner and hate the sin, as if the two can be separated should be singled out and challenged. Such bigotry is posited as it not being homophobia but the “truth of God.” If you cannot recognise the fact that I am a black gay man who was created in the image of God then you can recognise me at all. My race and sexuality are intrinsically liked; they are a part of my identity and cannot be separated.
The church plays a significant role in the production of homophobia and other forms of oppression. Religion has been used as the background influence of racism in the genesis of homophobia. Religious fundamentalist will say that “being gay is a demonic spirit” while they harbour demons of hate, judgment and bigotry. What we need to appreciate as a South African society that has been previously oppressed is that you cannot fight racism without fighting sexism and homophobia. Trying to fight racism and ignoring sexism, patriarchy and homophobia is narrow-minded which will not get us anywhere. The theologically-driven racism, sexism and homophobia needs to be tackled head-on and rooted out.