Shembe Church punishes bisexual and lesbian women

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Shembe Church gathering (Facebook)

New rules adopted by South Africa’s Nazareth Baptist Church, also known as the Shembe Church, penalise women who have been in relationships with gay men and other women.

The controversial policy was approved by 14 senior pastors of the Ebuhleni faction of the church, reported the Herald. This faction is said to be the largest in the church, which has around 4.5 millions members.

Under the rules, a woman who is married to a gay man must return home to be cleansed by her father through the slaughter of a goat, while a lesbian woman who marries a man will be permanently stripped of her right to be a wife. Also, any woman who leaves her husband must face a hearing and could be banned from getting married again if she is found to have been in the wrong.

According to the Herald, the sexist and homophobic rules appear to specifically target women, with the rules applying to men being described as “vague”.

The newspaper said that not all members of the church welcomed the rules, nor unsurprisingly did human rights activists.

In February last year, a 43-year-old Pietermaritzburg man claimed that he was beaten by 50 members of the Shembe (Ebuhleni) Church because of his sexuality. He said he’d been suspended from the church for being gay and had to pay a “damage” fee for “shaming” the institution.

In 2015, Pastor Mduduzi Shembe, leader of the Ebuhleni faction of the Shembe Church, claimed that the country’s drought at the time was due to the legalisation of same-sex marriage.“Men are now marrying men, and this is why we are currently facing this curse of hot sun and drought,” he told followers at a function.

The Shembe Church has been split by factionalism and endured a bitter five-year legal battle to decide its true leader. In 2016, the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban ruled that Vela Shemba was the legitimate leader. Most followers, however, continue to regard Mduduzi Shembe as its head of the church.

Founded in 1910, the Shembe Church is described as an African traditionalist church, combining Christianity with traditional Zulu culture.

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