Monday, August 16, 2004

Opposing Homophobia

Desmond Tutu,, who was the Archbishop of Cape Town from 1986 to 1996 and winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, wrote an article, Homophobia is as unjust as that crime against humanity, apartheid,, which appeared in The Times last month;

A student once asked me if I could have one wish granted to reverse an injustice, what would it be? I had to ask for two. One is for world leaders to forgive the debts of developing nations which hold them in such thrall. The other is for the world to end the persecution of people because of their sexual orientation, which is every bit as unjust as that crime against humanity, apartheid.
This is a matter of ordinary justice. We struggled against apartheid in South Africa, supported by people the world over, because black people were being blamed and made to suffer for something we could do nothing about — our very skins. It is the same with sexual orientation. It is a given. I could not have fought against the discrimination of apartheid and not also fight against the discrimination that homosexuals endure, even in our churches and faith groups.

And I am proud that in South Africa, when we won the chance to build our own new constitution, the human rights of all have been explicitly enshrined in our laws. My hope is that one day this will be the case all over the world, and that all will have equal rights.

For me this struggle is a seamless rope. Opposing apartheid was a matter of justice. Opposing discrimination against women is a matter of justice. Opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a matter of justice.

It is also a matter of love. Every human being is precious. We are all, all of us, part of God’s family. We all must be allowed to love each other with honour.

Yet all over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are persecuted. We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God — and this must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy. We blame them for what they are. Churches say that the expression of love in a heterosexual monogamous relationship includes the physical, the touching, embracing, kissing, the genital act — the totality of our love makes each of us grow to become increasingly godlike and compassionate. If this is so for the heterosexual, what earthly reason have we to say that it is not the case with the homosexual?

In its new book, Sex, Love and Homophobia, Amnesty International has reported on the stories of people around the world who simply wish to love one another as an expression of their everyday lives, just like anyone, anywhere. These include Poliyana Mangwiro who was a leading member of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe despite Robert Mugabe’s protestations that homosexuality is “against African traditions”. And Simon Nkoli, the ANC activist who after spending four years in prison under apartheid went on to be the face of the struggle for gay rights in the new South Africa.

But the voices of hate, fear and persecution are also strong and lamentably often supported by faith leaders. From Egypt to Iran, Nigeria to India, Burma to Jamaica, gay men, lesbians and transgender people are harassed, imprisoned, beaten and forced from their communities.

Some states even make homosexuality punishable by death. The Churches are not vocal enough in opposing these vicious injustices, while some Christians even encourage such persecution.

Hatred and prejudice are such destructive forces. They destroy human beings, communities and whole societies — and they destroy the hater, too, from the inside. Reading the words of homophobia that are quoted in the Amnesty book is frightening, it is terrifying. It shows we all have within us a seed, a potential, that can grow into prejudice, hatred and destruction. But prejudice is a the bleak wasteland. A loving, understanding humanity is sustained by justice.

A parent who brings up a child to be a racist damages that child, damages the community in which they live, damages our hopes for a better world. A parent who teaches a child that there is only one sexual orientation and that anything else is evil denies our humanity and their own too.

We cannot answer hate with hate. We can only answer it with love, understanding and a belief in and commitment to justice. This is how we will build a world of human understanding, compassion and equality: a true rainbow world.
For some, this is not only a justice issue; it is a life and death issue. In the West, our theological discussions of homosexuality may seem to be nothing more than an intellectual exercise, with each side having a "right" to their opinion. What is being ignored is the influence such discussions have on the global audience. Here's a list of punishments for being homosexual handed out in other nations, drawn from a Letter to the Bishops by Richard Kirker, General Secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement;

Nigeria - 14yrs prison
Jamaica - 10 yrs prison
Sudan - death
Kenya - 14 yrs prison
Uganda - Life in prison
Tanzania - 14 yrs in prison
South India - Life in Prison
Pakistan - 100 lashes/death
Bangladesh - Life in prison
North India - Life in Prison
Ceylon - 10 years in Prison
Botswana - 10 yrs in Prison
Mozambique - 3 years hard labor

As Bishop Tutu has said, opposing homophobia is a matter of justice, and a matter of love.

Bishop Tutu will lead our October Clergy Conference here in New Jersey. I'm looking forward to hearing more from this great man.


A Belated P.S. - Thanks to Simon Sarmiento for bringing this article to my attention.

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