By: Rev. Maatla Sarah David
Human sexuality is a field that is full of complexities especially that the highest percentages of human beings are oblivious of the existence of diverse sexualities within the human race. Within the web of human sexuality, though not limited to the following, we have homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality, bestiality, trans- sexuality, Trans-serials, transgendered, pan romantics, biro antics, etc. However, within these, only heterosexuals are free to explore and exercise their sexuality without discrimination. This could be attributable to the fact that the subject of sexuality is shadowed with secrecy, societal constructs and/or boundaries. In effect, human relations are continually unsettled by misinformed discriminations, which in many cases are perpetuated by religious dictations rooting from ideologies, culture and stereotypes. Unfortunately, to my observation, it appears that Christianity by intent or default, fuels discrimination against sexual minorities through its proclamations and monopolized ethical standards. Consequently, this kind of discrimination tends to destabilize the core and essence of coexistence, human equality, and dignity. This qualifies discrimination to be one of the main global challenges to human stability. Therefore, advocacy must reduce the theoretical approach against discrimination to the praxis; otherwise humanity will relegate itself to sub-humanity.
Sexual minorities as a community within communities have been pushed to the margins of different societies. They are considered as the ‘lepers’ of our time who have been ‘privileged’ to dwell amongst the ‘straight and pure’ but, with a huge price to pay for supposedly bringing a decline to morality and societal norms. This assumption is legitimized by the religious assertion that homosexuality is a taint to God-human relations, an impurity that once contributed to the mass obliteration of nations such as Sodom and Gomorrah. Shockingly, the same societies that seek to preserve morality use immorality to address immorality. As a point of interest, it appears that a seemingly immoral act of one threatens communality, yet a negative communal reaction to the act is not regarded as an element that weakens relationality. I do not intend to promote homosexuality, for it is not my call. I seek to highlight through this article, that, sexual orientation does not disqualify sexual minorities from being human. They are part of creation, as such; they bear the imprint of God the creator hence the necessity to reverence the radiance of God on every human being. Moreover, the seemingly privilege to belong to the heterosexual group neither provides immunity to sin nor elevates the state of humanness above that of homosexuals. All human beings are born equal in dignity and essence, and, sin goes beyond sexual activity. My discussion will briefly cover the subject of sexual orientation, The Bible and Homosexuality, inclusivity of Christ’s mission, Imago Dei, the ethical concept of Botho, Love, and Peace.
Human Sexuality and Sexual Orientation
Human sexuality refers to the blend of emotions, passion, behaviors, and physical involvements of human beings related to their sexual nature. Therefore human beings are sexual beings because sexuality is intrinsic. Tallied to sexuality is an element of sexual orientation which is genetically based by enfluence of hormones. So, an individual does not play a role in determining their sexual orientation or creation, it is a biological matter. For example, if a female is given testosterone at a critical point during their development their exterior will be portrayed as male together with functionality. Equally, if males are supplied with androgen blocker they develop female exterior. Many of our people are born with both male and female genitals hence being forced to undergo a crisis of choice and identity which does not always correspond with societal expectations. Some sociologists argue that there is nothing intrinsic about orientation because it is learnt, it is a lifestyle. But many of our children display signs of homosexuality at very tender ages. Orientation is not something we can evacuate out of a person, it is innate. Just as it is injustice to turn a heterosexual into a homosexual, it must also be equally an injustice to attempt to turn a homosexual into a heterosexual. In any case, we are human beings and being human goes beyond sexual orientation. We all have a purpose to fulfill in the world besides exercising our sexuality. So it is unreasonable to think that the lives of homosexuals begins and ends with sex, nothing less nothing more. The apostle Paul wrote that we are predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. We are all created by God, for God. God trusted us to live together in harmony with our differences for the fulfillment of our purpose in the divine plan of God, as individuals and as the race.
The Bible and Homosexuality
Sexual behavior in the Old Testament was not taken for granted rather it was regulated because of its common alliance to paganism. It was also associated with societies synonymous with moral decadence and disobedience to the law. Homosexuality was not only regarded as socially unacceptable but also as sinful. With reference to Leviticus 18:22 “No man is to have sexual relations with another man; God hates that”, and, “They were enjoying themselves when all of a sudden some sexual perverts from the town surrounded the house and started beating on the door. They said to the old man, “bring out that man that came with you, we want to have sex with him” (Judges 19:22). This is evidence of people involved in homosexuality; it was outlawed. The Torah has clear instruction against males wearing clothes tailored for women vise- versa, and considers it a shameful deed.
The society decides what is acceptable and what is not acceptable based on their level of knowledge and understanding, which then becomes a way of life. The culture then becomes a source of sacred scripture and the law. So it is for this reason that hermeneutic of suspicion ought to be applied because of impositions of preconceived human ideologies rooting from culture, evident in scripture. Everything is good in itself. Sex is good in itself that is why God gave us the privilege to be sexual beings; but as in every act, it becomes problematic if it is abused. It is unethical for heterosexuals to engage in orgies, sex parties and equally unethical for a homosexual to have wild sexual desires. Many of the codes we use to legitimize oppression of homosexuals are cultural, normally rooting from hate or failure to embrace difference. Hatred is not of God, God is wider that what we think and therefore we are not to be fazed by diversity in forms of creation nor be angered by the same.
Homosexuality has always existed in all cultures even in Botswana, we know that traditional doctors were normally in the company of assistants known as ‘Bo’Ra-kgetsi’ and homosexuality was acceptable for this kind of arrangement. The Roman power and intellect considered homosexuality as a higher order of sexual pleasure in the hierarchy of intimacy because of patriarchal mentality. Homosexuality was the order of the day especially in medieval monasteries. In some cultures like the Greek the true form of love was between a man and his youth. In the late middle ages, homosexuality was either ignored or accepted. This explains why Jesus and apostles did not dwell on the subject and why gay marriages persisted in Eastern Europe in the twentieth century.
Pauline epistles record the apostles Missional engagements with the people in Corinth. Corinth was a cosmopolitan city, a seaport and a major trade center-the most important city in Achaia. The economy was flourishing at the time and that brought a decline to morality which also manifested as sexual immorality of many forms. Homosexuality became the scapegoat. Therefore, there was need for Paul to respond to the problem because theology becomes relevant if it is contextualized. Paul emphasized the sufficiency of grace through Christ, by faith. The grace covers all human sins and vindicates us from the imprisonment of the law. The grace covers all human beings despite their orientation to the inclusion of homosexuals. Paul stated that God does not show favoritism. If homosexuality is a matter of the law, and righteousness can only be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing. The baptism, which is not limited to the heterosexuals, clothes humanity with Christ, so I maintain that the grace is sufficient for all of us, by faith.
The Inclusivity of Christ’s Mission
Jesus demonstrated love in its purest form. He embraced all people especially those in the margins, which is why he was born and lived amongst the expendables. I am convicted that he could have taken the side of homosexuals if they were undergoing oppression at the time because Christianity stands for liberation. Christianity is not a court of morality, it is responsive to injustice. When there is injustice, it is not our duty to consider some technicalities; we take the side of the oppressed because we stand for love and peace. Desmond Tutu emphasized the need to always take the side of the oppressed if we want justice and peace, he wrote, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality”.
The mission of Jesus dissolved alienations and broke down walls of hostility, and, crossed boundaries between individuals and groups. Christians have the task of continuity of the mission of Jesus, the kind that resonates with his teachings and lifestyle. Theology concerns itself with relationships so theology of the vulnerable must be developed to give meaning to the Christian faith, inclusive of being merciful, compassionate and sensitive to the challenges of the marginalized. Salvation is not only limited to the soul, it is also about bringing healing, empowerment and restoration of dignity.
Imago Dei and Human Dignity
As the Psalmist says, the earth belongs to God and its fullness thereof. God created man in his image and likeness, male and female he created (Genesis1:27). Human beings are made in the image of God; therefore the image has to be revered. This is done by protecting dignity of all men and embracing all that are created in the image of God. Dignity qualifies human-hood; loss of dignity relegates the state of being human to something less human. Therefore, dignity of fellow men has to be protected at all cost. A human being is human because he/she is part of a network of dignified and stable social relationships. Where wholeness is tempered with, there can be no peace between humanity and God. This explains what Jesus meant in the statement, ‘what you do unto them you do it unto me’. If we oppress homosexuals, we oppress Jesus and disrespect the image; after all, they are the creation of God and belong to God. It pleased God to create them and have them dwell amongst us. To a certain extent it tests the measure of love that we Christian claim to have and boast about. Yet we continually reject them and openly display the rejection.
The Ethical Concept of Botho and Authentic Love
Botho is a Sotho-Tswana word that refers to authentic humanness or the qualifying factor of being human. Basically this has to do with attributes expected of human beings which are higher than the physical aspect of a humanness. It is that which makes one worthy to be called a human being. It is a line of distinction between human beings and animals. Authentic humanness is found in the ability to reason with dignity and cognizance of the fact that we are interconnected, what affects one of us, affects all of us. When we recognize our shared humanity, then peace is possible. In the African context, sin is failure to relate well; wholeness is holiness. Again, “Botho ke Bomodimo”. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment’. (Matthew 22: 34-40). To love God is to love all that belongs to God unconditionally. The second commandment is to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. ‘Our neighbor’ is not necessary limited to geographical location; it includes even those who are different from us. Love embraces all as documented in the Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, “Love is patient and kind, love is not jealous or boastful, it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things”(Corinthians (13:1-7). Therefore everything devoid of love renders every effort futile. If love is found wanting in anything we do, we cannot please God.
A person of faith cannot be at peace if they are not in good relationships with one another. I stand for the side that peace cannot be defined but rather described, so I describe peace as a state that humanity attains through wellbeing, with power to reproduce oneself with dignity and spiritually balance. The Merriam and Webster Collegiate Dictionary outline ingredients of peace which are; tranquility, freedom from emotional oppression, harmony in personal relations and pact of agreement to end hostilities. Humanity cannot claim to have peace if they live in a society characterized by divide; and where religion, power and dominance oppress others without regard for their emotional wellbeing. An oppressed person is one without freedom and ultimately one without peace. Discrimination of homosexuals disempowers them and a disempowered person is an unhappy person. Dignity is also an ingredient of peace and if we continually embarrass our fellow men and women, we are stripping them of the dignity that our maker graciously gave them. In the process we challenge the decisions of God unaware, through questioning sexual orientations which is not our purpose, we ought not to judge. Oftentimes there is need for compromise and acceptance of differences so as to be at peace with one another and God, Paul wrote, ‘Therefore since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ’ (Roman 5:1). We did not earn the peace granted through Jesus, it is unmerited favor, so humanity should show appreciation by living in faith, peace and harmony.