Posts Tagged church

Queer worship in Cape Town

 

It is a sad fact that homosexuals do not feel welcome in most churches. But it is encouraging to know that Christians have been at the forefront of the marriage inequality movement for a long time. The Metropolitan Community Church, for instance, was founded as early as 1968 and has been campaigning for marriage equality ever since. It has also no doubt contributed to the emerging “queer theology” that seeks to legitimise their stance.  I attended a service of the Good Hope MCC in Cape Town last Sunday. It was Freedom Day, the birthday of SA’s democracy.

The Good Hope MCC meets in a historical Church building on Green Market Square in Cape Town and they hung a huge yellow banner declaring that all “queers” are welcome. The pastor was a slight woman who not only preached, but also sang while playing the guitar, straight from the pulpit. The toilets were designated unisex. I have the memory of there being rainbow decorations everywhere, but this may be more of an impression than actual fact. The message, in any case, was very clear: you are welcome.

But it was also very clear that this message was not directed toward me. I’m a heterosexual male, perfectly welcome in a traditional church. No, this message was directed to the LGBT community.  Indeed, I felt like possibly only one of two heterosexuals there (the other being a friend I had brought along). This was also an impression, not an established fact. The MCC church is there for LGBT people. Every announcement and virtually every statement made was geared toward them.

And why should the MCC not focus on LGBT? In virtually every other church they are either not mentioned at all, or they are informed that they are living in sin. The plight of LGBT people in the new South Africa is still acute. There are, for instance, Lesbians being murdered or correctively raped in some communities.  Would other churches take as active a stance to stop this?

The Good Hope MCC church is perhaps the only place that LGBT people in Cape Town can connect with a community of believers without judgement. And they do so alone. Shouldn’t heterosexuals and LGBT people be able to worship together? Is it not deplorable that in 20 years into South Africa’s democracy, the church is in a kind of apartheid, heterosexuals here, LGBT people there? Perhaps, in another twenty years, it will seem simply absurd.

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The Complementarianism is a Lie

I discovered recently that there are still rather powerful churches that believe women should not be pastors or leaders of churches. I was unknowingly attending one such church until recently and was quite shocked to find that even Tim Keller, a man whose writing on Christianity I have admired, takes this view. These churches call their position “complementarianism” and it is an insidious lie.

The idea is supposed to oppose the concept of “egalitarianism”, which would mean that men and women are equal and alike, able to take on any role in the church. Instead, complementarianism is supposed to convey that men and women are equal, but have different roles. This seems benign.  But this is not really what is implemented.

The situation is not : women can do this, and men can do that. It is women can’t do this and men can do, well, everything. The system imposes neither equal (but different) restrictions nor provides equal (but different) freedoms for men and women. It merely restricts women.  There is no equivalently important or powerful role reserved for women and women only.

Let us thus not fool ourselves. This system should not be called complementarianism. At best it is rebranded patriarchy or chauvinism, made to look benign, but with all the poison of male domination (i.e. sexism) lurking underneath. Men and women may be equal under God, but they certainly are not in these churches.

(Disclaimer: I certainly do not believe that (most of) these churches set out to dominate women or harm them. They are trying to interpret the scriptures in a meaningful way. As do all churches. I have respect for this and they certainly have the right to their interpretations. But as well-meaning as they may be, as much as they try to include the voices of their women in their church, the system itself will hamstring them, robbing women of representation and leadership opportunities.)

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Society at the end of the rainbow

Gay marriage is in the news again, this time because it is being debated in American courts once again. I for one cannot understand how bans on gay marriage have continued so long. In a court of law you can swear on the Bible, but you can’t use it to prove your case.

Support for Gay marriage has been rising, especially among the young.  At the same time religion has been waning.  There are, of course, many Christians who approve of gay marriage. There are very few, probably, who think that the issue of legality of gay marriage is entirely distinct from the issue of whether it is sinful.

I wonder what will happen. I think support for gay marriage will only grow. We are speedily heading to the end of a gay rainbow. Opponents of gay marriage are on the defensive, and that includes conservative Christians. To the “enlightened” they must seem like some cartoon villain, refusing to give up when the battle is already over. This The Oatmeal comic shows exactly what is happening.

Either the church will change to embrace gay marriage or the next generations will leave the church. Perhaps they’ll establish their own gay-friendly churches. Or perhaps Christianity will be discarded altogether.

I love the Church. I do not wish for it to be displaced. But I fear church intransigence, particularly that of the Catholic church, will drive the decline of faith in coming years. That would be alright, if it were in the name of a truly noble cause. If it were like driving money-changers from the temple. But who is the villain in this story? The myriad of gays asking for their love to be recognized?

Drawing from another Biblical reference: the writing is on the wall.  The writing this week took the form of the following picture, used as a profile picture by supporters of gay marriage. It’s message is simple, appealing: Equality. It’s not going away.

equality

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The state, the church and the queers

Homosexuality is, perhaps, the single most important issue social issue facing the modern church. How the church handles it could be its end. But the obstacles to accepting gay marriage within the church are huge and I am not sure that they are insurmountable.

Bias

I must declare a bias. I grew up in just one of a handful countries that allows gay marriage, in South Africa, just as apartheid ended. My mind is coloured by the ideals of equality and freedom that the South African constitution upholds. As such, the idea of placing homosexual relationships on an equal footing with heterosexual ones seems natural to me. It is my default position. But it is based on culture more than theology.

I also suffer (as most humans do) from a confirmation bias – I easily dismiss anything that does not agree with my chosen conclusion. When I read this article about gay marriage being accepted in Sweden (the article itself is probably far from unbiased) I got a warm fuzzy feeling[1]. And when I watched this excellent BBC miniseries with two female lovers in the 19th century I rooted for the socially unacceptable couple.

But if you’re a Christian then you must think about homosexuality and gay marriage Biblically, at least in the context of the church. The church cannot make decisions based on culture alone.

Why gay marriage should be legal

I would like to give a somewhat different perspective on the gay marriage debate. I think gay marriage should be legalised – this is not to say that gay marriage is “right” (from a Biblical perspective), but rather that it is not something the state should care about. This is similar to the way I argued about abortion  (of course, I am not trying to equate the act of getting married to abortion).

Take the Bible out of the equation for a second. When you are talking about the State then you must do this. The state must be secular. By secular I do not mean “atheistic”. I mean that the state must be independent of any particular faith (or unbelief). All the arguments against gay marriage are based on religion and thus no longer count.

There does not seem to me to be any intrinsic difference between a heterosexual and homosexual union that should bias the state against the latter. Unless, of course, the state needs somehow to promote childbearing (but that could be better achieved by banning contraception) and with many alternative ways for homosexual couples to obtain children (sperm donors, surrogate mothers, adoption) this may be a nonissue anyway.

Homosexuality and Christianity

I confess, I would very much like for homosexuality to be compatible with Christianity. I want to see gay couples getting married in churches. I think this would be very good for the church (provided it is theologically justifiable). It would eliminate one of the greatest sources of criticism of the modern church. It would bring thousands upon thousands of gay men and women into the fold, people who currently feel rejected and marginalised. There would be love and acceptance rather than stern condemnation or even loving disapproval.

This is utopian. There are far too many Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin for the Swedish situation (if it has not been exaggerated) to be replicated worldwide. And there is too little Biblical evidence to convince these people they are wrong. I cannot convince myself they are wrong, though I so dearly wish that they are.

If you look at the Bible you will see:

  • At best the Bible is silent about Gay marriage
  • If not silent, it has nothing positive to say about it.
  • At worst, it condemns it.

For the people who are sure that the last point is the truth, I would remind you of one thing: God loves everyone. He loves sinners. Even if homosexuality is a sin (and I am not saying it is), it does not and never will negate salvation. A believer is saved. Period.

(Of course, if you have a well-substantiated opinion on homosexuality and gay marriage I would love to hear it. Please leave a comment.)


[1] Aside: it seems to have become fashionable to depict homosexual causes with lesbian couples. As a man I don’t mind this, but let us not be misled by pictures that do not affect us, or by pictures that do.

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Praying in a Church

In February a Russian punk band called Pussy Riot got into a Cathedral in Moscow and performed a punk song , actually a prayer to the Virgin Mary, called “Our Lady, chase Putin out.” (Read about it here and here).  I understand it was somewhat lewd and it was sung in a holy area where only priests were meant to go. It probably startled the priests, infuriated them. But they deserved to be startled. And so does Russia, where Putin’s reign is, by all accounts, tyrannical, and where the church is doing nothing but help it along. In my opinion Pussy Riot had entered a place long defiled and prayed publicly the prayer the church should be constantly praying all through Putin’s reign.

Three of the band’s members are on trial, with little hope, it seems of it being fair. They could face seven years in prison. Putin’s grip on the country is still strong. It may be a long time before their prayer is heard.

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