The kerfuffle mounts around Pastor Steve Anderson's proposed visit to South Africa.
He is the pastor of the Faithful Word Baptist Church who has made headlines after he posted a video commenting on the Orlando shootings in Florida saying that the upside of the shootings in a gay bar meant that there were 50 less perverted homosexuals on earth. He is vociferously anti-gay.
Anderson plans to hold a "soul winning marathon" in Johannesburg sometime around September 18-19 this year and he has met with a strong contingent of gay lobbyists who rightfully believe that he may not come to South Africa to disseminate hate speech. Whilst there appears to be nothing that the government can do to prohibit his entry, it seems likely that he will be expelled if he finds himself in breach of the country's constitution.
As much as the hairs on the back of one's neck bristle at the thought of such narrowmindedness, one is nonetheless left speechless at his zealous adherence to what he believes to be true. He is not afraid to stick his neck out and make enemies because he is convinced that he has God's blessing and support.
Pastor Steve Anderson — Founder of the Faithful Word Baptist Church
Pastor Stephen Anderson is on the extremist fringe of Christian belief around gay issues but he does not stand alone. Many before him have taken an anti-homosexual stance and in future many will continue to do so.
Whilst there are a lot of eyes on Pastor Steve Anderson, very few know about a public talk given by Anthony Morris III, one of the seven men that lead Jehovah's Witnesses. He travels all over the world, preaching to Jehovah's Witnesses across the globe.
He started this particular talk of his by speaking to Jehovah's Witness women about their clothing. He was particularly concerned about the use of spanx in public places. Here in South Africa we would probably call these leggings, the type of garment women would use at gym or for yoga. He said, "This skin-tight stuff they wear… It's not modest, and it certainly not sound of mind. It is really not appropriate. There's nothing else to say about it … don't go out in public like that, and say you worship the true God." Anthony Morris wasn't only just talking to women who chose to wear this kind of clothing as part of their everyday attire even warned against it if they were using it in public spaces while out jogging to get fit.
Having taken a swipe at women wearing exercise pants in public, he turned his attention to men's fashion, namely this skinny-fit style that has been so popular for a while. Morris calls this the metrosexual look. Listen to the way he describes this in his talk…
audio insert — find it in the podcast above ]
Morris said he was proud that one circuit overseer, and appointed church elder who has oversight of several congregations in a particular area, who refused to go door-to-door with a young congregant wearing tight pants. Here's Anthony Morris telling the story…
audio insert — find it in the podcast above ]
Morris went on to say that he conducted a poll amongst the women in the congregation to ask if they found men in skinny fit clothing attractive and, to quote him, he said, "you know what? I've not met one yet that thought they look good."
I'm not surprised that Anthony Morris couldn't find a single woman in any other congregations he spoke to who would dare admit that she found a young man in tight pants attractive. Had she done so, that would have been the end of her. He advised young Jehovah's Witnesses to consider whether their dress and grooming is appropriate. Is it modest? Does it display soundness of mind? If not, do something about it if you're a spiritual family.
Anthony Morris III — A member of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses
As if that wasn't enough, Anthony Morris then took a punch at gay men. Listen carefully to what he says next…
audio insert — find it in the podcast above ]
Yip, you heard it right, according to Anthony Morris, one of the most senior people in the Jehovah's Witnesses organisation, the homosexuals that are designing skinny fit clothes are the only ones who like it. The implication is that gay fashion designers deliberately create garments of this kind in order to perve over the straight men dressed in them. By saying that â€˜spiritual people' would not do this, unveils his bigoted view that homosexuals cannot be spiritual.
When this kind of claptrap is preached from the pulpit by men in authority, there is little wonder why the ordinary congregant feels righteously justified in taking a homophobic stance against gay people.
Here's another example of sexual bigotry. In July 2016 the website ChristianMingle.com published a YouTube video saying that it had been the victim of a lawsuit by two gay men who wanted options for homosexual couples on its website. ChristianMingle.com is the "largest and fastest growing online community for single Christians [… and is] the premier destination for anyone looking to date and marry within the Christian faith." Initially launched in 2001, the site now has more than 15 million registered members and apparently two gay Christian men thought that it was appropriate to approach the courts to have ChristianMingle.com include an option for homosexual Christians to find partners on the website. ChristianMingle made the statement "unfortunately, a decision was granted in their favour and now ChristianMingle has to make accommodations for the LGBT community. This will inevitably decrease the quality of ChristianMingle, since it is a place where Christians go to find partners with Christian values; and the Bible condemns homosexuality, calling it perverted and shameful. […] This is also a sign of the end time. Jesus compared the days prior to His return to the days of Lot, who lived in Sodom. In Genesis 19, homosexuals attacked Lot and his house. In other words, homosexuals attacked followers of God. Today, homosexuals are attacking Christians by using the court system. They pull the discrimination card to force Christians to accommodate them. This is Satanic."
Earlier this year the Jehovah's Witnesses published a cartoon aimed at teaching their children. It begins with a scene of a little girl pasting a drawing she had made on the school blackboard. It is a drawing of her and brother holding hands with their parents. The scene then moves to home where she is talking to her mum about the pictures the children had made and pasted on the board. Amongst them was a picture drawn by a friend Cary who had drawn her holding onto the hands of her two mothers. The little girl said that the teacher had told the class but it was okay for the little girl to have two mommies provided it was all done with love. Here's what the little girl's mum said in reply…
audio insert — find it in the podcast above ]
These messages are just as full of judgement as those of Pastor Steve Anderson — they differ only in the energy of their delivery.
But it would be unfair to say that all of Christianity takes an anti-gay position. An article printed in the Huffington Post in February, says that the all Saints Anglican Church in Australia has a powerful message for anti-gay Christians who believe that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identifying individuals don't have a place in the church. Their pavement billboard reads: "Dear Christians some people are gay. Get over it. Love God."
The sign echoes a similar sentiment in a hilarious proclamation by St John's Anglican Church that "Jesus had two dads and it turned out just fine!"
So there is a complete spread of sentiment from welcome acceptance on the one hand to outright condemnation and hatred on the other, so how do members of the LGBTI Christian community reconcile this?
Accepting that the Bible is indeed the word of God, it would be reasonable to assume that its author had only one interpretation in mind. There can be only one version of the Truth. The mere fact that there are diverse opinions amongst the clergy, ranging from acceptance to hatred, means that these holy texts are open to interpretation. Steve Anderson and the Jehovah's Witnesses both say that their interpretation of the Bible is the only one that accurately charts what God had originally intended. All other interpretations are the conniving workings of the devil.
Let's then look at things more objectively and dispassionately. Biblical debates happen at many levels, take evolution as an example. The Bible clearly says that God created the entire universe in six days, yet all our scientific evidence points to a slow unfolding of the universe since the Big Bang and evolutionary development of life on earth as each specie adapts to takes advantage of its environment to secure its own survival.
One finds on the Internet raging debates both for and against creation. There are many schools of Christian thought that completely debunk Darwinian evolution, taking quite literally what the Bible says. Yet other biblical scholars view the account of creation in a more symbolic way. Which is right and which is wrong? That's the conundrum with holy texts — they are prone to different interpretation.
Rev Mel White, co-founder of Soulforce, cautions Christians, saying that "Even when we believe the Scriptures are without error, it's a risk to think our understanding is without error."
Presupposing, as we said before, that the Bible is indeed the word of God and that it has only one universal Truth, one would have to expect that that truth will always be in harmony with science and our understanding of the universe. As our understanding unfolds, it ought to be corroborated by scriptural texts, either literally or symbolically. It'd be inconceivable, to have the Bible say one thing and for science to have a conflicting set of operating principles. Thus, in the case of creation versus evolution, there can only be one truth that fully supports both views.
If this makes sense when talking about the instantiation of the universe, it must also make sense when we talk about other things, like sex. The scientific biological definition of reproduction is that it is an inbuilt drive to mixed genetic traits to enhance an organism's specialisation so that it can adapt more readily to its environment. But sex is much more than just an animalistic urge, it has an emotional component too. A psychological definition is that there are three stages to human sex: desire and interest, excitement and arousal, and orgasm. Psychopathology and sexual disorder occur whenever there is a failure during any one of these stages. Sexual orientation is not a disorder. The American Psychological Association, speaking lesbian gay and bisexual expression, says, "Research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behaviour and homosexual behaviour are normal aspects of human sexuality."
Again, science and Scripture cannot be in conflict if there is only one universal Truth. Even across multiple religions, sex is seen differently. Where Christianity often attributes sex as having been the original sin, ancient Tantric texts suggest that sex has three purposes: procreation, pleasure and liberation. The idea of sex as procreation and pleasure is easy to grasp but as a vehicle to spiritual liberation is far more complex. It comes to sexual participants at the climax of their act, in an ecstatic experience of infinite awareness, when all opposites collapse into the Oneness. Essentially, these practices awaken Kundalini energy which rises upwards, culminating in Samadhi or integration with all else. Sex in this context is a whole-body prayer to the Divine and is very different from its sinfully perceived Christian counterpart.
Trapped in detail and in a literal interpretation of Scripture, preachers like Steve Anderson and members of the Jehovah's Witness governing body, seem no longer to be able to see the wood for the trees.
Biblical law does change.
In the old Testament, the Bible accepted many sexual practices that we wouldn't tolerate in modern society and it condemns many that we choose to ignore because they seem barbaric, old-fashioned, outmoded and beyond the law today.
Here is a list of some of them:
When a couple are married and he discovers that she is not a virgin, the bride is stoned to death. Ouch! Imagine the human rights are to cry if organisations practice this today.
Also stoned to death, would be anyone having sex with someone else's husband or wife. The cynic in me sees a quick way to reduce much of this overloaded population of lawmakers passed such a bill.
The Bible forbids divorce, and divorcees from remarrying. Many of my friends are in this category.
Catching and executing both man and woman when they have had sex during her menstruation would require special branch of law enforcement to carry out inspections and I'd be loathed to give this responsibility to some of our police.
Then there is a law demanding that if a man dies childless, his widow is to have sex with all his brothers until a male heir is born. Mmmmmm! There could be a rush to legislate this one.
One more bizarre decree: if two men get into a brawl and the wife of one of them intercedes and grabs the other's genitals, they would have to cut off her hand.
It would be interesting to ask Steve Anderson and Anthony Morris why the church does not enforce these Old Testament laws in modern times. I have a feeling that they would argue that the Old Testament laws were enforced up until Jesus' appearance on Earth. I somehow think that Jesus' teachings overrule older biblical law. If that is true, one would have to set aside the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in its entirety, along with all the other are debated practices and adopt the new set of teachings instituted by Jesus. There has to be a principle behind this kind of choice. One can't simply cherry pick some laws while omitting others.
The Christian Church was shaped and pruned before when the Roman emperor Theodosius ascended to the imperial throne in 380 A.D. He began a campaign to bring the Eastern Church back to Nicene Christianity and convened the first Council of Constantinople, which was made up of a group of Christian bishops in an effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom. The campaign was to provide a doctrinal statement of correct belief, or orthodoxy, uniting the creeds of Christianity, which were at times in conflict, into one universal set of beliefs.
Then there is the matter of the biblical Apocrypha, these are a collection of ancient books found in some editions of the Bible. They form a separate section between the old and new Testaments. Over many centuries, these books were slowly been pruned from the Bible until we are left with the modern Bible, made up of 66 books from Genesis to Revelation. Some scholars believe that reincarnation, the soul taking on repeated embodiments, was also slowly pruned from Christian teaching as doctrine was refined through interpretation.
So one has to but wonder what Jesus attitude would have been had he walked on the earth today. The general tone of his ministry was one of tolerance, humility and love. If we are to ignore Old Testament law in favour of Jesus' more modern teachings then we ought to find out what he had to say about homosexuality.
Setting aside Old Testament Scriptures for a moment, we are left with a handful of new Testament verses that might allude to same-sex practices. Each of these scriptures refers to situations that would commonly be abhorrent today, like the condemnation of male rape in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, sex that invalidates one's sexual orientation, paedophilia, lascivious and licentious behaviour, ritual orgies and bestiality. The Scriptures warn of losing one's spirituality and one's connection to God, not through one sexual orientation, but most likely through one's lust for power, need for control, and uncapped sexual consumption.
What is probably encouraged is sexual continence. Celibacy is a commitment to avoid relationships and to abstain from sexual practices but it has its dangers if it creates feelings of denial, sacrifice and loss. It then becomes a practice of renunciation and attachment. Perversity, depravity and lust are quite the opposite and create an environment of attachment. The one pushes, and the other pulls.
I'm an advocate of living in a space of truth to oneself. I constantly check whether my thoughts, words, actions and deeds are nurturing a healthy relationship with myself or whether they are detracting from it. Whenever I am thinking, saying or doing something that leads me away from a good relationship with myself, I immediately stopped doing it and instead, I constantly strive to build a healthy relationship with myself.
What are Steve Anderson and Anthony Morris III so deeply perturbed about?
Anderson and Morris would probably welcome homosexuals in the church provided they repented for all their previous sins and abstained from all future sexual expression unless it was of a heterosexual nature. This kind of celibacy is for many of us an impossibility, leaving us with very little choice but to choose between honouring ourselves and staying with the church.
But I have a feeling that there is a middle ground, a place with the universal truth of the holy texts gently and kindly meets up with gay people.
After all what is it that they are doing that is so different from the sexual practices of heterosexual people?
LGBTI people are equally repulsed by child molestation, bestiality, and unbridled out-of-control sexual expression, just as heterosexual people are. Why? Because they are also kind, caring members of society who uphold common law values of decency. The presumption that all homosexuals are out of control, perverted child molesters, and wild sexual beasts is absolutely preposterous. Heterosexual people are just as prone to illicit sexual practices as are any other segment of our community. Heterosexuals readily engaged in oral and anal sex, yet one seldom hears the Christian call for their execution. So where do we find the real difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality? They look the same as heterosexuals, and would be impossible to tell us apart simply by looking at their genitals. You can't even tell them apart by the way they use their genitals because they use them in exactly the same way as heterosexuals use them. The only thing that ever sets them apart is the gender of the person with whom we make love. It's as simple as that.
Putting it another way, there are as many wholesome, beautiful, committed gay relationships as there are straight ones and sadly, there are also as many abusive, controlling, and bullying relationships in both the homosexual and heterosexual segments of our community.
I'm not sure that the mechanisms of sex are being brought under scriptural scrutiny. Instead, I have a hunch that these texts are suggesting that our sexual practices are explored in a wholesome manner, devoid of a need for power, control and perverse self-gratification. Perhaps, when we do a good bit of soul-searching, we should be asking ourselves whether our sexual expressions bring us into a deeper relationship with self or not. Then, regardless of whether we are gay or straight, we should seek sexual interaction that is consensual between partners and for the greater good of all.
It's a space of inner truth.