Breaking through the Backlash: Allan Boesak on Homophobia and the church

DIAKONIA Council of Churches recently partnered with The Other Foundation, the Durban Lesbian and Gay Centre for the Breaking Through the Backlash: Transformative encounters between LGBTI people and the churches in Africa, conference in Durban.

Diakonia hosted a public discussion with renowned anti-apartheid leader, theologian and author, Prof Allan Boesak, where the topic was explored further. The issue has been a challenge to the church since the Religion Convening, "Homophobia and Churches in Africa: A Dialogue," which brought more than 100 theological scholars, researchers, practicing pastors and Christian social justice activists, LGBTI Christians, LGBTI activists and their organisations together. Since then, small and remarkable shifts have begun and Diakonia partnered with the organisations to look at the issue through the lens of it being a social justice issue.

"We hope to have more internal conversations within our churches to re-look at policies that exclude, and about the human rights violations against the LGBTI community and confront ourselves as the church about these and other issues related to gender based violence which we are passionate against. All people regardless of gender or sexual orientation are made in God's image and we need to look at them with respect and dignity," said Diakonia Executive Director Nomabelu Mvambo-Dandala.

The keynote speaker Prof Boesak began his address speaking about when he was the convenor of a task team and presenter of a report at the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa's 2008 synod. The report considered the church’s stand on the question of sexual orientation and nonconformity. "It was one of those utterly shattering, fundamentally life-changing experiences. After a hostile, and theologically disturbingly crude, debate, the synod rejected the report. It was an experience that had left me shaken and disoriented: how could the same church that took such a strong stand against apartheid and racial oppression, gave such inspired and courageous leadership from its understanding of the Bible and the radical Reformed tradition; that had, in the middle of the state of emergency of the 1980s with its unprecedented oppression, its desperate violence and nameless fear given birth to the Belhar Confession that spoke of reconciliation, justice, unity and the Lordship of Jesus Christ, now display such blatant hatred and hypocrisy, deny so vehemently for God’s LGBTQI children the solidarity we craved for ourselves in our struggle for racial justice, bow down so easily at the altar of prejudice and bigotry?"

Close to 200 participants attended the successful public event at Diakonia Centre, and the rest of the religion convening, including secular and church-based LGBTI activists and their parents and organisations, theologians and other researchers/scholars, church-based media groups, and institutional church leadership who are challenging faith-based homophobia and transphobia - from local congregations to the highest levels of leadership.