Friday, May 06, 2011

The role of faith groups in promoting homophobia - A tribute to David Kato

This is a speech I gave at Centre for Applied Human Rights, University of York on 5 May 2011 on the above subject. Thanks to the organisers for inviting me to speak.

Thank you for inviting me to participate on this very important topic of discussion; and at this very crucial time, nothing can be more important than keeping the exchange of ideas alive and on-going.

David Kato
Before I go on, I would not fail to honour the memory and pay tribute to the life of David Kato, whose pre-mature death has continued to inspire us even to this discussion. I must acknowledge that I did not know David in person, but in spirit and emotion. We have many connections and almost knew each other in such world as only understanding can settle.
On 26th of January, due to my small involvement in the fight for equality for black and African people of different sexual orientation, especially gay and lesbians, I got a call that David has been murdered. This is why I feel that I knew David somehow. After that call, many texts and more calls followed; it was a harrowing experience.
He is a man of immense brevity. Although I never met him in person, he was and still is one of my inspirations. And in death, I couldn’t have been more challenged.
This is a man who fought for what he believed, for who he is, for others who are oppressed even unto death. As this discussion focuses on faith, let me borrow a quote from the bible in the book of John 15: 13 where Jesus said, “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”.
David sacrificed his life. He stood firm to the very end and died defending what he believes. I cannot live up to him because, his was a passion so immeasurable I fear to 
attempt it.

While I take pride in David’s life and brevity, I cannot but admit my fear for the violence that befell him. During my speech on the day of his funeral, as we gathered in front of the Ugandan High Commission to show our pain and respect for David, I spoke about this fear. I could not but weep tears of distress; of a desire for a better world. But above all, of hope for a better future; a better place that we will not feel like aliens in our own society. That the sacrifice David has represented will not be in vain.
But I wondered who would be next? It could be me or it could be any of my other fellow men and women.
I couldn’t just stop imagining the pains of his death. The agony he went through, the helplessness he must have felt; it sends shivers down my spine. If only one can turn back time.
In our present world, it is difficult to find a person of such valour as David Kato, who stood up in honesty and for what he believed in even unto such a painful death.
He challenged the powers that be. It was barely 3 months since Rolling Stone newspaper in Uganda has publicly called for David and other gay and lesbian people in Uganda to be killed. What an achievement David’s murder would have been to them and their religious and political partners.
But it is noteworthy to celebrate that just earlier that January; David had won the court battle which ordered the publication to cease from publishing such incitement. I am glad that he had that victory before the wicked event of January 26th.
May his soul rest in peace.
David was also a man of faith. He was not put off believing. And on that I say to a lot of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered or intersex people, you don’t have to run away from what you believe. Be it spiritual or physical; it is those who do not want you that have to run away.
David had gone through a lot of rejections and hateful treatment from his own church because he is a gay man. Even at his funeral, these people neglected to respect his memory but found it a platform to judge him. I am thankful to the brave gay and lesbian people who refused and stood up against that on the day.
Faith and human being
Now that takes me to the issue of faith in particular.
I do argue that we have to be concise in the use of the word faith. In the context, the word has become a symbol of demarcation between religiosity and lack of it. But that is wrong. Religious people do not have a prerogative use of the word any more than non-religious people. However, this is not so.
Probably, someone may ask, what is the connection to this definition and the analysis: it may not be obvious, but within this segregation lies a tangible amount of denial of the rights to what we all are entitled to or all already have and practice. Faith is available to each and every one of us. We use it in our everyday life. We use it when we prepare for our exams; we use it when we have children. We apply it when we make financial investment; we imply it when we deal with strangers. We live faith daily as we make our plans, we draw on it as we take on new jobs; in all of these, we always have hope and strongly believe through faith, that we would get them right.
As consistently defined, faith is the evidence of things not seen. And when brought into the spiritual field, it becomes even more delicate. Why then would anyone deny another of their fate?
Using faith as an umbrella to define people of religion is the wrong use of the word because it denies that those who are not religious do not have faith hence refusing them their part and place in the issue of faith. This is what happens when gay and lesbian people are banned from their church or mosque.
This also, indirectly in most cases tarnishes the beautiful lives of Christ-like people of faith. In the assumption of the use, a blanket conclusion is made that people of faith are generally homophobic. But you would agree with me that they are all not so. Hence this general term, ‘faith’, isn’t done justice word because it is a shared value found in all of us. It is a value shared by the good, the bad and the ugly amongst us.
Religious homophobia in Africa
Come with me to Africa. In the above explanation, the church in Africa is leading the onslaught against LGBT people in the name of faith. In doing so, they conclude that people of different sexual orientation cannot practice or be of faith, which is a lie as I have explained above. They and all the other homophobic religious people lie even in their fight on behalf of God.
Let me once again draw your attention to the bible. Although I am not a Christian, I always prefer to use the evidences from the Christians’ own book when discussing issues of which its laurels are claimed to be based on that book.
The Bible made references to homosexuality 4 Times in all. For a matter so important, and a plague worth avoiding, I still find it worrying to the point of accusation that God did not bother to warn sternly and profusely about it. In fact, in none of these 4 references was it directly spoken by God.
The Bible on homosexuality
During David’s funeral, the officiating priest decided that instead of words of comfort, that the often heard propaganda of Sodom & Gomorrah is best to measure David’s life. He preached that Sodom & Gomorrah was destroyed because of homosexuality, it was not.
In this first citing of homosexuality in Genesis chapter 18 when Abraham discussed Sodom & Gomorrah with God represented by the three messengers. What God said was the “because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous (Gen. 18: 20).  These sins were not pinpointed. Homosexuality was only first brought up during the attack on the two messengers in Lot’s house.
You may agree with me that sin is broad, and even relative. If homosexuality was the reference, then I am doubtful the city would have been destroyed.  In the ensuing event, many sins happened.
First, the Sodomites were unwelcoming, inhospitable, unfriendly, violent, and they were aggressive; all these sins even before homosexuality. However, another question arises from this; if the messengers were women and the men of Sodom & Gomorrah insisted in the manner they did, to have sex with them, would it have been acceptable? Obviously not.  It is not the demand for sex with men that is the problem, it is the approach; to want to rape someone is unacceptable and that was what these men of Sodom were up to.
And this is the scapegoating present-day religious people use. We saw this in play in Uganda’s recent Anti-Homosexual Bill. In that Bill, David Bahati proposed that if a man had sex with another man who is a minor, the older man should face life imprisonment. However, if David Bahati and the bishops that supported him were being sincere; is paedophilia only a problem when it happens in same sex environment? No. Paedophilia is simply unacceptable be it homosexual or heterosexual.
The second place homosexuality was mentioned in the Bible was in Leviticus; mainly in chapter 20. And this brings another question; again, why did Christ not re-enforce this particular place. In the verse in Leviticus 20 verse 13, the bible was direct in saying that “man must not lie with a man as with a woman”, however in Lev 11: 7, and few verses before it, the Bible also directly said “you must not eat pork” and other animals mentioned in that verse.

In fact, it is not only that, in Chapter 21 verses 17 to 21, the Bible went further to warn that anyone with a disability even mild ones like eye problem, cannot serve at the altar as a priest.

This brings me to the question, does the very Christians who drums up noise about homosexuality in Lev 20: 13, observe the abstinence from pork? Or is the priest who wear eye glasses or use wheelchair, exempted from keeping the commandment in 21:17?

The above two references from the Old Testament were part of Moses’ writing. The next and remaining two references about homosexuality in the bible are in the letters of Paul to the Romans and Corinthians.

However it must be noted that the Moses’ cases as mentioned above in Genesis and Leviticus, are claimed to be revealed by God to him. In Paul’s letters, they were his own conclusions. What credibility does it hold? I will explain.

Moses’ record were part of the Covenant made with the Israelites during the Exodus. Most of these covenants were subsequently changed peaking with the mission of Jesus Christ.

One more and final change was later affirmed when in a vision, Apostle Peter was told to "kill and eat" prior to immediately being asked to go and baptised the gentile Cornelius. In the preceding vision, the Angel said to Peter, “you cannot call what I have made unclean”.

Did the Apostle Paul ignore this latest revelation which was given to Peter? The likelihood of that leans towards a 'yes'.

History, partly recorded in the Bible shows that Apostle Paul did not get along with Peter and the rest of the Disciples who had direct interaction with Christ – I will not go into that detail so to save us time.

Based on that, is it any surprise that Paul would ignore the revelations to Peter in which the prohibitions given in Leviticus were done away with? Peter was clearly asked to disobey Leviticus 11 according to that revelation.

Conservative Christians of today do not differ from Paul’s disregard of Peter’s revelation. They play fanaticism, oppression, and pick and mix the Bible. And African Christianity is very much on this pedestal. But again, one is not surprised.

So what we see today is that these people make a scapegoat of certain issue so as to divert attention from their own failure. Homosexuality is that scapegoat while they carry on disobeying hundreds of other laws they should observe at the same time.

And talking of obeying the Bible and these laws which is used as a bait, let’s look closely at the detail composition and see if they are observed by both the sinful homosexuals and the righteous homophobes.

Moses was given about 613 commandments in the first five books of the Bible of which 3 are found in Genesis, 111 in Exodus, 247 in Leviticus, 52 in Numbers and 200 in Deuteronomy.

Among these myriads of laws, the following are quite striking, valid and hence of concern;
  • Buying slaves is acceptable
  • Killing a child who curse their parent (Lev 20:9)
  • Killing a persons guilty of adultery (Lev 20:10)
  • A priest must marry a virgin (Lev 21: 13)
  • Ritual killings of animals acceptable (22:19)
  • A person who takes the name of the Lord in vain to be killed (24:16)
  • And so on
But also issues to be forbidden includes:
  •  Homosexual sex and eating pork are forbidden
  • Heterosexual intercourse when a woman has her period (18:19)
  • Eating fruit from a young tree (19: 23)
  • Cross-breeding livestock (19:19)
  • Sowing a field with mixed seed (19: 19)
  • Wearing textile of different material make (19: 19)
  • Having tattoos (19:28)
  • Disabled or mildly disabled person becoming a priest (21: 18)
  • Charging interest on a loan (25: 37)
I can go on… but what we see is that those who make the case only clang on about Lev 20:13 while ignoring the rest 600+ laws.

They wear blends of polyester and cottons, marry non-virgins, cross-breed animals, make disabled persons priests and worse of all, do not offer animal sacrifices. Some of them also eat lobster, pork, shell fish and other meat clearly forbidden in these sets of commandments. They work on Sunday or other rest days; How very selective?

How can you, people of faith, justify such selective judgement and obvious discrimination?

Islam and homosexuality

There are five references in the Qur'an which have been cited as referring to gay and lesbian behaviour.

Of that, two directly referred to homosexual behaviour. But on close inspection, the first in Surah 7: 80 – 81 talks about lust. The others are repetitions and a final one talks about homosexuality, maltreating strangers, disbelief and polytheism.

However, what is vivid from these accounts is that lusts or other sinful acts were not acceptable. And what is clear also is that homosexuality was again not directly sounded by God; although the Qu’ran is said to be a dictation from God. The entire mention was an account of what happened in Sodom; again repeating the reference I already made earlier about Genesis in the Bible.
So in all, it can be said that these issue, if it truly still be unacceptable by God, has been evaded by the same God on all the occasion. How come?

The right to faith

Now let me take you back to the issue of faith being personal. For the benefit of this discussion, let us accept that faith is about worship and spiritual belief. And even on that principle, it worries me to know that some finds it a pleasure to harass others in this very personal business.

This again is where the crux of the matter lies. And for that, violence has been instigated, jails filled, murders inspired. Where then is the faith? Where then is the love of God?

Christianity and Islam has transformed itself from the love it was founded by the two honest, modest and humble iconoclast, into a moralistic, oppressive and dictatorial institutions.

For the Church, the story told in its holy book the Bible that gave a small insight into the life of Jesus, could be a fairy tale if the followers today are not able to emulate and keep that.

In fact, it is shocking and inexcusable that while Jesus led a life of service, humbleness, love and wisdom, some Christians of today are leading a life of stipulation, repression, hate and tradition. I say tradition because tradition is not wise, and definitely not dynamic.

Christ eschewed tradition. In many examples he made it known that traditions are made for man, not man for tradition. This is wisdom in action.

Tell me, how could homosexuality be a problem feared greatly by God because it would limit his power to sustain the project ‘world’, but Jesus, acclaimed to be God incarnate, failed to mention or reinforce it?

If homosexuality was or is a thorn in God’s flesh, if it was a hurdle for the power of God, if it was denying God the honour and worship that he deserve and want, if, just if, homosexuality was a ticking time-bomb in the program of things for the success and continuous existence of the world; then Christ would have sounded the warning repeatedly without fear or favour.

However, going by the suppressive and dictatorial character of those who has commandeered Christ’s teaching and dilute it to match their maleficent tyrannical nature, bringing it in line and reforming it to match their institution, Christ must have failed. I repeat again, Jesus Christ was and is a failure. I stand by my word.

Why do I think Christ failed? Simply because for some reason, he ignored a problem that will destroy God’s world and work. Terrible!

The same thing can be said of Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him. History made us know that he was a servant prophet. He lived his life humbly, keeping no wealth, demanding no service only that men serve God. The prophet did not condemn homosexual but sinners.

But both religions have spearheaded and led hatred towards anyone that did not fit into their ‘tradition’, not service as their fore-runners has set as examples.

A vivid example is the treatment of women which we see lingering on in the Catholic and Anglican Church and in Islam. Whereas Christ did call women, and even revealed himself first to a woman at resurrection, the church has refused to accept that women can minister in the sanctum as men instead condemning them to a life of inferiority and denying that they can be equal servants. And to think that Christianity claims to be based on the resurrection of Christ thereby making it the single most important aspect of the life and mission of Christ, the one who was privilledged to first witness the risen Christ should really have been the most confidential in the service.

In fact, it was only said of a single person; “what SHE has done today will be remembered forever…”. That person is a woman.

We therefore live in a world where religion, reversed from what its fore-runners preached, is solely used for controlling people, instigating hate, violence and worse, against the weak, vulnerable and minorities. How can such be right?

But these are matters we know that are used in an evil way. Regardless of how you interpret the Bible as most of you religious people claim, the truth is undeniable.

Homosexuality is not sin because it is not an action in the first place. You are born with your feelings of attractions. Otherwise, the heterosexual man or woman would be just fine with any person of the opposite sex… but you are not because your attraction and feelings is to a particular one [or few].

Faith in the same manner is a personal matter; a single and direct relationship with your deity whom you may refer to as maker, God, Saviour, etc. If faith is personal, how and what right do you have to stop another from practicing it?

The role of religion

Within the African context, many people of faith have been stopped from practicing their religion by those who claim to be faith leaders. Are you leaders or oppressors?

Your actions lead to violence because you justify violence based on your belief. Your actions lead to oppressions because you justify oppression based your belief. Your actions deny people their very inner sanctity because you have denied them the evidences of their belief.

Demonising lesbian and gay people as I have listed based on texts in the religious books is outright stigma. It informs and encourages animosity.

And under the watchful eyes of religion, the poor are getting poorer in Africa, hospitals are not working, roads are death traps, schools have no classrooms let alone seats. Government workers are not paid salaries for months, fuel is always unavailable even in the richest oil producing countries like Nigeria.

Although Christianity or Islam has no official status in the politics in most African countries, it continues to influence the way politics is played because the clergies of these religions are seen as spiritual mentors by the politicians who in turn are paid-up members of these religions. These in turn are intertwined with tradition.

Religions through all the above atrocities is benefiting from crippled economies that leave the poorest not able to afford basic needs. Because while they scapegoat homosexuality, they preach the gospel of wealth and make the unproductive politicians knights of the church and Alhajis of Mecca.

You sell the gospel for friends in the high places. You evade the responsibility of preaching love, service and humility but instead demonise gay and lesbian people.

These religions are guilty of the crime against gay people in Africa. Each time you preach that homosexuality is an abomination, you practically instil hate and encourage violence such as happened to David Kato Uganda and just happened to 24 year old lesbian Noxolo Nogwaza, who was raped and murdered just 11 days ago on Easter day in Kwa-Thema township in South Africa

Each time religion preaches Lev 20: 13 and ignore the remaining 612 commandments, they are issuing a shoot and kill order to their Christian soldiers and Islamic jihadist against a set of people who are what they are for no faults of their making. Each time you preach that gay men and women are making the world endangered like the Pope claims, that gay and lesbian people are worse danger to the world than climate change, he incite his followers to do all within their power to destroy that danger. Where is the love and truth of God in you?

But I tell you, if what your holy books has said is anything to go by, gay and lesbian people will inherit that kingdom of God and not you who cause hate to persist in the community.

On Easter 11 days ago, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien preached that various Christians in our society were marginalised and prevented from acting in accordance with their beliefs because they were not willing to publicly endorse a particular lifestyle like homosexuality.” 

But I say to Cardinal O'Brien that he is wrong. He is wrong because we, lesbian and gay people are not asking to be endorsed; far from it. What we ask for is respect and a peaceful co-existence. That is not too much to ask for and that is obviously not threatening.

So again I ask the question; if God did make the world out of nothing, would he really be unable to make it again if destroyed? Or has he lost the plot? Why do you fear for your all-powerful, all-knowing God? I challenge you, if he be God indeed, and if he truly hates and abhors gay people, let him wipe us all out of the face of the earth.

You can’t claim to fight for an all-powerful being. That makes me wonder how powerful this powerful being is. At the contest on Mount Cramel, the prophet Elijah did allow his God to prove himself. Is religion today proving God or proving her own dominion by flexing political power?

In trying to prove God in Africa, we are stuck in an awfully murky mess. The mess of exile of gay African men and women; the mess of violence against people of different sexual orientation, the mess of denying healthcare to gay men and women; the mess of killing, of rape, of harassment, of jailing the innocent, of blackmail, of all manner of persecution of LGBT people by the church, the mosque and the state.

Each time you incite hatred and violence in your members, you send the message to those who don’t believe that your God is a God of hate. Each time you pick and mix the words of the Bible or Qu’ran, you send the message that those words are lies and out of touch.

But as I said in the beginning, it is this horrible attitude that tarnishes what is supposed to be a message of love, of service and humility as set out by the very humble prophets, Jesus and Mohamed peace be upon them. In one instance, Jesus said, if your enemy is hungry, feed him… you probably know the rest. In another instance, he said, “the person who has never committed any sin, let him cast the first stone".

But today, you who smudge the message of hope brought by these men cast stones and kill even though you are no by no means holier. Your very act is the cause of unbreakable chain of evil in the world.

And for those who keep still for fear they might offend the conservative religious people, and watch evil being perpetuated, you send out the message that it is alright.

There is no place for sitting on the fence in this matter. Christianity and Islam and all other religions have to come clean and accept that people are born gay, black, white, tall, short, however nature presented them hence cannot be destroyed for that.

Religions should not continue to assume superiority. Religions should return to the very simple mission of peace, love and service they were founded on.

But above all, religions should move with the times. From what we know today, we are now able to make the priest with an eye defect work in the altar by wearing glasses, we are now able to cure diseases and not isolate people, we are now able to serve God without killing animals and spraying their blood, we are now able to come together in one worship place regardless of our race or class; jews and gentiles alike, we are no more enslaving people from neighbouring nations (not quite), and many more things which has changed in the last 1 – 2, 000 years. Why then are we still isolating gay and lesbian people if we can ignore all the above?

And in Africa, we have stopped throwing twins into the evil forest and accepting that they are humans. Yet the evil our fore-fathers claimed would happen in the land are not happening. 

In Africa we have stopped worshipping so many idols and even stopped human sacrifices, yet the curses promised on the lands are not happening. 

Established religion should also learn that it can stop victimizing gay people and the world will not end because God is supposedly capable of replenishing the world.

But the clear problem in all of these is that much of the gap between opposing viewpoints is simply a refusal to hear the other side for fear we might have to admit it is true. This is because we often find it impossible to understand those things we do not like or do not want to acknowledge as true.

This is the dilemma of religion on the matter of same sex consented intimate love.

What is it that is hard to understand or rather hard to accept in these 4 and 5 references to homosexuality in the Christian and Islamic books respectively? The answer is simple: the demand for works which is law and the mystery of grace which is the change seen through the revision, updating and renewal of the covenants as finally affirmed to Peter when ordered to “kill and eat”.

To finish, I repeat again, what we ask for is respect and a peaceful co-existence.
Live and lets live.

Peace be with you all.

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