The outpour of moral outrage and heated debate has blanketed our nation yet again, and surprisingly it is not President Jacob Zuma this time around; but at the centre of the storm is the Grace Bible Church’s guest Bishop Dag Heward-Mills and television personality Somizi Mhlongo. They are at the centre of the storm because they represent broader and highly divisive branches of human identity; namely religion and homosexuality. Obviously this debate is not new, nor are its arguments.
Religious institutions (Churches specifically) will argue that homosexuality is ‘unnatural’ and wrong because God said so in the bible while the homosexual community will argue that it is only God who can judge their lifestyle and it was never a choice but they were born the way they are. This is how this debate has intractably carried on for the last forty years leaving a trail of victims in its path. The debate will continue polarising society until we start challenging the basis from which we view morality as a nation, and particularly the use of God’s name in justifying moral judgement.
Following the social media storm after Bishop Heward-Mills’s sermon, a young man asked a very pertinent question which led me to start interrogating our view of morality; he said “If a pastor justifies his homophobia by saying its God’s word, does that mean God is also homophobic”? I found that to be a very deep and profound question which was quickly and almost instantly labelled as blasphemy. The challenge with the Christian church and general society when it comes to morally charged debates like the one currently facing our nation is that we seem to be using God to reinforce what is clearly human prejudice, we associate our moral convictions with God.
The placement of God at the centre of the moral argument and the constant appeal to a divine moral authority makes debates and conflicts intractable because it invariably throttles any alternative viewpoint; it furthermore makes nearly impossible to revise any moral position because God is consistent and doesn’t change according to scripture, this makes it extremely difficult for the church to deal with new moral discoveries. The same can be argued for the appeal to religious scripture to justify hate and homophobia, religious texts as much as they carry great values over centuries, they have the unfortunate tendency of freezing time and carrying along historical prejudices as well; the status of women in the church being a good point of reference. It has taken centuries for women to be afforded certain rights in the church that despite scriptural prohibitions on women preaching or being ordained for an example.
I am of the opinion that we need to remove God as the motive and benchmark for morality, so that we can move towards a view which former Scottish Anglican Bishop Richard Holloways terms a ‘Godless morality’. If we remove God from our view of morality how will we measure right or wrong, how will we regulate the humanity’s galloping carnality and man’s predisposition to corruption? A creative morality is the answer according to Bishop Holloway, one which is based on our collective humanity (Ubuntu). Ubuntu places us on the other person’s shoes; it encourages a compassionate and empathetic approach to human experiences. Ubuntu tells us that regardless of what scripture says human beings can never be compared to animals because the contradistinction itself impacts on the dignity (isidima) of another.
I am of the strong view that we can never claim to be fighting for justice or driving change in society and yet be silent on the injustices on sexual minorities, the two are indispensable. The same vigour and robustness we employ when calling out social oppression should be employed when fighting what is in essence gender based violence. Richard Holloway eloquently summarises it when he says; “if the rule or scripture gets in the way of our humanity bend the rule or disobey it”.
Photo credit: Buzzle