Christianity and homosexuality in Africa: the experiences of Christians homosexuals
The text was taken from: Christianity and homosexuality : contradictory or complementary? a qualitative study of the experiences of Christian homosexual university students, authors S. Nkosi and F. Masson, South African Journal of Higher Education, Volume 31, Number 4, 2017, pp. 87-90
Coming out is the term used to describe the act of letting people know that you are not a heterosexual through means of dating people of the same sex freely and openly.
In fact the issue of ‘coming out’ was seen to be a contentious one. Three participants felt that they did not owe any explanations to others about who they were and said:
I find it unfair that we have to come out, I’ve never heard of anyone sitting anyone down to explain to them that they are straight (Nhlanhla, male).
… they have known me my whole life, and besides, I don’t owe anyone any explanations (Roto, male).
I’m not coming out to anyone until someone comes out to me announcing how much of a man or a woman they are (Mzwanele, male).
Hand (2007, 69) contends that homosexuality should not be viewed by society as a ‘contentious issue’ but instead should be viewed as morally legitimate or unproblematic. Only three of the participants had ‘come out’ and openly spoken about their sexual preferences to their families.
Most participants did not want to be open with their family and cited numerous reasons for this stance, including the fact that their parents were homophobic; the fear that they would be disowned; their family would deny or avoid the issue; or the concern that their family would be disappointed. One participant explained that being a student, she was still financially dependent on her parents:
I’m still financially dependent on my parents, I feel I like I will be comfortable telling them when I know that even if they cut ties with me, I am not depending on them for anything (Asanda, female).
Participants who had come out to their families had mostly experienced the kinds of family reactions that were anticipated by those who had not come out. The responses revealed how some parents battled to accept their children’s choices:
My mom hates it, my mom is too religious, she hates it she even prayed that God kills me for being gay (Thami, male).
My mom doesn’t want to hear anything about it, its Satanism as far as she is concerned (Vuyo, male).
My mom always includes it in her prayers, even though she has never said it to me, she has made it quite clear that she thinks being gay is unnatural and we are possessed by some kind of demon (Zandile, female).
The perceived loss of family or an important social grouping can be very unsettling and for some even traumatic. Consequently, participants were reluctant to openly admit and acknowledge their identification with a social group that may have been considered an out- group by many. As a result most of the participants had not ‘come out’.
Some participants felt that the timing was not yet appropriate to come out to their families but felt that they would be supported when they did share with family members. Only one participant felt that his family’s unconditional acceptance of his sexuality helped him to be at peace with who he was.
The church and Christians’ response to participants’ sexuality
Whilst churches in the city appeared to be less condemning of homosexuality than churches in the rural areas, there does not appear to uniformity amongst Christians about the issue of homosexuality. Sumerau, Padavic and Schrock (2015, 306) note the contradictions that exist between Christian denominations as some vilify homosexuality whilst others, for example, mainstream liberal Protestant denominations, have recently started recruiting LGBT members. Only the participants who attended a Roman Catholic Church felt that they were not discriminated against by the church on the grounds of their sexuality.
For most participants the most common strategy was to keep their sexuality a secret from the church for fear of rejection. Instead participants observed how their fellow church members responded to issues pertaining to homosexuality and subsequently decided not to disclose their sexual identity.
Participants were concerned about the judgmental attitudes of most Christians, and felt that these prejudicial attitudes did not resonate with the essence of the Christian message of forgiveness and love. These sentiments were evident in the following quotations:
I wonder if Christians are familiar with the commandment that says thou shall not judge. Christians are the most judgemental people on earth (Asanda, female).
I have been judged less by non-Christians (Thami, male).
Feelings of disappointment with fellow Christians were also apparent, as participants did not feel that they received the expected support and nurturance from their faith. Instead, criticism and judgement were conveyed, as reflected in the following quotations:
When people look at you in disgust, that you even ask yourself if you’re still at church. I don’t know if Christians don’t realise that they all have their own sins, it’s just that we don’t know about them (John, male).
They never tried to understand me as a person, they just saw demons and starting bombarding me with Bible verses (Zandile, female).
It pains when people treat you like less of a person for something that you didn’t even choose yourself, you’d think Christians would be more compassionate (Asanda, female).
Most Christian churches predominantly view homosexuality as a violation of God’s law and a threat to family values (Kaoma 2014, 229). Participants were concerned with what they felt were levels of hypocrisy amongst Christians. They explained that that they were judged on a daily basis by their fellow Christians because their sin was external, yet the Christian faith advocates that everyone is a sinner.
Drawing upon social identity theory, one of the central hypotheses of this theory is that in order to enhance one’s own self-esteem and beliefs, members of an in-group will find negative aspects about an out-group, often resulting in prejudice and discriminatory behaviours towards the out-group (McLeod 2008, 4).
In this regard Haslam and Levy (2006, 484) raise the question whether fundamentalist beliefs serve as a form of ‘boundary reinforcement’ and is an ego-defensive response that helps fundamentalists to feel validated, in this way being assured that their approach to sexuality is the correct one.