Later today, Ecclesia de Lange, an ordained minister of the Methodist church, who is a lesbian - goes on trial for being married. If it weren't heartless and inhuman, it would be laughable. A day or two ago I received notification of the drama unfolding in a South African Methodist church. Let me start off by quoting from the Facebook support group:
"From the Ecclesia de Lange Support Group:
Ecclesia & Amanda were recently married. After Ecclesia announced the news to her congregations she was charged by her Superintendent Minister for being in breach of the discipline of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. While the MCSA affirms the place of homosexual people in its membership, leadership and ministry, the Church at this stage still only recognises marriage between heterosexuals. Homosexual marriage is still a matter of great debate in the Church and Methodist ministers are not allowed to conduct homosexual marriages. So the Church is at the place where it welcomes and affirms gay members but it cannot celebrate and affirm the natural consequence of two people who love each other and who wish to commit to each other in a public religious ceremony. Sadly the Church seems to encourage deception and subterfuge from its gay members and ministers who are indeed already living together in committed relationships, reminiscent of the American military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. Ecclesia very bravely refused to hide or to lie about her commitment to Amanda and was married at a religious ceremony by an ordained minister of another denomination.
Ecclesia will appear before a disciplinary hearing at the Edgemead Methodist Church on the 12th of January at 16:00. Please join us for a silent prayer vigil at the church to pray for Ecclesia and to show support for her.
The intention of the show of support on the 12th is not to try to pressurise the Church into changing its policy. That could happen at another more appropriate forum. We will be there to love and to pray for Ecclesia and Amanda. We will be there to pray for the Commission as it deliberates. We will be there to pray for the Church.
Please feel free to post words of encouragement on the wall or to start a discussion thread."
I find it incredible when people who claim to value marriage above living together - which they claim is a "sin" - attack and discriminate against us when we marry. Funny that they're not happy about that either. Go figure. I wonder, is this opposition to same gender marriage in order to continue claiming that gay people are "immoral"?
Think about it for a second. They are against gay people wanting to marry, and even oppose civil unions - or companies even daring to treat gay or transgender employees with the same courtesy, respect and consideration as their straight staff. They discriminate against gay people for simply being gay, they discriminate against gay people for loving each other, they discriminate against gay people for living together - "in sin" as they put it - and then just when they like to point out how "immoral" we all are, hopping from partner to partner - as they like to claim, we go and spoil a perfectly good thing for them by wanting to commit and settle down. When we use the "M" word, they get all worked up and haul out the copyright papers. As for wanting to start a family, let's not even go there. Do they do this so that it makes it easier to get people to dislike us for being "immoral"?
I give up, gramps - what is it you want us to do? When I'm single, you call me "perverted" and "deviant". When I'm dating, you call me "promiscuous". When I'm committed to my partner and settle down, you call me "immoral". When I speak out against your prejudice, bullying and discrimination, you say I'm "persecuting the Church" and "threatening your religious freedom." When I want to get married - just like you did - suddenly I'm anti-Christian, a threat to God (LOL), and a danger to society and my own family?
Unfortunately, people see us as the stereotypes they are exposed to, rightly or wrongly. Right wing groups and conservatives bombard their supporters and the public with these negative stereotypes - which are compounded in some cases by expressions of our freedom such as Pride events. To see what I mean by this, the next time you attend a Pride event, take a good look at the folks who are there, quietly attending, under-dressed, ordinary-looking - odds are you won't see their faces on TV or in the papers. No, the media focuses on the raucous ones, flashing as much skin as they can, making spectacles - just what people like Erroll Naidoo want people to see. He doesn't want the public to see us as ordinary people, the regular couple living next door, who just happen to be gay.
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I just received notice a few moments ago that a gay man (Pieter Rossuow) committed suicide just hours after coming out to his family. No doubt that the experience must have been traumatic and harrowing for him - and I hope that through this tragic and bitter example, those who knew him will feel moved to positive action to lighten the burden of others having to face coming out to oft narrow-minded and critical people who are so important a part of our lives that their rejection or acceptance holds the power of life or death for us.
What makes things worse is the other negative incidents that always make the headlines, things like the article in the last Sunday Times about the Cape Flats gangster who also happens to be intersex. Great. Aside from the obvious human tragedy of this person's life, this tabloid rag has now associated gangsterism with being intersex - never mind the inappropriate and inaccurate use of the word "hermaphrodite". I am willing to bet that were it not for the recent Caster Semenya saga, Naidoo would have pounced on this chance to denigrate intersex people as "immoral", "dangerous" and a "threat to society" too. But hey, the year is young.
To address this sort of PR damage, we need to reduce the amount of negative press our community receives. We should be portraying our community as the stable, productive people we are - and play down the negative stereotype that we are all club-bunnies hopping from hole to hole. That negative stereotype is often of our own making unfortunately, and plays right into the hands of those who seek to exclude us from society.
"While the MCSA affirms the place of homosexual people in its membership, leadership and ministry, the Church at this stage still only recognises marriage between heterosexuals."
Ecclesia was married in another church of a different Christian denomination because of the discriminatory practice of the Methodist Church of SA which has so far refused to perform same-gender wedding ceremonies - or to sanction the officiation of its ministers at same-gender marriage ceremonies. The Methodist Church wasn't involved in their wedding, because they weren't asked in the first place - so I don't see what they are moaning about. Does anyone else?
Fine, so the MCSA may not like the fact that she's married, but they knew she was gay in the first place, as a minister - did they expect her and her partner to live together, or (like the national blood service) just expect her to be celibate for the rest of her life? Last time I checked, only the Catholic Church expects their minions to remain celibate - and we all are reminded by regular media coverage of how well that works out. As an employer, as far as benefits are concerned, according to the national law regarding employers - they WILL have to recognize the fact that she's married. Firing her - denying her any employee benefits, or penalizing her in any way on the basis of her being married WILL be a violation of anti-discrimination laws, to wit: the Constitution of South Africa AND the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, 2000 (4 of 2000). Good luck to them.
I can already see the right wingers in the pews with white knuckles, mobilizing their propaganda hate-machine to contest this case and to claim that their "freedom of religion" is under attack. What, again? Please. It isn't freedom of religion that is under attack here, but human rights - the human rights of Ecclesia de Lange and her partner to marry according to the law of the land - which applies to everyone in South Africa.
This is South Africa, a secular country - where according to the Constitution, religion is not the government or the law. This is South Africa - where the protection and promotion of human rights IS the law.
I would love to believe this, I really would - but I am not that naive. In this country we have fundamentalists, social conservatives and other gay-hating radicals clamoring to change laws, revoke the human rights of certain social groupings and to reinstate a theocratic model of government and oppressive laws. Hell, even our President is a lay preacher who has made homophobic statements in the media, and who shares the limelight with people who mince no words as to their intolerance for other people and their desire to strip their rights from the Constitution.
What I see here in this issue is the golden opportunity for human rights groups to see this thing through to its logical conclusion and to create a precedent and to remove institutionalized prejudice from the stage. Either that, or the Methodist Church of SA can do the right thing and make an internal decision to rejoin the human race and show some of that much talked about "compassion" one always hears about from Church synods. This is an organization that can and does change with the times when it wants to. In the past, the Church discrimination on the grounds of race among other staid and stained mechanics of religion. It should in this case as well.
My mind and logic tell me the Church and organized religion are a sham - a well orchestrated, organized and deeply entrenched fraud - a woollen cap that is pulled over our eyes from the day we are born, till the day people shovel dirt onto our caskets.
But part of me - the agnostic part I think, still hopes against hope that there is a God out there who created us and who loves us, un-named by human tongues, unseen by human eyes and whose story could be any of the myths, legends, half-truths and fairy tales spun by creative people over the centuries - or even none of them.
Either way, I still struggle with my sense of outrage at injustice, hate crime and the abuse of good things - even the name of Christ (real or not) - who epitomizes faith, justice, hope, self-sacrifice, salvation and ultimately LOVE - as a brutal instrument to deliver hatred and devastation.
Truth be told, I am tired of religion and issues related to it, but in all honesty one cannot fight for the rights of others without treading on religious ground - and occasionally, perhaps out of fatigue or frustration or both, it is quite appealing to kick over some furniture and upset things a bit to see what will come of it.
Today Ecclesia de Lange, an ordained minister of the Methodist church, who is a lesbian - goes on trial for being married. If it weren't so heartless and inhuman, it would be laughable.
At Ecclesia's church, some people are suggesting that GLBTI members and their friends and family should stage a walk-out, while others are saying they don't think it would work, because most of them have left already.
Leaving isn't the answer - in many ways that is exactly what some people hope to achieve by this.
I irregularly attend a Methodist Church myself. Our previous minister was a straight married man who stood up for the downtrodden in the community. Among others, including the poor and destitute, he welcomed GLBTI people openly, even though he took lots of flak from some of the conservatives there - he welcomed us into the warmth of God's love and into the daily activities of the church. He gave us a face and a voice in that church.
He even attended and blessed (unofficially) the weddings of some gay couples who attended. I can still remember his last service I attended - he had the band play "we are family" at the evening service - and at that moment I knew what a brave, courageous man he was.
Today he is dead and buried, a victim of a tragic accident, and I can't help feeling that perhaps a more conservative minister is now in his place, and that the pink community of that church is now drifting away, reducing all the good work done by him to nothing more than a good memory and dreams of what might be. I can assure you, he is greatly missed.
Drifting off and forming our own churches and groups is one answer to the issue of exclusion - but I don't think it is the right one, or the only one.
We need these people to see first hand that we are also people who love, and who live as they do, with hearts and minds and feelings like theirs, who feel joy and love - and sorrow and loneliness and loss - as they do. We need to show them who we are, and that they fear and loathe us for no reason at all. We need them to see that God made us both, and that he intended for us both to be who we are - and that God loves us exactly as we are.
We need to get MORE involved - NOT less. We have to show them that we are part of the human family - and that whether either of us likes it or not - blood is thicker than water - and that as the old saying goes, you can choose your friends - but not your 'family'.