Wednesday, August 21, 2013

St Marks 'Is Gay Okay?' - A Rebuttal

This past Monday I reported on the "Sex in the City" discussion which was advertised in the Weekend Post by St Marks Congregational church, being on the question "Is Gay Okay?" The elusive answer was buried among layers of propaganda and subterfuge, masked by verbose tap-dancing, foot-shuffling and showmanship - and turned out to be a somewhat muffled "no". 

I'm not normally given to re-posting private conversations, but I thought that this occasion warranted it. First, to show that there were no ill-feelings between myself and St Marks - or at least, between myself and Reverend Claassen; and second, to show, post facto, that civil dialog had indeed taken place. The intensity - and to borrow a word from the good reverend - the conviction I felt while writing my response to him - and in writing this article, I felt, swayed me to post it here. I feel it reflects in my words, and I hope they penetrate - not just by getting through to the reverend - but to Christians, churches and their related groups everywhere which continue to separate and to isolate and denigrate people based on a self-defined need to be "right", judgmental and self-righteous - and where this results in hardship, cruelty and harm to others.

In the article - and via emails to them, I extended an invitation to St Marks and also to the members of the participating panel to join in a discussion in order to give the other side of the conversation - the side of the conversation which was left out, omitted from the discussion last Sunday evening. I received the following reply from one of the panel members, Rev Kenneth Claassen. My response to him follows below that.

  • Kenneth Claassen

    Hi Christina, nice to see you at the sex in the city talk. We have different views and I know it is personal for you. I did not expect any gay person to agree with what we said, not to like us afterwards. You adhere to paganism as a belief and I respect your belief, I believe what the Bible says to be true. My concern is the soul of a person not their sexuality. We want to stand on our conviction but share what we believe to be the truth. So as you have your convictions so do I. So no matter what happens you are not my enemy and I have not ill feeling toward you. I am also not trying to play the nice guy card, but I am honest that I live my life because of who Jesus Christ is. So say what you need to say and post what you need to post, no problems and thank you for posting the video so all can have a true reflexion of what was said. 

    Rev Kenneth Claassen

  • Christina Engela

    Dear Kenneth,
    Thanks for your note. I have no wish for ill will, and certainly do not see Christians in general as my enemies, nor Christianity as a foe. Life is too short for drama and misery, and so I work to make the world a better place for everyone, not just for those who believe what I believe or who happen to agree with me. As a matter of fact, I have a great many Christian friends, form part of a Christian-oriented family and am even dating a dedicated Christian who goes to church twice each Sunday. My motives for attending were not to slander Christianity in any way, simply to look at the issue as it was presented from a factual and human rights point of view. It is sad that I had to report on this event in such a way.
    Truth of course is always subjective, is uniquely different for each of us, and is a matter best left to philosophers - while facts are a different matter. When facts are misrepresented in order to serve an opinion or to promote it aggressively - especially an opinion which demonstrably results in people being victimized, persecuted and their lives destroyed in many places in the world (such as Russia and Uganda etc) it should be a matter of concern to everyone who wants people to be treated equally, fairly and justly.
    I think it is very unfair to present just one viewpoint when there are so many different viewpoints on the matter, even from a completely Christian perspective and which do not condemn or isolate people. Going to the extreme of inviting and welcoming people into your church in order to hear you condemn them or to know from your policy that you condemn them is not much better than bullying. Rejecting people for who and what they are, undermining everything that demonstrates their nature, including research, studies and medical and academic convention - and in doing so encouraging your congregation to do the same, encourages people to view gay and trans people as people who make a choice to be "bad" people, or "sick" people. Wearing a smile and claiming to not judge and condemn as you equate their nature with no less than a carnal and immoral act rather than as understanding their orientation and identity as an intrinsic part of who they are doesn't lessen the harshness and cruelty of that rejection. This in effect is exactly the judgment which your panel claimed would not come from your church.
    You might not see it that way, but then, you are not on the receiving end - and that makes all the difference. If you had been, you might be placed in a position where you would realize that you didn't ask to be gay or transgender, but you are anyway; that you didn't suffer rape or molestation or some other trauma, but you are gay or trans anyway - and that you are not someone who has to hide your true self, pretend to be something you're not and to defend your nature, your humanity and your right to exist against other Christians who feel as you do now.
    It is sad to say, but I did not expect you actually would accept my invitation, even though I hoped you would - in as much as I suffer from stage fright! You did not disappoint in that regard - however you disappointed me and those gay people who made the effort to come and listen on a cold and rainy night just in case you had something good and Jesus-like to say. You might have used the opportunity better and won back some heartbroken and lonely people for your flock. Instead, you fumbled the ball and lost an opportunity to show people the heart of the Christ you deny them.
    As you say, the video is up there, and indeed reflects exactly that.
    Kind regards,

It appears from the response I received, that this missing, silenced side of the discussion will remain omitted. 

The irony of this entire issue - the world over, and not just here in Port Elizabeth - is that people who run churches think that they run a religion and own the franchise. While they may carry titles such as "reverend" (whether they act in a reverend manner or not) or claim what they like about the religion, or interpret its writings to suit the state of their own spiritual conditions - or even try to speak for it along with all other people who identify with that religion - they only espouse their own views. It is up to other people to agree or to disagree with them, and with that which they say or do.

It is the agreement of people - ordinary people who fail to question and fail to speak up, that gives such individuals influence and power - and power to batter and bully those who don't "fit in" or conform to their ideas of perfection or "righteousness", to pieces. It is the lack of resistance to messages of bullying, hate, intolerance and persecution which sullies the reputation of a whole religion and all its followers, and which marks them as abusers, persecutors - and which turns other people into scapegoats, victims, casualties and statistics.

I don't begrudge people the right to believe whatever they want to believe, but I do oppose their insistence on trying to enforce their beliefs on them - and especially, MOST especially when it results or entails harm. I don't mind if a person doesn't like me because he or she holds a certain view of me based on their religious interpretations - whatever their religion. After all, I am not so needy and wanting that I will break down and cry because so-and-so doesn't want to sit next to me on the bus or thinks he's got room to look down on me and treat me like a leper - but I DO mind if that person acts in real measurable ways against my right to live my life to the same legal standard of equality, freedom and dignity as they expect for themselves. It is arrogant and prideful for people of a particular demographic to speak for an entire religion while placing their own demographic within that religion above all the rest that identify with the same religion, and to work to exclude them, to isolate and ultimately destroy them.

With respect, if the Christian God and his Jesus exist, and for Christians, they do - then their covenant is with that God and their Christ - and not with people who arrogantly place themselves on a throne and appoint themselves as an intermediary between them. Not Reverend Kenneth Claassen - nor St Marks, nor the Congregational church, nor the entire collective of Christian churches in the world can cancel or revoke the "membership card" of anyone who chooses to identify as a Christian, or decide for them where they will spend their afterlife. They can stop people from entering their property, from joining their exclusive club, and from speaking in their venues. They can spread false information, twist the facts to suit them, and bully people in their walls, halls and communities with their self-appointed authority - but they cannot dictate to anyone what is or is not Christian - or decide for someone if they are or aren't a Christian. If they could, then there would not be as many as 41,000 Christian denominations who don't agree on the same things that define Christianity or the practice of it. There would only be one

They have in them so much power to do good - if only they would make the choice to.

You can view the video I took here:

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