April 4, 2013 marked 45 years after Martin Luther King’s assassination. During King’s time, blacks were an inferior race. King, like other religious leaders had a choice – protect the status quo or change it. He chose the latter, and it cost his life. His name is now celebrated, in his time, however, his fellow pastors where his vicious critics. His “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was a response to his critics who called his activities “unwise and untimely.” “In every situation,” so Dr. King wrote, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Alas the discrimination against blacks was justified with selected versus from the Bible. I had just attended a Church service dedicated to Dr. King, when I read Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, Executive Director, Pukuta Mwanza’s position on homosexuality. At the risk of being called all sorts of names, I want to respond to his position.
[pullquote]Friends, gays may be sinners but they are humans with rights[/pullquote]
Rev Mwanza claimed that homosexuality is against “fundamental Christian values, as well as African and traditional beliefs and practices,” and that democracy means the “interest of the majority must supersede those of the minority.” I think this argument is flawed. Christian and African values, like all values, change over time. By the way, does democracy mean denial of minority rights? Should Muslim be banned or Bemba become the official language simply because the majority of Zambians identifies as Bemba? From Nazi German to Rwanda, we have seen how such thinking can destroy a nation and people’s lives.
The European Union is not promoting homosexuality but asking us to respect the humanity of sexual minorities – they are humans created in the image of God. In December 2012, I met a Zambian at the United Nations. We spent days speaking and sharing meals until he asked me – “Kapya, do you know that I am a woman?” My answer was, “no way!” He then showed me his passport, and for sure, he was a woman. He followed it with another question, “Do you know what it means for me to live in Zambia. I can’t use male toilets and neither can I use female ones without being accompanied by friends.”
That encounter took me back to the South African Olympic medalist, Caster Semenya – whose gender was contested and raised so much solidarity across Africa. Then I remembered one ZNS officer in Luamfumu, Mansa during the 1980s. We called her Christine cibula mabele (Christine without breast). Everything about her was male and she would cry aloud, asking why God created her a woman when she was a man. All these events led to question whether God makes mistakes after all.
[pullquote]African gays will not get their rights without a fight – and all those who understand their plight will stand with them until their rights are realized.[/pullquote] I believe God does not make mistakes – but we, the people do. Just as discrimination of lepers, crippled, blind persons, blacks, women, and slaves was justified, today we still define who fits our description of the “natural” order of things. Fundamental values change with knowledge and experiences. Not long ago, twins were treated as evil. Kids whose top teeth came out first were killed – finkula. Today, we look back and wonder what our people were thinking. Yet in those days, such actions were defended as fundamental African values.
We have laws against homosexuality and we hold as “African.” The truth is, they are products of colonial rule and Christianity. In fact, early missionary writings show that Europeans were traumatized when Africans considered homosexuality amoral.
I am aware that Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 reads, ‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death.” In the New Testament, Romans 1:24 -27 is often used to justify our opposition to homosexuality. But Leviticus 19:19 also reads: ‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” Leviticus 19: 27 is more interesting, “‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.” Letivicus 20:27, adds, ‘A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death,’ while verse 10 says, “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife — both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.” Well, if you know your Bible, you will understand that Jesus confronted this verse in John 8:1-11 by appealing to peoples’ consciences about adultery- anyone without sin should stone her. You know the rest. Paul’s letters are also clear – women are inferior to men and must remain silent – after all they sinned. As for slaves, they must obey their masters.
I believe the Bible is God’s word, but human knowledge and context affect how we apply and interpret it. I guess the Rev. Mwanza shaves and cuts his hair. He also wears clothes made from two kinds of materials and will never justify slavery or killing of children who disobey their parents. He would not support executing n’gangas or those caught in adultery even when the Bible says so. Under Sharia law, for example, women are stoned to death for adultery – and we Christians oppose such laws as inhumane due to our conviction that every human being, regardless of what s/he has done or become, is sacred before God.
I know that gay issues are emotional but let us face it – gays have been part of human history. In his Zondervan Press published book, African Christian Ethics, Samuel Waje Kunhiyop, Nigerian professor at South African Theological Seminary – which is an Evangelical college, argues that it is factually false to claim Africa had no gays. On page 304, he gives an example of yan daudu (gays) who paraded the streets annually as late as the 1970s in Nigeria. In Uganda, Kabaka Mwanga was gay long before Christianity and he is the reason we have African martyrs of Uganda – they were killed for refusing to have sex with their King upon conversion to Christianity.
Friends, gays may be sinners but they are humans with rights. I may believe drunkards will go to hell and that women are inferior to men but that does not justify the denial of their rights. I may consider smoking evil but to persecute those who smoke is wrong. Nobody is promoting homosexuality – we have gays in our midst. They may be hiding but they are our brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, friends and workmates. They attend church, sing in our choirs, tithe and in some cases they are our pastors and priests. But they also cry, bleed and die.
Please let us live to disagree but never sacrifice our common humanity. African gays will not get their rights without a fight – and all those who understand their plight will stand with them until their rights are realized. As for now, let us preach love for God is love. Judgment belongs to God – who will punish those who shave, cut their hair, mix colors, allow women to speak, eat pork, and of course drink and smoke. No wonder we are saved by grace!
By Rev Kapya Kaoma