23/01/2017 09:54 SAST | Updated 23/01/2017 17:19 SAST

It Wasn't Hate Speech, Says Grace Bible Church, Comparing Somizi To Smokers

According to the church, the sermon expressed "different opinions and perspectives" and was not discriminatory, despite a pastor saying that homosexuality was not natural.

Speaking to eNCA's Dan Moyane on Monday morning, Reverend Ezekiel Mathole, spokesperson for the Grace Bible Church, has defended a pastor who said homosexuality was not natural, saying he was opening up the space for "contrary views".

Following the Ghanaian pastor's remarks that "there is nothing like that [homosexuality] in nature", South African media personality, Somizi Mhlongo stormed out of the church and took to his Instagram account to express his disgust at what was said.

Mathole said that while "some gay people were offended", homosexuality was not the only thing visiting Bishop Dag Heward-Mills was talking about on Sunday.

According to Mathole, the pastor's remarks were part of a sermon about dealing with "issues of the value of the soul". Mathole told Moyane: "There are other people who were smokers who were offended, because he also referred to a lot of lifestyle issues. There are a lot of people who are having multiple partners who were very offended". He went on to say that "a lot of people" were offended — not just gay congregants, but others who felt their lifestyles were being questioned.

In response to Somizi's videos, Mathole said that the celebrity has the right to respond as he did, but added that "as a church, we don't discriminate against gay people and we will never do, and we have never done that". He said it was Somizi's "right to protest in the way that he has protested and respond the way he responded".

Mathole insisted that Heward-Mills' sermon opened the door for debate on "contrary views", adding that it is an "open secret" in the church that there are people who are "pro-gay" and others who are "ungay [sic]". As Mathole told eNCA, these views exist in society as they do in the church and are essential to debate.

The social media responses to Herward-Mills' sermon has been mixed, with some people insisting that homosexuality is against Christian beliefs and others calling for the church to recognise the visiting pastor's sentiments as discriminatory.

Mathole went on to say that the church still welcomed "all homosexuals in the church", adding that the church did not "discriminate against them".

Speaking to talk radio host Eusebius McKaiser, Mathole said that the views expressed in the sermon are the views of the visiting bishop and not of the church. "Anybody who is gay is welcome to attend our church. Our view on same-sex marriages or relationships is that it is people's opinions and their choice of their own alternative lifestyle to have same-sex relationships". He then says that the church takes a "biblical view" on marriage — meaning that it must be a union between a male and a female.

When Moyane asked Mathole whether he believes that the church owes homosexual congregants an apology, he said that it "would be arrogant" to say that they don't, but that "we all have to be reasonable enough to say they are there contrary views". He then said that we should "agree to disagree" on opposing perspectives, but asked that we "not make it that it's hate speech or that it is discrimination".

In response to McKaiser, who highlighted the church's heteronormative doctrine, Mathole insisted that the church "has the right to believe" their doctrine and that people who are in homosexual relationships, "do not need" the Grace Bible Church and that it is their right to choose their lifestyle.