24/01/2017 11:46 SAST | Updated 24/01/2017 12:34 SAST

Dear Grace Bible Church, My Identity Is Not A Sin

Many of the sinful things the Bible condemns that the majority of Christians do anyway are a choice. However, who I am and who I'm attracted to is not.

Media personality Somizi Mhlongo
Jackie Clausen / Sunday Times / Gallo Images
Media personality Somizi Mhlongo

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of churches? How about religion in general? Faith, comfort, solace, introspection, worship and reflection? How about xenophobia, sexism, rape culture, homophobia and ableism? I've never been a believer of compartmentalisation so these are all the words that surface when I think about religion. Having been a fierce Christian in high school - and I do mean the "every Sunday, crying during worship, attending youth camps and having alter-servers in every part of my family, daily devotions" type of fierce – I began to take on an agnostic frame of mind once I began to be comfortable with identifying as part of the LGBTQIA+ umbrella.

While I grew to find more reasons why I didn't want to continue in Christianity, that connection, the literal acceptance of myself as queer, is strongly linked to no longer buying into Christianity. So you can imagine my reaction every time yet another church is "revealed" to be homophobic. Grace Bible Church has been in the news because of their homophobia. It would be incredibly easy for me to ask what people expected from a religion that for years made me feel guilty and almost resentful at my sexuality, but I do understand that for many, it's far more complex than just that.

I understand that attending is more than the scripture, it is fellowship, the faith in something that is greater than you. It is the singing (I always say that gospel would be at its peak without a religion attached to it).

I do not understand being enraged at a church that has bigotry in its Statement of Faith: "With regards to sexual behaviour, we believe in heterosexual relationships between a natural man and a natural woman within the confines of lawful matrimony. Adherence to this stated principle of sexual behaviour is an inherent requirement [emphasis mine] of membership of Grace Bible Church."

What I do not understand is the Trump-like confidence in which Grace Bible Church tells people that they aren't homophobic when the facts point to exactly that. That Grace Bible Church's spokesperson Reverend Ezekiel Mathole went as far as defending the visiting pastor by saying, "as a church, we don't discriminate against gay people and we will never do, and we have never done that."

And here I was thinking that lying is a sin...

I am, however, quite the idealist so forgive me Father, for I have sinned. And so have you. Hell, we all have. When looking at everything one shouldn't do according to the Bible there's a greater chance of getting our land back this year (god, do you hear me?) than there is of mounds of people having never sinned. I fell into a dark part of the internet trying to write this piece and often found myself wondering what on earth types of substances the men who wrote the bible were on when they heard God whisper such into their ears to share with the world. Is the Bible not a trip?

Who are we to tell queer people where not to go?

I also fell into the trap of attempting to find sins that many Christians are hypocrites for never obeying while staying steadfast in their homophobia. Natural reaction, no? Someone tells you that god doesn't want you to have sex before marriage and you ask them why they got tattooed. Another purses their lips at the fact that you got divorced and you ask them how their affair turned out. People agree with the homophobic visiting pastor at Grace Bible Church and you ask them about the time they shoplifted or lied or were envious of a friend. Outdoing each other with sins.

We are so quick to refer to other sinful things in the Bible that the majority of Christians partake in that we forget that many of those are a choice. I can choose whether or not I want to engage in pre-marital sex. I make informed decisions not to murder people, not to worship "false" gods or steal. What I cannot do – listen closely now, little bigots – is choose who I am attracted to. We even go as far as pointing out "ridiculous" rules that are in the Bible. The ones that say you can purchase slaves, that you shouldn't wear clothing woven of two kinds of material (say hello to hell, layering bloggers), that warn you not to grab a man by his balls when he's fighting your husband or even that everything a person touches when they menstruating is unclean (I'm looking at you, Team Lay A Towel Down). As ludicrous as we find those to be now, when do we stop trying to justify our identities by pointing at other sins?

How, is the way I was born a "choice" you feel is on the same level as choices both huge and those seemingly insignificant? Why would anyone choose to be an individual that's routinely targeted, violated, discriminated against and killed solely because of who they're attracted to? If you're so easily able to relate my decision to a lifestyle choice like smoking, Mr Mothale, pray tell, when did you "choose" to be a cisheterosexual male. Tell all the conflicted, denigrated and rejected queer people that they've chosen a life, they are to blame for that and then explain to them that their creator wants them to live a life that feels like a lie just to spend time in the company of people who'd rather blame them for getting killed than accept that their homophobia is violent.

I don't want to be a person who adds to the problem by asking queer people why they bother with churches, much like when Black people are told not to go to certain places because of racists, womxn told not to do certain things because of sexists or disabled people asked why they want to go to places where accessibility is not made a reality for them. Who are we to tell queer people where not to go?

The church alienates you from general society, and then when you sin they alienate you from the society they've created, the members and then your family. You become no one. You belong nowhere.

I chatted to a few queer people and they shared the following:

  • "When I was younger, a pastor of ours said that everyone is welcome, that we should feel free to bring our gay friends. I was so happy until he added, 'so that we can convert them'. Being in a church that believes that homophobia is a spirit that possesses good people is a difficult negotiation. I don't know if I can call myself a Christian... It's tough. What does it mean to be a Christian? I believe in God, because that's all I've known. I wouldn't know who else to pray to, feeling as though someone is listening is good enough for me."
  • "Maybe I distanced myself from God because I wanted to fap. I was tired of the guilt that came with it."
  • "In my personal journey I've realised that the experiences I've had with my Creator aren't always consistent with scripture, texts and doctrine. I personalise what I read with my own experiences. My Creator doesn't make mistakes. They created me and they created me with a purpose. I was made the way I am and I still hold some kind of power to the type of person I want and can be. I believe God is an energy of love and allows me to channel the God in me. There is no reconciling that has to be done. God calls me to be the person I am, the way that I am. I fell deeply in love with someone who identified as a womxn while I was active within the church and it was difficult. I then came out to my mom, trying to get help; I was suicidal and rejected. I then voluntarily detached myself from the church. I clearly can't change who I am, but after that I felt God's spirit and this force of love reaching out to me. I heed to that call every day. The grace and love of god is present in my life, God proves themselves to me every day."
  • "I was indoctrinated into being a Jehovah's Witness until I started questioning and realising things about myself. I realised that I was lesbian and that there was no space for me in the church as early as 10 years old. The teachings translated into my family and I noted classism as many family members 'bought their way out of sin'. The church alienates you from general society, and then when you sin they alienate you from the society they've created, the members and then your family. You become no one. You belong nowhere. It was a terrible experience for me. I realised that being gay, I didn't have to wait for God to cast judgement on me, and my punishment was constant, every day and from everyone. Others are afforded the dignity to wait for God to judge them. They can pretend not be liars when they are, but I can't pretend to be something I'm not."
  • "Grace works if you aren't homosexual. You accept it and then you try to negotiate it. I always ask myself if I've even been attracted to men. I called myself bisexual, because at least I had half of the 'right' attraction. Wow, religion."
  • "I've been told by my girlfriend that our relationship is ruining what they have with God. They feel guilty that they've disappointed God. When I challenged her homophobia she said that God hates the act, not the people."

Let's get this straight, the Bible doesn't perpetuate homophobia as much as we do. You who purposefully calls queer lives a "lifestyle choice". You who hide your hate behind, "but the Bible says!" and "the creator knows best". And yes, you who claims, "I don't think homophobia is wrong" keep your faux validation to yourself and put in some work. Much like when we call to male allies to speak to other men when they're sexist, white people to speak to their racist families and how we are constantly reminded by disabled and trans people that they should not have to teach or sensitise us as able-bodied and cisgender people, where is the call for Christian "allies"?

Are you standing up and leaving the church as Somizi did? Or are you being an accomplice in the homophobia you say you stand against? Are you letting other Christians know that they're bigots when they speak about your religions in ways that oppress others? Are you doing that work so that we don't constantly have to be defending our very beings in ways that only cement why we can't believe in your god without dissonance?

To you, who choose to keep challenging the bigotry that is within church walls and further, keep doing as you believe and find all the happiness and piece within it. Reclaim the spaces you choose to be in. Call out the bigots and restore our faith in resilience, but also don't forget to take care of yourself. My identity is not a sin, neither is yours. You are trans. Asexual. Demiromantic. Bisexual. Lesbian. Pansexual. Bigender. Gay. Demisexual. Questioning. Intersex. Aromantic. Gender non-conforming. Queer. Agender. Genderqueer. We're valid as fuck and we will never "agree to disagree" in a discussion debating that.