The Church must condemn homophobia — an opinion from South Africa
In the current debate on homophobia, and in the interval before a referendum on same-sex marriage next year, an editorial on anti-gay laws in The Southern Cross, Southern Africa’s Catholic weekly on 29 January, may be useful. It can be found here
Here are a few paragraphs.
Where there is injustice, we must expect the Catholic Church to stand with the powerless. Therefore the Church should sound the alarm at the advance throughout Africa of draconian legislation aimed at criminalising homosexuals. It would require a very peculiar reading of the Gospel to locate Jesus anywhere else but at the side of the marginalised and vulnerable.
Recently the Ugandan and Nigerian parliaments both passed severe anti-gay legislation. Other countries, such as Cameroon and Tanzania, are proposing to pass similar legislation. These laws are not intended to render same-sex acts illegal — they already are, and punishable, in most African countries — but to persecute people on the basis of their sexual orientation. Such laws are not only unjust, but they also have the potential to tear at the fabric of society if they are misused to facilitate false denunciations for gain, advancement or vengeance, much as what Christians are exposed to in Pakistan under that country’s intolerable blasphemy law. The effects of homophobia are also seen in the inordinately high rate of suicides among homosexuals, especially teenagers.
The Church cannot sponsor the criminalisation of matters of private morality, and much less the advocacy of human rights. Prejudice and the persecution of homosexuals are in defiance of Catholic doctrine.
Even as it emphatically rejects homosexual carnal acts, the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares that “every sign of unjust discrimination in their [homosexuals’] regard should be avoided”. The Catechism further demands that homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (2358). Jailing homosexuals for being gay and insisting on their human rights, or even for having sex, self-evidently is a sign of “unjust discrimination” that lacks in respect and compassion.
While the Church’s teachings prevent her from standing with homosexuals on many issues, especially same-sex marriage, she has an obligation, mandated by Christ, to be in solidarity with all those who are unjustly marginalised and persecuted. Alas, the Church has been silent, in some cases even quietly complicit, in the discourse on new homophobic laws. This absence of intervention for justice may well be interpreted, wrongly or not, as approval of injustice, in line with the maxim Qui tacet, consentire videtur (Silence gives consent). Instead, the Church should present herself as compassionate and courageous in standing with the those living in fear. African bishops especially ought to speak out, as loudly as they do on same-sex marriage, against the discriminatory legislation and violence directed at homosexuals, many of whom are fellow Catholics.
Where is the prophetic voice of the Church in condemning the general homophobia in society? It would require a very peculiar reading of the Gospel to locate Jesus anywhere else but at the side of the marginalised and vulnerable. The Church must be seen to be standing with Jesus and those who face unjust persecution, even if — especially if — it does not condone the lifestyles of those at risk. That would be true Christian witness.