Monday, January 11, 2010

Pragmatism - no, actually Militance

Before I write about the pragmatic approach to the homosexual debate I want to mention two issues that cloud the 'moral atmosphere' - two issues that get in the way of the real issue. These are militance and sensationalism. So for this post: militance.
For some reason the homosexual debate leads to militant behaviour. We've all seem images of protests by the American right-wing Christians who stand with 'God hates gays' banners at inappropriate places. Fortunately, that seems to be absent from the South African Christian arena. On the other hand, I have observed a high level of militance in South Africa from the 'pro-homosexual faction'. I don't mean physical violence, but rather an attempt to force agreement by vehemence, harsh words and protests. Is it possible that we will soon see banners saying 'God hates homophobes' or even, 'God hates the church'? For me - I have a straight forward reaction 'the more you shout at me, the less I listen'. The people who comment on this blog do so with love and gentleness and I have all the time in the world for them. But others who seem to rant just turn me right off.
We also see a strange militance in the gay community in general. I imagine that its origins are historical and due to pressures created when society was oppressive of homosexual people. But now things like Gay Pride seem a bit over the top. Steve Hayes makes the point that for people to say on one hand that what they do in their own bedroom is their own business to then have ostentatious parades seems a little odd. This is not about rights - let anyone parade - but about the impression that one wants to create. Like it or not, the Gay movement comes across as cultish and whether intentional or not the impression is given that they want to proselytise. To what though? What is this strange thing? What is on the agenda actually - whether conscious or unconscious?
At the end of the day the actions of Johan Strydom (against the NG Church in Moreleta Park) and now Ecclesia de Lange in the Methodist Church come across as intentionally confrontational. Is this their goal? The message that I am hearing is that they want to bring the church to its knees (as in crippling, not praying!) Where are their priorities?
I know that this is seriously difficult debate, but militance and confrontational behaviour cloud the issue and I don't believe that they are helpful in bringing about some sort of reconciliation and cooperation.


John van de Laar said...

Hi Jenny,

Let me just establish my "pastoral" credentials in this discussion, so as to make sure you (and other readers) know that I'm not just ideological invested in this.
1. I have a close family member who is gay, and have had others in my extended family (I put it in past tense, because this person died at their own hand some years ago).
2. I have numerous very close friends (both in and out of church) who are gay, and I talk with them about their experiences frequently.
3. My wife has a masters in Narrative Therapy in which she spent months in groups with gay Christian women, all of whom were friends of mine as well, and about which she spoke to me (with their permsission), from a pastoral perspective, on a regular basis.
4. I have spent hours over the years counselling and praying with gay Christian men and women.

So, this is not just ideological for me, it is personal.

With that said, you mention Ecclesia De Lange as an example of someone who is militant. I must set the record straight on her behalf. Ecclesia joined the Methodist under my ministry when I was in Evander. At the time she, and a group of friends, were committed members of an ex-gay ministry, and she was trying really hard to be "straight". Even then I wasn't sure that she really had changed, although I was not affirming of gay-folk back then, and I didn't mention anything to her. Shortly after I left, she candidated for the ministry and was accepted easily - she came across, as she always has, as convicted, but gentle; clear, but open and very, very caring.

I have also read her own account of how she came to make her current choice, and believe me, there is nothing political or militant about it. She simply can deny herself no longer (or rather she made that choice long ago. Now others need to know it for her and the church's integrity's sake). Or at least that's my understanding.

Now, on to "militantism" in general. Nelson Mandela was originally committed to a non-violent revolution in South Africa, but ultimately changed his mind because he recognised that only militance would bring about the necessary change. Women got militant in order to be heard and accepted - and sometimes still need to do so. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Malcolm X and others all got militant (although some were non-violent) in order to raise awareness and "force" change.

Surely, with all the opposition, violence, discrimination and abuse that gay people have had to endure, some militance is not just understandable, but necessary?

Just a thought...

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi John

Thanks for your comment - I must admit that I thought that this post might draw more, maybe you will have opened the way . . .
Thanks for listing your credentials - for me, in a sense, you didn't need to, because I am convinced of the depth of compassion from which you speak. But it does help the discussion in general.
I agree with you that militant is not a good word to describe Ecclesia's actions, but I do think that they are confrontational. I do feel for her - it is never easy to stand up and be shot at. I admire her bravery and her conviction, I cannot 'judge' what she may feel that God is saying to her. On the other hand, I do not think that what she has done is the best thing for the church at this time. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe now is God's time and the decision needs to be forced. But I think there is still work to be done.
On militance, I can't really agree with you. I hope that's ok? I don't think that the current legal and social position of homosexual people in South Africa is comparable to that of black people under apartheid or that of women in previous eras.
But thank you very much for your contribution to the discussion and the broadening of my understanding.

John van de Laar said...

Very happy to agree to disagree about the militance thing, Jenny. :-)

Back to Ecclesia for a moment. I understand why you should think she is being confrontational. but perhaps this may help you to see it a little differently...or not:

Imagine that you and Grant fell in love, were desperate to get married. You knew that you were designed to love a man, and him a woman, and that this love was the most precious thing you could ever have. There was only one problem. The church refused to ordain you if you chose to get married or have sex. What would you have done?

The rate that clergy and religious (nuns etc.) are leaving the Catholic church over the celibacy issue should help to illustrate my point...


Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi John - this may sound odd, but your comment made me laugh. Because, in a way, that is exactly what the church has said to me. Due to the requirements of the church and my concern for my children, I spent last year living apart from my husband and I will not be living with him this year. So what should I do?
In fact, if I was feeling sensitive, I would ask why it is that certain parts of the church make such a fuss about the same-sex issue which affects a relatively small number of clergy, but seem unconcerned about the relatively large number of families that are divided by the necessity of station (placement)?
It is different because it is temporary - but you have no idea of the pain that we have been through (and that's ok, you don't have to carry my pain).
But for me - and in this forum I will speak only for myself - my calling to ministry and my calling to Christ is all about me finding something that is greater than myself and my personal concerns and my personal comfort. That something greater is God/Jesus and the coming of God's kingdom. There are ministers who have given up far more than I have to follow their calling. It is a choice that we have made. No one holds us at gunpoint. This is not to say that I liked the phase 1 system or that I think we should perpetuate separation of families, but sometimes life doesn't work out as we'd like it to.
I'm not sure that this takes the conversation further (because I don't think I want to say that Ecclesia has made no sacrifices and I hate to talk like this about someone I don't know), but I did want to answer your question!

John van de Laar said...

Two things I don't want to do, Jenny - minimise your pain, and intrude on your personal life. If this response crosses either of those lines, please forgive me - and feel free to rebuke me.

Having journeyed through phase one with Debbie, I have a small taste of your (much greater) struggle. But, as you say, it is significantly different from Ecclesia's struggle because it is temporary. You have had the opportunity to go home and be with your husband at times during the year. And you have the promise that when this is all over, you can return to living together with the church's blessing.

Ecclesia, on the other hand, is not permitted even infrequent opportunities to be with her loved one, and she has no promise that the church will ever allow her to be married with the church's blessing. I'm sure you'll agree that's a much tougher pill to swallow.

Also, as you rightly explain, for the very good reasons that you have had, you have made a choice - but it has been your choice - to be separate from Grant this year. Ecclesia was not even given the right to choose.

For this reason, and many others, I believe her decision was honourable. She will suffer for it - as she already has, but I believe that she could do no other. And, I do believe it is the right time for our church to be facing this.

Let me also put on the record that I have, more than once, publicly stated my objection to putting families in situations that make it hard for them to stay together during training. I believe the church should, and could, do better to preserve the sanctity of family during training.

For what it's worth...