CHURCH STILL SAYS NO TO GAYS


Driving to town today newspaper posters on the lampposts announced: The church says no to gay persons. On reading this caption, my soul floods with many different emotions: anger, deepness, frustration and gratefulness.

Anger because of the short-slightness of many churches and believers in terms of how they engage with their faith and the Bible with regards to sexuality. Such believers often employ a very legalistic reading of the Scriptures, that is might I add, of selected verses. Thus those verses which serve their purposes and support their beliefs, whilst other texts are ignored or interpreted with much greater hermeneutic freedom.

Why the deep sadness that moved me to tears? Great sadness about the thousands of gay and gay related people, whose souls have been wounded, trampled on and raped by the imprudent actions of churches all over the world. Sorrow about  churches’ seemingly inability to understand what Christ love means and how to extend that to all persons. Affliction because the church continues to sexualise being gay, just as it does with marriage. This sexualisation of the constitution of marriage is evident when the symbol of marriage is seen as heterosexual sex. How deeply sad that we trivialize a marriage to that of the physical and outward expression of love and passion. In my mind, a marriage union: heterosexual or gay, should imply and entail so much more than just physical love. It is a monogamous partnership in which two people can thrive as equals in the presence of commitment, trust, exclusivity, love, dignity and reciprocated respect. Should this not be the definition of a marriage instead of in what way a couple have sexual intercourse?

Frustration because so many people still do not understand that for the vast majority of gay people, being homo- inter- or transsexual are not a choice but a given. Their gayness is not rooted in the way they have sex, but in  their beings. This is their personhood. A gay person once summarized it so concisely for me: “I am a person who happens to be gay, not a gay who happens to be a person”.

To say to a gay person, you may be gay, but just don’t practice your gayness – live a celibate life – is as good as to say to a person: You are allowed to be a person, but you are not allowed to live. Or maybe the converse is also accurate: You are allowed to live just not to be a person. To love, to be in partnership with another human being, to attach, to share, to touch, to hold, to kiss and yes to enjoy emotional, physical and sexual intimacy is to be human.

You might wonder what it is that I am grateful for in the midst of this injustice. I am grateful that I left the formal church structures some years ago as I was no longer able to be part of an institution which is inherently unjust towards people due to their sexual orientation. I thank God that I no longer have to contravene my conscience because I participate in a structure which forsake and judge people because of their sexuality. Unjust, unreasonable and un-Christ-like.

I continue to lament: How long God, how long will this terrible injustice continue? O Lord be merciful as humanity do not what it does and that in the name of our Gracious God?

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Conversation on Liberation Theology – Why do we need feminist theology?


For my readers who understand Afrikaans: I participated in a radio programme on liberation theology, on Sunday, 18 March at 19:00. You can download this conversation at: http://www.rsg.co.za/images/upload/sound/klanke/20120318_KRUIS_EN_DWARS.mp3

For my English speaking readers – a summary of my ideas regarding feminist theology and  the relevance of it in the South African society follows:

WHY DO WE NEED FEMINIST THEOLOGY?

For centuries the church was (and still is) steeped in patriarchy. The church mostly speaks with a male voice, which often excludes women’s experiences. One needs to understand that when one deals with religious scriptures and traditions, context becomes of the utmost importance. In Biblical times men had absolute dominance over women as women were seen are possessions. Women had no access to education and only a few educated men determined what would be seen as scriptural and what not. Throughout the centuries this tradition continued, often to the detriment of women. This mindset continued in the South African society and was especially apparent in the structures of the Apartheid regime.

Within the South African context, the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) played a major constituting role and was used to further the Apartheid ideology. White males were positioned as the rightful rulers over women and all other races within South Africa society. Women’s voices were absent in most power structures, especially in the church. It was only as recently as 1982 that women were allowed to the office of deacon, and that of elder and ordained minister since 1990 within the DRC. Gender role definitions and prescriptions were at the heart of female subordination and formed the basis of arguments for women’s exclusion from ordained ministry. Although the DRC recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of women in ordained ministry, at present there are only 68 women who work in congregations as DRC ministers, thus only 4,13% of the total number of ordained ministers in the DRC (DRC Yearbook 2011).

However, feminist theology is not only needed to ensure that more women are allowed to fully participate as ordained ministers. In South Africa more than half of all congregants are female, yet the male voice continues to prescribe, determine and enforce the way how women are allowed to participate. It is time that Christians move away from this patriarchal status quo in order to give women a voice which will enable them to participate and set their agenda with regards to their spiritual needs and insights. Moreover feminist theology is about inviting women to contribute to a social consciousness with which they will be able to identify.

Many patriarchs might ask, why should women participate and seen as equals. I answers with the words of Denise Ackermann ‘it is the right to human dignity that offers women in the church a powerful tool with which to challenge the church.’ In other words the fact that ‘human dignity and the idea that all humanity is created in God’s image, go hand in hand’, and therefore each and every human being, including women, should be able to participate in spiritual structures in ways that is unique and authentic to them.

However, feminist theology is not only about equal participation and giving women the space and a voice to engage in spiritual structures. It is also about addressing the social ills and injustice which the church has created with its prescriptions of very specific and rigid gender roles. I am in agreement with Denise Ackermann, who asserts that feminist theology should focus on firstly what is happening to women in their marriages and homes in the South African society; and secondly the widespread degradation of our environment.

If one look at the statistics of violence against women in South Africa, one can only but agree with Ackermann: ‘A war is being waged against the bodies of women and children in [South Africa] country. This is both a theological and a pastoral issue – one on which the church’s silence is obscene’. This is a vast subject and therefore I shall only briefly focus on how prescribed gender roles, which many churches still promote, contribute to the subordination of women and ultimately to the abuse of women on an economical, physical, verbal and sexual level.

Most patriarchal church societies focus on the creation story as portrayed in Gen. 2:18, which is interpreted that woman was created from a man, for a man and named by a man. Then this disobedient woman challenged the all male God and caused the Fall. Therefore women are seen as inferior to men and need to controlled by men, which rationalize the subjugation of women to the will and power of men.

From this mindset flows the idea that women are men’s possession to make with them as men please, especially once married. The most extreme outcome of this sexism and gender inequality is violence against women.

Feminist theologians believe that specific theological discourses continue to contribute towards violence against women and enforce the silence about this social ill. Many Christians see a husband’s authority as ordained by God and therefore it cannot be challenged, even if he is abusive. Good Christian wives are portrayed as obedient to and in service of their husbands. A pious woman is supposedly a silent woman who makes sacrifices on behalf of her family. This is linked to the suffering of Jesus and therefore many Christian women believe that to suffer in silence is to be Christ-like. Furthermore, Christian values of love and forgiveness help to maintain relationships of domination, as women should not challenge the behaviour of their husbands and they need to forgive seventy times seven. Feminist theology challenge these gender based ideas which continue to subjugate women in the name of God and the Bible and this is why the world is in desperate need of feminist theology.

South African women are in a war situation


The woman in this photo are one of the lucky ones – she survived the beating.

A conversation on Facebook yesterday, sparked so much passion and fire in my soul, that I need to blog about it. In my private practice I often hear stories of abuse and maybe this is why the conversation had so a profound effect on me.

A friend of my shared with me an article on honor killings of women in Canada. There was huge outcry in Canada because 12 women were murdered by their fathers or brothers to protect their family’s honor. This is appalling and I do not want to detract to the horror of it. However, it made me think about our situation in South Africa (SA).

In South Africa, every SIX hours a woman is murdered by her intimate partner. EVERY SIX HOURS. Let us do the math: that is four women a day, 28 women a week, 112 women a month, 1456 women a year. One thousand four hundred and fifty six women (daughters and mothers of someone) are killed by their intimate partners! Yet, our government and civil society look the other way. It is not spoken about. There are not daily news casts or paper headlines about this. It is almost as if we just accept this is how it is for women.

I believe that as long as we are silent about this, as long as we tolerate patriachal mindsets, as long as we look the other way, was long as we do not challenge, as long as we accept inequality, that is how long we are complicit to this atrocity – knowingly or unknowingly.

When we accept abuse, in which ever form, we are allowing it to continue unchallenged. Looking at the above mentioned stats convinced me that SA women are in a war, an unspoken war, and often the aggressors are the men who they love. However women have very little support and often no means to defend themselves:

  • By the time of death one out of two women in SA will be raped.
  • One out of three girls are raped or sexually assaulted before the age 18.
  • Women in South Africa have a greater chance to be raped than to learn to read.
  • The threat of “corrective” rape is very real for lesbian women in SA.
  • Every six hours a woman is killed by her intimate partner.

The vast majority of perpetrators of violence against women are their men, often their husbands. Yet our churches continues to prescribe the husband’s role as that of head, leader and priest of the home. Wives are supposed to submit and honor, to be subservient, and to accept the husband as the head of the home.

WHAT ARE WE THINKING? Or maybe I should ask what are we doing? Some call me fanatical, some call me a feminist, some call me a activist. Call me whatever you want but please MEN and women stand with me against this violence and senseless killing. Make people aware of the problem in our society. Start with ‘ant steps’ – i.e. when you receive a sexist e-mail, challenge it, when you hear a joke which demean women (or men) call it out, do whatever you can, but please do not be silent on this matter.

Read a previous post of mine:

https://nickispies.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/cleaning-up-the-mess-after-violence/

Please also look at these links:

http://www.powa.co.za/website/

http://www.hccac.org/abuse/myths.html

Christmas decorations and blessings


Christmas is for me a time of reflection. Over the years I have established many rituals to support my awareness of self and others in this time. The most meaningful ritual relates to my Christmas decorations.

I love Christmas decorations, especially the Christmas tree lights. It symbolizes for me Christmas as the celebration of Light and Life: Jesus, Light of the World and the possibility of light each one of us.

For some years now, I buy every Christmas season two or three new strands of Christmas lights. Over the years my collection has grew and today I am able to fill our living spaces with lights.

When I put the Christmas lights up, I invite those who assist me, to join me in a ritual. For each light that I put up, I name a blessing that I experienced in that past year. I also name a way in which I can extend that blessing to others in this time of light and love.

One of the blessings I named this year was access to technology and the world wide web which enable me to connect with friends, family and colleagues all over the world.  I extend this blessing by means of this blog today and invite you to join me in this ritual of naming blessings.

May our souls be connected as we look upon our Christmas lights and decorations and may we stand in solidarity to bring light, justness, justice and love.

Christmas greetings.

MY THEOLOGY OF EFFECTS


As the year draw to an end, we often take stock of what we achieved, lost, gained or failed at during the past twelve months. For some this year will be filled with big moments which became affirming memories, for others maybe a year they would rather forget.

Yesterday, a good friend of mine, shared about her year. She had a very difficult year in which she experienced many losses. Many of these injuries were caused by her church. She is, as a gay minister, still in a legal battle with her church to recognise her constitutional and basic human right to have the choice to be married as gay person even if she is in the ministry. She shared with me that this year she came to know God as darkness. Before her construction of God was Light, but as God is all encompassing, God is also Darkness. In this year she met God as Darkness. For her God as Darkness are the mysterious and unknown sides of God. She associates darkness with that which we cannot see, the unknown and often the unloved. She finds it comforting to know that God is Light and Darkness and that she finds God even in the darkest of times: God of suffering, God of loss and God of death. As a Christian, she is reflecting on her year by addressing two questions:

  • What did I learn in this year?
  • Where did I find Jesus in this year and these experiences?

Our conversation invited me to reflect on my personal experiences of this year, but also my theology. I believe that each person should construct their own theology. If one unquestioningly follows the theology of another or as the church prescribes, it holds the danger of becoming mere religion appose to personally lived faith or spirituality.

My theology was greatly influenced and shaped by the work of Dr. Dirk Kotzé[i] on participatory ethics. This stance recognises a multiplicity of realities, especially the voices of the disempowered, the marginalised, and the previously silenced (Kotzé 2002:18). It moves from speaking theology to doing and living theology. It is about caring with people and not caring for people. It invites participation of all ‘realities’.

As Dirk, I believe that I need to live my theology. Theology is not found in book cases or on shelves, but in the lives of people. My theology has moved beyond what is right or wrong or what is moral or immoral. I position myself now in terms of the effects of my ways-of-being and living. I constantly ask myself: Is this life-giving, life-denying or life-restricting to myself, others, the relationships involved and the environment? To answer that question I must look at the effects of my thoughts, attitudes, actions and motives. However, when I look at the effects I do so in a participatory manner, thus inviting those affected by me to decide if it is life-giving to them or if it is life-denying. It is my preferred way-of-being to be life-giving, thus in relation to the effects my actions have – therefore a theology of effects.

I invite you to reflect on your year by directing your reflection by the following questions:

  • What did I learn in this year?
  • How do these experiences relate to the effects of my ways-of-being?
  • What stories will this year tell about me?
  • How did I live my theology/spirituality?

[i] Kotzé, D 2002. Doing Participatory Ethics, in Kotzé, D, Myburgh, J, Roux J & Associates, Ethical ways of being, 1-34. Pretoria: Ethics Alive.

Discourses regarding penis size


Within a patriarchal ideology men are often portrayed as the hunter with power and physical ability as the mark of a man. Since biblical times a man’s worth was often linked to his penis size and ability to perform sexually. The discourse of penile penetration for satisfactory sexual intercourse is often associated with another discourse: namely, that penis size – and by implication the size of the erection – is directly coupled to the pleasure afforded. Erections have always been important to men: the discourse regarding the size of the male penis was circulating even in biblical times. In 1 Kings 12:10, King Rehoboam boasts that his little finger is thicker than his father’s waist to indicate that he – Rehoboam – was a more capable and powerful king than his father. The Hebrew word that was translated as ‘little finger’ could have referred to his penis, as in antiquity a man’s penis size was seen as an indication of his power and abilities.

Dr Abraham Morgentaler (2009), Professor of Urology at Harvard Medical School and a medical doctor who specializes in male reproductive and sexual health, also comments on the discourse of penis size. He states that man’s obsession with penis size is nothing new. Ancient drawings in the ruins of Pompeii provide clear evidence of this obsession:

“Painted on the wall, with only minor decay since the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in the year 79 AD, was the picture of a nobleman with an enormous erect penis, the length and girth larger than a man’s leg, placed on an ancient scale, with sacks of gold balanced on the other side. Some time ago I rediscovered that image on the Internet and have occasionally used it in lectures, with the quip that men have always viewed a large penis as worth its weight in gold” (Morgentaler 2009).

Closely linked to these ideas of strength and virility are the dominant discourses which see a man’s sexuality as instinctive and natural, as well as the idea that men are always ready for sex. Research shows that erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common problem: up to 52% of men older than forty are affected by it. Moreover, 50% of men will at one stage or another struggle with impotency due to varied factors. Finally, when men have challenges regarding their sexual function it influences their self confidence as well as their self esteem. I suggest that if discourses which link maleness to sexual functioning are internalised, sexual challenges will have an exponentially greater effect. The implications of these discourses are that if a man does not conform and perform to these standards, he is ‘unnatural’ or not a man.

Patriarchal discourses which symbolise men with strength and power can be very damaging to the male sexual experience. Discourses of strength and power portray men as unfailing. Therefore, if a man should ‘fail’ sexually, he has ‘failed’ as a man. Since this implication is often too overwhelming for men to acknowledge, many men find it almost impossible to speak about their sexual challenges. It is not only men that are exposed to discourse regarding male sexual functioning: many women have also internalised these discourses regarding male potency.

Extract adjusted from my doctoral study: Spies, N 2011. Exploring and storying Protestant Christian women/s experiences living in sexually unhappy marriages. DTh thesis, University of South Africa, Pretoria. 

http://hdl.handle.net/10500/4823

Why do I stand against patriarchy?


Patriarchy is a social construction, in other words a belief system based on the discourses which are dominant in a society. A dominant discourse is often seen as the “truth or the way things are suppose to be”. In its most basic form, patriarchy can be seen as rule by father, which gives men the ultimate position of dominance – usually at the expense of women. The male experience is used as the norm, which implies that “the other”, thus women, need to comply with and to the male perspective. In the South African context this male perspective mostly represented and privileged the voice of White, educated men. However, since 1994 there has been a shift in power – mostly to black South African men.

Within most faith communities the patriarchal system was seen (and is often still seen) as a God-given order which should be followed blindly. Patriarchy stems from a patriarchal interpretation of the creation story as portrayed in Genesis 2 and 3, which interpreted God to be solely male. Furthermore, the woman was created from man and is therefore secondary and inferior in human creation. Lastly – and probably the most damning – the male God, having made the perfect world, has it shattered by a disobedient woman. I stand against this interpretation of the creation story because I embrace an ethic which views men and women as equals. You might wonder why I stand against patriarchy. I stand against patriarchy because of its effects on people, relationships and even our environment.

The discourse of patriarchy sees women as lesser beings and always within a particular gender role. It traps women within their sex and sexuality and often leaves them voiceless.

Patriarchy is in essence arrogant as it assumes that it can speak on behalf of others, especially women, without ever consulting or talking with them. It takes voice away, treat women as less than men and assume that all women need to be “managed” by a male. Patriarchy sees men as superior and therefore their opinions and choices should bear the most weight.

Patriarchy can only exist in the presence of unequal power thus by taking power away from others. Unequal power often allows the abuse of power. Therefore, I believe that patriarchy is per definition disrespectful and often harmful to others.