BUSAN, South Korea – How do churches begin a dialogue on sexuality?
Many do not, and some people are told they will go to hell for their sexuality.
Others live in countries where they can be jailed for it.
Stepping Stones on Dialogue with Sexuality was a workshop aimed to create an understanding of sexual orientation, while finding a common ground through dialogue and expression held during the 10th World Council of Churches Assembly in Busan.
It was introduced by people sharing a goal of trying to achieve understanding.
Archbishop Joris Vercammen of the Old Catholic church in the Netherlands began the workshop by reading from the First Epistle of John 4:7-21 in the Bible.
"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
'WHOEVER DOES NOT LOVE'
"Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another...there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.
"Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.
"The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also," Vercammen read during the workshop held during the October 30 to November 8 Assembly.
The goal was to find a common ground amongst individuals from diverse convictions regarding sexual orientation through faith, human rights, homophobia, trans-phobia, discrimination, hate crimes, cultural differences, race, ethnic background, etc.
Judith Kotze, a director with South Africa's Inclusive & Affirming Ministries (IAM), a catalyst within the mainstream churches towards full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexuals, trans-genders, and intersex (LGBTI) people, lead the discussion on November 5.
EXPRESS PAIN THROUGH DIALOGUE
"This workshop is about finding steps and stones for dialogue as much as it is about pain," she said.
"Pain, because of the feeling and the excluded pain, the ethical pain, because you cannot agree with homosexuality.
"We realized we are working with and talking with people who have very different views on the issue. And sometimes the views clash - hard.
"Therefore, sometime ago, we organized an expert meeting on the dialogue of homosexuality; we invited 10 people from Europe and 10 people from the rest of the world, holding many different views," Kotze said.
"During the meeting, we identified the stepping stones; how can we talk and listen about the issue(s) without splitting up, while listening and talking; we realized we had to talk about our pain, the pain of each and one of us."
They studied the Bible together and it was about accepting "your brother and sister", and they realized, they all had difficulties judging a person when they did not agree.
"So we sat down in prayer, and we realized we really have to listen to one another, listen to the pain," Kotze said.
"And in that moment I can tell you something happened, the atmosphere changed, everybody had to look critically at their self in order to be able to open up to one another; It was emotional, and it was beautiful... and at that moment, we could feel the presence with the spirit."
Elise Kant, from the Netherlands, expressed how she believes the World Council of Churches will be remembered because of their new mission statement.
"It is an honor to be here; I am a lesbian, and I am a qualified minster of my church. I live fully in Christ, and I am hoping those who are in this room today have a diversity of voice. I think this year's WCC Assembly will be remembered because of the new mission statement," Kant said
Those who represented a diverse representation of sexual orientation during the work shop were Kim Jiun, a Korean transgendered; Rev. Benebo Fubara-Manuel, pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria, who serves as an advocate for anti-homosexuality; Florin Buhuceanu, from the Euroregional Center for Public Initiatives (ECPI) in Romania; and Rev. Phumzile Mabizela, from Inerela in South Africa, who is the CEO of religious leaders living together with HIV and who also suffers from HIV.
Each was welcomed with applause.
Kim Jiun, the Korean transgendered was given an opportunity to share her story.
"Coming of age I struggled with my identity, I realized that I was transsexual; I told this concern to my mom and the priest at my Catholic Church, and in return I was told that I would go to hell or I would be a devil if I continued to live that lifestyle.
"This is when I began to feel like the Lord did not love me.
"First of all, being a transgendered in Korea is difficult. I cannot belong to any group or society and no religious group can include me. I saw so many friends die from drug overdoses and suicides, however, no one came to their funerals because they were afraid and feared what others would say or do.
"I think the miracle happened, and I realized that god actually has loved me the entire time and that god always has had a plan for me. I have been longing for God for about 13 years.
"Right now, I am so happy these days; I don't know much about the World Council of Churches, but I believe that religious harmony is a very important thing. I think that it can mean a non-discriminating world. I don't want to be afraid anymore and over rammed by fears," Jiun stated.
Rev. Benebo Fubara-Manuel, pastor at the Presbyterian church of Nigeria, who serves as an advocate for anti-homosexuality was given the opportunity to share his story shortly after.
"I am a heterosexual middle Nigerian Christian theologian; I have been the ministry for 27 years. My task here is to tell my own experience; I am a pastor who has been surrounded by homophobes. There are people who are against homosexuality; strong people condemning homosexuality in fact, criminalizes homosexuality. In Nigeria, if you are a homosexual, you could be put into jail.
"I am a pastor within a Reformed church, and I believe it has showed me that homophobia, this fear, even in the world of academics, is feared. I think this is ignorance.
"Ignorance is a big problem. We as Christians have to ask ourselves, 'what are injustice issues that have occurred'?
"I believe by starting with common grounds, it can help with justice. For many, even Anglicans, they know that the Bible condemns homosexuality and for them it is homosexuality of all sorts.
"Once we can start from common ground, then we can listen to views that are different from ours," Rev. Fubara-Manuel said.
Florin Buhuceanu, Romania ECPI, and member with Metropolitan Community Church and Global Justice, shared his views on sexuality agendas within churches, shortly after Rev. Fubara-Manuel.
"I would like to speak a little about what we are facing today in a number of countries because it is a different type of violence and intolerance.
"Intolerance groups physically supported by and led by Orthodox monks and church members have physically attacked people celebrating their sexuality in the past. This stable of violence and public, is not the best in written dialogue with our church leader's and our churches
DIFFICULT TO BE OPENLY GAY
"In this direct result in this kind of theology, it is more difficult in our countries to be openly gay; it is more difficult to advocate human rights in many countries, starting with Russia. One example is all of you people here today will be perceived as representatives of homosexuals and as foreign agents
"All of us who believe in human rights are considered to be foreign agents, especially within the Russian organization
"The only place where we have dialogue is here at the World Council of Churches, and my hope is that we will find the courage to support the human sexuality group in order to change our agenda as church people," Buhuceanu stated.
Rev. Phumzile Mabizela, Inerela in South Africa shared she was HIV positive and is striving for others to openly talk about issues with sexuality.
"Living with HIV and aids has given us an opportunity to open up and talk about issues with sexuality. This is the type of moment for the church to start liberating sex and let us openly start talking about it.
REJECTED BY THEIR FAMILIES
"My very first direct encounter from the young people dealing with sexual orientation was when I was in South Africa; they were rejected by their families because of their sexual orientation. I as a pastor had to look for organizations, such as IAM, that would provide them with shelter.
"I think the world would be a very boring place if we were all the same. That has been my approach to sexual orientations as well. If we were all boring heterosexual human beings, the world would be very boring.
"I believe that dignity and the issue of identity is an inherent right that God has given to all of us; just because you do not understand how sexual orientation works, does not give you the right to reject homosexuals, transsexuals, bisexuals...
"It is because of ignorance in why we do not understand, instead of being more determined to understand and to listen so we can change our attitudes, without discriminating against other people
"When I was transmitted with HIV, people hoped I would stop being sexual, but it has not stopped me from being sexual.
"Let's stop putting people into little boxes 'only you are heterosexual, or you do not exist.'
NOBODY DESERVES TO BE HIV
"In the context of HIV, no one deserves HIV, and today I would like to say no one deserves rejection, and no one deserves to be discriminated against. Especially because we know we are all created in the image of God," Rev. Inerela stated.
"What we can learn about is attitude and attitude change. We are discovering that it fits the experiences of people. It is about theological aspects, but it is also about psychological and communication aspects as well... we have to educate people in order that they will be able to participate in these processes.
"To be a church is to be a communication and to be more aware; you have to train yourself first of all, secondly what comes out of that is we need practical strategies; It is not the differences in opinions, what is really bad is that differences in opinions that lead to aggression in a situation, that creates the need of avoiding to speak to one another and to listen to one another."
Archbishop Vercammen asserted, "We need strategies."
The Stepping Stones on Dialogue with Sexuality allowed people of different sexual orientations to come together in order to listen and to express opinions in an atmosphere of understanding that allowed people to express their pain.