Statement from the chairs: Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation
Archbishop Tutu IP Trust
“We all lose out on the great beauty of human diversity when we make it seem that access to God’s love is conditional.”
People’s faith exists in the context of their time, and it is important to recognise that although all major religions are rooted in ancient scriptures, the contexts of their prescripts has changed dramatically over the centuries. The development of peoples’ consciousness of the concept of human rights has led to a clear change in religious practices – one is unlikely to find religions advocating for stoning and beating wrongdoers, beating one’s spouse, or not mixing threads of different kinds.
The process of globalisation, and global existential crises such as climate change and Covid, is leading to an increasing understanding of human inter-dependence. If we truly understand ourselves as interdependent – as only being fully human through our relationships and connections with others – it requires of us the growth of new capabilities for tolerance and inclusion. In particular we need to find a new ability to recognise, and celebrate, those regarded as “other” to us, by virtue of their colour, class, gender, culture, spiritual belief or sexual orientation.
Archbishop Tutu taught, God is not a Christian, nor a homophobe. But across many religions, homophobia remains ever-present – in the behaviour of congregations, or individual people of faith; and often in the leadership of those religions.
Those who lead their lives according to the prescripts of any particular faith rely on the leaders of their faith to navigate the intersection of traditional scholarly authorities and to place in the context of changing times the ‘Golden Rule’ of all religions – that we should treat people as we would like to be treated. That we should embrace the fullness of all people’s humanity.
In that context, the publication by South Africa’s Muslim Judicial Council of guidelines on same-sex relationships, stating that those who engage in the sin of same-sex relationships have “taken themselves out of the fold of Islam”, and that “our religion teaches us to hate the sin, not the sinner”, is deeply regrettable.
This view is by no means unique to the Muslim congregations of South Africa. In fact, the Archbishop was so incensed by homophobia within his own church that he declared he would not worship a homophobic God. And that if Heaven was homophobic, he would rather “go to that other place”.
The notion of Ubuntu – that I am, because you are – means that we are all worse off for making members of our society twist themselves into unnatural, closeted, versions of themselves to please the dictates of religious leaders. We all lose out on the great beauty of human diversity when we make it seem that access to God’s love is conditional.
Archbishop Tutu viewed all human beings as sisters and brothers of one family, regardless of how they looked or behaved… the human family, God’s family. A family to which we all belong.
Speaking of the treatment of gay people in the Church in South Africa, the Arch noted in his foreword to the 1997 book, Aliens in the Household of God: Homosexuality and Christian Faith in South Africa.
“We make them doubt that they are children of God, and this must nearly be the ultimate blasphemy.”
* Mr Niclas Kjellstrom-Matseke is Chairperson of the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation. Dr Mamphela Ramphele is Chairperson of the Archbishop Tutu IP Trust.