Mike van Graan
Mike van Graan

Spreading hate in the name of God

For 10 minutes or so, the Wits Art Museum resembled a Pentecostal revivalist meeting. Hands were raised in worship as the crowd swayed and sang hymns. On stage, two pastors lay their hands on the person kneeling in front of them, the subject of their passionate prayers.

This was not supposed to be. Not because this was an arts event (and generally, artists are too cool to do God), but more because this was a gathering of mostly LGBTIs — Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex human beings — to honour one of their own, Zanele Muholi. LGBTIs are generally damned to hell. Yet it was Muholi who started it all when she came to the stage, announcing that nothing could be done without God, implying that she would not have achieved what she had without God, and then proceeding to call up her pastoral friends to lead the worship and prayers.

The event was hosted by the Netherlands Embassy as the Prince Claus Fund — a Dutch fund that, among other things, supports artists working under challenging conditions particularly in the global south — was in town to recognise Muholi with an award for her work as a photographic artist documenting and highlighting the lives and difficulties of LGBTI people in South Africa.

The night before, I saw Hate Radio, a play about RTLM, a radio station whose propaganda fuelled the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. RTLM spewed hate against Tutsis, likening them to cockroaches, and urging on the slaughter. Work colleagues turned on each other, neighbour turned on neighbour, friend on friend as more than 800 000 people were hacked to death over a 100-day period.

Even priests and nuns were found guilty of participation in the genocide. One priest ordered militiamen to set fire to a church and then bulldoze it while 2 000 people sought shelter inside. A Catholic nun was sentenced to 30 years for helping militia to murder people hiding in a hospital. Two other nuns were jailed by a Belgian court for their role in aiding and abetting the killings. One of the nuns had called Hutu soldiers, telling them where Tutsis were hiding, and the soldiers proceeded to stone, hack and burn 5 000 people to death. The other nun supplied petrol to militia to set alight a garage on the convent grounds in which 700 people died.



There are many who would shake their heads in disbelief at such barbarism, and others would shake their heads more at the thought that “people of God” could be responsible for, and be involved in such acts of brutal, murderous hatred.

Africa now has its new “cockroaches” — LGBTIs. And it is “people of God” who have again shown themselves to be high priests of hate. Much has been written about the influence of some American churches and missionaries on Uganda’s harsh anti-gay law that could impose life imprisonment on homosexuals as well as jail sentences for individuals and organisations that do not report homosexuals to the authorities. In the equivalent of Rwanda’s RTLM radio, one Uganda tabloid supported an earlier version of the Act that called for the death penalty for homosexuals by publishing the photographs, names and addresses of 100 “top” suspected gays and lesbians under the headline “Hang Them!”. Soon after, a leading gay activist was bludgeoned to death. After the signing into law of the final version of the act, another tabloid published the names of “200 top gays” in Uganda, the media feeding the hate frenzy.

Last month, after Nigeria passed its anti-gay laws, there were reports of suspected gay men being forced to strip naked and march through the streets before being beaten up.

Lest we become self-righteous about our Constitution and laws that protect gay rights, we need to remind ourselves about why Muholi was receiving this award from a foreign agency and government. In 2009, Muholi had an exhibition featuring photographs of naked women at the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, an affirmation of loving lesbian relationships. The then minister of arts and culture, Lulu Xingwana, was to open the exhibition (her department had provided funding for it) but she walked out in disgust, protesting the “immoral” and “pornographic” photographs and suggesting through her spokesperson that the mandate of the department was to promote social cohesion and nation-building, and that this exhibition did the opposite! Despite our much vaunted Constitution which ministers swear to uphold, this minister did not consider lesbians as part of the nation. (Rather than be fired for contravening the Constitution, Xingwana is now in charge of the ministry to defend the rights of women, children and people with disabilities). Muholi’s recent exhibition at the Wits Art Museum includes work that highlights the wave of “corrective rape” and the murders of numerous black lesbians. Even in South Africa, among our senior politicians, among ordinary people, and “people of faith”, LGBTIs are “cockroaches”, sub-humans and it is this “othering” that creates the context for LGBTIs to be abused, brutalised and killed. Yet it was not so long ago that black people were considered as less than human, that “blacks were baboons”, and so could be abused, brutalised and killed with impunity.

As a result of the Rwandan genocide in which many church leaders were complicit, numerous Rwandans converted to Islam because of the protection provided to Tutsis by Muslim Hutus during the genocide. Muslims now constitute a more significant proportion of the population of a once mostly Catholic country.

Ironically, it is Islam that is often reviled as the religion of fundamentalist extremists for who human life has little value. And yet, in this case, it is Christian fundamentalists promoting state terrorism against people simply on the basis of their sexual orientation, and who create the conditions for hate speech and acts of hate against LGBTIs, at least some of who may actually share their faith. Spreading hate in the name of their God against others who may believe in the same God.

There are many church leaders — internationally and in their own countries — who have denounced Uganda’s (and Nigeria’s) anti-gay legislation just as there were church leaders who opposed the Rwandan genocide.

But what about people who subscribe to the Christian faith across Africa who are silent or apathetic about these laws being passed and enforced in the name of their God? Whatever their theological beliefs, or whether they agree with a gay lifestyle or not, do they really believe that people — on the basis of their sexual orientation — should be exposed, vilified, raped, imprisoned, killed? Will Christians in Uganda — under threat of imprisonment — refuse to report people who they know to be homosexuals to the authorities?

And when the extremists from other religions or ideological persuasions come for the “Christian infidels” — as they have and do in Egypt, in Nigeria, in Kenya — shall we turn the other way?

Image – A young man prays, February 21 2004, at the church of “Mere de Dieu” in Kibeho, Rwanda, where thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred by the Hutu militia during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Tens of thousands of believers were massacred in churches were they sought refuge, often with the complicity of the same clergymen.(AFP)

Tags: , , , , , ,

  • Kingsolver’s narrative indictment of colonisation: The Poisonwood Bible
  • Inxeba reveals the paradox of our own wounds
  • The power of dissent
  • The biggest cover-up of all time?
    • http://uyahtal-empowerment.com/ Brian Arthur SOLOMON

      Mike, thanks for addressing this all-important question of our day. I live in Thailand, so, it is opinions like yours that help me keep a finger on the pulse of South Africa. Brian

    • Robin

      Excellent article!!!

    • Steven Hussey

      Thank you for bringing this up. I wrote a similar article about Ugandan homophobia two years ago: http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/mandelarhodesscholars/2011/02/02/fighting-sin-with-sin/

      A quotes from there:

      “To declare that Ugandan homophobia reeks of hypocrisy is an understatement. By the conservative Christian convictions to which Ugandan legislation clearly subscribe, fornication, too, is a grave sin. So is adultery, masturbation and divorce. Where are the Ugandan bills aiming to criminalise these? Where are the tabloid headlines listing the names of the divorced or those that enjoy the odd shower jack? In the name of morality, bigoted Ugandans like so many God-fearing societies singled out homosexuality — usually a private and benign expression of love between men or women — among all other religious prohibitions without justification, and in so doing incited hatred for their fellow man that would make their Jesus cringe.”

      Evangelics (I single them out merely because there are obvious ties between African homophobia and evangelical Christianity) need to learn and take accountability for what they preach. They need to realize that, while they may not necessarily advocate violence against LGBTI, preaching that it is intrinsically evil and to be detested sends ripples of intolerance throughout society that invariably leads to someone being murdered or beaten in the most un-Christian manner.

    • Stephen Browne

      Is it so surprising to find these attitudes rearing their ugly heads? Africa is seeing the same sort of ‘revival’ (save us) that Europe and the Americas saw in the last 300 years. Part of ‘true revival’ is a return to biblical values, and said biblical values are as twisted as they ever were.

      The religious powers of Africa are determined to be seen as clean and not corrupt like their Western counterparts. Gay-bashing is just one way of accomplishing this.

      Organised religion is pure poison.

    • Matthew

      It is notable that the popularity of religion among populist SA politicians is not in the message of sacrifice, nobility, selflessness, personal atonement and redemption. It is in the message of ‘blind faith’ and the deliberate suspension of reason, together with the individual giving up their own will and judgement to ‘leaders on earth’. It is a deep perversion of religion to hear Zuma and others tell people to submit to religion as to the party and the party leaders. The Chief Justice’s expression of being called to his role by God is equally disturbing for a role that requires compassion, but also great rationality and logical thought. Together with the chauvinism and bigotry noted by the writer, it is a deep perversion of the core principles of Christianity. From the Pharisees to the current SA populist leaders, there have been those who have exploited religion to impose their own bigoted world views on others.

    • hilly1963

      Politics is also a useful tool for spreading hate, rumours and the media is great as well. Religion is well known as a tool of oppression, but does not differ from other tools of oppression. I know it is hard to stomach, but we when we were born we already weren’t in kansas anymore. Humans can only barely be classified sane, if we actually managed to find out what classifies somebody as sane.

    • The Praetor

      Of course Christians are just as outraged by the laws adopted by Uganda, but not every Christian or Christian organisation has a platform to openly criticize.

      On the exhibit at the constitutional court…

      Is it not a bit prejudiced to define the minister has a gay-hating personality, merely because she found the exhibit in bad taste. In peoples acceptance of alternate lifestyles, do we seriously have to throw caution to the wind, even if it oversteps the boundaries of good taste?
      I am very sure the minister was fully aware that the exhibit consisted of lesbian material, and if she was so against lesbianism, she would not have gone, but it was the sexually explicit material on display, which she did not agree with.

      When I see this kind of reporting, where the obvious message is being twisted to fulfill an agenda, I am more inclined to believe them, when people claim that their statements were taken out of context by the media.

      The Praetor

    • Momma Cyndi

      Religion is bad enough, but when it is combined with politics, it becomes worse than toxic. It seems to me that it is a rather hate filled god that these people worship.

    • Stephen

      Actively or passively, religion is being all suffering. Assuming there is a god , of course.

    • Jeffrey Jones

      Well Praetor, the Christian (and muslim) preachers and imams found plenty of opportunity to vent their disapproval of Apartheid – and rightly so. I don’t see them rushing to condemn the homophobic law in Uganda. They have plenty of room to come out, (pun intended) and voice their opposition in the media.
      If the Ministe found the photos of lesbians pornographic and immoral, I think it’s safe to assume that she is homophobic. One doesn’t have to be physically beating up or killing homosexuals and lesbians to be a homophobe. Xingana was there in an official capacity, she should have done her job, and kept her homophobic opinions to herself.

    • Omaley

      An article much appreciated, and hopefully the gravity of this issue will be recognised by more than just we who ask questions. How much longer shall we fall victim to the shocking hypocricy displayed by the “righteous”?

    • Momma Cyndi

      The Praetor,

      I saw the photos that the minister objected to. They were not ‘pornographic’. This new habit in South Africa where anything that shows the tiniest bit of nudity is now ‘pornographic’ is tiresome. Porn is to titillate for purposes of eroticism. Art is to invoke emotions. Either can be fully clothed or completely nude.

    • Pieter Malan

      Excellent and well researched article. It confirms the writings of Christopher Hichens, “Religion poisons everything” The things people do in the name of their gods are downright with bad intent. Get the religious out of politics and peace will be with us.

    • Jan Swart

      Hate is in the nature of religion. Suicide bombing and genital mutilation is (are?) entirely faith-based. Without religion there would be no religious wars, jihads, crusades, inquisitions, censoring of free speech, brainwashing of children, murdering of albinos, forcing girls into underage marriage, genital mutilation of boys and girls, stoning, homophobia and rejection of science and rationality.

    • The Praetor

      @ Jeffrey…

      Seriously, pornography in any form, at any public institution should not be tolerated. Why is it that people have to remain silent simply because it is lesbian? Should children then be exposed to pornography for the sake of political correctness?
      I think this is too much to ask any society, and if this is what anyone expects, I only have pity for them, as these actions and expectations would have the equal and opposite effect of alienating the public at large even further, with laws such as the Ugandan legislation becoming commonplace.

      If you can please justify your claims of homophobia, in the entire statement by the minister, I might be inclined to believe you. I in fact admire the minister for performing her duties as a public official in defense of morality, by speaking out against ‘pornography’, whether hetero or lesbian.

      Further…although there may be Christians that are outraged at the Ugandan legislation, this in no way means that all should be, as from the way it sounds, you expect it to be.
      If anyone feels the need to live an alternate lifestyle, it is their right and choice to do so, but do not expect others to justify that lifestyle.

      The Praetor

    • Mark

      Two years ago I visited my Christian fundamentalist family in SA (I live abroad and am atheist). Sat with brother-in-law and his two teen daughters in a JHB shopping mall, horrified to hear their homophobic remarks. I tried protesting, in vain. My nieces disgust me to this day, just thinking about it. I broke contact with the lot, but because of other issues too.

      The sad aspect for me is really how vulnerable children are being indoctrinated with such lies and hatred. Tell them that’s morality. While you’re at it, tell them the best love they can get is based on a threat of everlasting torture in flames. Tell them everything else is perverted and without morality. Oh the irony.

      And if you can do all that to an uncomprehending mind, why not violate their bodies too? After all, mind and body are of equal value. Mutilate the boy’s genitals and do it while he is a baby so he can’t say no. Turn him into an angry, betrayed man unable to have the intimate moments with his partner like it was intended.

      It really doesn’t matter though if they are fundamentalists or more traditional – the book is the same. Sick. Truly sick.

      Yes, I feel violated inside and out by these finger-wagging nutters. But at least my mind crawled out from under that dark rock by the age of 16.

    • Pingback: Spreading hate in the name of God | I (We) Must Not Hate!()

    • Arthur

      Don’t confuse the values of people with those of God.

      God is not hate filled.

      Rather it is the members of branded religion and sects who practice the hate. This is as a result of not understanding their position as sinners themselves.

      God, though, does love homosexuals and lesbians but rejects their practices, as He does all other forms of immorality.

      He urges all mankind to turn away from their immoral practices, to repent and embrace Him. He describes many other kinds of sin which will keep one from living with Him when the body dies, not just sexual sins. Lying, too, for instance, which is even worse considering the source of lies. And murder, such as described in the article.

      The heart of man is evil enough on it’s own without having to blame God.

    • Chris Ahrends

      Mike – thank you for most excellent article – I’ve shared it as widely as I can – calling it an article every person of faith should read. For my part, Mike, as an Anglican Priest I really am ashamed by what is done, by people like me who call themselves Christian. All I can hold onto in these situations, are people who somehow manage to reflect the inclusive and non-judgmental love of God – people like Zanele and so many others… mothers and sisters and brothers who in love in the face of hate….

    • http://roryshort.blogspot.com/ Rory Short

      LGBT persons are people just like everybody else and like everybody else they too are the children of God. To see them as something else undermines the observer’s own humanity.

    • Joseph Coates

      @ Arthur well said .Wish mainline churches would adopt your theory and just maybe
      influence society’s so-called ethics and assist people instead of condemning finger in their faces via whatever media they use.

    • taz

      you couldn’t have said it better

    • Pingback: 2014 March 21: The critical work of a critic | inkanyiso.org()