Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Homophobia – A Test Case for Unconditional Love

Published in the Fiji Times' Off the Wall with Padre James Column 16 May, 2012

There is a song by Donna Summer and Musical Youth from 1989 titled, “Unconditional Love”. There were many reasons for this song to be popular in Fiji – the reggae style of the music with Musical Youth, the popularity of Disco-diva Donna Summer, etc. For me the music and the fact that the word “Agape,” a Greek word meaning unconditional love, often used by Christians to describe our understanding of God’s compassionate love for us – the same unconditional and compassionate love we are called to have for others.

“What a man, you know it's a bright and shiny day 
I want to say something to you 
I love you just like Jah do

I know a place where Jah’s people can run free,
It's a new kind of love and they call it agape, 
Don't take too long to find,
True love transcends all time,
That non-reacting, everlasting love.

Give me your unconditional love,
The kind of love I deserve,
The kind I want to return,
Give me your unconditional love,
The kind of love I deserve,
The kind I want to return.”

Don't try to change or tear your brother down,
Let him make his mistakes and he will come around,
Hasten just to pray,
In God's true word obey,
In non-reacting, everlasting love.

Give me your unconditional love..

By 1989 I had already resolved my issues with God’s unconditional love in a world where racism and a competitive macho community such as an overseas boarding school compelled young impressionable men to oppress and humiliate others for the sake of personal approval or to boost their low self-esteem.

Coming from a loving and nurturing family environment and a community that, when I left, was seemingly colour blind – my boarding school experience was at first profoundly disturbing, until I was able to see the racism and prejudice for what it was – insecurity, fear and the thinking that to show kindness was to show weakness.

 As a human being first and foremost, then a Christian and a Fiji-Islander/Fijian/Fiji-born (whatever!) who has seen and experienced both sides of the coin, my desire to be compassionate to my fellow human beings and all creation comes not just as a result of my faith and receiving God’s unconditional and loving grace, but from personal experience in the secular world and as someone called to the pastoral vocation.

Simply put, that means loving my God through loving my neighbour. However in the 21st century, the question of “Who is my neighbour?” is not answered as simply as Nicodemus would like. Our neighbours aren’t just people of different ethnicities, religions, provinces or status. Our neighbours, that Jesus challenges us to love, are the “others” in society. This includes, uncomfortably for some of us, gays, lesbians and transgendered people.

Tomorrow is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. According to the United Methodist Church, homophobia is the discrimination of people perceived to be non-heterosexual, regardless of the victim’s actual sexual orientation or sexual identity.  

I understand that this is a controversial topic that many people in either side of the issue feel very strongly about.

To put this into perspective – I would like to share the experiences of other countries – from a Christian perspective (my context and the context for over 50% of our population) on the issue of attitudes towards gays, lesbians and transgender people.

Last year, Dutch churches signed a statement condemning violence against homosexuals. The statement reads:

“Although we are not in complete agreement about homosexuality, we are one in the belief that man is created in God’s image and is valuable in His eyes. That is why people should treat each other with dignity – be respectful, peaceful and loving – and why violence against homosexuals, in any form whatsoever, is evil.”

Last Sunday 13th May, Pitt Street Uniting (Methodist and Presbyterian) Church marked International Day Against Homophobia with a special service, as they did in 2011.

Speaking on last year’s service Church minister, Reverend Ian Pearson, said homophobia “was a sin and in need of healing”.

“Heterosexism, the idea that heterosexual people are superior to homosexual people, is like racism,” Pearson said.

“Prejudice robs us all of our common humanity.”

Pearson said his own views about homosexuality has changed over time and hoped that other Christians will take a stand against homophobia.

“The fundamental message of Christianity is about the unconditional Love and Grace of God we see in the Person of Jesus,” he said.

“My reading of the Bible, ministry over thirty years, and my life and family experiences have convinced me that the Sacred includes people of diverse gender identities. This includes those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people, who live into their identity,” he said.
Pearson welcomed people of all gender identities to his church.

I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice... But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King, Jr., said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere' ... I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”

 I know many people who have gay and lesbian children or relatives. I have gay and lesbian friends and have learned a lot from listening to them. All they want is to be treated with the same respect that any human being deserves to be treated with.

We all have our own views on the issue of homosexuality. That is not the issue.

What is the issue, especially with regards to homophobia, is that we are challenged to look at one another first and foremost as human beings. From a Christian perspective, that means loving each person – including each gay and lesbian person unconditionally. It means loving them as children of the same God.

Tomorrow let this marginalised community experience something many of them have been denied.
To borrow the words from the song: Give them your unconditional love, the kind of love they deserve. The kind they want to return.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity.”


  1. Bravo!

    While many Christians share your feelings, very few are brave enough to stand up and say so.

    Usually this is the result of being afraid of being labelled 'pro-gay', similar to how people who are 'pro-personal-choice' are labelled 'pro-abortion', as if ANY human being actually likes abortions.

    Less of the old testament and more of Jesus is what the Christian world needs.

    1. Vinaka for the encouragement . God bless you.

  2. Definition of Homophobia

    Reading through Rev James Bagwan article FT 16/5 in relation to the commemoration of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in which I appreciate his candid on this controversial topic. Whilst I agree with him of the Christians unconditional love and grace to be provided to the people of diverse gender, he should also condemns these lifestyles in his article which I found peculiar to his spiritual calling.

    By definition, homophobia is fear of homosexuals, but its meaning has been broadened to include hate for homosexuals. Correspondingly, being homophobic tends to manifest itself through an outward demonstration or behaviour based on such a feeling. This, in turn, sometimes leads to acts of violence or expressions of hostility. The truth is that homophobia is not just confined to any one segment of society. It can be found in people from all walks of life. Such hate groups have viciously attacked homosexuals and have used especially violent language in attempting to persecute and intimidate homosexuals.

    More often than not, Christians are said to be homophobic simply because they condemn homosexual behavior as sin. But the real fact of the matter is that the term homophobic is merely a “politically correct” scheme used by homosexual activists and supporters in their attempts to deflect a genuine criticism of an immoral and unhealthy practice. Without question, there are people and organizations who have developed an irrational hate of homosexuals and who are prepared to use violent actions to inflict suffering upon homosexuals. However, the problem is that the homosexual-rights activists have painted with the same brush all who opposes homosexuality, thereby including Christians who rightly discern that homosexuality is an unnatural sin, with violent lunatics who hate for hatred’s sake.

    While the Bible strongly condemns homosexuality, it does not instruct that homosexuals are to be hated. As Christians, we are to speak out against the perversion of homosexual activity. The Bible is explicit in its condemnation of it, as well as God’s wrath towards those who practice such behaviour. As Christians, we are called to clearly and lovingly call sin for what it is. Using the term homophobia to refer to anyone who opposes homosexuality is a distraction, not a valid argument or accurate representation. A Christian should have only one fear regarding homosexuals, the fear that they will suffer eternally because of their decision to reject the only means of salvation—the Lord Jesus Christ who offers the only hope for escape from a degrading and destructive lifestyle.

    Joe Gonewai

    1. Thanks for your comment... The article was to draw attention to the need for unconditional love in light of our disagreement with the lifestyle. There are more than enough people speaking for the condemnation of lifestyle who conviently forget to call us to still have love....perhaps they are uncomfortable with the tension.