Fatima Bulla Religious Affairs Editor —
RELIGIOUS institutions remain at loggerheads on how to handle gays and lesbians. Zimbabwe has been no exception with some Christian churches conducting exorcism and deliverance sessions to deal with the ‘demon’.
Reference is often made to the Bible, the Holy Quran and tradition. However, the challenge emerges from different interpretations of such texts. This has caused divisions within the institutions, with some asking if being gay is a sin.
Locally, the Anglican Church was involved in a decade long fight that ended up splitting the church. The issue of the gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, transgender and intersex (LGBTI+) community was one of the points of contention.
Two months ago, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis said, “Sin is sin, but tendencies or hormonal imbalances can cause many problems and we have to be careful.
“But each case must be welcome, accompanied, studied, discerned and integrated. When a person (who is gay) arrives before Jesus, Jesus certainly will not say, ‘Go away because you are homosexual,’” the Pope was quoted in The Telegraph.
University of Zimbabwe’s Professor Ezra Chitando said major religion narratives in Zimbabwe do not approve of gays and lesbians based on text interpretations, among other fundamentals.
“There are two sides of the divide. One is that religion disapproves of homosexuality regarding it as deviant, unAfrican. That’s the dominant narrative. In Zimbabwean context, these dominant narratives are Christianity, African traditional religion and Islam.
“These narratives’ major emphasis is to highlight the unacceptable nature.
“Maybe 85 out of 100 people disapprove on the basis of texts, history and Zimbabwean culture,” Prof Chitando said.
However, he said the other side reveals activists and theologians who are identifying windows of opportunity or tolerant interruptions within religion.
“Some activists say Jesus never turned away sinners from ministry. He was wining and dining with sinners, so the church ought to be welcoming. There is an approach to Christianity which says there is justification to be tolerant,” he said.
He claimed that the African tradition religion has never supported exclusion due to sexual orientation.
“When we talk of kusvikirwa, you had a spirit of a male or female person coming out through someone else.
“I think the contention is the Africa versus West issue where the West says Africans don’t know how to handle it. It then comes with an agenda,” Prof Chitando said.
A research paper done by Vincent Mabvurira and Abel Matsika from Bindura University of Science Education titled ‘An Analysis of the response of traditional cultural leaders to the appearance of homosexuality as a public topic in Zimbabwe’, states that, “Goddard (2004) noted that institutions in Zimbabwe where a spirit medium may sometimes be possessed by a spirit of the opposite sex has given rise to theories that this was one way in which homosexuals were able to fit in the society and gain acceptance.”
Founder of Fatima Zahra College, Sheikh Abdullah Makwinja, said according to Islam, homosexuality is a sin.
He said in the Holy Quran, in more than one place, “Allah recounts to us the story of Lot’s people, and how He destroyed them for their wicked practice.
There is consensus among both Muslims and the followers of all other religions that sodomy is an enormity. It is even viler and uglier than adultery.
“Homosexuality is seen by scholars to be a sinful and perverted deviation from the norm. All Islamic schools of thought and jurisprudence consider gay acts to be unlawful. They differ in terms of penalty.
“The Hanafite school (currently seen mainly in South and Eastern Asia) teaches that no physical punishment is warranted.
“The Hanabalites, (widely followed in the Arab world) teach that severe punishment is warranted.
“The Sha’fi school of thought (also seen in the Arab world) requires a minimum of four adult male witnesses before a person can be found guilty of a homosexual act.
“Al-Fatiha estimates that 4 000 homosexuals have been executed in Iran since their revolution in 1979. Ten public executions of homosexuals have been performed in Afghanistan by the Taliban army,” Sheikh Makwinja highlighted.
Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe director, Mr Chesterfield Simba confirmed documenting cases of members who have attempted exorcism or deliverance.
“We have those who have encountered traditional healers to exorcise demons or have gone to Pentecostal churches to cure them of gayness which is viewed as an illness.
One thing is they willingly participated to improve relations with families but they say they still remain and continue to attend these sessions. Three out of ten of cases we document attest to having visited a traditional healer or gone to Pentecostal churches.
“We do affirm that everyone has the right to religion but we don’t allow religion to dictate one’s rights because thay are gay. We have programs to engage religious leaders to explain sexuality as we know it today. We have religious leaders who do not contextualise this because the text they refer to see it as a sin,” Mr Simba said.
“We have heard rituals have been conducted, all night prayers have been conducted, concoctions have been given to gay people so that they vomit, there have been forced sexual arrangements or marriages to create the impression that someone has changed.”
However, Mr Simba stated that there has not been any testimonies of deliverance from those of have gone for the exorcism sessions.
Many Pentecostal churches host deliverance sessions for people of the LGBTI+ community as they regard it as a demon.
United Family International Church spokesperson, Pastor Pride Kufakunesu said all the gay people who come for deliverance manifest demons of homosexuality and have all been delivered.
“People say I was born that way or I am inclined that way but it’s because they don’t understand. It’s a force, just like lust or stealing is a demon.
“It’s spiritual, just like a person who steals is inclined to steal. That’s how demons work.
“They overcome people such that they just feel like it’s normal. When we follow up on people who were gay or those who return with testimonies, they say they have totally changed,” Pastor Kufakunesu said.
Harare lawyer and clergy, Pastor Davison Kanokanga said the Constitution of Zimbabwe regards practicing homosexuality as a crime.
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