- Bishop Clyde N.S Ramalaine
- Public Commentator on Political and Religious Matters
The German theologian Joachim Jeremias laments ‘the church must always believe what the church always believed’. This loaded statement is perhaps brought into the circumference of the unfolding saga when we seek to make sense of what has gone viral on social media as Somizi Mhlongo the eccentric, colourful and flamboyant celebrity from Idols SA, shared his disgust with the sermon of a guest preacher at his local church.
A few people earlier asked me for my opinion on the unfolding saga of Somizi and the guest preacher Bishop Mills at Grace Bible Church.
I wish to postulate perhaps the unfolding statements attest a Kairos moment in the life of Grace Bible Church. One could off course see many entry and exit points in this unfolding saga. Of these entry or exit points one may see the following:
- How is church membership taught, understood, actualised, and accepted from church leadership and those who make up membership?
- What does the right of religious freedom entail, and where are these rights practiced?
- What are the expectations of those who practice the homosexual lifestyle in a church where their lifestyle is not acceptable?
- Is a church in the spotlight like GBC with celebrities and political leadership presence a different church, therefore a church that must be politically correct, thus compromising its core beliefs?
- Can intolerance be masked in victimhood, where homosexuals deem it their inalienable right to believe the church they join must adapt to them?
Somizi Mhlongo an active member at GBC for 25 Years.
Somizi, according to his own testimony, is a member of Grace Bible for 25 years. Herein lies perhaps our conundrum. Let me firstly congratulate Somizi for having been a member as is claimed for so long. Also permit me to say there are not too many members that remain at a church this long anymore in our interesting and very mobile world of church.
If it’s true that Somizi is a member of Grace Bible Church, if he has been faithfully submitting to its leadership, he is perhaps entitled to feel aggrieved if it’s the first time in his GBC life that his lifestyle is confronted as not cohering with the biblical order and demands. Mhlongo and those who share his lifestyle in GBC thus may have every right to raise a red flag.
If no one, not even his pastor in the induction of membership outlined the statement of faith, church policy and dogma on a homosexual lifestyle and how that rendered him unacceptable in the church unless his lifestyle is altered, you simply can’t come 25 years later and tell him his lifestyle is unnatural.
Becoming a member of a church formation is a voluntary decision that imbibes rights, benefits and a submission to rules and principles that govern the organisation. Joining a church congregation warrants one to know what its core policies and values are, while the obligation is twofold, from both the church and those who choose to join the church.
Does Grace Bible Church have a articulated Faith Statement on Homosexuality?
Perhaps this Kairos moment asks what is the Grace Bible Church’s statement of faith on the alternate lifestyle firstly as policy and secondly as practice?
If the church has always accommodated the homosexual lifestyle without addressing it, members of that lifestyle have a legitimate gripe.
Linked to that is how is that faith statement given life, in the daily functional context of one of South Africa’s largest church formations? How are members inducted on this faith statement and are the rules relaxed for some if so why?
Tension of Democratic Rights – The church has right to practice!
(Rights of Association and Religious Freedom)
On another level, no one can expect the church to replace the Bible with a secular constitution as its Sacred Text shared in church pulpit embrace. We must ask how we make these rights freedom of association and freedom to practice religion, as informed by what is called a sacred text, live in a true sense.
The church in its gathered assembly confirmed a theocracy and not a democracy. The Church in its Sacred Text attests a living organism that sees its Sacred Text as superior to any constitutional expression for societal life.
The church thus cannot be dictated to by a secular constitution regardless how egalitarian, claimed from a secular departure point.
How will we make these stand less in claims of victimhood where we rush to claim an offense when its truly the fig leaves for our own intolerance of others equal rights?
What is the premise for Somizi’s claim of offense?
We must ask, if Somizi is offended what does he use as his base for his claim of an offence? Is he offended from the context of being betrayed by his church of 25 years to have allowed someone to preach a ‘foreign gospel’?
Or is his context the 1996 Constitution of South Africa? One is not sure, if it’s the first, perhaps he has a case yet should he attempt to draw on the 1996 Constitution of SA, he could be accused of muzzling it into a space it doesn’t belong, particularly since his membership at GBC precedes the SA constitution.
Even so he will still have to cross the hurdle of freedom of religious association as a constitutional recognised right for people to practice their faith, to have a Sacred Text that dictates the essence, order and functionality of that faith life.
The fact of the matter is 25 years ago when Somizi joined GBC; the constitution of South Africa was not in existence. The reality of a hate speech claim in a church setting was not on the horizon, can we ask how did Somizi understand or embrace Grace Bible Church in membership back then and how different is that membership now in this dispensation?
GBC’s unclear response ‘all welcome’
The Grace Bible Church’ response as carried by its spokesman articulates a claim of ‘all are welcome ‘. This may be very progressive in claim yet it warrants unpacking. We must at another level ask what is meant with all ‘are welcome’?
Is the statement of deep conviction borne from the reality of a mission- dei or is this like many other slogans, simply politically correct statements extracted from our social stand as entities that attract so-called celebrities, people of political and economic power that often over time define the identity of church?
How do we make the ‘all’ and the ‘welcome’ stand and count and YET prognosticate an uncompromised word from a Sacred Text that advocates the sinfulness of man in unequivocal sense?
Does it mean all are welcome to be who they are, to continue with their lifestyles? Does it mean all welcome to a life of painful transformation in which we are all sinners and called to leave such in the encounter of grace to new lifestyles?
The burden is on GBC and all of us as the church to unpack this ‘all welcome’ and ask what it means in society where there is legislation to control the Christian Church, when other faiths are left in abeyance, to continue being true to the original Sacred Texts.
Is it possible that Somizi always felt welcome, then why would Somizi, a longstanding member, leave the church building incensed and highly offended by the voice of a guest preacher if he had heard this message before in his local church from his local pastor?
To what extent are churches compelled to compromise their intrinsic values because we seek to be in step with a status of opulence and stardom when the burden of preaching compels us to be honest with our audiences regardless who they may be?
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is by nature offensive!
My understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it confronts you in your state of humanity and attached an identity of impugned sinfulness in which it affords no on the right to have options. It is emphatic when it articulates that identity as ‘we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’. It continues to state categorically the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Chris Jesus our Lord. This is necessarily offensive and not easily palatable, it is certainly not politically correct and less concerned with our emotions. It was Bono who said Jesus Christ, ‘he gives you no options’
- Lastly was the silence on the subject of homosexuality a clearly controversial and discomforting topic a convenient silence of not wanting to upset and anyone?
- Was the acceptance of homosexuals as members against the better knowledge of the church statement of Faith a special concession because of who made up the new members, celebrities who have a social standing and economic disposition?
- Why did Somizi and others find comfort to continue his lifestyle in the circumference of articulated GBC Faith Statement that he can be this disgusted in this season.
- Is the GBC church’s restatement of ‘all welcome’ a public relations exercise; is it an attempt to prove politically correct when the proverbial horse has bolted?
- Has the church taken enough time to engage this moment for it plausibly attests a Kairos moment?
- What is the price to pay for being a mainline church?
This Kairos moment for GBC is perhaps also a Kairos moment for many church expressions and faith expressions to be emphatic to restate in unambiguity their convictions as led by their claimed Sacred Texts and its interpretation.
One would be forgiven to think Grace Bible Church with this situation receives a second chance to be unambiguous and crystal clear on its Faith Statement on homosexuality, regardless to how offensive it may be found or experienced. It furthermore must be willing to accept that it will suffer a backlash over what some may deem an unpopular statement of faith. It must desist to appease all in the claim of political correctness when the burden to remain true to what it always believed compels it to be emphatic. That, however, is only if the Grace Bible Church Statement of faith is congruent with its guest preacher’s persuasion as articulated.
We hear Jeremias, perhaps in warning salvo, that we never allow what we always believed to be compromised for whatever reason. That is only if you truly claim to be a Bible Church.
Bishop Clyde N.S Ramalaine
Public Commentator on Political and Religious Matters
This article first appeared on Ramalainetalkpoliticalanalysis.com