Monday, January 30, 2006

Where major religions here stand on homosexuality, condoms

Where major religions here stand on homosexuality, condoms
By Oluatoyin Alleyne
Monday, January 30th 2006 Stabroek News

Religious bodies disagree, sometimes vehemently, on matters pertaining to their faiths, but, not surprisingly, they are united on many of the so-called taboo issues including homosexuality and the use of condoms.

Religious leaders from the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Hindu, Pentecostal and Seventh Day Adventist faiths all agree that homosexuality is wrong and that the use of condoms encourages fornication.

There have been raging debates on both these issues worldwide as health officials promote the use of condoms to help reduce the spread of HIV. But many religious leaders continue to say no to their use in their places of worship arguing that should they advocate their use it would be like telling their young people to fornicate.

Social scientists disagree. They say the fact is that young people continue to have sex before marriage and one should not bury one's head in the sand where this is concerned. But the six religious leaders told this reporter that they would not relent on this issue. They would tackle other aspects of HIV and AIDS such as stigma and discrimination that are directed against infected and affected persons, but they would not advocate the use of condoms.

Likewise, the church leaders are united on the issue of homosexuality, which they say is wrong in the sight of God, abnormal and perverted sexual behaviour, which would not be accepted in their churches. Therefore, a practising homosexual cannot be a priest, pastor, pandit or bishop in their local churches.

Yet, they say, they will not encourage any form of discrimination against anyone.

Where they disagree is on the orientation of sexuality; some believe that persons are born homosexual, while others feel homosexuality is by choice. The latter group says that because homosexuality is a choice aggressive work must be done to help persons to change and walk in the path of the Lord.

Homosexuality: genetic

or by choice?

Bishop of the Anglican Church in Guyana, Randolph George, says the church's teaching clearly states that it is a sin for a man to have sex with a man, or a woman to have sex with a woman.

Director of Education of the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana (CIOG), Kerry Arthur, says in the religion of Islam homosexuality is regarded as sinful and unacceptable behaviour and a form of sexual perversion, which is directly condemned by God in the Holy Koran.

Bishop of the Winners Pentecostal Church, Juan Edghill, says the bible makes it very clear that homosexuality, bestiality and any form of unnatural sex are abominations. "There is no deviation about society's acceptance, it is a clear statement of truth," he said.

Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Guyana, Francis Alleyne, said that while all men are equal in the sight of God based on the scripture, homosexuality is wrong and the church cannot accept persons who openly advocate gay rights.

Vice-President of the Guyana Central Arya Samaj and President of the Berbice Arya Samaj, Pandit Dhanesar, says that according to the Hindu holy book, the Vedas, any form of "abnormal sex" is not right and since homosexual sexual intercourse does not bring forth children it should not be permitted.

President of the Guyana Conference of Seventh Day Adventists (SDA), Pastor Phillip Bowman, says his church has a statement, which it has adopted as its position on homosexuality. The statement, among other things, says the church believes that sexual intimacy belongs only within the marital relationship of a man and woman as designed and established by God.

Bishop George says he believes some people are born with homosexual orientation. This same point is shared by Pandit Dhanesar who says there are several reasons why persons are homosexuals, one of which is they are genetically made up that way.

He says other reasons include home and social situations and peer pressure. "Are we in a position to judge them? I don't think it is right for us to pass judgement," he says.

But the CIOG education director feels homosexuality is a mental disorder. He qualifies this by saying: "Because God said it is wrong and it is also in the Muslim law, therefore it is a criminal action. And when people do criminal acts some of them do it because they are criminals; some do it because they are coerced and some people are criminals because of past psychological trauma and things of that nature; and so homosexuality can fall under [the last category]."

Asked if he does not believe people can be born with homosexual tendencies, Arthur, with little hesitation, says it is possible. However, that does not make it right. According to him, if that were so, then one can argue that a man may have been born a paedophile, as he was genetically predisposed to this since his grandfather and great-grandfather had been paedophiles too. "That does not alter the fact that by certain standards, society has the behaviour as being wrong..."

By Muslim standards, set some 1,400 years ago, homosexuality was wrong and remains wrong. He notes that there are persons, who are compulsive thieves or kleptomaniacs, but it does not alter the fact that what they are doing is wrong and they will face criminal charges.

"We don't necessarily dispute that persons are born like that [homosexual] but if they are born like that, that is their test. If a man is born without an arm it does not mean it is normal to have one arm... so that is how we look at it," Arthur said.

"However, while the behaviour [homosexuality] is not acceptable just as fornication it does not mean persons with such persuasions would not be accepted in the Muslim faith. Fornication and stealing are wrong, [but] you would find Muslims who would indulge in those acts," Arthur pointed out

Bishop Edghill does not believe that persons are born homosexual. He says there is no scientific proof that has been convincing enough to show, "me or any person of theological persuasion" that a person is born a homosexual.

"My personal opinion is that homosexuality is a choice... Persons who are struggling with their sexuality cannot be practising homosexuality. If a man or a woman is struggling with their sexuality that person can be helped and the church is filled with persons who practised homosexuality but have since changed," he says. Asked why the person would be struggling with their sexuality, he says there are several reasons: it could be the environment they live in or societal pressure. Further, he says, it could be perverted thinking as peddled in movies; or the person may have been abused and not properly healed. "But to say that a person was born this way and cannot be fixed is not a position that I would subscribe to.

"I have people who are now ordained pastors who practised homosexuality in the past. The church does not ordain practising homosexuals. The church ordains those persons who have come from a lifestyle of sin, which includes homosexuality, and who have been converted... and are now walking in the lifestyle of the scripture."

He acknowledges that there are cases where persons say they have changed, and may even be married with children but yet have a homosexual relationship on the side. But he says they are only doing it because of choice adding that he would never compromise the word of God to suit society.

No ostracising

According to Pandit Dhanesar, no openly gay person can be a pandit, but then, he adds, no person who openly commits adultery or fornication can be a pandit either.

"But we do not have the right to ostracise anyone. Who are we? We are merely human beings. Only God can do that," he says.

Bishop George also says he would not ordain an openly gay person, although he notes that there are gay Anglican bishops in other places such as the United States. This practice has led to a schism between the northern and southern branches of the Anglican church.

He says the church would not discriminate against anyone and this includes homosexuals. However, Bishop George says, if people are practising homosexuality in the open, then the church would have a problem. But he adds no one can say what goes on in people's homes and unless a person publicly states that he/she is a practising homosexual those who are perceived to be gay by others because of the way they may behave are not treated any differently and are welcomed into the house of the Lord.

Bishop George points out that it is also a sin to fornicate (sex before marriage), or commit adultery (be unfaithful to one's spouse).

Bishop Alleyne says he cannot look at people and assume they are committing a certain sin and as a result accuse them. He, like the others, says all persons are welcomed into the church as that is what the Lord teaches.

Referring to the recent document published by the Vatican on homosexuality, Bishop Alleyne says a qualification was made stating that a man with gay tendencies who remains celibate for at least three years may be ordained as a priest.

However, the document, released on November 29, 2005, has left many in the church confused and created great controversy, as some priests have said they are unsure how to interpret it.

The Vatican announced that it was toughening its stand against gay candidates for the priesthood, advising that men with "deep-seated" gay tendencies or who "support so-called gay culture" shouldn't be admitted to the seminary or ordained.

Others with "transitory" homosexual inclinations can be accepted if they have "clearly overcome" them for three years.

The eight-page policy pronouncement states: "The Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called 'gay culture.' "Arthur says that even if persons are acting in certain ways that might lead people to believe they are homosexuals it does not mean they are, as there is no proof, and they would be welcomed in the faith. But he points out that Muslims do not have the power to banish someone from the faith.

When a person commits a sin in a country like Guyana it is between them and God. In some Muslim states, he says, persons would be killed if they are caught committing certain sins, such as homosexuality and fornication among others.

"We cannot expel people from the faith but the problem arises if that person has a leadership role and is openly advocating gay rights, then that person would be seen as preaching something that is in direct contradiction to the teaching of the Koran." And even then the CIOG does not direct what happens at mosques. But, according to Arthur, should a leader do this, naturally there would be some ostracising of that person.

Bishop Edghill says his church treats every person with compassion but starts from the standpoint of the scripture.

He says the church's response should be in aggressive ministering to such persons without hate and the language of condemnation but with an understanding of what the scripture says: "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and that manifestation of sin comes in different forms."

Everyone should be treated fairly

Just because it goes against tradition and the teaching of religion and scripture does not necessarily make it wrong, says the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD).

Members, Joel Simpson and Stacy Gomes say they have no issue with religion teachings that say homosexuality is wrong, but the problem arises when because of such teachings it becomes a crime and is interpreted as immoral.

Simpson says it is alright if religious leaders want to address the issue within the confines of their religions, but they should not pronounce on what should be public morality. Gomes and Simpson say they do not want to get into a public debate with religious organizations. However, they strongly believe that homosexuals have rights like anyone else and should be treated fairly.

Gomes says what is done behind closed doors between two consenting adults should not be illegal on the basis of religion.

SASOD recently held a film festival at the Sidewalk Café and continues to show films monthly with the aim of educating people. Gomes says some people who attended the festivals had their perceptions changed.

The two say there are members of the organization, who, because of homophobia, are not comfortable speaking out on the issue. "Societal discrimination of anyone who is just tolerant to homosexuality is so virulent that persons are not 100% comfortable with speaking out publicly on the issue," Simpson says.

Gomes feels that if stigma was not attached to homosexuality persons would be more comfortable with whom they are and not have to keep that part of their lives in the closet. The closeted behaviour could advance the spread of HIV.

They scoff at the suggestion that homosexuality is by choice, asking why would one want to allow themselves to go through the discrimination it brings.They note that persons whom church leaders claim to have changed in most cases are continuing their homosexual life in the dark. In some cases because of the continued discrimination they become celibate, but that does not mean they have changed the way they think, nor does it change whom they are.

"It is not a choice. You don't choose that way, they [homosexuals] can argue that they enjoy the sex, but sex against so many other things where they are being discriminated against, no they would not choose that way of life," Gomes says.

"The fact remains that it [homosexuality] exists and you have to accept or deal with in a manner that is humane... I don't believe that one particular group of people has better rights than others... We fight about the right of [people] to have three square meals a day, their right is as important as that of an homosexual; equal rights for everyone."

HIV/AIDS and condoms

Turning to HIV/AIDS, all the religious leaders said they teach their followers that it is just a disease and infected or affected persons should not be discriminated against. However, while they advocate education and awareness they will not champion the use of condoms, which is a big part of the national and NGO response to the disease.

Bishop Edghill notes that the church is a place where people with HIV run for rescue. He boasts that as a pastor, he has spoken to more people infected with HIV/AIDS than any group that is doing HIV work.

"Our central message is that the answer to HIV/AIDS, is a holy lifestyle. HIV/AIDS would never be an issue if people live to the teaching of the church; your body is the temple of the Lord. Abstinence and fidelity is the central theme and it is the only working solution around the world..." Bishop Edghill says.

In the area of HIV, the Arya Samaj has embarked on a massive education and awareness programme aimed at sensitising its followers to the disease while also focusing on reducing stigma and discrimination.

"We say without exception that everyone should be treated with love and compassion. No one knows how the person was infected. We cannot pass judgement," Pandit Dhanesar said.

But he would not champion the use of condoms. He says condoms encourage fornication. He champions abstinence.

Bishop George says a number of Anglican youths have been trained as peer educators and are very knowledgeable in the area of HIV/AIDS and they would have discussions on the issue during their sessions.

The church does not agree with the notion that those whom HIV affects contracted it because of their sinful life or sinful behaviour, believing instead that HIV can be contracted by anyone regardless of their status, colour or creed and as such infected persons are not discriminated against.

Bishop George says the church would not advocate the use of condoms as a form of protection from HIV. Should married persons want to use condoms it would be their decision, but the Bishop says the Anglican Church would not advocate condom use to young people.

Sex before marriage is a sin, he says, and when it was pointed out that young people may still be sexually active and it is better to tell them to use condoms to protect themselves, Bishop George disagreed. He says he would not tell his children nor the youths in the church about condoms as if they are indeed sinning by having sex it may be viewed as the church condoning the act.

"I know people would say that they may still have sex and we must try to protect them because they are faced with the terrible disease called AIDS and it is a good argument, but we cannot move away from the church's teachings. The world is not black and white."

So the Anglicans will continue to teach abstinence and there are the other groups who would teach the use of condoms.

Arthur says the CIOG has formed partners with organisations and has been working in that area on its "terms." He says information about the disease and the fact that infected persons should not be discriminated against have been incorporated into the education programme.

He says this is in an attempt to change how people perceive the disease.

Arthur explains that why he made it clear the CIOG is working on its "terms" in the area is because it does not necessarily support all the health policies on the issue adding that HIV/AIDS was not treated the way diseases are normally handled from its inception.

Asked to elaborate, he says that when words like 'pandemic and 'epidemic' are used certain things should come to mind such as quarantine, as has been done with other diseases. He admits that quarantining for any disease is not "a very nice thing and I am not saying that that should have happened..."

But he did mention that Cuba used this method to tackle the disease and that it saw a dramatic reduction in the number of persons being infected. "These things [like quarantining] did not happen. The reason why is because in the eighties when the disease surfaced it had a certain dimension as being 'the gay man's disease' and it became a political football."

He feels the social and political aspects of the disease overcame the medical aspect, and more should have been done to directly tackle the issue.

The CIOG advocates abstinence and while Islam does not see anything wrong with using a condom it should be primarily for birth control.

"The problem comes when we are telling people if they are going to fornicate do it with a condom. We wouldn't say that. What we would tell you is if you are going to fornicate or commit adultery you would be putting yourself in harm's way. Even if AIDS was not there you are making yourself available for the fire of hell."

He says that should Muslims advocate condoms they would be condoning fornication and according to Muslim law, sex is only right when it is between a married couple.

Bishop Alleyne says the Roman Catholic Church does not discriminate against those who are HIV positive and has been educating its masses about disease and that persons who are infected are no different from those who are not. He points to St Joseph Mercy Hospital, which is Catholic, and has been at the forefront in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, among other programmes.

And while the other churches would allow condoms to be used by married persons, the Roman Catholic Church would not. Bishop Alleyne feels that advocating the use of condoms is giving persons the licence to commit fornication or adultery. And because the church does not support the use of contraceptives, Bishop Alleyne says, the church cannot support the use of condoms in messages. Admitting that the church cannot see what goes on in the bedrooms of couples, Bishop Alleyne says nevertheless it will never advise the use of condoms at any time.

Asked what happens to persons who are not financially positioned to take care of large families, Bishop Alleyne says there are other ways in which the church can help.

Pastor Bowman who says the SDA church would not discriminate against persons living with HIV/AIDS echoed some of the same views. As a matter of fact the individual churches throughout the country have educational programmes during which they educate the congregation on the disease.

The SDA church will also not support the use of condoms as it is seen as giving unmarried persons the right to have sex and married ones the right to commit adultery.