The Grace Bible Church has defended itself against allegations of discrimination, saying everybody, including gay people, is welcome at the church. But the church is yet to condemn remarks made by Bishop Dag Heward-Mills, who compared gay people with animals during a sermon on Sunday.
Pastor Ezekiel Mathole, who spoke to the Mail & Guardian on Monday, said gay people had long been welcome at the Soweto-based church.
“They come to our church,” Mathole said. “We don’t discriminate against anybody.”
The pastor has had a busy Monday defending the church after a sermon from Heward-Mills, a Ghanaian bishop, went viral. The church had invited Heward-Mills to address its congregation on Sunday. During his sermon, the bishop said homosexuality is unnatural.
“That’s nature. Dogs, cats, leopards. Which animal has one partner? It’s just like homosexuality, you don’t have male and male,” Heward-Mills said.
“You don’t find two male dogs, two male lions, two male impalas, two male lizards. You don’t find that in nature. That is unnatural. There is nothing like that in nature.”
The sermon was widely shared after choreographer Somizi Mhlongo posted a video on social media saying that he had walked out during Heward-Mills’s talk.
“This is who I am. I am a gay man. Get it straight into your skull. My soul is alright with my God. Let me deal with my God and my soul. Don’t tell me,” Mhlongo said.
A statement of faith
The church has defended Heward-Mills’ remarks, saying the bishop’s remarks were not homophobic.
On the church’s website is a “ statement of faith” in which the church explains its religious views, including sexual orientation, saying it believes in heterosexual relationships.
“With regard to sexual behaviour, we believe in heterosexual relationships between a natural man and a natural woman within the confines of lawful matrimony. Adherence to this stated principle of sexual behaviour is an inherent requirement of membership of Grace Bible Church,” reads the statement.
Mathole told the M&G that he does not believe the statement of faith is homophobic because gay rights are protected in the Constitution.
“If someone is in a same-sex relationship, it’s their right,” Mathole said.
“Gay people do not need the church’s endorsement to be gay, just like a heterosexual person does not need a gay person’s endorsement to be heterosexual.”
Mathole says the church does not regret inviting Heward-Mills to preach. Instead, the pastor says the church regrets the way in which the discussion around the matter is unfolding, saying that social media is “out of control”.
“We are in a society that is grappling with new values,” Mathole said.
The pastor believes that the discussion around the sermon could have been done differently, and there needs to be further talks going forward within the church and outside it to establish rules of engagement around certain issues.
He added that the church knows that issues of homophobia cannot be ignored and that there will be further opportunity for people to openly discuss LGBTI rights in the community.
When asked if the church believes homosexuality is a sin, Mathole replied: “I can’t say.”
“Who are we to judge?,” he asked.