A pastor who is a vocal queer rights supporter has been accused of heresy and suspended from the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.
Teboho Klaas has been barred from ministering for a year.
He is one of five pastors to have charges levelled against them but he is the only one to be charged with heresy. Klaas believes it is because of his support for the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people “in the life of society and the church”.
Klaas, who has served as a pastor in the church for 30 years, said, although it was not put in writing, when he was told about the charges against him at a meeting with the church’s ministerial efficiency committee, he was told it was because of his pro-queer stance. He was also charged with insubordination and disobedience.
“When I was in the meeting, they said that the bishop says it is because there is no pastor that should advocate for LGBTI people,” said Klaas, who also serves as nongovernmental organisation The Other Foundation’s religious programme officer.
A voice recording taken by Klaas during one of his meetings with the committee, which the Mail & Guardian has heard, contradicts this. In explaining the reasons behind the heresy charge, a committee member said: “According to the [church’s] book of discipline, you continue to deal with LGBTI … LGBTI, whatever it is. And you communicate with it on the social media. And as a pastor in the AME church, you are not supposed to do all those things. Or to promote that.”
But Bishop Paul Kawimbe, who brought the charges against Klaas, denied the heresy charge was related to Klaas’s pro-queer messages. “Not at all,” Kawimbe said.
He said the heresy charge was brought against Klaas because, “in his public speaking and on Facebook, he denied the Bible being the word of God”.
“When he was being ordained, he agreed and vowed to say that ‘I agree in the canonical scriptures that the Bible is the word of God’,” said Kawimbe.
Said Klaas: “Yes, I said that. I argue that the Bible is not the word of God, but rather that the word of God is in the Bible. I do not believe in a God that is hateful, but rather one that loves all.
“All I have done is advocate for the rights and dignity of all LGBTI people and their full inclusion in the life of society and the church.”
In email communication the M&G has seen, a church elder stated that, after a meeting with the “Bishop talking about LGBTI”, it was decided that “pastors must refrain from LGBTI practices”.
But the church’s policy only prohibits pastors from officiating same-sex marriages.
Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the M&G