THE furore caused by visiting Ghanaian bishop Dag Heward-Mills at the Grace Bible Church in Soweto on Sunday offers us an opportunity to debate the role of religion in a democracy and to push messages of love, rather than hate.
In some other parts of the continent, he would probably have got away with the homophobic parts of his sermon, which infuriated gay socialite Somizi Mhlongo to the point that he staged a dramatic walkout during the sermon.
For many years the church has welcomed all and opened its doors to gays, so Heward-Mills’s comments came as a shock to many regular visitors, including Mhlongo.
South Africa is a constitutional democracy, the envy of many. The constitution guarantees us many freedoms, including same-sex relationships and marriages. Our country has come far in adopting gay and lesbian equal rights.
The Bible and the church, or any other religion, cannot be used as weapons to preach hate. The church, mosque, synagogue or temple must be places of tolerance, where we are all equal.
Leaders of the flock should make all congregants welcome as they come to seek salvation, worship and fellowship.
It must be noted that homosexuality is a hot potato for many religions globally, including in leading developed states such as Britain and the US. It’s a divisive issue.
In Africa, many are also grappling with the matter and politicians have used platforms to bash gays and lesbians as “worse than animals”.
We argue that religions must be all-embracing and lead the charge to push the message of love and tolerance. Religious leaders must be sensitive to the rights of everyone and must be there to unite and bring their flock closer together, rather than divide them and push others out.
We cannot say for certain, but we wouldn’t be surprised if this backward Heward-Mills felt emboldened by the ascendancy of US President Donald Trump and his ilk.
In which case he must feel free to go and preach in Trump’s church and leave us alone. He's not welcome in a free South Africa. Just voetsek.