by Joe Scarry.
On Tuesday, June 5, members of St. Luke’s, together with representatives of the Chicago Consultation, Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches, Gay Liberation Network (GLN) Chicago, and other friends met at St. Luke’s with Judith Kotzé and Ingrid Schoonraad from Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) in South Africa [LINK: http://iam.org.za/ ]. IAM advocates that the South African religious communities should become more welcoming and affirming towards Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people.
The Rev. Judith Kotzé, Director of Operations for IAM, gave an introduction to the current status of the movement for inclusion and affirmation of LGBTI people in Christian churches, and society generally, in South Africa and elsewhere in southern Africa. The startling — or perhaps not-so-startling — reality in South Africa is that, despite strong legal protections for LGBTI people, including protection for civil unions, there is significant work that must be done to bring about real inclusion and acceptance. As Judith explained, the first stage is for people to be intellectually aware — open minds — but this has to be followed by the kind of opening of the heart that is only brought about through person-to-person dialog and listening. And once the heart is open, it requires yet further effort to assure that doors are open and real inclusion takes place.
But IAM is not just active in South Africa. In addition to its work in South Africa, IAM partners with others in Kenya, Leosotho, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, and its networking throughout Africa continues to expand. Ingrid Schoonraad, Senior Program Manager at IAM, detailed some of the ways that IAM carries out this work.
(An excellent review of the situation in South Africa and elsewhere in Southern Africa is provided in the May 28 issue of The New Yorker, in “Violated Hopes: A Nation Confronts a Tide of Sexual Violence” by Charlayne Hunter-Gualt.
To complement the discussion of IAM’s work, Bonnie Perry, the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Ravenswood and founder of the Chicago Consultation, described her group’s activities in Africa. The Chicago Consultation is a group of Episcopal and Anglican bishops, clergy and lay people, that works to support the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians in the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. In October 2011, some 25 Anglican leaders from across Africa gathered with more than a dozen Episcopalians from the United States for a consultation on issues of justice and human sexuality at the “Chicago Consultation in Durban.” Bonnie spoke movingly of her experiences in Durban, including the rapid change in perspective of some of the participants. One further aspect of the work of the Chicago Consultation that Bonnie discussed was the simple need to put forward — and get people to pay attention to — the straightforward theological basis for inclusion and affirmation of all people, including LGBTI people. It is an under-appreciated fact that the solid theological work has been done and is there for all to see.
There were several quite remarkable aspects of these presentations and the ensuing discussion. In particular, we were reminded that in order to accomplish change, we must almost always do the painstaking and time-consuming work to help people see the truth through the experience of just one or a few other people. We always hope that peace and justice can be brought about by making clear “the principle of the thing” … but it is so often the case that the personal story, told person-to-person, is what brings about a change of heart.
In addition, we were given an important reminder of how important it is for all people who are working for positive change to support each other, and help each other prevent isolation and burn-out. This was a motif that came up again and again in the course of the evening, and it seemed significant that even those of us separated by an ocean can look to each other for support.
We expect our discussions with friends from IAM to continue and grow: the future should hold ample opportunities to build the Chicago-South Africa connection!
Judith Kotzé from Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) is an important “connector” for St. Luke’s and the wider Chicago community, both to events happening in South Africa and throughout southern Africa, as well globally. We are exploring ways to strengthen and expand the relationship, as IAM continues the work of building a global network of support for LGBTI justice in southern Africa and St. Luke’s connects to the wider world.