IAM Staff Profile: Retha Benadé

In this monthly series, we hand over the blog platform to IAM’s staff to share their own journeys, stories and insights in their own words. Though our journeys are all unique and individual, many of us share common challenges and dilemmas as we simply attempt to lead our lives as people of faith while loving whom we love.

Pastor Retha Benadé qualified as teacher at the Potchefstroom Teacher’s College in 1988, obtained a B.A. Theology degree at The Rand Afrikaans University (RAU) in 2003, and completed an Honours degree in Pastoral Counselling in 2004. Retha joined IAM in 2006 and has been the organisation’s Administrator for the past 12 years. She has been an active member of the wider IAM community, and recently published a book, “God Gay Gendade”. Retha departs IAM this month, and her dedication to the organisation will be sorely missed. Here is Retha’s story in her own words.

My personal journey as a gay woman to reconcile my sexuality with my faith as a Christian has been published in my book God Gay Gendade (God Gay Grace) (GGG).  The aim was to raise awareness of what can happen to an LGBTI person of faith when the Church decides to condemn, ostracise and speak on behalf of God – especially when backed  by the powerful Church structures, the patriarchy, class, power, gender, and personal agendas. My experience has been that being told who belongs in the Church, according to this ‘man made criteria’, can leave the victim emotionally and spiritually battered and bruised with no opportunity to experience the love and grace of God in a safe environment of believers.

In the book I write honestly about the journey of trying to accept myself amidst of all these confusing intersectionalities. I write about how the process spat me out and left me in the cold with little support. I share the choices I made after the ‘door’ of the Church was closed, trying not to drown in my brokenness and confusion. The rejection from the Church compounded my already complex personal life filled with issues of molestation, poverty, domestic violence, internalised homophobia, depression, low self-esteem leading to emotional instability, absent parents due to alcoholism, and unfaithfulness – all leading to suicidal thoughts from a young age. 

When my Church leadership constantly preached that according the Bible (their literal interpretation) I as a gay person was an abomination and that I would burn in hell because I was perverse, the rejection and fear that I experienced caused a deep wound, leaving me enormously crippled emotionally and spiritually. The one place where I was looking for safety became a place of fear, and the saddest part was the a tremendous fear I now felt for God who excluded love and grace. It lead to a life of turmoil with the tendency to make unhealthy decisions, which in turn caused unnecessary hurt to myself and others. With the core of my being rejected, as a person of faith, it left me disrupted, uprooted, and becoming a drifter swept to and fro. I made the wrong friends, drank too much, and eventually tried to commit suicide  – an effort that fortunately did not succeed. 

In my book I talk about the Grace of God that saved me, with my current life as living proof. My personal encounter with God enabled me, as a gay person, to reconcile my faith and sexuality after 19 years of violent disruption in my life. All of this would have been unnecessary if I was accepted and embraced as the gay woman that I have been from a young age. I would have been able to contribute more to the world if I had not had to simply survive a great part of my life due to the opinion of people in the Church, their lack of knowledge and homophobia. The tragedy of this situation is that I would only learn in my later years and after many years of therapy that I may ask questions, what healthy boundaries and  relationships look like, and the wisdom and knowledge gained through contextual bible study.

Between the intersectionalities of my personal life and those forces playing off in my daily life, God saved me. Many other LGBTI people have not been so fortunate to survive their suicide attempts and many others have lost their faith and goal in life. This is not how it ever should have been. The witch hunt against the LGBTI community by the faith community is certainly not the will of God, but a human condition caused by irrational fear, myths, the lack of knowledge, and using the Bible as a tools of abuse.

IAM’s aim of raising diversity awareness is of cardinal importance. Sharing life stories like mine can help pave the way for the inclusion of LGBTI people in their Faith Communities.  The strongest testimony of my published life story is to give an example of what can happen in the life of a gay person when the Church decides to close the door of Grace and Love on behalf of God. I would like to make faith communities aware of the consequences of their anti-gay stance, irrespective of their reasons. People’s lives are at stake, and it is unacceptable that this exclusion persist.