This past Sunday marked the first of many virtual church gatherings. For many of us this might have been our first participation in online preaching that allowed pastors to connect with their congregation members via online platforms. Sermons ranged from hope, love, community and faith to inspire fellow congregants in this uncertain time of COVID-19.
Although many messages were affirming and lifegiving, connecting people to faith communities during a time that could lead to experiences of isolation, at Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) we have noticed that some clergy blame COVID-19 on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ+) community. This scapegoat rhetoric is not new. We also saw and experienced this rhetoric at the outbreak of the HIV and AIDS pandemic. On the African continent, strides have been made to sensitise faith communities and clergy to be inclusive and affirming towards people living with HIV (PLHIV). Messages of God’s so-called wrath turned into care and support for those who are vulnerable. This was done through re-reading and re-interpreting Scripture and the development of theologies of care and community. At IAM, we believe strongly that we can turn this message of hate into a message of care and community again, through re-reading Scripture and developing life-affirming theological messaging. IAM and our partners are busy developing short, accessible Contextual Bible Study resources for people to do in their homes via an online platform, which we will share with you as soon as it is available.
Messages of hate coming from some clergy is not limited only to LGBTIQ+ people. In South Africa people of Global North descent have also recently shared that some people’s behaviour has changed towards them. We are concerned that those who are vulnerable in our society can easily become the scapegoat for collective and unfounded hate speech, leading to stigma and even violence. We want to invite you to join us in addressing stigmatisation by including the following one-liner in your sermon for the next few weeks:
“Let us be mindful in this time to not blame the COVID-19 epidemic on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer (LGBTIQ+) people.”
As a second option, you can include one or all of the following hashtags on your voice and/or video recordings:
Please contact IAM Process Coordinator, Hanzline Davids, via email for any inquiries or comments/feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org