People who have spoken against homosexuality have often quoted the scripture to substantiate their stance. Invariably, the bible always lurks behind every anti-gay foray. Christians in particular have always insisted that being gay is immoral and against the ethos of their religion.
The constitution of Botswana also criminalises intimate same relationships as dictated in Section 164 of the Penal Code. Although there is no mention of religion the constitution stops short of calling homosexual sex immoral.
“Any person who has carnal knowledge of another person against the order of nature …. Or permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature is guilty of an offence…,” reads the constitution of Botswana.
In a pluralistic society like ours, shouldn’t the imposition of majority personal beliefs on minority groups be a thing of the past? An American homosexual couple, Reverend Stephen Parelli and Jose Ortiz are on a tour across the continent to try and dispel the theological perception used to marginalise the gay community. The couple are here through Other Sheep, a Christian ministry founded in Latin America which advocates for full inclusion of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals (LGBT) within their respective faith traditions. Both Parelli and Ortiz have studied theology and have been religious leaders in their own respects.
Sunday Standard Lifestyle got together with the couple to learn about their mission and personal experiences of being gay in a heterosexual’ world.
“We want to teach the Christian gay community to read the bible from their own perspective,” Parelli says. “For the past few decades, even conservative theologians have concluded that the church has been interpreting the bible incorrectly to condemn homosexuality. There is nowhere in the bible where the scripture opposes homosexuality. We are talking about the very same bible on which evangelicals try to base their argument,” Parelli says.
The couple both discovered they were gay at a young age. Parelli, who says he grew up in the church realised his attraction for other boys at the age of 13. He says he tried by all means to live a “victorious Christian life” and tried to suppress his feelings. He tried to tell his father about his newly discovered orientation, but everyone dismissed him.
Meanwhile his husband, Ortiz, also struggled with his own self-discovery. “I was very possessive of my (boy) friends when I was growing up and as time went I discovered I was actually attracted to some of them,” he says.
As a teenager, Ortiz was so ashamed of his sexual orientation that at some point he flatly denied it when a cousin questioned him.
“Off course not,” he told his cousin, “I am a Christian.”
He says being gay at the time was too big a scandal. It was only in college where he was studying theology that Ortiz started to act on his feelings. After failing to get a reaction from his father when he first broke the news about his sexuality, Parelli confronted him again at the age of 24. This time, his father asked Parelli to keep it a secret.
Interestingly both Parelli and Ortiz were at some point in heterosexual relationships. In fact, Parelli was married for 17 years and has four children.
“I disclosed my orientation to my then girlfriend before we got married and her response was ‘I know’.” Parelli said. They got married and had children anyway.
“As a pastor,” Parelli tells Lifestyle, “I had to be seen to be in a stable, happy heterosexual marriage.” He separated from his wife shortly after meeting Ortiz. His parents, he says, disowned him and cut all ties with. Although they never got to walk down the aisle Ortiz was also in a serious but non-sexual relationship with a woman.
“She was the daughter to a church minister and because of our faith we had to hold any sexual activities pending marriage,” Ortiz said. Being gay, the platonic arrangement suited him perfectly. Both men later joined Hope Ministries in Manhattan (US), a support group that seeks to help homosexuals deal and eventually get over their homosexuality. It was there where the two met. Having also studied Applied Psychology, Ortiz says he began to realise that perceptions on homosexuality were not based on any real research.
“It is all just a theory,” he says. The two believe the evangelical interpretation of the bible to justify homophobia has driven some gays to “reject the church because it rejects them.” They say interpreting the bible “correctly” has helped them to redefine their spirituality. The two met with religious educators from the University of Botswana, Kgolangano College, gay activists from LEGABIBO, Centre for Men’s Health, and clergymen on Tuesday, July 8th at the Botswana Nurses Union to discuss issues surrounding homosexuality and religion.