By Rabhelani Mguni
I have taken to reading position statements of organised churches with a sigh, and a little bit of indifference, ignoring the ignorance that permeates every line. That urge to lay claim to the truth, the hypocritical intent to present themselves as sole witnesses of the 'light', infallible ones at that. It's always the same language, toned and dramatised by the same religiosity. How can one not sigh? The language of progress is drowned by the primitive language of ignorance; in all honesty, it is not backwardness or traditionalism but an affront to humanity in the form of sanctified tyranny. One asks, what seems to be the problem? Language is the answer I have. The discord in the language of love and fellowship is why clerics claim absolute and infallible authority on scripture.
In trueness, to form the conservative right in every society has fashioned ideological demagoguery with sanctity and demonised the very questioning of the faith in relation to the people's changing reality and knowledge. In this regard religious leaders have taken up the mantle of piousness and self-righteousness that the Apostle Paul once had. How right and prophetic James Baldwin was on this holy ignorance?
Sam Neeves, the communication director of the Seventh-day Adventist church, tweeted that we have created a culture of the Tower of Babel. These remarks he says at the backdrop of the church running a series of talks and sermons on its positions on what it calls a "homosexuality problem". A background to his tweet is that he was responding to the tussle between conservatives within the church and queer rights activists; his claim is the two groups are creating discord but lays blame on the activist congregants.
I doubt many like him understand that the problem is not the liberal congregants but the fundamentalists in charge of the institutions, whether it be religious or political. There is something disingenuous about equally distributing the blame for the chaos when it's one side that is refusing to have its share in listening to dissent. What makes faith eternal is the mystery of new discoveries and the unravelling of love in ways never imagined. What Sam Neeves does not understand is simple - the confusion and discord is only created by those around him in church leadership who would rather speak in the language of fear-mongering and paranoia. He might be right in decrying the culture of the Tower of Babel that informs discourse because religious institutions, as we witness everyday, have become units for wrong intentions, pursuing ideological supremacy that shuts out those at the margins; love, charitability, grace, joyful curiosity for the mysteries of faith, and deeper sense of community are constantly under attack.
For those of us educated in Adventist schools, the name Mark Finley is akin to St Thomas of Aquinas for the Catholics within the church. So, like many I was taken by surprise, disappointed and not surprised somehow, though I do not know why, when in August he released a video almost an hour long about homosexuality, love and kindness: while the heading of the sermon had a tone of a tolerating conservative’s sermon, the first twelve minutes were everything but. It is saddening to watch the man hailed as a standard for interpreting scripture front the talking points of the American right-wing, parrot misinformation and implicitly promote book bans. Finley spent his hour ranting softly, asking the audience to go about their unfounded paranoia calmly. He glazed the hate of right-wing evangelicals, and affirmed the paranoia of the believers who can only watch the spectacle. All I could hear was cis-gender male fragility.
The privilege of claiming that there is an apocalypse if you are not saved, the sermon was a call to defend the species of cis-heterosexual males going extinct. The irony of such a sermon when the gun of a Bible-reading heterosexual man is massacring gay people in their bars, straight Sunday school teachers choose to vote immoral tyrants because of political homophobia and there are many ironies. I wondered whether he read newspapers and understood people whose health and lives will be made worse in already poverty-stricken Uganda, the chopped torsos of transgender people found below bridges in Durban or did he try to ask the victims themselves. Their ignorance is well-read but not in the right matter.
In this instance I doubt we are not hearing each other, some are deliberately not listening. There has always been one language, sacred love for one another. This discord is coming from corners that would rather construct their own truth than show a bit of compassion. The Nigerian writer Arinze Ifeakandu in his essay, Terrors Everywhere, bemoaned the lack of will by the clergy to listen to the queer people within their congregants, that insistence that the mainstream theology is righteous and sanctified before Adam. The foundation of this Tower of Babel is the self-righteousness and ignorance of what others are saying, the indifference to the results of hate and the theological selfishness grounded in claiming entitlement to being the guides of faith. Our fate and faith must never be decided by our ignorance and paranoia for difference. I might not be an authority on faith and its theologies, but I am certain indifference to reality is a discord of one’s conscience. The only language we can use should be rooted in dialogues of love, not power and fundamentalism. There is no need for many languages of discourse but for us to hear those little differences. It only takes listening for us to understand that we are not fragile but recognising our privilege even in unrecognisable situations for it to exist.
About the author:
Rabhelani Mguni is a writer and essayist. He is presently a undergraduate Gender Studies student at the Great Zimbabwe University in Zimbabwe. His works have appeared in Novelty Fiction Gazette, Lolwe, Olongo Africa, Kalahari Review and Odd Magazine. He can be found on X (formerly Twitter) as @RabhelaniM and on Instagram as @rabhelanimguni.