Quote of the week

[Nostalgia] is rarely the past as actually experienced, of course; it is the past as imagined, as idealized through memory and desire. In this sense … nostalgia is less about the past than about the present. It operates through what Mikhail Bakhtin called an ‘historical inversion’: the ideal that is not being lived now is projected into the past.

David Medalie
21 October 2011

What shall we do about the Reverend?

Reports that a Cape Town pastor has called gays and lesbians drug addicts and child molesters and said that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu will burn in hell for supporting the LGBT community will probably be welcomed by some of the more bigoted readers of this Blog. According to the Mamba Online website the Rev Oscar Peter Bougardt, a Christian Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and senior pastor at Calvary H.O.P.E Ministries in Mitchells Plain (what a wonderfully Orwelian name!), launched this attack against gay and lesbian people in unsolicited e-mails to local websites catering to the gay and lesbian community.

Bougardt said that his “mission is to take out all lesbians and gays because they are a bunch of idiots who confuse our children”. The pastor also said that “their lifestyle is an abomination to God and that gays and lesbians should know that they are going to burn in hell”. Apparently the majority of us are also drug addicts and:

offer our teenagers and children drugs and alcohol and once they are drugged and drunk they are seduced and end up having sexual relation with them…. Lesbians and gays are a curse on any community. I believe that a man that sleeps with another man doesn’t deserve to be part of a healthy community and I will mobilise the masses to stop them.

Asked about his comments he said:

If I say take out homosexuals, I mean they must be removed from our communities…You interpret that I am inciting violence against homosexuals, I see it is making our people aware that their lifestyles should not be approved by any healthy community. Just as homosexuals have the right to express their views, I have the right to express mine.

When I read these statements I could not help but laugh and, I have to confess, for a moment it did cross my mind that the pastor might have been smoking or drinking the strong stuff before he made these utterances. Then I felt sad and a bit sorry for the gentleman who styles himself as a man of the cloth.

Why would he have constructed for himself such a warped, perverted and hating religion? Why the obsession with sex and drugs and child molestation? Does he himself perhaps have an issue with his sexuality or with other urges that remain unspeakable to him? After all, the biggest homophobes are often repressed homosexuals. Or is he targeting the gay and lesbian community because he wishes to exploit the prejudices of other members in the community in the hope that the donations would start flowing into his ministry?

I have no way of knowing what his motivations might be for writing to these websites. Maybe he is a sincere person with strong if somewhat bizare views. Or maybe he has been watching too many YouTube videos of Ugandan pastors and feels jealous of them for having cornered the market on hate.

Of course, it would be easy to shut up the pastor and make a few hundred thousand Rand for a gay cause or organisation. After all, the words would almost certainly constitute hate speech in terms of section 10 of the Equality Act. As those who read this Blog know, that provision states that words that could reasonably be construed as having had the intention to be hurtful towards gays and lesbians would constitute hate speech. Advocating the “taking out” of homosexuals from society, sounds like the talk of an apartheid-era hit-squad member.

If Afriforum wanted to demonstrate that it did not only have an obsession with the ANC but was really concerned about hateful rhetoric in our society, it would take the pastor to the Equality Court and get that court to order him to stop making such statements (and to stop making an utter fool of himself too, one must add). His words sound not too different from the singing of the “Kill the Boer” song by Julius Malema. But while Malema invoked the struggle tradition, the pastor will obviously invoke his right to religious freedom (and the religious tradition centred around hate and homophobia) as well as his right to make a fool of himself. (Although, I am not sure the latter right is explicitly written into the Constitution.)

Yet, I for one would not be running off to the Equality Court. While I find his words hateful and deeply obnoxious, I do not think the best way to deal with the “pastor” is to ban him from writing these letters. Far better to mock the poor man or, alternatively (if that is your kind of thing) to show Christian compassion towards this seemingly deeply damaged soul by praying for him in the hope that he will eventually manage to deal with his suspiciously obsessive attitudes towards gay men and lesbians.

Besides, as I have written before, I am almost certain that section 10 of the Equality Act is overbroad (as it includes a far broader definition of hate speech than the definition contained in section 16 of the Constitution) and is hence unconstitutional. I would therefore not want to invoke a section of the law that I believe is unconstitutional. As I criticised President Jacob Zuma for invoking an unconstitutional provision of the Judges’ Remuneration Act to try and extend the term of office of the Chief Justice, it would be rather hypocritical of me now to invoke this provision which I believe is similarly unconstitutional.

But how should relatively reasonable, logical and respectful people deal with this kind of utterance? Am I not being a bit precious by arguing against the hate speech route? I happen to be an upper middle class white man living in the suburbs and I am usually able to avoid weirdo’s who make statements like those uttered by the pastor or who would want to do physical harm to me – unlike some other gay men and lesbians who face the most vile and sometimes lethal homophobia of members of their own communities and do not have the luxury of avoiding the homophobes.

Well, my belief is that banning these kinds of words will not stop homophobia. Neither will it stop homophobic attacks on gay men and lesbians. People will still think these things and they will still say these things – just not on public platforms. Some people will also act on their fears and hatred by attacking gay men and lesbians to make themlseves feel better about their internalised self-hatred.

The only thing that will stop this kind of exploitative hatred is a change of heart on the part of those people brainwashed by religious groups to believe that other human beings supposedly created in the image of God are inherently bad or even evil. In other words, we need to demonstrate how absurdly contradictory the teachings of the more extreme religious groups are and we need to change the way people think.

The only way people will change is if those of us who are more reasonable, more compassionate, more respectful of human difference, convince enough people that these hateful views are illogical, irrational  and immoral. We will only do so by using rational arguments (and the odd bit of ridicule and mockery). When those of us who are empowered to do so stand up for ourselves and for members of our community and if we demonstrate through our words and our deeds that people like Mr Bougardt is at best a deeply damaged souls and at worst, just a populist charlatan, we will begin to win this fight.

Personally, I am going to write to Rev Bougardt (pastor.bougardt@gmail.com) and tell him the good news that it is ok to be gay and that if he has any problems with his sexuality I will be very happy to talk to him about this. After all, it is only the Christian thing to do to help another person to overcome his or her self-hatred.

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