The most disturbing argument against sexual diversity compares consensual same-sex behaviour to raping children or animals. This betrays the seeds of predatory sexual attitudes, writes Siya Khumalo.
In 2021, we still have people online, behind pulpits and on radio, comparing consensual sex to bestiality and child abuse.
Let’s imagine they’re concerned about one or more of these things:
- The absence of consent between a human and an animal during bestiality or between an adult and a child during statutory rape somehow implies there’s something wrong with same-sex couples.
- There’s some essential sexual incompatibility between people of the same sex, between humans and animals as well as between adults and children.
- There’s a moral slippery slope by which well next allow incest and polyamory.
Let’s respond to these one by one.
1. Unlike with paedophilia or bestiality, same-couples practise consent. The nearest viable target for this cluster of concerns is the carnal relations between meat eaters and the animals they prey on. Same-sex couples are therefore scapegoats for self-serving applications of the consensuality test.
Society pays for this hypocrisy when boys and men think it’s normal to sexually prey on women the way a hunter preys on an animal. They think it’s normal to infantilise women (“ntwana”) and strip them of their capacity to consent, rather like a paedophile.
To rectify this behaviour, which is usually seen in straight men, we need to set the record straight that homosexuality, paedophilia and zoophilia are different things. You can’t mistake one for another when it suits your prejudices without inadvertently giving the next person permission to mistake one of those behaviours for another to suit that person’s agenda. Beware, then, of being selective about the prejudices we fight.
These questions on paedophilia, bestiality and meat-eating should be turned on Christians as a question on how God knew Mary, a teenager who’d be below consenting age today, would be okay with an unexpected pregnancy. If he foreknew she’d consent, in what meaningful sense did she have free will?
Should we be teaching children the nursery rhyme: “Mary had a little lamb” when it could mean her Passover dinner magically migrated to her uterus to grow and get butchered for the world’s sin?
‘God doesn’t make mistakes’
2. Once we’ve accepted legal consent as the measure of a sexual act’s morality, we don’t have to consider arguments on essential sexual incompatibility. Entities with the legal capacity for sexual consent should have their right to engage in sex protected.
Saying an entity is essentially sexually incompatible with another for reasons beyond legal consent is making a claim to special knowledge. Yet countless Christians have confidently told me: “You only think you’re gay. God doesn’t make mistakes.”
They base that on the maxim “God made man and woman”, but don’t tell us what “God doesn’t make mistakes” means for his other creations: mosquitoes, puff adders and black widow spiders, which can gravely inconvenience us.
Which of us knows what it’s like to use human blood to make eggs, move about without limbs or look through eight eyes? Can you define an electron beyond describing it or its interactions with other particles? Can you go beyond surface-level knowledge and be the electron? How, then, do we eat of the fruit of knowing good and evil, or define and judge men, women, homosexuals or anything else? You’d have to be their maker to know them at least as well as they know themselves.
So when someone says “God doesn’t make people gay” and I say “I’m gay”, you’re getting two reports about God’s work. What conclusion do you reach? Do you believe God made a mistake by making me gay, or that I’m mistaken in experiencing myself as attracted to men? Are you saying I’m possessed by Satan but you aren’t? Is it because you’ve been the aforementioned electron that the sparks between myself and another man are less a mystery and more an abomination to you than they are to me?
“Love your neighbour as yourself,” the Bible says. Isn’t this an invitation to make yourself vulnerable by placing yourself in an unknown, in my shoes?
Outside-in moral code
3. The person who worries about what society will accept once it’s embraced sexual and gender diversity hasn’t watched a history documentary. We’ve already allowed everything we’re anxious about allowing. Genesis reports that God saw it fit to introduce himself to a married couple, Abram and Sarai, brother and sister, and to bestow blessings upon them. Therefore society may say: “We don’t do that here.” But justifying that by appeals to history is disingenuous.
Christians forget the reason the Old Covenant Law was eventually set aside. It was an outside-in moral code. It was as reliable as your definition of an electron or your attempts to judge people from the outside-in without taking the risk of familiarising ourselves with their unknownness. “For if that First Covenant had been without fault, no place would have been sought for a second. But God found fault with the people and said: “Behold, the days are coming when I will make a New Covenant’.”
Knowing that the Old Covenant sacrifices and laws would only be internalised by his followers if he became the sacrifice, Jesus raised the cup and said: “This is my blood of the Covenant.” When we drink his blood and eat his flesh, we internalise Christ’s self-sacrifice by faith. This faith eclipses religious law because ingestion is an act of consent. Ever since Adam and Eve ate the fruit, it’s been understood that to eat something is to say “yes” to it.
Once the sacramental substance of Mary’s Little Lamb has been internalised, there’s no need for a religious law to enforce the shadow and likeness of a consent we once only understood from the outside in. Rules guide where there’s no direct knowledge, but atonement means what was hidden and unknowable about other people is demystified. So-called sinners and so-called strangers are Christ in disguise insofar as each knows what it’s like to be misunderstood, judged unfairly — or crucified.
Christians regard Jesus as God’s son because he’s the godforsaken son of none — the essential unknownness of the unloved put on display to give a face to each of those who’s been stripped of their dignity. In displacing with his own unknownness the unknownness of the marginalised, Mary’s Little Lamb sacrifices his identity to unerase God’s image in the people the world had self-servingly judged.
The world’s sin is defeated when the unknownness of those the world ostracised is known (and therefore killed) in the One the world was killing for repeatedly risking everything to identify with the nobodies.
If you claim to be Christian, God doesn’t have to tell you all bigotries are wrong because in your spirit, you already know all oppressions to be as intersectional as the beams of a cross. May God forgive you for you know what you do.
– Siya Khumalo is the author of You Have To Be Gay To Know God (2018). He is also a Mr Gay South Africa runner-up and Mr Gay World Top 10 finalist.