Rainbow Pilgrims speak out on churches, sexuality, diverse families and new masculinities

Three panels on Friday involved Rainbow Pilgrims and offered perspectives on the work of the WCC’s Reference Group on Human Sexuality (RGHS), living in diverse forms of families, and new understandings of masculinities in various cultures.

From left: Small Luk, Davis Mac-Iyalla, Judith Kotzé and Irene Schwyn (moderator of the panel).

A noon-hour conversation inside the WCC Assembly venue at the Swiss Hub drew more than 40 people into reflection on “safe spaces” for dialogue that leads to change. 

Judith Kotzé, a member of the RGHS, said that differences over sexuality emerged in every WCC Assembly. In 2014, the RGHS was created to provide a place “to be real about the fullness of human sexuality, and about how wounds are experienced around sexuality – not just for gender or sexual minorities, but in all of our humanity.” The process has resulted in a study document, Conversations on the Pilgrim Way.

Two Rainbow Pilgrims spoke of their specific experiences of struggle for change.

Small Luk, a Christian intersex activist from Hong Kong, called on churches to stand with minorities. “Our God loves all humans. Sometimes church leaders tell the parents of Intersex people that they are the result of sin, and encourage parents to take their children for genital surgeries. This is wrong!”

“Some traditional cultures give us a special name,” she added. “These are the names we use to call sexual minority groups. Churches can help and the first step is to make safe spaces for our groups.”

Davis Mac-Iyalla of the Ghana-based Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa (IDNOWA) said that churches in his region – often funded from the rich countries of the global North – “say that we are corrupted and abominable.” Many support legislation to strengthen colonial-era laws that already ban same-sex relations and in the case of Ghana, “would even send parents to prison if they refuse surgery for their intersex children.”

“From high levels like this,” he added, “churches are encouraged to open safe space, but our leaders do not create that safe space. But we engage with churches because we are part of the church.”

Some in the audience questioned the existence of “safe space,” saying that experiences of dialogue often provoke further trauma among sexual and gender minorities. Kotzé responded: “You don’t have to go if it re-traumatizes you. But God’s love moves me – maybe not everyone – to take it on, to witness.”

Families in the Bible and today: ideals and diverse realities

At the Canisiushaus Encounter Centre, a panel moderated by two German pastors, Monika Bertram and Stefanie Bischof, explored biblical notions of family and contemporary realities: one-parent families, rainbow families, intercultural families, and others. The dynamic was a blend of presentations and table-group discussion. 

Two panelists now live and work in Germany, but came from other places. Heekyung Jeong from South Korea is in Ph.D. studies in Mainz and Eric Gyamerah came to Karlsruhe from Ghana 25 years ago and leads a diverse Pentecostal congregation here. 

“We always have something to thank God for. We can look around even for something small to thank God for, and this opens our hearts,” said Gyamerah.

A third panelist, Ute Siebert, returned to Germany after spending a large part of her life in Nicaragua and Chile, and raising children on her own after her Chilean husband had died. Here and there, she contended with questions of identity, and religious and cultural diversity. “I was very young widow with two young sons. My friends were women in theological education and faith communities, interested in feminism and ecology. These women were my community, a collective. What saved my sons was the other families.”

A digital quiz provoked deeper reflection on diverse expressions of love and family that are found in the Bible.

Amadeo Udampoh (left) with Jim Hodgson and Michael Schuenemeyer

Masculinity in different traditions, cultures and walks of life 

Near the end of the day at Canisiushaus, Amadeo Udampoh, a Rainbow Pilgrim from Jakarta, Indonesia, joined a panel on evolving concepts of masculinity in different contexts.

Udampoh is chair of the Centre for Gender, Sexuality and Trauma at the Jakarta Theological Seminary. “We are a resource centre,” he explained. “At first, it was centre for gender and sexuality studies, but as we went on, we saw relationship of gender justice and trauma healing.”

In the Indonesian context, “men are expected to conform to cultural norms: get married to a woman,” he said. “They are to demonstrate strength to protect women and children, but that’s a patriarchal understanding that reigns over men too.” He called this an “impossible standard,” and said it was “dangerous not only for women and children, but for the men themselves.”

Two other panelists (who declined to be named publicly) were refugees in Germany from Syria. They arrived as a gay couple, but in this context, one came to identify herself as a woman. The two have stayed together. “We need to make change everywhere so that everyone can live as freely as we do in Germany,” said the young woman.

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