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African family culture and the homosexual aspect of the sexual revolution: a challenge to the church in Africa
By Fr Oskar Wermter SJ
July 08, 2004

Africa family culture values offspring very highly. A person lives on his or her children. It is a shame and a disgrace for a man to die without children, it is to die twice, it is a spiritual disaster: who is going to bring him back to the back to the family home after death as a mudzimu (ancestral spirit)? People go to enormous lengths to have offspring. If a man seems unable to beget a child the family may secretly arrange for his wife to conceive by a brother (kupindura).

There is no recognised place in the community for people who remain unmarried.

Most African societies therefore abhor homosexuality and find it hard to accept persons with such an inclination though they may have existed even in the past ( Hanna’s Shona Dictionary has no word for "homosexual", but the more recent Duramanzwi rechiShona lists"ngochani". African’s value systems cannot accommodate the phenomenon.

While the desire for children was for a long time also very strong in Europe society and still is, with many individuals (as manifested in the enormous efforts made by sterile couples to conceive by way of in vitro fertilization), children are no longer a priority in western society.

Being a full – time wife and mother has very little social prestige in industrialized countries. Being a "home-maker" is not recognized as a career. The division of labour between the sexes is disappearing, and men and women compete in the same professional fields.

The "sexual revolution" which started in the 1960s with the introduction of hormonal contraceptives have cut the link between the sexual act and procreation. Becoming "sexually active" in whatever form, even at an early age and outside marriage, is regarded as a basic human right provided pregnancy and infection by HIV/AIDS can be avoided. "Reproductive rights" (rather a misnomer since reproduction is precisely what is being avoided at all costs) are not counterbalanced by the obligation to accept the consequences of sexual activity.

Contraceptive failure makes abortion more and more acceptable as a means of birth control. A dramatic drop of the birth rates in western countries is accompanied by an almost hysterical fear of the " population explosion" elsewhere.

It is in this atmosphere of "sexual freedom" and less and less readiness to accept children that people with homosexual tendencies, formerly shunned by society even in western countries, have come out into the open to demand social acceptance of their " sexual orientation" and lifestyle.

What causes a person to be homosexual rather than heterosexual? It appears there is no one single answer. Are you born with this condition? Do you develop it due to certain experiences? Can such a development be reversed? There are still many unanswered questions.

Most homosexuals find themselves in this condition, they have not chosen it. Feeling attracted sexually to persons of the same sex as such is not a moral choice, and person in that condition must not be condemned. Statements sometimes heard in Christian circles that homosexuality, including homosexually inclined persons, are "satanic" are most unfortunate, unjust and unchristian.

We need to distinguish clearly between " homosexuality" and "homosexual persons", also between homosexual persons who actually have sexual relationships with partners of the same sex and those who, while having inclination, refrain from entering into any sexual relationship.

Liberal western society tries to remove the "stigma" from homosexual persons and argues against discriminating by giving hetero – and homosexuality equal standing and value. It is supposed to be a matter of "free choice" between two "options", two " sexual orientations" "lifestyles". This thinking has made deep inroads even into the Christian community (see the conflict within the Anglican Church over the Episcopal consecration of a practicing homosexual).

This is unacceptable in the light of biblical creation theology, which is the position of the Catholic Church and most major churches. The created order is that man was created for woman, and both for God. And the love between man and woman, their mutual self-giving to each other for life in marriage, is to be fruitful.

Marriage has two ends: not just the procreation of children, but also the mutual love and support of the spouses as recent official pronouncements of the Catholic Church have emphasized (Vatican Council II. The Church in the Modern World, 47 – 52)

Nevertheless, love by its very nature is to be fruitful. The acceptance of children is the culmination of the mutual love of the spouse. Spousal love becomes parental love.

In regard " homosexual unions" which are now trying to get civil recognition are defiant. No society concerned about its own long- term survival can afford to give such partnerships the same recognition as marriage between man and woman.

Homosexuality as a condition is a disorder, a deviation from the natural order as designed and willed by the Creator.

But it is not a moral offence insofar as the homosexual person finds him/herself in this condition and has not chosen it.

For this reason it is unacceptable that homosexual persons are shunned and reject socially.

This is therefore the difficult task for the Christian community to accept with love and respect homosexual persons without accepting homosexuality as of equal standing with heterosexuality.

The homosexual Christian who cannot live out his sexuality in a same-sex partnership, but must remain celibate needs the sympathetic support of the Christian community more than most if he/she is grow into a mature person.

"God is love", and people created in His image are to grow into loving persons, including those of a homosexual inclination, capable of self- giving and entering into personal relationships.

Homosexual Christians accepting their celibate state must be given a place and task within the Christian community so they can make their contribution to the community and develop their capacity for self – giving, even if that will not find a sexual expression.

The African family, while retaining its love for children and its readiness to accept responsibility for them, must learn to tolerate brothers and sisters who will not be physically fathers and mothers, buy need to be given a chance to become loving persons anyhow and make their love fruitful in other ways.

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