School of Religion, Philosophy & Classics

Research into ‘Queer Churches’ Produces Honours Degree

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‘Queer Churches’ and the contextual realities that brought them into being was the subject of research by a Theology student.

The investigations led to Ms Tracey Sibisi graduating through UKZN with her Honours degree in Theology cum laude from UKZN. 

Sibisi works in the field as a queer LGBTI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and other sexuality, sex and gender diverse) activist under the Gay and Lesbian Network.

She chose the topic to further engage the contextual realities of ‘queer individuals’ within the African population, with a special interest in their move away from hetero-patriarchal churches and the establishment of ‘queer spaces’ to worship and talk about God in a manner that is life affirming for all members present.

‘Scripture has been one of the tools used in the quest to alienate queer Christian bodies within the church, misinterpreting the Bible to dehumanise queer bodies located within a context that is rooted in heteronormative cultural norms and beliefs sustained by a patriarchal system,’ said Sibisi.

‘This resistance by faith-based institutions has contributed to Africa being widely associated with homophobia. The church has been reluctant to speak about issues of homosexuality, and when raised it is from a negative position in most cases, one that denounces homosexuality and condemns homosexuals, as well as those who do not conform to gender binaries.’

She believes this has led to the exclusion of the queer Christian community within the church, pushing them to the margins, which she sees as oppressing a community that struggles to combine, negotiate and reconcile their sexual and religious identities. ‘The church has continued to create a barrier that has moved queer Christian bodies away from heteronormative spaces of worship, to spaces where, in solidarity with one another, they are able to build a community in which they can collectively reflect on the image of God without fear,’ added Sibisi.

Her findings have uprooted the failure in ‘queer churches’ to maintain a space of inclusion for all ‘queer individuals’. ‘I found that the system of patriarchy had been resurrected. The only accepted relationship was one, which conformed to the systems of heteronormativity, leaving those who identify outside of these norms excluded from the processes of the church, which further imposed gender binaries on members.

She believes this has led to the oppression of those that see themselves outside of these binaries, leading to the ‘exclusion of queer bodies from “inclusive” queer churches taking on the traditional structure of hetero-patriarchy.

Sibisi, currently completing her Master’s degree in Theology (Gender and Religion), is also working with traditional leaders and religious leaders within rural communities through the Gay and Lesbian Network, holding dialogues on gender and sexuality, ‘to ensure that we create a welcoming environment for the LGBTI+ community, in terms of decreasing hate crimes, secondary victimisation and exclusion’.

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