School of Religion, Philosophy & Classics

Research into Black Queer Christian Bodies in African Faith Spaces

Ms Tracey Sibisi.
Photos: Alistair Nixon
Ms Tracey Sibisi.

The position of black queer Christian bodies in African faith spaces was investigated in research by Ms Tracey Sibisi who graduated cum laude with a Masters degree in Theology (Gender and Religion).

Sibisi, who was awarded the Inclusive and Affirming Ministries Scholarship for her Honours project, works full time for the Gay and Lesbian Network in Pietermaritzburg and is doing ground-breaking research work from within the NGO sector.

Sibisi’s research explored the possibility of queering queer spaces of worship; engaging black queer Christian bodies within the African faith space looking at these realities from the perspective of queer individuals themselves and understanding their lived experiences; and reflecting on these in order to understand how inclusive spaces within churches can be created.

‘Some queer bodies have moved towards creating their own spaces of worship, building a safe space of inclusion and acceptance for all bodies within the presence of God,’ said Sibisi. ‘They are working towards providing an environment that is free of discrimination, prejudice and violence – a space in which all individuals are invited to come as they are.’

Her research established that queer churches had also conformed to these normative systems of oppression within the church. ‘Heteronormativity became the foundation through which the processes of the church had been structured which meant that systems of patriarchy had pervaded this space and only bodies that existed within the binaries informed by heteronormativity had been recognised within this context,’ said Sibisi.

She suggests that queer bodies in their understanding of the image of God, spirituality as well as their understanding of the ideal church, could become the starting point of theological discourse erring towards inclusion within the African faith landscape.

‘Using Izitabane Zingabantu (Ubuntu Theology), a possibility is revealed through which queer bodies could redefine the church, helping us identify a transformative ecclesiology resisting the binary understanding of Christian worship,’ said Sibisi. ‘Creating faith spaces erring towards the inclusion of all bodies within the church, begins the process of destabilising hetero-patriarchal constructions of gender and sexuality in the African context, by helping us rethink how we view God, scripture, and spirituality.’

Through her research, queer individuals have taught Sibisi to own her space in the presence of God. ‘How queer individuals find peace and joy in the presence of God regardless of the single narrative that is used to try and turn them away from God, is a beautiful thing to see and hear.’

She thanked her parents Raphael and Virginia Sibisi, her partner Nkululeko Gumede, friends, and supervisor Professor Charlene van der Walt, for their support and encouragement.

She offered this advice to students: ‘Believe in your dream and make sure you have someone to talk to in terms of your research and your emotional health.  It is a journey that you cannot take alone, and it is very important to understand that more than anything… rest when you need it most.’

Sibisi has been accepted to read for a PhD in the Gender and Religion Programme in the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics.