School of Religion, Philosophy & Classics

Ujamaa Centre Pilots Programme to Engage Ministries on ‘Trans Lives and Lived Realities’

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Participants at the Contextual Bible Studies series hosted by Ujamaa Centre and Inclusive and Affirming Ministries.
Participants at the Contextual Bible Studies series hosted by Ujamaa Centre and Inclusive and Affirming Ministries.

The Ujamaa Centre in UKZN’s School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics and the Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) have started a process of developing a series of Contextual Bible Studies (CBS) to contest ‘conservative Bible statements’ about lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ+) people.

According to the Head of the Gender and Religion Programme at UKZN, Professor Charlene van der Walt, the CBS series aims to contest heteronormative discourse and also seeks to assist participants in the reading of biblical text by and with LGBTIQ+ people.

‘In this way, the Bible could become a life-affirming source that affirms sexual and gender diversity and opens the possibility for LGBTIQ+ human dignity to be recognised and celebrated,’ said van der Walt. ‘We hope that this will play a part in increasing and improving equity in access to education, health and legal services, and human rights, which are often denied because of religious homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.’

Ujamaa Centre and IAM recently facilitated an online Contextual Bible Study with a group of UKZN postgraduate students who have been exploring issues of masculinity and gender in a module situated within the Gender and Religion programme in the School.

The Bible Study concentrated on the Ethiopian eunuchs mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Acts 8:26 – 40. Eunuchs in the Bible were figures who lived on the margins, excluded from religious or cultural practices according to the culture and religion of the Ancient Near Eastern times. They were usually appointed as court officials and were tasked with, among other things, serving and protecting women in the palace. They were seen as ‘safe’ because they would not be sexually attracted to women whom they guarded. The term eunuch is derived from ‘bed guards’.

Among the questions students were asked to think about were: (1) Who in the contemporary church and society are the eunuchs and (2) How do the church and society traditionally respond to them? Students identified those who are ‘othered’ in the church and in the broader society – a diversity of vulnerable groups and people including those who live with disabilities; sex workers; those who experience xenophobia; women who are excluded due to childlessness by family and culture in Africa where reproduction determines their worth, and trans, diverse and intersex people.

The Contextual Bible Study ended with students being asked: How does it challenge you to respond to and journey with trans, intersex and gender diverse people in your community?

Said van der Walt: ‘Responding from diverse contexts, students concluded that trans, intersex and gender diverse people need to be treated with respect and institutions that deny respect should be challenged for better access to services. This speaks of inclusion for all and also for the recognition of the gifts of those who are seen as “other” or on the margins.

‘Both the Ujamaa Centre and IAM remain committed to the process of developing CBS resources to not only assist faith communities to grapple with sexual and gender diversity, but also to enable LGBTIQ+ people to claim the Bible as a source of liberation and change,’ added van der Walt.

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