Church Responses to Sexuality – Consultation

Asian Consultation on Church Responses to Human Sexuality and Gender Minorities-convened by NCCI (National Council of Churches India) and supported by Ecumenical partners, 7-9 Feb 2017 held at the Ecumenical Christian Centre, Whitefield, Bangalore.

In a latest path-breaking solidarity involvement by National Council of Churches India undertaking the challenge of a topic which has been kept under the carpet, the two and a half day program held at ECC Whitefield, Bangalore centre, addressed the concerns pertaining to LGBTIQ in the Indian context. The graph of surging acceptance, which has been evident across a few Christian denominations in the nation, hit new mark as 50 representatives from various Christian Churches in South and South East Asia, Indian Church leaders, human right associations and LGBTIQ community members congregated reckoning hope towards queer and inclusiveness. The main dialogues included the necessity to rethink the notion of relationships centred on heteronormative marriages, sex as an expression not only for procreation but also recreation, how Christianity contributed to the social/cultural norms of sex as a sinful act, etc. Dr Manoj Kurian (Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, World Christian Council) in his inaugural address emphasized how vital is it to create and sustain inclusive spaces for the marginalised, besides accentuating areas where international faith based groups had been actively involved.

Rev Dr Roger Gaikwad (Gen Secretary, NCCI) shared theological concerns related to inclusion and suggested consolidation of best practices while looking into the paradigm of patriarchy. The plenary session ‘Church Engagement in Human Sexuality- the Kairos framework’ by Prof Gerald West (University of KwaZulu, South Africa) exposed the theology versus human right involvement patterns. The other plenaries on ‘Asia Regional Church Responses’ and ‘Church engagement with Human Sexuality in Asia: The Jakarta Consultation and Statement’ spelled out the formation and evolution of South Asian community based groups and their interventions in the facet of faith and sexuality. The existing wide gap between theological groups and queer community was also pinpointed while addressing formation of independent churches by Queer people in South Asian nations like Singapore. Queer supportive church groups from Philippines, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Singapore added vibrancy to the gathering and Rev Fr Philip Kuruvilla presented , in its sequential mode, the interventions of NCCI in the arena of LGBTIQ Human Rights. A workshop, by Prof West, on ‘Methodologies of contextual theology in Human Sexuality’ was an eye opener regarding the incident of Sodom-Gomorrah, which is used as a tool to agitate against homosexuality. The practise of re-reading scriptures in terms on criticality, collaboration, change, context, connectivity and contestation had been the core essence of the workshop, which proposed adaptation to the signs of the time. The workshop also raised the less elevated query of why churches remain silent on the cases of incest and rape, narrated in the Old Testament.

The panel discussion on ‘Christianity, Sexual Diversity and access to health services‘ had the global, Asian and Indian views. Dr L Ramakrishnan(Vice President, SAATHII) presented the least addressed negligence in area of health services and areas in which Churches can extend support. Another panel discussion was on ‘Indian Christian Responses- Showing the way’, comprised of the Marthomite, The CSI, the Salvation Army leaders and representatives of Indian queer community. The highlights were on the services initiated by each groups for LGBTIQ lives. Ms Olga Aaron(Bravo movement , Chennai), one of the panellists, voiced for support to gender non confirming children and grass root level championing. Further, Daniel Mendonca (Nirmala Niketan, Mumbai), an intersex person, presented on the button concerns of intersex beings, whose human rights get violated right from the birth. Jijo Kuriakose, founder of Queerala, presented Faith versus Sexuality Conflict– Responses from lesbians and gays in Central Travancore; a case study on community people from the Jacobite, the Orthodox, the Marthomite and the CSI denominations ’. Another panel on ‘Church Engagement in Human Sexuality’had voices from lesbian & gay pastors from Singapore. The panel, also had response on Church and Queer life engagement, in which Romal Laisram(HRNL) shared his experiences of being Queer and Christian.

The direct outcomes of the Consultation included immediate and long term action plans for the following
• Mind Opening frameworks
• Expanding the pool of socially engaged groups which can accommodate emerging areas of human rights
• The India specific context of Queer involvements
• Immediate and long term actions: possibilities and related challenge
• Solidarity for Queer and faithful Christians vis a vis Queer people who do not follow faith
• Addressing LGBTIQ issues beyond the frames of the belief system by being receptive and responsive
• Human Rights and SOGI inclusive curriculum, open courses and field work for Theology students and Seminarians
• Advocacy and workshops in Church run educational institutions
• Interactions with the parents of queer youth
• The Solidarity and Involvement Statement released at the Consultation; which clearly mentions
The Recognition of people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions; and Acknowledgement of the need for greater inclusion of the same

The exhilarating consultation, which brings extended hope for queer persons who follow faith and face opposition from parents and families who use faith as a stringent tool of rejection and denial, shall certainly encourage further dialogues and inclusive interventions, to have dynamic plans based on a humanitarian approach, whilst arduous hitherto achievable. We candidly appreciate this audacious attempt initiated and realized by Fr Philip Kuruvilla(Consultant, ESHA Program, NCCI) and Fr Thomas Ninan(Associate General Co-coordinator ESHA program, NCCI).

As reported by the Consultation delegates-Jiby Joyce and Jijo Kuriakose, for Queerala webpage.