The rights of sexual minorities—including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community—are a controversial topic in Malawi and most parts of Africa.
Thirty three out of 54 African countries currently have laws that criminalise homosexual behaviour or same-sex attraction.
In the West, the increase in the rights of sexual minorities has usually come on the heels of increased secularisation of society.
As the citizenry of western democracies become less Christian, the barriers to the social and legal inclusion of sexual minorities seem to disappear.
It is against this backdrop that western governments and institutions advocate for the rights of sexual minorities.
Even if not communicated in explicit terms, the western world tells African nations to get rid of what are sometimes perceived to be their fictitious and antiquated belief systems and embrace the human rights of LGBT individuals through the lens of a secular and progressive worldview.
This approach strikes me as problematic and offensive.
The rights of sexual minorities and belief in an orthodox conception of Christianity are pitted against each other.
In this framework, one cannot have a society that is both deeply Christian and embraces LGBT individuals. This is a false dichotomy.
As a Christian, I believe that we should not discriminate against sexual minorities. Currently, sexual minorities in Malawi suffer from a myriad of inequalities, ranging from discrimination in the health sector to fear of violence from their communities and fear of arrest and prosecution from law enforcement.
Their rights are seen by some as expendable because they do not comply with traditional Judeo-Christian conceptions of morality.
Nonetheless, I believe that the rights of LGBT individuals can still be honoured in a culture that seeks to align its values and morality with a traditional understanding of the Bible.
There are examples in Jesus’ life that demonstrate how he would deal with individuals who violate religious conceptions of sexuality and morality.
In John 8:1-11, a crowd of the religious leaders brought before him a woman caught in the act of adultery. The religious law was unambiguous that this woman was supposed to be tried and killed for her sexual conduct.
Yet, Jesus did not sign an execution order that day. He told the crowd that those without sin should be the first to throw stones. Yet no one threw the stones. Instead, the crowd all dissipated as Jesus called out their hypocrisy.
Jesus exonerated her and told her to go home without punishment.
The Jesus of my Bible did not punish people for failing to live up to religious standards and regulations. Instead, he showed them love and compassion.
The Jesus of my Bible asks all of us: if I am not throwing stones of judgement, why are you picking up rocks?
I know Jesus did not approve of the lifestyle of this woman. He did not approve of the choices that she made or the way she chose to conduct herself in society.
Nonetheless, Jesus demonstrated that approval is not a precondition for love. The Jesus I serve does not throw stones, puts people in jail or executes them for not complying with religious rules.
Jesus demonstrates the words of James 2:13: “Mercy triumphs over judgement.”
He chooses the higher path, the path of love and not punishment.
Malawi, as a predominantly Christian society, can do the same.
Malawians do not have to shed their relationship with God in order to embrace LGBT rights.
To the contrary, it is through the love, compassion and the heart of Jesus that Malawi can respect the rights of all of her citizens, including sexual minorities. n