Bishop in court over homophobic slur
Preacher admits he went too far but says he can’t change the Bible
Suggesting that homosexual people are lower than animals has landed a bishop in the Port Elizabeth Equality Court.
And while Joshua Maponga admits he may have gone too far, he sees no reason for him to be “hanged on the cross” and expected to change church policies or the Bible.
Maponga has been hauled over the coals by the SA Human Rights Commission and ended up in the Equality Court this week for utterances he made during a service at the Seventh Day Adventist church in KwaMagxaki on January 13.
The church has distanced itself from the bishop’s comments, saying he was not a church official.
In his complaint, church member Zolani Simayi, 43, of East London, claimed during Maponga’s sermon the charismatic preacher used derogatory terms about homosexual people and insinuated that dogs were not as confused as gay people in that when male dogs wanted to mate they looked for female dogs.
“[Maponga] further suggested that the act of males sleeping with males is a manifestation that humans have also gone below animals.
“The sermon was not proper. It was hinging on the violation of the rights to dignity of the LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex] individuals. It was a violation of section 10 of the [Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act].
“Everyone has a right to freedom of expression, but that right is not absolute – it has limitations. That is, it must not lead to the spread of hate or infringe on the right to dignity of the LGBTI individuals.
“You can disagree with one’s sexual orientation, but do not dehumanise them by insinuating that dogs aren’t as confused as the LGBTIs,” Simayi said.
Asked for a response to the allegations, Maponga simply said that he had apologised to Simayi on two separate occasions and did not understand what more Simayi wanted.
“I sent him [Simayi] two apologies, now he wants another – does he want an interdict to stop me from preaching?
“He wants to educate the church but he cannot hang me on a cross – I cannot change the Bible,” Maponga said.
In his apology, directed to the SAHRC, Maponga said he had quoted the book of Romans and argued that homosexual relations were unnatural.
“It is unfortunate that I used the illustration of ‘dogs’ to make the point about this Bible text,” he said.
“I am sorry for the pain I caused and I understand the seriousness of the issue of the right to be treated with dignity and the preaching of the gospel without dehumanising other people.
“The extent of the damage caused by the debate and the sermon cannot be revoked,” Maponga wrote in his apology.
But the apology did little to quell the flames.
Simayi said the apology had not addressed the issues he had raised with Maponga.
“[Maponga] must admit to dehumanising the LGBTIs with his utterings. It was not just a mere unfortunate illustration – it was hurtful, dehumanising and demeaning.
“He must take full responsibility and be specific with what he is sorry for,” Simayi said.
SAHRC Eastern Cape provincial manager Abongile Sipondo confirmed that the apology was rejected on the basis that Simayi did not feel it was genuine.
“Our assessment was that the utterances were a prima facie violation of human rights,” Sipondo said.
On Monday, the matter was taken to the Equality Court in Port Elizabeth, which led to a directions hearing taking place.
“It would be [up to the] court to come to a conclusive determination that they agree with us on our assessment,” Sipondo said.
He confirmed the SAHRC was waiting to hear from the court on what direction the matter would take and for a confirmation on when the next court appearance would be.
An official from the Seventh Day Adventist head office in Bloemfontein has distanced the church from the furore.
Seventh Day Adventist Southern Africa Union Conference legal department head Andrew du Preez said Maponga was neither a pastor, an employee or an authorised spokesperson of the church.
“Therefore, as an organisation we do not see the need to react to his statements as these were made in his personal capacity,” he said.