(Edited: The original post has been heavily edited and additions have been made to improve clarity and present the secular perspective. Thanks to Reinhart Louw for his detailed input.)
This week we’re looking at Sectarian views of Family life and how they subvert the aims of Human Rights and Gender Equality, specifically around marriage.
According to every major religion and traditional belief system in South Africa, marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman, with the family household headed by a man. This is based on “Normative Gender roles” and results in what many Christian groups publicise as the “Natural Family”. The use of natural family is to exclude legal marriages between same-sex couples and deem them as unnatural. (Not too long ago, this was the same language used to validate laws against the marriages (and intermingling) of people of different ethnic groups.) The legalisation of same-sex marriages is touted by sectarian groups as an assault on traditional values (or religious morals) and a direct attempt at persecuting “religious followers”, calling for a ‘return’ to the rule of a divine authority.
The origin of Normative Gender roles extends to the post-industrial revolution, where the idea was used to subjugate women into the kitchen and out of the voter lines and job market. At the same time, the definition of men was to be hard, cold and driven to success in the most aggressive way possible, making it seem weak for a man to be interested in anything other than success as breadwinners. Feminism came about as women wanted equality and the right to be active participants in the economy and world. Feminism, rather than an attack on men, has its core objective to see all human beings able to flourish and achieve their own personal ideal of success; through equality for all. On the other hand, the gay rights movement has the additional aim of eliminating discrimination against homosexuals and desire equal rights embedded in the law.
The sectarian viewpoint that feminism is destroying family is misguided. Feminism is in fact trying to rectify the damage which normative gender roles has inflicted on family and society over the past 200 years, and still continues to inflict. Equal rights for homosexuals changes nothing in terms of the rights or familial activities of heterosexual couples, and wouldn’t affect religious families continue according to their beliefs. It goes against the social nature of human beings for families to exist as isolated cells in a larger community. The idea of the nuclear family based on normative gender roles is more prone to risk and the possibility of collapse due to instability is higher; and family members will often find themselves without support during difficult times. The sectarian ideal of family is flawed, and in their attempts to diminish the basic human rights of others embedded in our Constitution, they preach it as a means to attain freedom and liberty for all.
With Christianity being the most popular religion in South Africa, secularism is framed as the designated enemy of the Judeo-Christian ‘God’. Secular humanism is often mislabelled and misrepresented as a religion which is being forced on Christians in an attempt to oppress them and their beliefs. The ideals of humanism are seen as dogma, and the rights embodied within those ideals as opposed to Christian morals and values. This includes any rights which do not reinforce a sectarian world view; for instance, the “right to marry without discrimination of gender orientation”, or the equal role of women in society – where at sectarian extremes, women are executed for attaining an education or people are imprisoned or worse for their gender orientation.
“Secular humanists will stop at nothing to achieve their dream of complete sexual license. The only thing standing in their way is the pesky Judeo-Christian moral value system.” – Errol Naidoo, Family Policy Institute
Secularism is the separation of the state or government from religious influence, meaning that no religious ideology has a preference when laws are being passed. In a secular government, all religions are protected. Humanism is a world view that embraces diversity, ethics based on reason, empathy and for the benefit of all life, and trust in the scientific method as a means to understand our world and universe. Humanism also promotes that we, as human beings, are able to solve our problems and build a better life through co-operation.
However, South Africa has a secular government (not a secular humanist one), dedicated to protecting everyone’s human rights, without favour to specific religions, ethnic groups or the ideology of a minority or majority.
Errol Naidoo is the President of the Family Policy Institute(FPI), one of the most active and vocal sectarian organisations in South Africa, advocating for a “return” to a Judeo-Christian centric government and social order (the Apartheid Nationalist government also called itself a “Christian government”, basing their political practice on an expression of the faith). The FPI mission statement reads:
“Family Policy Institute believes marriage and the family is the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society. FPI endeavors to shape public debate and formulate public policy that values human life and upholds the institutions of marriage and the family. Believing that God is the author of life, liberty, and the family, FPI promotes the Judeo-Christian worldview as the basis for a just, free, and stable society.”
FPI’s mission statement is already in direct opposition to the Constitution of South Africa, which embraces diversity and aims to protect all citizens equally, and prevent any single ideology from being the basis of governance. What sectarian groups propose is not only creating laws of special privilege to oppress specific groups, but that they and their ideology is absolute and supreme over everyone.
Taking a further look on their website at the news section, it becomes clear that FPI is against the progress of the practice of equitable Human Rights by all, and position secular humanism as their enemy and in opposition to their Christian fundamental beliefs.
“A culture war is currently raging in SA society. Two conflicting worldviews are engaged in a life or death struggle for the hearts and minds of people. Victory is assured for the courageous and the committed.
On one side of the battlefield are advocates of the Biblical Christian Worldview with its message of service and submission to an all powerful God. On the other side are the secular humanists whose ultimate goal is to abolish all acknowledgement & recognition of God from the national psyche.” Errol Naidoo – Family Policy Institute
Our Constitution is based on secular governance and is written to protect all South Africans and their religious rights, even when there is a religious majority. The Bill of Rights embodies the ideals of an equal, just and non-discriminatory society. It encourages embracing diversity, freedom and promotes co-operation between citizens despite differences in beliefs, political views, ethnicity, sex or gender orientation.
While FPI and other Christian sectarian groups highlight homosexuality as a weapon against the natural family, they polarise Christians against equal gender rights on all levels; they undermine the fundamental objectives of our Constitution. As the law is being adjusted to accomplish a more equitable alignment to “Equal Rights” for all, and even when those rights do not affect the lives of stoic religious believers, sectarian groups are the most vocal critics. The language used by sectarian groups is, more often than not, emotional, inflammatory and provocative in the extreme; used in an attempt to cover up the truth the false and baseless accusation theta their religious beliefs are under attack. In reality, no religion is actually under threat by the institution of equal rights by Our secular government.
“Religious freedom is under grave threat in the US, Europe and South Africa. The only freedom of speech homosexual activists tolerate – are their own. Sexual rights activists are hard at work at the UN and in liberal Parliaments, shutting down any debate that conflicts with their agenda.
South African Churches will soon be feeling the sting of homosexual totalitarianism when “Hate Crimes” legislation is tabled in Parliament soon. Scriptures condemning homosexual practise will be criminalised and Pastors prosecuted for preaching God’s Word from their own pulpits.” Errol Naidoo – Family Policy Institute
This focus and vehement public response against homosexuals being recognised and treated as equal citizens, completely ignores many other gender identities (trans-gender, bi-sexual, intersex, etc.), but creates a single false enemy to ‘rise up against’ for their supporters. If sectarian groups succeed at enforcing their own prejudice on homosexuals into the law, they could easily target another gender identity… or any other individuals or groups who may not match their divine criteria. This propaganda creates a subversive distraction from the male-centric and patriarchal agenda that sectarian groups are also advocating for – The return of women to their place in the household, as submissive to their husbands, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.
“… Had churches not been excluded from the application of the Bill, it would have made the State rather than the Bible the highest authority on the roles of men and women in the Church, and indirectly also then in the home…” Freedom of Religion South Africa – Issues: Gender Equality
This is often reinforced by women working within these groups:
“Parents who have had the privilege of raising intelligent daughters consider it ‘a crime’ not to send them to university to study. So even at a young age, girls are taught that the only way for them to ‘matter’ is if they compete in the marketplace with men…
… In most of Society, and even within the Church, the depth and breadth of what it means to be a keeper at home is overlooked. The minimization of this role has been a priority of the feminist movement for decades. Being a godly wife and mother, or a single Christian woman desiring to marry is considered old fashioned. The empty charm of feminism lures many a woman away from the true fulfilment that God intended when He created her…” Lenora Hammond, Christian Action
Beyond same-sex marriages, sectarian groups are also against sex before marriage, divorce, abortion and contraception. Tthey see these as going against the natural family and “God’s plan”; only reinforcing the sectarian idea that a woman should define her life by their religious ideals, rather than her own personal ambitions. They avoid addressing issues of physical and sexual abuse, rape, families in financial crisis and the multi-cultural society that South Africa is. Yet, sectarian groups would rather blame gender equality movements trying to address these very social ills, and the activities of secular ideals embodied in an egalitarian society, than actually present real solutions.
Sectarian groups profess that instating their particular religious values would solve all these problems, that their morals are tested and absolute, ordained by divinity and interpreted by themselves as true. They ignore actual social conditions like the fact that sexual exploitation and abuse has been present for decades – and most likely went unreported because women had fewer rights, or that the world is in an economic slow down and poverty on the rise – increasing the prevalence of abuse in poorer communities, even though these same communities are more religious.
Sectarian groups avoid mentioning social realities, especially those showing that an increasing number of Christians are being or have been publicly implicated in sexual scandals and cases of abuse as perpetrators. This is hardly surprising when the typical message from religious groups is:
“People need to know that God is a just God and that what happened to them will be punished. Either the perpetrator will be punished (whether in this life or in the next) or he will confess and repent of his sin and allow Jesus to take his punishment. The choice is his. Likewise, forgiving our perpetrators is a choice many victims of abuse must make in order to find healing.” Sexual Abuse Article, New Living Way Ministry
Seldom do we see religious leaders being held accountable for the atrocities they commit, or when news of their indiscretion is heard, they are quickly whispered away out of reach of local justice authorities. In some religious groups, the victim’s silence is encouraged or coerced to save face for the church or ministry, or the victim is blamed for bringing temptation to these holy men. And yet, victims are still expected to excuse and forgive the perpetrator’s actions as “falling to sin”. In sectarian countries, it is often the victim who bares the punishment for the perpetrator’s indiscretions – being stoned, beheading or having acid poured over you for being raped.
What sectarian groups are proposing is the abandonment of the hard won freedoms expressed in our basic human rights and the equality we enjoy in democratic South Africa, if only to appease their ideals for the natural family and submission to interpreted divine law; in FPI’s case – interpreted by Errol Naidoo.
Current global statistics show secular countries as the most peaceful, having lower divorce rates, teen pregnancies, crime rates (including sexual and physical abuse) and higher levels of prosperity, while even wealthy sectarian countries are at the lower spectrum of the Peace Index. Citizens in sectarian countries are less educated, less wealthy, are restrict from speaking up against inhumane laws or treatment by the government and often have restrictions applied to their movement, this applies particularly women. The sectarian idea of family is devoid of consideration for the well being of humanity, and aims to strip, not only those whose lifestyle is not according to their world view, but threatens to create a totalitarian state governed by a minority.
Sectarian regimes create a privileged and protected elite, which are beyond scrutiny and the law. Secular governments value equality of all citizens under the law and respect for all human rights. In practice, secular governments will protect even the smallest minority from discrimination or oppression.
Why should we even entertain sectarian ideals as a solution to social problems affecting family?
(All quotes link back to the original articles and sites.)
The issues that we’re exploring are sensitive and complex, we don’t want to alienate anyone. That said, we also don’t want to blame sectarian groups or specific religions for social problems. We do want to explore and show how the mixed messages coming from sectarian groups, are creating confusion and detracting from how secular governments are trying to solve real social problems, and further the work towards Human Rights in practice.