Archbishop Malkhaz Songhulashvili — Statement against Homophobia in the Republic of Georgia

This is is second of two statements by Baptist Archbishop Malkhaz Songhulashvili against phobias in his beloved Republic of Georgia. This beautiful statement which speaks to global concerns responded to violence in May and has just now been made available in English.The statement follows the description of the incident.

Archbishop of Georgia’s Press Service

May 17th is International Day against Homophobia (IDAHO), celebrated around the world with LGBTQ rights rallies. An attempt to observe the day against homophobia in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi ended in rioting as hostile protesters attacked participants and police lines crumbled.  Thousands of anti-gay protesters inspired, organised and led by the leadership of the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate (by Corespiskopos – Deputy Patriarch Iakob and senior clergy of Tbilisi Diocese) attacked a group  of activists attempting to hold 30 minutes’ – long silent protest  in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.  The video footage of the event has shaken thousands of people to their core. The couple of dozen peaceful activists had to be rescued by police and bussed out of the city centre for their safety. The mob descended on the bus with such ferocity and primordial anger that it was lucky that they escaped with their lives. Dozens of people were injured, including journalists and police officers trying to escort people away from the trouble.

Two days before the violence, Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia issued a declaration which was published and widely circulated.  Sadly, this declaration was not heard by the Orthodox hierarchy and clergy, who were in charge of the organized violence. So far no bishops, priests or laity have been disciplined by the church for their participation in the violence.

A Declaration from Archbishop Malkhaz Songhulashvili

“God gave us a world of uncountable colours.”

When a person’s value is degraded and insulted because of his or her sexual orientation,  whether directly or indirectly,  it is the most holy duty of every citizen and of every religious person to stand up for justice and the equality of minorities who are wronged and belittled.

In all the civilized countries of the world homophobia is officially rejected. With us, however, even today, speaking about the issue is thought of as embarrassing.

The people of my generation did not expect the destruction of the Soviet Union, but rather everyone wanted with all their heart to live out their cherished freedom.  Many were saying of that freedom: “It came out of our totalitarian government. But who knows how much time we will need for the totalitarian government to come out of us?” Apparently, they were right. Those bastions of the totalitarian mentality in us are still not completely destroyed. One of them is homophobia.

I understand well that this topic is very sensitive, but silence on the issue is not justified because our fellow citizens who are right next to us, our children, relatives, and loved ones are persecuted for this. They are blackmailed and forced into things they do not want to do. They are violated physically and morally.

Homophobia as a phenomenon leaves one emotionally numb and marginalises sexual minorities. For some homophobes, homophobia is a means of struggling with their own latent homosexuality.

Homophobic hatred and hostility compel some homosexuals to search for a way out, to be secretive, or to cover up their orientation, or else to enter into an overwhelming battle to defend their rights.

There is no single position among Christian theologians regarding the LGBT way of life. Discussing the issue often leads to religious, social, and political polarisation.

One group of theologians thinks that the scriptures, as well as Church tradition (i.e. the Church Fathers, the Councils), unequivocally condemn the homosexual way of life and see it as sin.

A second group of contemporary theologians thinks the basis of every kind of sexual relationship is between two persons. Love that is acceptable to them is a monogamous relationship based on faithfulness and trust. Likewise, what is unacceptable is licentiousness, whether it be heterosexual or homosexual.

Presently, there is no common opinion in theology that is more correct than the other. It will probably be quite some time before two positions come to terms. But what they both agree on is this, that homophobia should be rooted out of all spheres of social life: from the family, from education, from work, from the church, from the mosque, and from the synagogue. This is because homophobia—which includes the irrational fear, loathing, hatred, and persecution of a person—is one of the gravest sins.

A person has the right to have his or her own opinion about homosexuals. This comes from his or her culture, upbringing, education, and other views, but if he or she is religious, then his or her responsibility is to love and not to hate a person. In the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions, the love of God and human beings is the foundation for faith.

A homosexual is just as much a “neighbour” as any other person and, if this is so, the imperative of our faith is to love him or her even in those instances where we find their way of life unacceptable. Because of this love, it is a believer’s religious obligation to defend and protect a person who is a victim of discrimination and physical and emotional violence, so that the victim’s rights are exactly equal to that of a heterosexual person. I understand that for many of us it is not easy to accept and love a different person even if our religion commands us. But at this stage, if we cannot love them, we can at least stop hating them.

Homosexuals and heterosexuals are created in the form and the image of God. Both of them are God’s children, and God loves both of them the same. Some of us are born as women, some as men, some as left-handed and some as right-handed, some dark-skinned, some fair-skinned, some heterosexual, some homosexual, some transgender. We did not have the choice of how we were born. None of this is a defect in our humanity. It is a gift that God bestowed. Once again we should cite our famed poet, Shota Rustaveli, who wrote that “God gave us a world of uncountable colours.”

Our civilization needed time to make sense of and appreciate diversity. There was a time when dark-skinned people were thought of as “children of sin” or as having some sort of irreparable defect. Fortunately, that idea changed some time ago. Unfortunately, in some societies where there are racial minorities, they are still marginalised and discriminated against. It happens to other kinds of minorities as well.

Jesus Christ paid most attention to those marginalised and hated by society. Jesus was and is the Lord of sympathy and love.

Ephraim the Assyrian (an early Church Father) in his poetry lauds our freedom of choice, thanks to which a person has the opportunity to choose either the way of compassion or the way of inhumanity. Perhaps even in Georgia a time will come when we all will choose to have compassion on different people and we will finally cordon off our inhumanity.  We will rid ourselves of the lack of empathy which has reaped so much misery for us.

Perhaps a time will come when we will put an end to discrimination because of sexual orientation and be free from false thinking and superstition.

Perhaps it is time that in our society there should be a discussion on this topic so that members of the LGBT community would feel like protected, fully valued members of society.

Our country made the choice to be democratic and modern. It is impossible for discrimination to have a place in a modern democracy for any reason.

We need to be free from false ideas about members of the LGBT community. The underlying basis for such things is nothing but fear that they are somehow dangerous to society. Such an attitude is unacceptable. It is shameful and ignorant.

The Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia

Translated from Georgian by Dr William  Eastwood and edited by Bishop Michael Cleaves.

Violence in Tblisi

Violence in Tbilisi

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