The following is a translation of an unprecedented pastoral statement by the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) regarding LGBT+ people. The statement recommends, among others, an affirming view of LGBT+ people and a thoughtful interpretation of Scripture.
This statement has generated heated debate and has resulted in accusations of PGI straying away from the Christian faith. Yet this represents a very bold and unexpected move to stand up for LGBTs in a region where LGBT+ people have few to no rights in general and experience discrimination, rejection and criminalisation.
The Communion of Churches in Indonesia is an ecumenical body representing the vast majority of Indonesia’s 25-odd million Christian population, approximating the entire population of Australia.
We wish to note that the statement has been translated by our editorial team. In case of any discrepancy, the original Indonesian version shall prevail.
PGI Pastoral Statement Regarding LGBTs
With response to the controversy which has appeared and spread among churches and in society concerning the existence of LGBTs (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender), Majelis Pekerja Harian PGI presents a few considerations as listed below. It is acknowledged that the attitude and teachings of the Church regarding this issue is very diverse, and these considerations are not meant to standardise them. These considerations are therefore an invitation for churches to delve more deeply into this issue. MPH-PGI would be very grateful if as a result from such probing, churches would be able to give ideas as feedback to MPH-PGI to complete PGI’s Attitude and Views regarding this issue.
1. Humanity is the image of a perfect God. As the image of a perfect God, humanity has dignity which should be respected and upheld.
2. God created humanity, creatures and all diverse creation, differing between each other. We live in diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and religion. This diversity is a reality which God has given to us, which we should be able to accept with a positive and realistic attitude.
3. Having a positive and realistic attitude in diversity means we should accept, cherish, appreciate and respect one another. Having a positive and realistic attitude towards the diversity which God has given means we are able to understand and accept in love all the differences we have. Having a positive and realistic attitude means we fight all forms of hate, injustice, discrimination, exploitation and oppression towards humanity, all creatures and all of God’s creation. On the contrary, we are able to dialogue all our differences without negative prejudice. Having a positive and realistic attitude means we are able to take care of and preserve the unity of a diverse humanity to bring forth goodness for the human race, for all creation and for this Earth.
Points to Ponder
4. Discussing LGBTs means discussing humans who are God’s very beloved creation.
5. The existence of humans with LGBT tendencies is a phenomenon which has existed since time immemorial. LGBT is not a product of modern civilisation; it is also not a product of Western civilisation. The LGBT phenomenon exists in our society, and socio-anthropologically LGBTs have historically been accommodated in the culture of some tribes in our society.
6. When faced with moral questions, one of the biggest problems rises from the way we interpret the text of the Holy Book. An interpretation of the text of the Holy Book which does not take into account the meaning and intention of the text written by the writers of the Holy Book has the potential of resulting in an interpretation which is far removed from the intention the text was written with.
The Bible does mention the LGBT phenomenon, but the Bible does not give a moral-ethics critique on their existence. The Bible does not criticise one’s sexual orientation.
What the Bible criticises is evil and exploitative sexual acts committed by anybody, including acts committed by heterosexuals, or otherwise deemed as ‘normal’. The main message regarding the account of Adam and Eve’s creation (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18; 21-24), for example, is about the pioneering of the family institution and that humans are given the responsibility to fill and preserve Earth. This account is absolutely not directed as a rejection of the existence of LGBTs.
7. There are a few other texts in the Bible which have been inaccurately interpreted to the extent that those verses appear as if they are a judgment upon LGBTs. However through a more accurate interpretation, we see that the Bible’s criticism in those verses is directed at other objects.
For example: The Bible strongly criticises fertility cult rituals (worshipping Baal and Asherah, Judges 3:7; 2 Kings 23:4) of Israel’s neighbouring tribes at the time, which practiced ritual sodomy, i.e. same-sex relations as part of Baal’s religious rituals (Deuteronomy 23:17-18); also towards the worship of Roman idols during the time of the New Testament (Romans 1:23-32). The Bible also criticises the xenophobic attitude of Sodom’s society towards foreigners by sexually exploiting those of the same sex. The intention was to humiliate them (Genesis 19:5-11 and Judges 19:1-30). Therefore, these parts of the Bible are not intended to attack, reject or discriminate against the existence of LGBTs.
Other texts in the Bible which are usually used to judge LGBTs are (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:10). What is rejected in those Bible texts are all kinds of evil and exploitative sexual practices committed by anybody for whatever reason, including religious reasons, intended towards anybody including women, men and children.
8. PGI wishes to remind all of us to consider the results of latest research in the fields of medicine and psychiatry which no longer include the LGBT sexual orientation as a disease, a mental disorder or as a form of evil. A statement from the World Health Organisation (WHO), Human Rights International based on advances of medical research which is able to understand the existence of LGBTs and champion their rights as part of humanity.
The Indonesian Psychiatric Association (PDSKJI) refers to the Guidelines for Classification and Diagnosis of Mental Disorders in Indonesia, 2nd edition, 1983 (PPDGJ II) and PPDGJ III (1993) that LGBT is not a mental disorder. LGBT is also not a spiritual disease.
In many cases, LGBT tendencies are experienced as a natural occurrence existing since birth; there are also cases where LGBT tendencies occur as a result of social influences. It is difficult to differentiate nature, and nurture due to social factors. Nevertheless in many subjects, LGBT tendencies are not a choice, but a given. Therefore, being LGBT, even more so something which has existed since birth is not a sin, so we cannot force them to repent. We also cannot force them to change; on the contrary we should help them to accept themselves as God’s gift.
9. The Church as an inclusive institution and God’s family should learn to accept LGBTs as an integral part of our union as the Body of Christ. We should provide them with opportunities to grow as people who are well-rounded physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.
10. PGI urges churches to prepare and conduct pastoral guidance with families so that they will be able to accept, embrace and love their relatives with LGBT tendencies. Familial rejection towards LGBT relatives have the potential to create mental disturbances and self-rejection which result in the increased potential of suicide among LGBTs.
11. All along LGBTs have experienced physical, mental-psychological, social and spiritual suffering due to religious stigmatisation and violent behaviour by certain segments of society. They have become a group which is degraded, excommunicated and discriminated against, even by the nation. The Church should take upon a different attitude. The Church should not only accept them, but should also champion LGBTs so that they will be accepted and rendered their rights by society and country, especially their rights to employment and so forth. The leaders of this nation should guarantee that the basic rights and dignity of LGBTs are respected! LGBTs should be given a chance to live in fairness and peace.
12. PGI urges that churches, society and the nation accept and even champion the rights and dignity of LGBTs. Our greatness as a civilisation is seen from our ability to accept and help those who are experiencing discrimination and injustice at this very moment. Nevertheless, PGI realises that the Indonesian Church and society is not yet able to accept same-sex marriage. PGI with the church community and society still require dialogue and deeper theological conversation with regards to this matter.
13. LGBT in essence is not an issue. LGBTs become a question due to our questioning. We are the ones who give them a negative stigma. Therefore a mature attitude, humility, rationality and the ability to be fair in addressing this case is required. We should distance ourselves from the tendency to judge or mislead anyone. On the contrary, we should learn to build unity among race and humanity based on equality and justice.
14. This concludes this pastoral statement which we firstly direct towards churches in Indonesia and also to Indonesian society as a whole. It is hoped that churches will continue to submit themselves to the Holy Spirit’s guidance to deepen their understanding and strengthen their spiritual commitment concerning the acceptance of LGBTs.
Jakarta, 28 May 2016
Rev. Dr. Henriette T. Hutabarat Lebang – Chairperson
Rev. Gomar Gultom – Secretary General