by Rev. Stephen Parelli
July 15, 2012
Rev. J. Elie Gasana, Other Sheep Coordinator for Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo, hosted a one-day workshop in Gisenyi, Rwanda, on July 14. Other Sheep Executive Director Rev. Stephen Parelli offered two papers (in French) and Alfred Ssekabanja of Uganda Victim Support Organization was guest speaker.
Twelve clergy and one lay leader, whose ministries range from the local to national level in Rwanda, participated. In addition, one participant was identified as doing "Other Sheep work in the DRC."
The attendees were arranged into discussion groups, with designated leaders, to read and interact between themselves on the two papers and to prepare written questions for Parelli to address before all the attendees.
The first paper, authored by Parelli, dealt with his own journey through his ex-gay experience. The second paper, authored by Dr. Ralph Blair and used with permission, addressed the Bible texts traditionally used to condemn sexual minorities. Each attendee received a hard copy of each paper.
The majority of the time was spent on the first paper with discussion and questions around homosexuality as an orientation. Parelli said: "Whatever questions you have about homosexuality, ask the same question about heterosexuality and you will have your answer." Parelli repeatedly followed that formula in answering questions from 'is it a choice' to 'how does one become a homosexual' to 'what is same-sex sexual activity like.'
In discussing Parelli's paper, one attendee, whose influence is on a national level within her denomination, commented that for the first time she now understands that it is not a choice to be homosexual. She said she had looked at gays as she had looked at sex workers, that is, that whereas sex workers can elect to do something else (everything being equal), she now realizes the option to do something else does not exist for homosexuals. Her paradigm shifted from equating gays with sex workers to understanding that homosexuality is an orientation like heterosexuality. Her group leader reported that she said, almost in tears, why should gays be harassed for something they cannot change.
Speaking in the language of Kinyarwanda, Alfred Ssekabanja, guest speaker from Uganda and himself Rwandan, shared his personal story as to how he came to work on behalf of the human rights of LGBT people in Uganda. He said he must help affirm the human rights of LGBT people even at the risk of being rejected by the church. He said he cannot stand silent in Uganda and watch the discrimination, rejection and even the possible death of LGBT people; Uganda cannot become another Rwanda where people are judged 'by their nature and not by their character.' He said our Christian religion did not keep us from horrific genocide in Rwanda where 99 percent of the people profess the Christian faith. He said our Christian faith, which is more about fearing God and less about loving one another, was not able to keep us from genocide; our beliefs must change. He said if we have learned nothing from the Rwanda genocide, we will still discriminate.
In group discussion, one member evoked the word 'kwihanganirana' which means: "I am different; you are different; but we must live together." The group leader reported that what is meant is tolerance, being patient with one another and accepting differences.
Ssekabanja served as interpreter between English and Kinyarwanda. Gasana, who acted as moderator, served as interpreter between English and French. The meeting was conducted in the conference room of a local hotel establishment.