A Pastoral Letter from the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) Concerning the LGBT Community
Last month the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) issued a pastoral letter encouraging dialogue about how the churches relate to the LGBT community. For years we have been expecting the issue to raise a storm in the churches here, and it appears the time has finally come.
Social media has been full of heated argument and hysterical condemnation, but beyond the internet people are beginning to seriously rethink their prejudices. For the first time ever, last week I was asked to speak to a youth retreat on “the LGBT issue.” My conclusion was that most of the church youth have few personal problems with gender diversity, but feel compelled by the Bible to condemn it. The PGI statement makes a brave attempt to deal with that problem. Following is our translation of the text:
A Pastoral Letter from the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI)
Concerning the LGBT Community
1. Human beings were created in the perfect image of God. As such, all persons have an inherent dignity that must be respected.
2. God created humanity and all other creatures in immense variety and with many differences one from another. We all live in a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. This diversity is a reality given to us by God, that we should be able to accept positively and realistically. A positive and realistic attitude toward diversity means that we must accept one another, love one another, respect and honor one another. It means that we strive to understand and accept with love the differences among us.
3. A positive and realistic attitude toward diversity requires that we oppose all forms of hatred, injustice, discrimination, exploitation, and oppression toward our fellow humans, and indeed toward all creatures in God’s good creation. On the contrary, we must seek open and unprejudiced dialogue regarding our differences. A positive and realistic attitude means that we guard and preserve human community in all its diversity for the benefit of all persons, all creatures, and all of the earth.
4. To speak of persons who identify as LGBT is to speak of persons who are created and beloved by God.
5. Persons with an LGBT orientation have always been present. LGBT is not a product of modern culture; it is not a product of Western culture. The phenomenon of LGBT has been a part of our society, and from a cultural anthropological perspective, has long been accommodated in many of our cultures.
6. Whenever we face moral issues, one of the main problems we face arises from the way we interpret Scripture. Interpretations of sacred texts that do not take account of the context and intention of the original writers may produce conclusions that are contradictory to the original intention. Regarding LGBT persons, the Bible acknowledges their presence, but does not give an overall moral or ethical judgment on their existence. The Bible does not criticize the sexual orientation of a person. What the Bible criticizes is evil and exploitative sexual acts, by whomever commits them, including those perpetrated by so-called “normal” heterosexuals. The main message of the Creation story of Adam and Eve, for example (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18, 21-24), concerns the origins of the institution of the family, and that human beings were given the responsibility to fill and care for the earth. The story shows absolutely no intention to reject the existence of LGBT persons.
7. There are other biblical texts that have been misinterpreted in such a way as to pass judgment on LGBT persons. On more careful inspection, these texts are shown to have a different intention. For example, the Bible severely criticizes the worship of the fertility cults of Israel’s neighbors (worship of Baal and Isis, Judges 3:7; 2 Kings 23:4), in which same-sex intercourse was considered an act of worship (Deut. 23:17-18). Similar practices were condemned in Rome during New Testament times (Ro. 1:23-32). The Bible also criticizes the same-sex rape of foreign sojourners by the people of Sodom for the purpose of humiliating them (Gen. 19:5-11 and Judges 19:1-30). Thus these passages of the Bible are not intended to attack, reject, or discriminate against LGBT persons. Other texts often used to judge LGBT persons include Lev. 18:22, 20:13: 1 Kor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:10. What is rejected in these texts is every form of sexual behavior that is cruel and exploitative, regardless of who does it or for what reason, including reasons of religion, that are perpetrated on anyone, whether women, men, or children.
8. The PGI reminds all of us to consider the results of recent research in the fields of medicine and psychiatry that no longer include LGBT sexual orientation as an illness, as a mental disorder, or as a crime. A statement by the World Health Organization (WHO), based on advanced medical research, understands the reality of the LGBT community and joins in the struggle to uphold their rights as fellow humans. The Indonesian Association of Specialists in Psychiatry (PDSKJI) refers to both the second edition (1983) and third edition (1993) of the Guidelines for Categorization and Diagnosis of Psychiatric Disorders in Indonesia, which state that LBGT is not a mental illness. LGBT is also not a spiritual illness. In many cases, an LGBT tendency is experienced as something natural since birth. There are also cases where the LGBT tendency occurs as a consequence of social influences. It is difficult to distinguish which are the result of nature and which the result of nurture due to social influences. In any case, for many, the LGBT tendency is not a choice, but rather a given. Therefore, to be LGBT, what more as something given since birth, is not a sin. Thus we may not force them to repent, but rather must help them to accept themselves as a gift from God.
9. The Church, as an inclusive fellowship and as the family of God, must learn to accept LGBT as part of our whole fellowship as the “body of Christ”. We must give them the opportunity to grow as complete humans—physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually.
10. The PGI urges churches to prepare and conduct pastoral counseling for families so they are able to accept, embrace, and love those in their family who tend towards LGBT. The refusal of families towards those in their family who are LGBT has the potential to create mental disturbance and self-rejection that can lead to increased suicides among those in the LGBT community.
11. Up to now, members of the LGBT community have experienced physical, mental-psychological, social, and spiritual suffering due to religious stigmatization and acts of violence committed by a portion of society. They are a group that has been belittled, ostracized, and suffered discrimination, even by the state. The Church must take a different attitude. The Church must not only accept them, but must also fight so that LGBT are accepted and their rights acknowledged by society and the state, especially their rights to freedom from discrimination or ostracism, protection from violence, labour rights, etc. State functionaries must guarantee that the human rights and dignity of members of the LGBT community are respected! Members of the LGBT community must be given the opportunity to live in justice and peace.
12. The PGI urges churches, society, and the state to accept and struggle for the rights and dignity of LGBT. Our greatness as a civilized nation is seen in our ability to accept and help those who experience discrimination and injustice. Nevertheless, the PGI realizes that Indonesian churches and society are not yet able to accept same-sex marriage. The PGI, together with members of church and all of society still needs to engage in dialogue and deep theological discussions about this.
13. LGBT themselves are not a problem. LGBT has become a problem because we have made it a problem. We are the ones who give the community a negative stigma. That is why we need a mature attitude, humbleness, rationality, and the ability to take a just position in responding to this case. We must distance ourselves from the tendency to judge or to reject anyone. Instead we must learn to develop the unity of the nation and of all humans based on equality and justice.
14. We extend this pastoral statement first of all to the churches in Indonesia, and also to all of Indonesian society. May the churches continue to direct themselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit to deepen their understanding and strengthen their commitment of faith concerning the acceptance of members of the LGBT community.
Jakarta, 28 May 2016
on behalf of the PGI Executive Council
Rev. Dr. Henriette T. Hutabarat Lebang/Moderator
Rev. Gomar Gultom/General Secretary
John and Karen Campbell-Nelson serve with the Evangelical Church of West Timor. John serves as a staff support for the Synod’s Theological Commission and Synod programs. Karen serves as a Professor. John’s appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts. Karen’s appointment is supported by One Great Hour of Sharing, Our Churches Wider Mission, Disciples Mission Fund and your special gifts.