As I read Reverend Lamar’s opinion piece (“Sex, Not Same-Sex Marriage, Should Be Topic of Debate”), my heart sank. For, while reading about the hypocrisy of the black church in America from the distance of my office in South Africa, I was reminded painfully of just how tragic are the ties that seem to bind us as black people around the world – particularly those of us who seek solace within the church. Blacks number among the most enthusiastic Christians on the planet, with Africa fast-becoming the seat of global evangelism. Yet, sadly, black churches and communities on the continent have grappled with sex and sexuality as poorly as their U.S. counterparts, with devastating consequences.
The parallels are as strong as they are disheartening. Homosexuality remains the focus of ire within the bulk of African churches and communities while frank, faith-based discussions on heterosexual conduct are largely ignored. Yet, on the continent as in the U.S., it is sex between men and women that yields a far greater impact on black life.
In Africa, heterosexual couplings are the main drivers of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. And the sole factor behind stubbornly and persistently high rates of unplanned pregnancy among young women. In these countries, the majority of which are wracked by widespread poverty, the burdens of sexually-transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancies place additional strain on communities that can ill afford them.
South Africa, the continent’s “Rainbow Nation,” brings into sharp and embarrassing focus not only the contrast in sexual trends between the races, but how such trends impact the different ethnic groups and the nation as a whole. A mirror image of the U.S. in many ways, South Africa is a country of great ethnic and racial diversity, yet one in which blacks are generally clustered at the bottom of society, economically as well by other criteria of life quality. Global recession notwithstanding, whites here continue to enjoy one of the highest standards of living on the planet, with Asians and mixed-race people tending to occupy various strands along the economic spectrum. And, in spite of pockets of religious diversity, a majority of South Africans refer to themselves as “Christians.” Just like the ‘good ‘ole U.S. of A. Not for nothing is South Africa often referred to as ‘the U.S. of Africa.’
But, sadly, the parallels don’t end there. Just as in the U.S., sexual mores and sexually-induced trauma within black communities cannot be excluded from among the factors helping to keep them in economic, financial and even spiritual bondage. Black children in South Africa are far more likely than their white or Indian counterparts to grow up in homes with absent fathers, to be raised by single moms or grandparents. Rape looms as one of the nation’s most intractable problems, saddling the country with one of the highest rates in the world. And the same harmful stereotypes which dog black men in the U.S. dominate the national consciousness over here: sexually ill-disciplined cretins who wreak social havoc by their promiscuity and lack of self-control.