By Rev. Steve Parelli
Thamel, Kathamandu, Nepal
2:35 am, August 24, 2011
A religious inquisition can have more than one form. In Goa, India, where I was vacationing just two weeks ago, I saw, in the state museum of Goa, the “inquisition table” used by the Roman Catholic Church in Old Goa where a tribunal of some sort sat and handed down its brutal physical torments upon its victims during its reign of religious terror a few centuries ago. The long arm of the dreadful religious Inquisition in Europe had reached all the way to India. I stood somewhat in shock and horror as I looked upon the table and chairs that represented the church’s official right of persecution, just to realize that even here, in India, the Inquisition took hold of its subjects.
I’ve just now witnessed something of the same this evening in Kathmandu, Nepal: The long arm of evangelical spiritual abuse reaching all the way to Kathmandu. The persecution was not physical, but emotional. The victim, a church-going Nepali Christian actively seeking to understand the plight of the sexually marginalized in Nepal, and showing his support in having open dialogue between gay Christians and church leaders, received a phone call from a clergyman who identified himself as the pastor of the largest church in Kathmandu. From his undefined “table and chairs” he handed down his official decree without trial or recourse for the individual on trial: If the victim would not cease to show his support of free dialogue between gay Christians and church leaders in a public setting, the pastor would speak to the victim’s pastor in such a way that the victim felt excommunication was intended.
The victim was distressed, anxious and was notably shaken. Church life is the center of this individual’s life. In fact, the pastor who made the threat had inquired from the beginning, prior to his speaking with the victim, to learn if the person in question was an active Christian who was regularly involved with the life of his church. Once the accusing pastor had determined that the victim would indeed suffer if removed from the family life of his church, he handed down his apparent decision: complete ostracism.
The victim called it a threat. The pastor denied that he was making a threat and argued, instead, that it is his calling and commission to save the flock from wolves. Sociologists tell us that ostracism is one of the most effective ways of emotionally distressing an individual, and when carried out to its fullest has harmful results leading to depression, inactivity, and even suicide. When a society or a community ostracizes an individual from its circle, the harm can be extensive.
In America, where evangelicals have been dealing with this “issue” of homosexuality since the late 1960’s, there has been, more recently, increments of talking-and-listening among evangelicals themselves as well as evangelicals dialoging with gay Christians. It hasn’t always been that way, and the in-roads to open discussions within American evangelicalism is not that extensive. But, yes, evangelicals outside of Kathmandu are, to a small degree, talking in settings that this leading pastor of the Kathmandu Valley deems inappropriate enough to covertly speak with the victim one-on-one over the phone and to seriously raise the question of church discipline, even to the point of complete ostracism, so the victim felt.
I ask, is this Christianity, to judge another Christian as disqualified from fellowship with his or her church on the basis of his or her support of understanding and knowing gay Christians through open, public dialogue. In America, as a gay Christian, I have been personally involved with Soulforce in its active, public dialogues with evangelicals. While I cannot speak to the culture of Nepal for I am not qualified, I can, to a certain degree, speak to the experience of evangelicals worldwide. And so I ask, can an evangelical Christian be a good Christian even though he or she may be in total, complete support of gay Christians? We have those kind of evangelicals in America, who are evangelical and who have concluded that it is ok to be gay and Christian. Straight evangelicals in support of gay evangelicals do exist. Maybe this is one area where evangelicals will have to agree to disagree for the time being and treat each other civilly while doing so. And, at the very least, let’s set aside the “table and chairs” of the Goa Inquisition, the long arm of the West bearing down again on the East with its religious intolerance.
While I’ve obviously taken issue with the pastor in question who spoke the way he did to the Nepali Christian, I do, at the same time, respect his right to lead his flock and to influence fellow clergypersons as he deems he must do. Church discipline, as defined by any denomination, is the prerogative of that institution. At the same time, the outside world has every right, and perhaps every responsibility, to say at times, that whatever the institution – government, religious or private, that that institution has perhaps acted in a way that is abusive towards one’s fellow being. When it comes to religion, it is hard to blow the whistle because religion has, by its very nature, an almost right-of-way to say and do whatever it deems is the will of God (and in doing so often offends the Creator as much as the creature). In this case, I feel the Golden Rule needed to come into play more than the pastor’s views on homosexuality when speaking to the victim. The victim claims he was threatened instead of pastored, counseled, and shepherded. Religion can be heavy-handed, especially when it comes from the top down.
And just now (by speaking of heavy-handedness and top-to-down authority), I ’ve been carried back, from Nepal, to the “chairs and table” of the Goa Inquisition. And that’s not where I wish to be.