This week I am participating in a human sexuality training workshop in Yangon, Myanmar, sponsored by Peace Studies Center of Myanmar Institute of Theology, Colors Rainbow, and Central Seminary, through the funding of the Arcus Foundation. This conference draws together persons from a variety of perspectives, all working for human rights, especially for those who experience discrimination because of gender identity or sexual orientation. Indeed, discrimination may be too mild a term when criminalization of sexual acts, torture, or even the death penalty are involved.
Colleagues Julie Kilmer, Maung Maung Yin, Mana Tun, and I will lecture and facilitate discussion of the interface between theological ethics, biblical interpretation, public policy, and advocacy for human rights. Representatives from Equality Myanmar will also call attention to international treaties and the situation in Myanmar. Today’s sessions have been earnest, lively, and engaging, with persons from disparate contexts sharing insights. It is important to get such voices at the table.
The room is populated with activists, scholars, theological students, and community developers. What draws us together is common concern for justice for sexual minorities. Thankfully, in our day, new attention is given to the threatened lives of these persons. Deeply embedded homophobic and transphobic attitudes, often combined with lack of legal protection, exposes LGBT persons to egregious violations of their human rights. Young gay persons in attendance are glad to hear a progressive Christian perspective.
The UN, under the leadership of Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, continues to call the global community to justice. He writes:
Some say that sexual orientation and gender identity are sensitive issues. I understand. Like many of my generation, I did not grow up talking about these issues. But I learned to speak out because lives are at stake, and because it is our duty under the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to protect the rights of everyone everywhere.
My lecture will call attention to the ways in which religious perspectives and misuse of sacred texts have been used as weapons against women, and by extension, against LGBT individuals. The perspectival bias in biblical hermeneutics is unquestionably patriarchal, and sexual discrimination has been traditionally derived from the Bible—written by men, for men, with little consideration given to the lives of women. Likewise, same-sex behavior receives marginal attention in the Bible; when mentioned, the primary concern is to protect the prerogatives of males, for whom any experience of “effeminization” undermines their status.
It is an interesting time to be in Myanmar. Recently, the parliament passed Protection of Race and Religion Bills, which are quite regressive. Not only do they compromise religious liberty regarding conversion, and women’s rights, but have
ongoing implications for the LGBT community as these laws embolden oppressive actions.
During a regional parliamentary session in Mandalay in August 2015, the region’s minister of border and security affairs, Dr. Myint Kyu, called on police to arrest gay people. He pledged that “we are constantly taking action to have the gays detained at the police stations, education them, then hand them back to their parents.” Abuse is a regular practice, and his harsh words give warrant for it.
A conference like this is important work, and I am grateful for Central’s support and commitment. I trust we will continue to develop ways to equip pastoral leaders for knowledgeable and compassionate ministry.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.