Christianity and Homosexuality: A Picture of Colombia

<strong>Gustavo Sandoval</strong> is the pastor of Casa Abba Padre, an LGBTI inclusive Evangelical church in Bogota. During Bogota’s ‘Pink Week’ (‘Semana A Rosa Vivo’), an annual Gay Pride event in the district of Chapinero, he agreed to speak to us about his church and what it can mean to be a gay Christian

Feature by Ana Hine | 04 Aug 2011

How did you end up being involved in the Gay Christian movement like this?

After five years in a traditional church in Venezuela they told me I had to stay away from all my gay friends, that I couldn’t lead my gay life. Up to that point I had lived an open gay life, I had a partner, and I had to stop seeing him, talking to him and all that – which I did out of obedience to the pastors and leaders. So after five years they told me, ‘You cannot act on your own desires, your own self,’ and basically I had to become celibate. I mean, I had no interest in being with a woman.

But after another five years I couldn’t take it anymore. Being celibate after an open gay sexual life, I felt like I was going crazy. So I left the church and I stayed away for some years but something within me needed that, yearned for that… relationship with God.

From time to time I would go to one of the traditional churches and I would sit way in the back and I wouldn’t talk to anybody. I needed to be there and to hear the word of the Lord.

Until finally, after years of looking, I came across a church in Florida – two lesbians who had been together for over twenty years had founded it. They have two sons, adopted. There I learned to accept myself after so many years and I learned that God did not condemn me. I learned that I didn’t have to change.

Sexual orientation is something you’re born with. God made us that way. I tell people about intersex people – did God make a mistake there?

How do you feel about the reaction of your church now?

One of the leaders told me that the Lord had given me one opportunity and if I missed it I would not be saved. Based on only a couple of verses in the Bible that says that ‘If a man lies with another man it’s an abomination.’ I know now that if your name is written in the lamb’s book of life you will be saved but back then he made me question my salvation.

What happened was that I found the church in Florida. One day I went down (and it wasn’t the first day I went) and I was sitting listening to the message and I just started crying. I will never forget that day.

Do you think there is more resistance from the society here or do you think the religious aspect [Colombia is a largely Catholic country, although Gustavo Sandoval is an Evangelical pastor] really does play a strong part in making people feel ashamed of their homosexuality?

I think both. Remember that Colombia is a country which can be very traditional in their ways, very Catholic in their mentality. I see people here in Colombia can be very religious. For this reason I come across people very strong in their traditions. In the Evangelical side they can end up being so radical, so homophobic from the pulpit that people end up leaving the church.

Some of the people in our church have told me that when it was found out that they had homosexual tendencies they were made to sit in the back of the church and the rest of the church was asked not to speak to them. Some of the people that come to our group have been very hurt by their pastors and leaders.

I don’t understand why people have to take it like that. The message is about love and forgiveness and acceptance and salvation. I mean you can summarise the Bible in that. Why do people have to make it so complicated?

Would you identify yourself as an activist or just a politically engaged pastor?

It has become… a little bit a part of the job. I don’t want the church to become a political organisation. It’s not political. Nevertheless we cannot separate ourselves from the political aspects of what is happening here because we have the support of this mayor [Blanca Inés Durán, mayor of Bogota who is an out lesbian herself] to establish ourselves so why not take advantage of that. Besides we need to have exposure, we need people to know that we are here.

The Christian churches often stand against us in congress and we should give the other side of the coin, saying, 'We are LGBT and we fight for these rights but we are also Christians. We believe in God and we believe he does not discriminate.'

The other thing that we do is a workshop that I translated from a church in Colorado that talks about homosexuality and the bible. In which we take every one of those verses that condemn homosexuality and we study them in depth. In the Old Testament and the New Testament, Sodom and Gomorrah and Leviticus and all that. The idea is we spend four hours on the night going over the verses and explaining what they really mean.

We do it every three months. I usually announce it on Facebook and I invite people to join. The main idea for that is that we have felt condemned for many years from other churches, from pastors or priests or whatever and I want them to understand without taking away the importance of the Bible – because all our teaching is based on the Bible – that some things here have been translated through the years by different people and the meaning may have been manipulated.

Sodom and Gomorrah for instance…

Exactly, it’s not about homosexuality. Yet they use it against us. The word Sodomite, I mean, comes from there. It doesn’t make any sense. Once you read the whole story you say, ‘What’s this?’ It doesn’t have anything to do with homosexuality but a lot of us don’t know.

There are a couple of English language films that deal with these issues of homosexuality and religion. Latter Days is about the Mormons and there’s one called Prayers For Bobby

Yes, we saw it as a group. I cried.

It is very upsetting. Are there any Spanish language films of that nature?

No, but I brought three films with me from the US but the problem is they are in English and have no subtitles. For the Bible Tells Me So – which is wonderful, they even put it on YouTube in four parts – another one is called Anyone and Everyone and For the Bible Tells Me So is from the viewpoint of Christians talking about homosexuality and the Bible. Anyone and Everyone is very interesting because it is about coming-out from the standpoint of young people but they compare a family of a Muslim teenager, a Jewish teenager, a Buddhist teenager… there was all this array of different religions.

I guess in that kind of situation you’d need to be careful not to imply that ‘this family represents the typical reaction of the members of this religion’.

Yes, you cannot generalise but it is very interesting and you do see quite a difference.

The last one I got was called Through Your Eyes and it was about young people in Christian churches who are gay and the struggle within them with being in the church and the youth groups but being unable to come out. It’s just unfortunate they are not in Spanish.