andre bio 2023A

Andre Afamasaga / ,

At the end of 2019, I decided to publicly come out in a column in The Sydney Morning Herald, because I was concerned about the hate I was starting to see towards LGBTIQ+ people of Pacific Island ethnicities in Australia and New Zealand. That original column has been slightly modified here to suit an international audience and I have also added some links. The feedback I received has been overwhelmingly positive and I have no regrets, nothing beats being and loving yourself. I look forward to contributing to progressing this conversation and effecting positive change within Pacific and Christian communities.

Being a gay Christian of a Pacific ethnicity was never easy. But in 2019, it got harder.

Australian rugby player Israel Folau made an Instagram post in April 2019, claiming hell awaited unrepentant gay people. This led to his sacking by the Australian Rugby Union and drawn-out legal battle. After its settlement in December, Folau and supporters espoused a narrative of “vindication” and “victory”.

But if Folau is the victor, who are the losers? Contrary to popular thought, the loser is neither a sporting code nor a large corporate. Nor even liberalism. The unseen casualties in this controversy are LGBTIQ+ people from Pacific and Christian communities. This saga reveals a homophobia deeply rooted in religious beliefs and cultural values. Folau, a Christian of Tongan descent, is merely a product of his environment.

I am using this article to publicly come out because I am troubled by a growing resentment towards LGBTIQ+ people. As a gay Samoan man and former pastor, I fear that Christianity would be characterised by politicking and gatekeeping instead of Jesus’ love.
This is my story.
I have spent most of my life in the closet. This included the many years when I was a pastor in south-west Sydney, Australia. Fear of judgment by my Christian colleagues and friends, and feeling responsible to those who looked up to me, stopped me accepting myself.
When I became a born-again Christian, I was told celibacy was the remedy for homosexuality. Aged 25 and full of zeal, I argued with my siblings that Jesus trumped any fleeting happiness, including a relationship.
In the ensuing years, I become immersed in the church’s ideology that gayness was akin to brokenness. I learnt that God wanted me to be “straight”.
When I was employed as a pastor, “praying the gay away” consumed me. I absorbed the Bible, books, sermons and talks. I attended courses, conferences and “conversion therapy” groups, since proven to be ineffectual and harmful. Innumerable prayers were prayed over me – and by me. I dated girls, hoping a magic straight switch would be activated. More than once, I fasted for 10 days.
After fifteen years of effort without sustained success, I realised I was naive and misled. I was also lonely, self-hating and suicidal. I resigned as a pastor three years ago, turning my back on a vocation many told me I was I called to and gifted for.
While homophobia can ultimately be traced back to our colonial history, our leaders have ensured that discrimination against LGBTIQ+ people remains entrenched. Lines between church and culture have converged into a set of untouchable rules and assumptions. Pacific diasporas living in Australia, New Zealand or the United States cannot decipher where today’s accepted norms originated from and why.
What is clear is that a strain of fundamentalism has hijacked Pacific culture and Christianity, in a manner that exhibits united disgust of all things gay.
A recent example was the banning of Elton John’s movie Rocketman. Samoa’s Principal Censor said its homosexual themes “violates laws against same-sex marriage [which] doesn’t go well with cultural and Christian beliefs here”.
A Samoa Observer editorial called the decision hypocritical for overlooking well-known issues like infidelity, “rape, incest, domestic violence, theft and violence.”
In a Pacific context, anti-gay stigma casts homosexals as the ultimate example of societal decay. It is a symptom of “Last Days” eschatology. Sermons routinely blame us for causing natural disasters and for undermining cultural purity and family values. Critics dissect our sexual habits with no intention of disclosing their own. These sanctimonious double standards are farcical, but discriminatory and dangerous if legislated.
In the Cook Islands, a select committee is proposing to recriminalize homosexuality with imprisonment for same-sex acts – broadened to include females. In an opinion piece in the Cook Island News, John Dunn, a surgeon and philanthropist, issues this rebuke – “real threats to our society include rape, domestic violence, institutional abuse and incest. Two women or two men loving each other is not a threat”
While some leaders watch their words, ordinary Pacific folk are forthright. In May, The Sydney Morning Herald chief sports writer, Andrew Webster, lamented that this debate could lead to further exclusion and distress for gay youth, citing this social media comment as a basis for concern: “Izzy [Folau] is not alone in his views… especially in the Pacific Island community. I’ve had boys my son’s age tell me straight out: if any of their teammates were gay, they’d refuse to play with them.”

In an appeal to Folau, the first time he posted that hell awaited gay people in 2018, my colleague at New Zealand Human Rights Commission, Tuiloma Jodi Lina Samu warned that such comments, expose Pacific LGBTIQ+, an already vulnerable group, to even further risk of suicide and harm.
So, what now? As we enter 2020, imagine what would happen if the church truly echoed the example of its founder, a paragon of empathy and inclusion? Imagine if the church humbly reflected and learnt from the mistakes of history? When lazy and biased scriptural interpretation was the catalyst that helped to support racism, slavery, segregation, apartheid, gender-based discrimination and family violence. If that is too big an ask, Pacific parents, please prioritise your children over your church.
I am dedicating this column to my cousin, Monise Fata-Meafou, who – because he grew up in a loving home where his sexuality was accepted – has always been a proud gay man.
This did not change when he became a Christian. He showed me it was possible to be gay and Christian.”
Original story :

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