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Religious chiefs promote LGBT acceptance amidst criticism

Muslim and Christian leaders say community should be respected but hardliners say LGBT people have no place in Indonesia

Religious chiefs promote LGBT acceptance amidst criticism

An anti-LGBT Muslim group marches to blockade pro-LGBT protesters in Yogyakarta, in Java island in this Feb. 23 2016 file photo (Photo by AFP)

Some Catholic, Muslim and Protestant leaders are trying to highlight the acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, in response to recent controversy about their place in predominantly Muslim Indonesia.

"If today there’s no so-called Catholic LGBT people, maybe it’s because people still hesitant to be open about their sexual orientation. But no one is prohibited from being part of the Catholic Church," said Jesuit Father Alexius Andang Listya Binawan, Episcopal Vicar of Jakarta Archdiocese, at a public discussion on June 27.

In his remarks, Father Binawan quoted Pope Francis’ 2013 now famous comment: "Who am I to judge?" while commenting on gay people.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered" and calls them "contrary to the natural law." It adds, however, that gay people "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity."

Father Binawan argued for distinguishing between different aspects of Catholic teaching about LGTB people. He stressed that everyone should be respected "because human beings are so rich in mystery, and all kinds of sexual orientation are part of this richness."  

At the same time, he maintained that the Catholic Church cannot recognize same-sex marriages, and opposes the adoption of children by LGBT couples.

Meanwhile Imam Aziz, head of Nahdlatul Ulama Central Board’s Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, called on Muslims to pray for those committing violence against LGTB people.

"The main purpose of our religion is to honor human beings instead of debasing them," he said.

"This is so sad. Such an issue must be resolved with a good solution instead of revenge. Different sexual orientations are facts that we cannot deny."

However, the Islamic Defenders Front opposes efforts to defend LGBT people. According to senior member Habib Muhsin bin Ahmad Al-Attas, LGBT people suffer from a social disease.

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 "We must distinguish human beings from their behavior. In Islam, human beings who do good deeds should be honored. But if they make a mistake we have to cure and save them," he told ucanews.com.

In recent months prominent Indonesian public figures have criticized LGTB people.

In January, Technology, Research and Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir told reporters that LGBT people could destroy the country’s moral values.

In February, the Indonesian Psychiatrists Association categorized homosexuality and bisexuality as psychiatric problems, and transsexualism as a mental disorder.

In March Zulkifli Hasan, People’s Consultative Assembly Speaker, urged the public to stem the spread of the LGBT movement. He stated that, in his view, since every religion warns against same-sex relations, LGBT people have no place in Indonesia.

In contrast, on June 17, the Communion of Churches in Indonesia issued a pastoral letter stressing that human beings are made in God’s image.

The Rev. Jerry Sumampauw, spokesman for the national ecumenical body, explained:

"Human beings are in God’s image. Thus, they must be respected and accepted whoever they are. This is the basic view, which is strengthened by two key Christian teachings: love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself."

"We must distinguish sexual orientation from sexual behavior. Deviant sexual behavior doesn’t only involve LGBT people, but also people like us. We have the same possibility to bear sins," he said.

According to the Rev. Sumampauw, the Communion of Churches seeks to change common Protestant attitudes to LGTB people.

"Right now, many Protestants see LGBT people as people with sins. If we have sins, they have more sins than us. Therefore it’s okay if they are treated unfairly. This is the paradigm that we want to change. LGBT people are also in God’s image and we must respect that," he told ucanews.com.

Still, life remains difficult for many LGTB people of faith such as Ryan Korbarri, a 27-year-old, Catholic who is gay.

"Opposition comes from my religion. Its foundation should be love. On the contrary, it refuses LGBT people. It makes me sad," he said.

Same-sex relations are not illegal in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim. The country also has a vibrant transgender tradition.

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