In recent weeks several newspapers have carried news to the effect that Asst. Minister Botlogile Tshireletso supports the legalization or decriminalization of prostitution and abortion. If that is true, then I laud Ms. Tshireletso for being one of our few Political leaders to think out of the box. Our laws regarding these matters are based on out-dated European/ English laws, that in turn are based on outdated Christian approaches.
The world has moved on since our society’s first contact with Europeans and Missionaries in the 19th century; the Christian principles and practices they brought here at that time have undergone tremendous changes in their own countries.
They arrived here at the time when the Enlightenment was getting fully established in Europe. That resulted in Christianity in Europe giving up a lot of its primitive Christian traditions and its medieval practices. For example, there are no longer people burnt at the stake as “heretics”, capital punishment has all but disappeared in Western Europe, with a few exceptions safe abortion is now the norm, commercial sex work is generally decriminalized and legally regulated hence ensuring its practitioners are protected by the law, and same sex relationships are also accepted by law.
Christianity has a long history of evolution and change. The Christianity we practice now has little in common with the Christianity that formed after Jesus’s crucifixion in or around the year 30 CE. Jesus was a committed Jew; he was born and died a Jew, and participated in all the works of the covenant- circumcision, the dietary laws, observing the Sabbath and the festivals, and performing Temple rituals. That is why some historians do not subscribe to the view that Jesus founded Christianity.
That credit usually falls to Paul, who was initially a Pharisee, persecuting followers of Jesus, but a few years after Jesus’s crucifixion was converted to be his follower. It is only in the 40s in Antioch that followers of Jesus started to be called Christians, and from then on the Jesus Movement slowly broke away from Judaism.
“Christ” is actually not part of Jesus’s name; it is derived from the Greek word Christos, meaning ‘the anointed’, itself a translation from the Aramaic word Meshiach, which we call Messiah (Aramaic is the language that was spoken in Palestine during Jesus’s time). Paul popularized the use of ‘Christ’ as a name.
When Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, only two Jewish sects from the late Second Temple period survived – the Pharisees and the followers of the Jesus Movement (the other main sects were the Essenes and the Sadducees). After the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, while the Pharisees carried forward Judaism from being a Temple cult to being the Rabbinical Judaism we know today, the Jesus Movement slowly broke away from Judaism to become Christianity. This was because Jews generally did not accept Jesus as the expected Messiah, and more gentiles were converted to the new movement, resulting in Christianity becoming essentially a movement of the gentiles.
The first three hundred years of Christianity were tumultuous, full of controversies, such as the Arian controversy that lasted into the 5th century. Jesus himself had not left any writing. Paul’s authentic letters were really the first writings of Christianity, written between 50 and 60 CE, 20-30 years after Jesus’s crucifixion.
There are seven of these authentic letters, namely, 1st Thessalonians, Galatians, 1st Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, 2nd Corinthians and Romans (in the order they were written). In his letters, Paul was actually responding to issues raised by the congregations he had started; he was not writing scripture. But early Christians found in Paul’s letters good guidance to Christian principles, and adopted them as scripture.
The other letters attributed to him, but which historians do not believe were written by him, such as Ephesians, Colossians, 2nd Thessalonians and the pastoral letters to Titus and Timothy, were written probably after his death which occurred in the early 60s. The four Canonical Gospels were written from about 70 CE, with the one attributed to Mark being the first one around 70 CE, followed by Matthew and Luke probably in the 80s and John in the 90s.
Early Christians or founding fathers used Paul a lot in the formulation of Christian theology. In the first centuries there were many Christianities, not one. Since Jesus had left no written guidance, many groups of Christians were formed with different theologies. For example, a major issue was Jesus Christ’s nature. Essentially, the question regarded his Christology; was Jesus fully God, was he fully Man, or was he something in between? Each view had a lot of supporters: some thought Jesus was God and not Man, some thought he was Man but not God, some thought he was both God and Man.
Some thought he was God who just took on a human body that was not real. There were other groups such as Gnostics and Marcionites. Eventually the group that thought he was fully God and fully Man won, not from merit of argument, but from garnering the support of the Emperors of the Roman Empire. This group came to be known historically as the proto-Orthodox group, because they eventually became the Orthodox group that took over the Church, what became the Catholic Church in the West and the Eastern Orthodox Church in the East.
They articulated the concept of the Trinity as we know it now, confirmed at the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon in the 4th century. The other groups disappeared because of vicious repression, including the burning of their books and literature. The Western Church, the Catholic Church, was under the Pope (the Roman Pontiff) and under the Western Roman Empire. The Eastern Orthodox Church was under the Patriarch in Constantinople, which was also the seat of the Eastern Empire. The two operated for centuries as one Church, but in the 11th Century, the rivalry between the Western and Eastern Churches and their Pontiffs, burst into the open, resulting in the Schism of 1054.
Christianity has always had different groups with contending views in theology. From the early founding fathers such as Tertullian, Irenaeus, Clement, Origen, Justin and others, there were always big points of argument. While Christology, the nature of Jesus Christ, dominated the contentions, human sexuality was always a point of argument too. Coming from Judaism, Christianity based its sexual morality on the first three of Chapters Genesis, the story of creation and the fall.
The Biblical legend of creation consists of two stories, one starting from Genesis 1:26 up to 2:3, and the other starting from Genesis 2:7 to the end of the Chapter (verse 25). God is said to have told humans to increase and multiply (Gen. 1:28). After the second creation story, the Bible then states that a man is supposed to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, the two forming one flesh (Gen. 2:24).
God is said to have planted a garden eastward in Eden, and put his created humans there, giving them freedom to eat all trees except one- the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Then, according to Genesis, Eve (the female), was tempted by the snake to eat the fruit of the tree they had been instructed not to eat as they would die if they ate it. The snake told Eve that they would not die if they ate it, instead they would be wise like the gods, knowing good and evil. She is the one that persuaded Adam to also partake of this fruit. This resulted in their falling out with God, and being chased out of Eden.
God is said to have given them a rather grim picture of the future, saying to Eve “ I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”; and saying to Adam, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, “you shall not eat of it”, cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;…..By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it your were taken;….” (Gen. 3:16-19).
Later fathers of Christianity, notably Augustine in the early 5th century, used this story to conceive something called Original Sin. According to that concept, every human is born with the sin, having inherited it from the first couple, and it passing from generation to generation through semen!; and it is only removed by baptism. And according to this same concept, man is inherently sinful and cannot control his sexual desire. Augustine is credited by historians with being the most influential of the church theologians. His view of Original Sin strongly influenced the Church’s policies and traditions. His views on death and nature were also very influential, although they were at odds with what is now known.
This story of the fall of the first two humans from Paradise has shaped Judeo-Christian attitudes to sex since it was formulated, and these attitudes have been very influential in modern attitudes to sex generally. Unfortunately some of the early fathers of the Church blamed the woman for the whole fall- she is the one who was a temptress and treacherous, and the snake went to her knowing this, the snake representing the devil.
This was unfortunately translated into human sexuality- the forbidden fruit was interpreted by many of the early writers as sex. Judaism went on to set up an elaborate set of rules governing marriage and sexual relations between men and women, making sex outside marriage virtually punishable by death, under the name of adultery. According to them, sex was strictly for procreation, and the man and woman had to be married, even though the man could have more than one wife.
The man could divorce the woman, especially if the woman could not conceive! Jesus is quoted in the Synoptic Gospels as having talked against divorce when asked a question about it by the Pharisees. However the story of Adam, Eve and the Serpent, was largely influential in promoting and entrenching sexism and patriarchy.
Christianity was a further development on these rules. In the first three hundred years after Jesus’s crucifixion, Christianity spread quite fast in the Roman Empire, despite it being persecuted sporadically in various places. At different periods and in different localities, just professing to be a Christian was enough to get one sentenced to death, hence the emergence of martyrdom.
Yet Christianity spread quite relentlessly through Syria, Greece, Asia Minor, to Rome itself, after the pioneering work of Paul and other workers. How did it achieve that? Historians believe that the most determining factor was the social support it gave its converts. As stated earlier, the spread was mainly in gentiles; Jewish converts to Christianity remained few, and virtually dried up after the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 CE. They were referred to as Ebionites and Nazarenes.
Christians became reputable for looking after the poor, including giving them good funerals. They formed strong support networks and did not discriminate against slaves, women or those from low social classes, whereas society in the Roman Empire was very stratified socially. Christians also propagated sexual behaviour and morals carried over from their Jewish origins but modified and made stronger. Monogamy was the norm; adultery was highly condemned as can be seen from Paul’s Epistles and from the Canonical Gospels. Practices that were generally accepted in the Empire, such as homosexuality, infant exposure for unwanted babies, abortion and prostitution, were condemned by Christianity.
When Christianity became the official religion of the Empire after it was embraced by Emperor Constantine in the early 300s, Christianity experienced a large number of converts from the pagan religions that had been the norm in the Empire. So Christian sexual practices progressively became the norm in the Empire, both the Western and Eastern branches.
Even after the fall of the Western Empire to the “Barbarians” in the fifth century, Christianity marched on, converting the conquerors themselves, so that Europe became Christian, hence the word Christendom. European civilization is therefore Christian based. It means that the whole West accepted Christian sexual mores, and these mores and other cultural and religious mores evolved into what is now known as Western culture and civilization. This civilization has evolved with time, through such phases as the Renaissance, the Christian Reformation, the Enlightenment and Modernity.
By our adoption of Christianity and Democracy as conceived in the West, we have actually become part of the Western culture whose development was based on Christianity. Our behaviour however suggests that in some aspects we are frozen in time, we are sticking to things that came to us early in the Enlightenment, which is the period when Missionaries and Europeans reached us. For example, while we profess to be a secular State, the churches try very hard to influence decisions at State level on the basis of their religious beliefs that should be individual choices.
Homosexuality is a personal matter and should remain so, unless of course it is related to rape or abuse of minors. In the same manner while we should not as a State encourage commercial sex work, we should not treat prostitutes as criminals. They should have access to health care to deal with their special risks and should enjoy protection against physical and sexual abuse. Abortion should similarly be a personal choice, and those in need of it should have access to safe abortion performed professionally. The Western countries, which brought Christianity to us have moved on; they don’t jail prostitutes and homosexuals; safe medical abortion is available to their people who need it, and they don’t hang murderers.
Christianity is a religion that was conceived by humans, and it has evolved as human culture and civilizations have evolved. And remember there are different Christianities even now- Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant (Lutheran, Reformed, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Methodists etc.), Pentecostal, African Independent Churches and others. There are theological differences between these groups- their approaches to subjects like abortion, prostitution and homosexuality usually differ substantially.
This is why if indeed Minister Tshireletso is being correctly quoted, that prostitution should be decriminalized and abortion be legalized, she has my support. Our society has to move on!
An international report complied in South Africa dubbed ‘Legal Gender Recognition in Botswana’ says that the transgender and gender non-conforming people in Botswana live a miserable life. The community experiences higher levels of discrimination, violence and ill health.
In this report, it has been indicated that this is because their gender identity, which does not conform to narrowly define societal norms, renders them more vulnerable. Gender identity is a social determinant of health, which means that it is a factor that influences people’s health via their social context, their communities and their experiences of social exclusion. The Ministry of Health and Wellness has recognized this, and transgender people are considered a vulnerable population under the Botswana Second National Strategic Framework for HIV and AIDS 2010-2017.
In a recent study that shed light on the lived experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming people in Botswana, transgender persons often experience discrimination because of their gender identity and expression. The study was conducted by the University of Cape Town, LEGABIBO, BONELA, as well as Rainbow Identity Association and approved by the Health Ministry as well as the University of Botswana.
Of the 77 transgender and gender non-conforming people who participated in the study, less than half were employed. Two thirds, which is approximately 67% said that they did not have sufficient funds to cover their everyday needs. Two in five had hidden health concerns from their healthcare provider because they were afraid to disclose their gender identity.
More than half said that because of their gender identity, they had been treated disrespectfully at a healthcare facility (55%), almost half (46%) said they had been insulted at a healthcare facility, and one quarter (25%) had been denied healthcare because of their gender identity.
At the same time, the ‘Are we doing right’ study suggests that transgender and non-conforming people might be at higher risks of experiencing violence and mental ill-health, compared to the general population. More than half had experienced verbal embarrassment because of their gender identity, 48% had experienced physical violence and more than one third (38%) had experienced sexual violence.
The study showed that mental health concerns were high among transgender and gender non-conforming people in Botswana. Half of the transgender and gender non-conforming study participants (53%) showed signs of depression. Between one in four and one in six showed signs of moderate or severe anxiety (22% among transgender women, 24% among transgender men and 17% among gender non-conforming people).
Further, the study revealed that many had attempted suicide: one in three transgender women (32%), more than one in three transgender men (35%) and three in five gender non-conforming people (61%).
International research, as well as research from Botswana, suggests that not being able to change one’s gender marker has a negative impact on access to healthcare and mental health and wellbeing. The study further showed that one in four transgender people in Botswana (25%) had been denied access to healthcare. This is, at least in part, linked to not being able to change one’s gender marker in the identity documents, and thus not having an identity document that matches one’s gender identity and gender expression.
In its Assessment of Legal and Regulatory Framework for HIV, AIDS and Tuberculosis, the Health Ministry noted that “transgender persons in Botswana are unable to access identity documents that reflect their gender identity, which is a barrier to health services, including in the context of HIV. In one documented case, a transwoman’s identity card did not reflect her gender identity- her identity card photo indicated she was ‘male’. When she presented her identity card at a health facility, a health worker called the police who took her into custody.”
The necessity of a correct national identity document goes beyond healthcare. The High Court of Botswana explains that “the national identity document plays a pivotal role in every Motswana’s daily life, as it links him or her with any service they require from various institutions. Most activities in the country require every Motswana to produce their identity document, for identification purposes of receiving services.”
According to the Legal Gender Recognition in Botswana report, this effectively means that transgender, whose gender identity and expression is likely to be different from the sex assigned to them at birth and from what is recorded on their identity document, cannot access services without risk of denial or discrimination, or accusations of fraud.
In this context, gays and lesbians advocacy group LEGABIBO has called on government through the Department of Civil and National Registration to urgently implement the High Court rulings on gender marker changes. As stated by the High Court in the ND vs Attorney General of Botswana judgement, identity cards (Omang) play an important role in the life of every Motswana. Refusal and or delay to issue a Motswana with an Omang is denying them to live a complete and full-filing life with dignity and violates their privacy and freedom of expression.
The judgement clarified that persons can change their gender marker as per the National Registrations Act, so changing the gender marker is legally possible. There is no need for a court order. It further said the person’s gender is self-identified, there is no need to consult medical doctors.
LEGABIBO also called on government to develop regulations that specify administrative procedure to change one’s gender marker, and observing self-determination process. Further, the group looks out for government to ensure members of the transgender community are engaged in the development of regulations.
“We call on this Department of Civil and National Registration to ensure that the gender marker change under the National Registration Act is aligned to the Births and Deaths Registry Act to avoid court order.
Meanwhile, a gay man in Lobatse, Moabi Mokenke was recently viciously killed after being sexually violated in the streets of Peleng, shockingly by his neighbourhood folks. The youthful lad, likely to be 29-years old, met his fate on his way home, from the wearisome Di a Bowa taverns situated in the much populated township of Peleng Central.
CEO of Khato Civils Mongezi Mnyani has come out of the silence and is going all way guns blazing against the company’s adversaries who he said are hell-bent on tarnishing his company’s image and “hard-earned good name”
Speaking to WeekendPost from South Africa, Mnyani said it is now time for him to speak out or act against his detractors. Khato Civils has done several projects across Africa. Khato Civils, a construction company and its affiliate engineering company, South Zambezi have executed a number of world class projects in South Africa, Malawi and now recently here in Botswana.
About ten (10) Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) parliamentary candidates who lost the 2019 general election and petitioned results this week met with UDC Vice President, Dumelang Saleshando to discuss the way forward concerning the quandary that is the legal fees put before them by Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) lawyers.
For a while now, UDC petitioners who are facing the wrath of quizzical sheriffs have demanded audience with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC) but in vain. However after the long wait for a tete-a-tete with the UDC, the petitioners met with Saleshando accompanied by other NEC members including Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang, Reverend Mpho Dibeela and Dennis Alexander.