Celebrating International Human Rights Day and the Jakarta Declaration

It was an idea whose time had come. For two decades, Rev. Dr. Stephen Suleeman, lecturer at Jakarta Theological Seminary, held fast to a dream for a LGBT-affirming faith conference in Indonesia. His dream was realized with the International Consultation on the Church and Homophobia, November 23 – 26 at Jakarta Theological Seminary.

When Stephen invited me to come to Jakarta for this historic, first-ever LGBT faith conference in Indonesia, the only possible answer was “yes.” The journey for Stephen and the seminary was two decades and my journey to Jakarta was 9,809 miles.

Today is the International Human Rights Day and a celebration of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations on December 10, 1948. This recent conference in Jakarta embodied the heart and spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights particularly as it relates to LGBT persons and their families.

Inspired by the theme, I John 4: 18 “Perfect Love Casts Out Fear,” the conference offered an introduction to LGBT issues in the context of God’s call to accept and love all persons including those with different sexual orientations and gender identities. Human dignity, human rights and LGBT equality were central to every conversation, presentation and worship service.

Sixty participants from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Philippines, Jamaica, Angola, Togo, Sweden, Germany, England and the United States attended the conference. Rev. Dr. Septemmy Lakawa, Director of Graduate Studies, Jakarta Theological Seminary, offered the opening meditation for the conference. My presentation was “Compassion for Ourselves and Others Along the Journey to LGBT Justice” inspired by the work of Karen Armstrong and the lessons of working for change within the Church as a LGBT human rights advocate.

Surrounded by rainbow banners, the conference offered four days of LGBT-affirming educational workshops, presentations and worship services led by participants, students and seminary faculty. Several dozen seminary students participated in the conference. Rev. Miak Siew and Rev. Pauline Ong, pastors in Singapore, led the final worship service with communion, an open table for all persons. The conference closed with Rev. Dr. Stephen Suleeman sharing this statement which was endorsed unanimously by the group.

The Jakarta statement holds forth a bold vision: “We hope and pray that the embodied God will bless our endeavours to grow into the fullness of life, and to transform our faith communities into communities of dignity. respect, egalitarianism, justice and love.” I believe Eleanor Roosevelt, the architect of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, would be pleased with this vision
and prayer. May it be so.

The Jakarta Statement on Church and Homophobia

We, the participants of the International Consultation on Church and Homophobia held at Jakarta Theological Seminary, believe that each person is created in the image of God, and each person is precious to God.

We affirm that sexuality is a divine gift, and hence God intends us to celebrate this divine gift in life-giving, consensual, and loving relationships. It is in such celebrations of our sexuality that we grow into the fullness of our humanity, and experience God in a special way.

We believe that our negative attitudes towards sexuality and our body-denying spirituality stem from distorted understandings of God’s purpose for us. The embodied God who embraced flesh in Jesus Christ is the ground for us to love our bodies and to celebrate life and sexuality without abuse and misuse. So God invites us to experience sexual fulfillment in our relationships of justice-love with the commitment to be vulnerable, compassionate, and responsible.

We recognize that there are people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions. The very faith affirmation that the whole human community is created in the image of God irrespective of our sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions makes it imperative for us to reject systemic and personal attitudes of homophobia, transphobia and any kind of discrimination against persons of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.

We believe that the Church as ‘Just and Inclusive Community’ is called to become a community without walls to reach out to people who are stigmatised and demonised, and be a listening community to understand their pains, desires, and hopes.

We envision Church as a sanctuary to the ostracised who thirst for understanding, friendship, love, compassion and solidarity, and as the Body of Christ that joins in their struggles to live out their God-given lives. So we appeal to the Christian communities to sojourn with people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions and their families without prejudice and discrimination, to provide them with ministries of love, compassionate care, and justice.

We implore Christian communities to begin to engage in dialogue – not debate – with persons with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions and listen to their stories and struggles as acts of love.

We urge churches, seminaries and Christian communities to engage diverse voices and perspectives in theological reflections, particularly persons of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions. We encourage more research to be undertaken on issues pertaining to human sexuality in their respective socio-cultural context.

We hope and pray that the embodied God will bless our endeavours to grow into the fullness of life, and to transform our faith communities into communities of dignity, respect, egalitarianism, justice and love.

The Participants
International Consultation on Church and Homophobia held at Jakarta Theological Seminary from 23rd to 26th November 2014

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