Caster Semenya: a public theological response

September 11, 2009

I cannot say that I’ve followed the Caster Semenya with the neccesary commitment to be able to give an informed opinion. As a Christian theologian, and as a human being, I can say that I experienced some discomfort when I read some of the newspaper articles, and the graphical way they were discussing the sexuality of a young teenage girl.

On an Academic level I focus on Public Theology, which I like to define as the attempt to give a unique contribution from the tradition of Christian theology to matters of public concern. Public theology need to recognize it’s own limits. We always contribute in conversation with many other voices, but as a Public Theologian I believe that theology has a needed contribution to make.

When friend Reggie Nel mentioned on twitter this morning the idea of publicly saying something on the Caster Semenya conversation raging at this stage (it’s one of the top trending topics on twitter today, and obviously it’s a topic of discussion in South Africa generally), I started wondering what a responsible public theological contribution would look like.

I think caution is needed to not speak to fast on things which other partners in the conversation still need to talk about. I would caution against making medical claims until final reports, also I’d caution against speculation on the legal implications until the bodies responsible for this has spoken. I’d recommend the advice CNN published in the last two hours.

Theology has spent much time thinking about humanity and sexuality, about how we treat other people, about dignity, about fairness. On these issues theology has some unique contributions to make, and I think it needs to be made.

As a guiding principle I’d say that a public theological response should talk about public opinion and perceptions, and not address possible outcomes of tests.

  • Theology, especially feminist theology, has helped the church to think about the way we talk about sexuality, about how we can do violence to people in the way we talk about their sexuality. Let’s contribute from this resource.
  • I think much has been done by theology on questions of power, and that a public theological response should say something on the privacy of Caster, and the power that the public is taking over her by talking prematurely about possible outcomes of the tests, as well as by discussion her sexuality in an unworthy manner. 
  • Theology has a lot to say about the sacredness of a person (created in the image of God), and about the sacredness of sex and sexuality, and when the sacredness of sexuality is taken away by the disrespect of public opinion, by the media taking the right to talk about that which is sacred in such a way that it is desacrilized, then theology need to speak out.

A public theological response should help the decades old process of adressing questions of sexuality in athletics to happen in such a way that the privacy and humanity of those involved is respected. Although this is a topic for another post, I think we are using Genisis 1 (created in the image of God) in an irresponsible manner in this conversation so far. But as a Christian theologian I’d like to stress that Caster is a spiritual being, meaning that she is linked to the sacred, that which we call God. Using the words of Jesus, I’d say we should remember that the transcendent, the sacred, God, is Caster’s father. Her value as “child of God” need to be upheld by the church.

This, I believe, a public theological response can say at this stage.

2 Responses to “Caster Semenya: a public theological response”

  1. Enver Buys Says:

    Great response from the Christian community… Lets continue to keep her and her family in our prayers. This demonstrates that the church is alive and active in the lifes of ordianry people in SA.
    Thanks for reaching out, we loaded this on the facebook group: in support of caster semenya and african women, the group has 56 000 members.


  2. My sympathy is with Caster and her family. I pray for strength and healing for her and her loved ones.


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