Where the Excluded are Included
Scholars are not clear about exactly wat it might have meant but, according to Deuteronomy 23, eunuchs were excluded from “the assembly of the Lord”. What is clear, is that they were not “mainstream” but rather “on the margins” of society. Many scholars feel that they were probably stigmatised and excluded. Without a doubt, they would in today’s language be described as some-one from a “sexual minority group”.
The person we read of here was not just a eunuch, but also an Ethiopian, someone from a different country, culture and even continent. A stranger, even a migrant maybe?
He was definitely not one of the “in-crowd”! I doubt if he would have many followers on a first century Twitter account!
Yet, very early in the history of the church, this person-on-the-margins is pulled into the centre of the story. An angel gives Philip very clear instructions, not only to travel on this road, but to approach the outsider and eventually to share the gospel and to baptise him.
We do not know what happened to the eunuch. One story is however told that he went back to Ethiopia and started one of the oldest churches in the world.
After 15 years, this is my last Bible Message as a staff member of CABSA. Over the last few months I have reflected deeply about my journey with CABSA. The last few weeks there were a number of “good byes” and off course also a lot of reminiscing! I have shared bits of the journey at these occasions, but it is impossible to share everything I have learnt in this time.
This text reminds me of one of the key themes in my time with the organisation, and in the faith response to HIV in general: Those on the margins need to be in the centre.
I feel this is so important, that I need to repeat it. In the HIV epidemic particularly, but also in the church in general: “Those on the margins need to be in the centre!”
In the HIV epidemic, we have seen that being on the margins makes one particularly vulnerable to infection – whether that is being poor, gay, incarcerated, a drug user or sex worker, a migrant or any of many other marginalised groups.
We have also seen that solutions from the centre to the margins are not very effective.
Early in the epidemic the term “GIPA” – greater involvement of people with (HIV and) AIDS – was introduced to address this.
It became clear that this is not enough, and MIPA - meaningful involvement of people with (HIV and) AIDS – was used. This means that “we” in the centre cannot “go out” to minister to, of develop programmes for, those on the margins, but rather that- together with those who the world might view as being on the margins -we should develop solutions to the particular challenges we all face. It also means that those who seem to be in the centre often do not have the answers!
Meaningful change and solutions come only if those most vulnerable and most on the margins are a core in the design and development of these responses.
I do not know if the story of the eunuch starting the church in Ethiopia is true, but I would like to believe this story. I have seen in the HIV epidemic how powerful it can be if we turn around the expected and put those on the margins in the middle.
This has also been very true of my time with CABSA. Some of the biggest privileges and growth opportunities happened precisely when I was able to move in those spaces which we tend to avoid – those spaces on the margins. I have often said that I have learned more theology in shacks then in lecture halls. I have also learnt most of what I know most deeply about HIV from those closest to the epidemic.
I hope that I will continue to find spaces where the excluded are included.
To Think About: Phillip listened to the angel. Where are the ‘angels’ speaking to you about those on the margins today? What can you do to put those on the margins in the middle”
Lyn van Rooyen, CABSA