GAY PEOPLE AND RELIGION
Worldwide, fundamentalists of every major religion promote discrimination, intolerance and often hatred towards gay people. Because of religion, families are torn apart when misguided teachings conflict with the biologically determined sexuality of a child or parent. Countless gay people are raised in religious families and all experience a great deal of internal conflict and pain as they try to reconcile their own learned beliefs with the reality of who they are.
The hypocrisy of the anti-gay teachings of the major religions truly must be exposed. Religious individuals should be critical of these teachings, as they perpetuate oppression, violence and pain throughout the world. However, it is mostly the incendiary rhetoric of hateful anti-gay, high profile religious leaders and organizations (Pat Robertson and Fred Phelps, as well as groups like Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, Traditional Values Coalition, and the Institute on Religion & Democracy) that promote the idea that religion and being gay are incompatible. Many religious organizations and denominations work to promote inclusion and acceptance. The Metropolitan Community Church is the worlds largest LGBTQ denomination, and churches, synagogues and other houses of worship around the country serve LGBT people of faith.*
Below we present a breakdown of a few of the arguments that religious people use against gays.
The following excerpt from When Hate Groups Come to Town, a publication of the Center for Democratic Renewal, offers some specific insights into the religious right wing’s view of homosexuality:
For most of human history, gay men and lesbians have been viciously persecuted. Today, homosexuals are a favorite target of the religious right, whose members frequently quote scripture to justify anti-gay bias and even violence. There are even those who claim that AIDS is God’s punishment on homosexuals.
In an August 17, 1992 op-ed piece in the New York Times, Peter J. Gomes, an American Baptist Minister and professor of Christian morals at Harvard University, observed that nine Biblical citations are customarily invoked to condemn homosexuality. Four (Deuteronomy 23:17, I Kings 14:24, I Kings 22:46, and II Kings 23:7) simply prohibit prostitution by men and women. Two (Leviticus 18:19-23 and Leviticus 20:10-16) explicitly ban homosexual acts. These bans appear alongside a longer list of biblical injunctions against such things as eating raw meat and oysters, wearing garments made of blended fibers, and planting two different kinds of seed in the same field. Tattoos, adultery, and sexual intercourse during a woman’s menstrual period are similarly outlawed by this Holiness Code.
According to Gomes, three references from St. Paul are frequently cited as scriptural evidence of the evils of homosexuality (Romans I:26-2, I Corinthians 6:9-11, and I Timothy 1:10). “St. Paul was concerned with homosexuality only because in Greco-Roman culture it represented a secular sensuality that was contrary to his Jewish-Christian spiritual idealism. He was against lust and sensuality in anyone, including heterosexuals. To say that homosexuality is bad because homosexuals are tempted to do morally doubtful things is to say that heterosexuality is bad because heterosexuals are likewise tempted. For St. Paul, anyone who puts his or her interest ahead of God’s is condemned, a verdict that falls equally upon everyone,” writes Gomes.
Felicia Fontaine, a lesbian minister with Universal Fellowship of the Metropolitan Community Church, says the religious right is misusing the Bible. “I don’t read the same Bible as other people,” she said. “I read John 3:16, ‘Whosoever believes in Jesus Christ shall have eternal life.’ That passage does not specify race, sex, or sexual orientation.”
Fontaine believes the Biblical quotations cited against homosexuals are misinterpretations. For example, Ezekiel said the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was greed – not sex. “Even the use of the work sodomite in the King James version of the Bible refers to prostitution, not homosexuality,” Fontaine said. So, when St.Paul condemned a sin, he was referring to prostitution, not homosexuality.
Gomes’ column offers a similar observation: “…the story [of Sodom and Gomorrah] is not about sexual perversion and homosexual practice. It is about inhospitality, according to Luke 10:10-13, and failure to care for the poor, according to Ezekiel 16:49-50:’Behold this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.’ To suggest that Sodom and Gomorrah is about homosexual sex is an analysis of about as much worth as suggesting that the story of Jonah and the whale is a treatise on fishing.”
According to Gomes, there is no mention of homosexuality in the four Gospels of the New Testament. “The moral teachings of Jesus are not concerned with the subject,” he writes.
Biblical interpretations that are used to condemn gay men and lesbians are used in much the same way that other readings of scripture have been to justify the perceived inferior status of other minority groups. This is, in part, because the Bible itself contains many opportunities for potentially controversial interpretations.
For example, after literally centuries of debate over the portrayal of the role of the Jews in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church and most Protestant denominations have officially renounced earlier interpretations which held the Jews responsible. Supporters of segregation and white supremacy have also often invoked the story of the Children of Ham as a way of explaining the existence (and inferior status) of people of color. Today those interpretations are not regarded as either credible or morally just.
Those who interpret scripture to justify the persecution of gay men and lesbians are misusing the Bible in exactly the same way that segregationists and anti-Semites manipulated scripture to justify the oppression and victimization of blacks and Jews.
From the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force:
There are many reasons gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals have been cynically targeted by the right wing for use as scapegoats in their effort to dominate society. Chief among the reasons is the widespread popularity of anti-gay prejudice. Among all groups who are subjected to discrimination and prejudice in American society, gays, lesbians, and bisexual people are the most universally and openly despised.
It is still okay to hate a queer. While the majority of American citizens believe we deserve equal protection, the majority are still not comfortable with gays and lesbians, or what they perceive to be the gay and lesbian lifestyle. The mainstream public is still full of exploitable fears, false stereotypes, and even hatred creating a strategic point of entry through which the right wing hopes to penetrate the mainstream.
Further, it is still okay to hate a woman, and homophobia is the product of sexism. The normative standards governing gender roles that have traditionally been used and perpetuated to maintain patriarchal male dominance over women and the family in our society are the same normative standards that promote and maintain homophobia. Gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are hated precisely because we defy traditional gender roles and traditional configurations of family.
Additionally, the gay and lesbian movement is a relatively new movement that has not yet been able to develop strong ties with other progressive movements, nor to educate the public about gay and lesbian identity and expression. Both the lack of long-standing relationships with other progressive movements and the information void regarding gay, lesbian, and bisexual realities offer opportunities for the right.
Finally, the religious rationalizations for homophobia offered by the right wing allow rightists to demonize us in the minds of the core of their activists and funders. The mere existence of people identifying as gay, lesbian, or bi is both the cash cow and the catalyst par excellence for the religious right wing.
*GLAAD, Media Reference Guide, Full Review
some LGBTQ religious organizations and leaders: The Metropolitan Community Church (the world’s largest LGBT denomination); Dignity/USA (LGBT Catholics); Integrity (LGBT Episcopalians); Reconciling Ministries Network (LGBT Methodists) and More Light Presbyterians (represent affinity groups within some of the nation’s largest Christian denominations); The Episcopal Church; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; United Church of Christ; Unitarian Universalist Association; Unity Fellowship Church Movement; the Institute for Welcoming Resources; the National Black Justice Coalition, the Human Rights Campaign; the World Congress of GLBT Jews.