Equality vs. Religion: The Great Debate

Can you be gay and still a Christian? This is a question that has been the subject of a heated debate since the beginning of the push for equality within the LGBT community. I have followed this debate with interest because as someone who’s part of both communities, I am a firm believer that we can coexist. I also happen to be Episcopalian, the denomination of the world’s first openly gay Anglican bishop. Stereotypes exist on both sides, and since we all know that gay stereotypes don’t fit everyone, I’d like to point out that the same can be said for Christian stereotypes. I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard someone say that “Christianity and religion are what’s wrong with the world and the reason we have so much hate in it”. That’s just not true. I could write a whole list of Christians that I personally know who are pro-equality, many of them gay themselves. The truth is, the people that hate are the ones with the loudest voices and are therefore the first, and often only ones heard.

I watched an interesting documentary recently called “For the Bible Tells Me So.” I went into it expecting more of the usual right wing points of view on homosexuality, so I was pleasantly surprised when it actually featured clergy giving alternative interpretations of the scriptures that “condemn” being gay. I’ll be discussing some of these passages more in depth.

 The Bible is the Word of God through the words of human beings.    – Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

This is a subject that has long been of interest to me and it was nice to see that I’m not the only one who thinks religion and homosexuality can intermingle.

There is nothing wrong with a fifth grade understanding of God as long as you’re in the fifth grade.     – Reverend Dr. Laurence C. Keene; Disciples of Christ

Reverend Keene also made the statement that the Bible has long been misused to support discrimination. Biblical literalists have used it against homosexuals, women, slaves, and the list goes on. There are six to seven passages that “condemn” homosexuality and I’ll discuss in the following paragraphs. However, there are also a host of other passages that call everything under the sun an “abomination” and we choose to ignore them.

There is of course, the most popular biblical passage that most people can quote. Leviticus 18:20 states, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind. It is abomination.” Biblical literalists will say that this obviously means that same-sex relations are forbidden. However, when you delve deeper, there are other interpretations that can be drawn from this passage. In the time the Bible was written, the word “abomination” meant something very different. It didn’t imply the type of depravity it does today, it simply meant unnatural or against tradition.

Then there is the story of Onan from Genesis 38:8-10. When Onan’s brother, Er, died, his father, Jonah, instructed him to fulfill his duty as brother-in-law to Er’s wife, Tamar by giving her offspring. However, he went against principle when he withdrew before climax and spilled his seed upon the ground, since any child born would not legally be his heir. He did this several times and was accordingly sentenced to death for his wickedness. The same can be said for man lying with mankind. In biblical times, a man’s seed was considered sacred. A woman was inconsequential and only really considered an incubator. It was the man who had the important duty of procreation and since it’s biologically impossible for two men to procreate, climaxing that way was against tradition and also punishable by death, which is what is being said in Leviticus 20:13: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

There’s also the story of Sodom and Gomorrah from the Book of Genesis. There have been many interpretations of this story. In Biblical times, whenever a stranger came to your house, it was law that you would offer lodging and food. However, the people of the town became greedy and didn’t want to share their wealth. When two strangers (angels) came to Lot’s house, he took them in and offered them a meal. The townsfolk surrounded the house and demanded that they bring out the strangers so that they could “know” them. This has been interpreted many different ways, including the townsfolk saying they wanted to have sex with the strangers. Even if that were true, in those times it would have been a form of humiliation and not about being gay. Instead, Lot offered the townsfolk his two virgin daughters to do with what they will. The angels rescued Lot and his family and cast down fire and brimstone on the town for their sin of inhospitality.

These are the two most popular books in the Bible that “condemn” homosexuality, and I realize that the arguments have all been heard before, so it’s not likely that offering these other explanations will change anyone’s mind overnight. There is something else that confuses me, though. People are so quick to judge same-sex relationships as a horrible sin, but there are so many other “abominations” in the Bible that we choose to ignore: mixing fabrics, comingling crops, being disrespectful to your parents, shaving, eating rabbit, eating shellfish, etc. According to Exodus 35:2, “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord: whosoever doeth work there in shall be put to death.” I’m pretty sure if we followed this passage, the majority of the country, if not the world would be put to death. There’s also Exodus 21:7, which says: “And if a man sells his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.”

Since we don’t go around killing people for working on Sundays and it’s definitely not ok to sell our daughters into slavery, I’m not sure how the Biblical literalists justify only following parts of the Bible. They believe the Bible is the letter of the law and if we follow that reasoning, why haven’t they given all their belongings to the poor as the Good Book demands?

We can argue religious interpretations all we want, but the problem with trying to understand a book that’s 2000 years old is, we’ll never be able to prove which side is more accurate. There is one thing we can prove, though, and that is medical research. The American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of Social Work have all stated that homosexuality should not be treated as a mental disorder. They are adamantly opposed to alternative reparative or conversion therapies. And the biggest finding is that they have all stated that homosexuality is NOT A CHOICE.

These religious arguments are especially harmful for our nation’s LGBTQ youth. Representatives from the Trevor Project have said that every five hours an LGBT teen takes his or her life, and for every one that does, there are 20 more who try. According to them, the majority of the calls they get to the Trevor Lifeline are for religious reasons.

Since we can’t prove for certain either way on the religious front, all we can state is our opinions. And my opinion is that God loves me no matter what. If being gay (or bi in my case) really isn’t a choice, then God made me this way and He’s not supposed to be fallible, right? I think God will judge me more for hating someone than for loving. So, I’ll just live each day to the best of my ability and focus on loving and treating everyone with the respect they deserve.

As Lady Gaga would say, “No matter gay, straight or bi, lesbian, transgendered life, I’m on the right track baby; I WAS BORN THIS WAY!”

And just because this moved me:

UPDATE: I just wanted to quickly add that this is the story that prompted me to write this post. A four year old was shot to death when a religious cult leader suspected he was gay. Apparently, he’s planning to use the Bible in his defense. I really hope the courts stand up for what’s right and shoot down this strategy. Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17, Matthew 5:21 and Romans 13:9 all state: “Thou shalt not kill.” This isn’t the age of the Holy Crusades and IT IS NOT OK to kill in His name. This boy deserves justice.

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6 responses to “Equality vs. Religion: The Great Debate

  1. Good article. Especially paragraph 5 & 6. I have never thought about it that way, but that makes a great deal of sense.

    My whole issue with religion is selectivity. You can’t pick and choose what you want to follow based on what suits your needs for time being, ESPECIALLY when it is used to justify ostracizing and persecuting an entire group of people. If you are going to follow the Bible follow it all. All or nothing. Then you can shout out 2000 year old quotes for me to live by. It won’t change my mind but I would have more respect for you.

    • Thanks for the comment. That’s what I was trying to show. If you’re going to preach the Bible, you can’t pick and choose what you believe. There are also so many different translations and interpretations. The word homosexuality and its meaning (although obviously there was some practice before) wasn’t even around until a little over a century ago, so the newer versions of the Bible with the actual word homosexuality in it, are outright wrong translations.

  2. Great article. One of the things that is encouraging is that there are more and more mainstream churches that are affirming and accepting of their gay members. I remember when I first came out there were no churches that said it was okay to be gay. There is certainly a long way to go but it nice to know that even among churches some of these hate filled groups are becoming the minority. So many times in history organized religion has been on the wrong side of social progression.

  3. I clicked on the Out of Left Field website and when I read the sign I thought OMG … a few months ago there was a movie on TV about a gay couple … I came into the room and asked my Mom what she was watching … She said “I was flipping the channels and saw two women kissing and decided to watch” then she changed the channel again and Lady GaGa’s Born this Way was playing (my Mom mom is 60+ and loves GaGa) which lead to a whole discussion about the way people use religion to treat others in horrible and unspeakable ways and at the end of it we decided that it boils down to one thing – whatever God you believe in – whatever you may personally believe – HE/SHE DOESN”T MAKE MISTAKES — Now my Mom may say things that I wouldn’t dare say (she was born in the 40’s) but if it wasn’t for my Mom I wouldn’t think the way I think or believe the way I do. Thanks Mom!

    • Thank you for sharing that wonderful story. We can all learn a lesson here. What we teach our children really does make a difference. Even if they pretend not to, they do listen. I, for one, think there’s enough hate in the world. We need to teach more love and acceptance. On another note, I agree; He doesn’t make mistakes and since research has shown that sexuality is predetermined at conception, then He obviously made us this way. God isn’t supposed to be fallible, right? So, who are we to judge it as wrong? I know I didn’t choose this. I don’t think anyone would choose to go through the bullying and intolerance we have. Besides, as the old saying goes, “Let he who has no sin throw the first stone.”

  4. Pingback: Marriage Equality in World Politics « Out of Left Field

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