Two important things to mention before we look at the reasons ‘Why we got it SO wrong’.
- It is inevitable that the church will accept the fact that homosexualitya sexual orientation, not an abomination. Or a perversion, illness or the result of a dysfunctional upbringing but a natural expression of sexuality that appears in every culture as well as nature, reflecting the amazing diversity in creation. It took time, but it would be difficult to find a church today that refuses to allow black people through the door or Christians who turn their noses up at interracial marriages. There are some denominations that still treat women as second class citizens but equality for women preachers and priests, even bishops, is already a reality in many places.
- The church fundamentally consists of good people.The large majority of people in churches are not evil or hateful. There are of course examples where this is not the case; Westboro Baptist Church and their God Hates Fags campaign would be the most extreme. Thankfully, as we become more enlightened, these groups are dying out and being shunned by mainstream Christendom. The less we mention them or give them any recognition, the sooner they will diminish. Most Christians however, genuinely believe they are doing what is right for them, others and society.
9 Reasons Why We Got It SO Wrong
- The average Christian is uneducated about sexual orientation. The average Christian is uninformed about the mounting research that demonstrates sexual orientation is pre-wired and complex, involving a combination of pre-natal hormonal and genetic factors. Once pre-wired in the womb, same-sex orientation begins to play out in people’s physical appearance, natural abilities, brain functioning, socialisation and emotional attachment. To them it is innate and natural as is a person’s heterosexual orientation.
- The church has often seen science as a threat to faith. For centuries science and religion have been enemies. The Catholic Church declared that Galileo was a heretic in 1616. For centuries it refused to acknowledge that Galileo was not a heretic and that the world did in fact revolve around the sun. It wasn’t till 1989, that Pope John Paul II apologized for the Church’s handling of the case. The debate over evolution vs creationism continues to rage in some Christian circles as they feel that to accept evolution means rejection of their God who created the world and universe according to the Genesis record.
- Christians who are anti-gay are locked in a time warp of a culture that existed in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. There was a time when the majority of western culture viewed homosexuality as an illness and perversion. Mental health professionals changed their view in the early 70’s. After that, the legislation in most civilised countries progressively caught up with the new understanding. The only places where homosexuality is still a criminal offence are parts of Africa and the Middle East; still punishable by death in only a few.
- The church is always behind the times and slow to change.This has and in most cases will continue to be the way it is as the Christian church, by nature, is conservative.
- The Christian sub-culture is closed and not exposed to outside stimulus. Once again the church, by nature, has been a closed institution which breeds a particular culture. Like all cultures it maintains certain beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. To maintain identity, those beliefs, attitudes and behaviours must not be threatened. This has often created a siege mentality and separation from the very people they are called to reach. Push a culture too far and it becomes cultish. Hence the development of Christian cults.
- The average Christian is uneducated about the historical and cultural contexts as well as the original languages of the verses often quoted.Looking deeper at the six passages used to promote the belief that homosexuality is a sin, reveals a new understanding. The Sodom and Gomorrah story was never about homosexuality, Leviticus was not written about loving same-sex relationships, Romans 1 is talking about pagan idolatrous rituals and the word homosexual was not used in I Corinthians 6:9 till 1946. It’s easy to see how these verses, read in English without the education, could be misinterpreted. I did it for years.
- Christians have often judged the entire GLBT community by the actions of a portion.The only encounter many churches have with the GLBT community is through activists seeking equality at all levels of society. Rightly or wrongly, this has created the impression that we are all angry, militant and aggressive. There is also a strong sexual ethos that exists in some subcultures of the GLBT community. Not knowing any gay or lesbian people personally, many in the church have assumed that all gay and lesbian people have no sense of morality. This simply is not true. Amongst heterosexuals there is also a broad range of morality. Homosexuality does not automatically mean promiscuity or immorality. No matter what our view is of others morality, we should always remind ourselves that Jesus told us not to judge.
- Church leaders don’t know any happy gay or lesbian people. The only same-sex- oriented people most pastors/leaders actually have any contact with are those who are tormented by their homosexuality, have a sexual addiction or have been sexually abused. This gives a very warped impression of those of us who are same-sex-attracted. This is not unlike the situation that occurred with psychiatrists and psychologists up until the work of Evelyn Hooker in 1957.
- Gay Christians are coming out nearly 4 decades after the birth of the gay rights movement.
What we are experiencing in the church now is not unlike what happened after 1969 Stonewall riots. Four decades ago a group of gay and lesbian people said enough is enough and we will no longer allow you to treat us this way. A similar thing happened 14 years earlier when on December 1st 1955 Rosa Parks (a black women), tired and worn out from hours working in the factory was riding home on the bus. When ordered to vacate her seat for a white person………she said NO and was arrested. This was the birth of the civil rights movement. In 1968, one year before Stonewall, the Rev Troy Perry held the first service for gay Christians with 12 people. Although it was a small beginning and progress slow there are now tens of thousands who call themselves gay Christians and 1,000’s of welcoming churches. If you are unaware of the growth just Google ‘gay christian’.
The more of us who come out or belong to churches who have not yet come to a more enlightened position on sexual orientation the quicker pre-conceived ideas and misconceptions will dissolve. Silence and invisibility contribute to and perpertrate ignorance. If you are a gay man or lesbian of faith, take your place graciously, honestly, openly, respectfully, unashamedly, courageously in your church community and in the kingdom of God.
© Anthony Venn-Brown