Before looking at homosexuality and the church, two important things should be mentioned.
Firstly it is inevitable that the church will accept the fact that homosexuality is an orientation and not an abomination. Same sex orientation is not a perversion, illness or the result of a dysfunctional upbringing but an expression of sexuality that appears in every culture as well as nature. God’s creation is extremely diverse in every area.
It took long time, but eventually Christians realised that black people are equal human beings and interracial marriages acceptable. Some denominations still treat women as second class citizens but equality for women preachers and priests, even bishops, is already a reality in many places. Through long and hard struggles by the oppressed and those discriminated against sanity has prevailed. The same WILL happen for LGBT people. Till then the struggle continues. There is no more controversial or highly charged issue that the Christian church is facing these days than the issue of LGBT equality. History tells us clearly that the church is slow to face some realities and change. Especially when ‘biblical’ precedents have been established.
Secondly 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. Right wing conservative preachers are numerous and condemn homosexuality and the LGBT community in the media and from their pulpits. Westboro Baptist Church and their God Hates Fags campaign is the most extreme example but most Christians would reject their message and methods as anything but Christian. Thankfully, as we become more enlightened, these groups are 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. So WHY have they and continue to be wrong about LGBT people?
8 Reasons Why the church got it SO Wrong
1. 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. Gay and lesbian people know they didn’t choose to be gay, it is innate and as natural to them as a person’s heterosexual orientation to a straight person. If they have read anything about research it is most likely they read it in an anti-gay Christian book where the author has cherry picked research to back up their position.
2. The church has 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. To the creationist, accepting evolution means rejection of their God who created the world and universe according to the Genesis record.
3. Christians who are anti-gay are locked in a time warp of 50’s, 60’s understanding.
There was a time when the majority of western culture viewed homosexuality as an illness and perversion. For decades (40’s, 50’s 60’s) gay men particularly but also lesbians were subjected to cruel treatments such electric shocks, aversion therapy and lobotomies in efforts to ‘cure’ them. None of these worked of course. Mental health professionals understanding changed in the early 70’s and homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness. After that, the legislation in most countries progressively caught up with the new understanding but not the Christian church. Christians are the ones who have always opposed changes in the law to end discrimination and grant equality. Their most recent opposition being marriage equality.
4. 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.
5. The Christian sub-culture is relatively closed and not exposed to outside influences/information.
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 or challenged. 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.
6. The average Christian is uneducated about the historical and cultural contexts as well as the original languages of the verses often quoted.
Way too often we hear the phrase “the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality”. The Bible is clear on many things, like loving your neighbour, but homosexuality is not one of them. 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, it is about the rape of angels. Leviticus was not written about loving same-sex relationships but as a warning to the Israelites not to adopt the pagan practices of Canaan such as male temple prostitution. Romans 1 is referring to pagan idolatrous rituals; something Paul would have been familiar with and witnesses himself. And finally because of the obscure use of a Greek phrase in I Corinthians 6:9 (which seems to have been coined by St Paul), the phrase has gone through many translations including ‘abusers of themselves’ . It wasn’t till 1946 that the word homosexual actually appeared in an English translation of I Cor. 6:9. Read in English translation, without a deeper understanding, it’s easy to see how these verses could be misinterpreted. I did it for years.
7. Christians have often judged the entire LGBT community by the actions of a few.
The only encounter many churches have with the LGBT 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 and have an anti-religious agenda.
There is also a strong sexual ethos that exists in some subcultures of the LGBT 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 moral expressions.. No matter what our view of others morality, we should always remind ourselves that Jesus told us not to judge or condemn others. This has been one of the greatest failings of the churches response to the LGBT community. Quick to judge and quick to condemn….and slow if ever to love.
8. Church leaders experience gives them a warped view gay or lesbian people.
The only same-sex- oriented people most pastors/leaders actually had any contact with are those who are tormented about their homosexuality, have a sexual addiction or been sexually abused. This gives them a very warped impression of what a same sex orientation actually is. This is the same situation that occurred with psychiatrists and psychologists up until the work of Evelyn Hooker in 1957. Before Dr Hooker’s work, no one had ever conducted a study on a homosexual population that wasn’t either in therapy, prison, a mental hospital, or the disciplinary barracks of the armed services If pastors or church leaders meet someone such as myself who has resolved the issues of faith and sexual orientation then they often immediately judge us as deceived or that we have justified our ‘sin’.
For many decades, being Christian and gay was believed impossible. Despite this, the Gay Christian movement has grown exponentially. Often existing outside mainline Christianity it is often rejected and therefore Christians and church leaders have no contact with those who have successfully resolved their faith/sexuality conflict and live devoted Christian lives based on a deep love of God and the Bible.
© Anthony Venn-Brown