God, Gays, and the Need to Love Thy Neighbor
"Jesus never condemned gay people," my Bible as Literature professor said to me. I was writing an article for UCLA's gay newspaper on homosexuality and the bible, and that one simple sentence sent a rush of joy through my entire body. "There are only five texts that refer to gay sex, and when you look at them within their historical context, the meanings don't match the present definition of homosexuality." He scribbled a book name on scratch paper: What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by Daniel A. Helminiak.
"You should read this."
Though I'd been a practicing gay since I was 15, I was also raised Catholic. My uncle was a priest and my aunt a nun, I'd been very involved with local youth groups growing up, and I was approached to attend a vocations retreat to see if the priesthood would be my calling. The Christian community I'd found during those years had been good to me, and when I came out at 18 they even embraced me.
Nevertheless, I needed to hear those words; they served two important purposes in my life. The first proved something I'd suspected for a long time: Religious fanatics in the media weren't just wrong, they were tainting something that was inherently good to meet their own needs.
Helminiak's book examines the Bible in its original historical and cultural context, rather than the literal interpretation one sees from conservative believers who pick and choose passages to meet their personal or political needs. He explains how the sin of Sodom (where the word "sodomy" originates) was inhospitality, not homosexuality. He also discusses those five biblical passages in detail: Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:27, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. "All these texts are concerned with something other than homogenital activity itself, and these five texts boil down to only three different issues." That would be a betrayal of Jewish identity and religion, or condemning the abuses of homogenital activity in the form of exploitation or lust. The one place where it is written about the most, the passage in Romans, "mentions it precisely to make the point that purity issues have no importance in Christ." As in, God doesn't really care who you're sleeping with.
The second reason those words mattered had to do with my current crop of friends, gays and straights who had a "F**k religion!" attitude I understood that they had been burned by churches in the past, seen the hypocrisy of religious leaders and lost faith, or simply grown so angry with being publicly condemned by overly-pius people for their supposedly sinful ways that they wanted to attack their attackers. And yet when they would make flippant generalizations like, "Priests are pedophiles," or "Religion is just used to control people," or "People who believe in God are brainless zombies," I felt as though they were dismissing me. Yes, some priests were sinners, some religious groups do use God's name to control their congregations, and some people are brainless believers, but to discount every person who holds a measure of faith is to discount them as fully-formed people. In much the same way that religious fanatics lump gays as being sex-crazed demons, my own friends were lumping a part of me—my spiritual upbringing—as being less than human. With this knowledge that Jesus never condemned gays, it was easier to stand by my beliefs and point out that Jesus wasn't the problem, it was his followers who were.
It's been 17 years since that interview, and while the discussion of God and the gays has morphed over time it's still very much alive. On one hand young people are calling themselves atheists or "spiritual" and seemingly moving away from the dogmatic beliefs of organized religions. At the same time, bullying remains ever present in schools and LGBT youth continue to kill themselves. While younger people have less of an issue with contraception or marriage equality, the Mormons, Catholics and numerous other religious groups are dumping incredible amounts of money—funds that they get from their own believers— into legislation to prevent gay marriage and control our sex lives. Now, with a presidential election just months away, the name of God is spoken by politicians on both sides of the fence nearly every day, putting personal faith right in everyone's faces.
Yet the other side of the conversation continues as well. A few weeks ago former President Jimmy Carter, a Baptist, said, "Homosexuality was well known in the ancient world, well before Christ was born and Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. In all of his teachings about multiple things — he never said that gay people should be condemned. I personally think it is very fine for gay people to be married in civil ceremonies."
Yesterday, Brad Carmack, a lawyer and active member of the Mormon Church, challenged the organization's stance on marriage equality in The Salt Lake Tribune. He wrote, "We have no record of Jesus condemning homosexuality during His ministry. The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price are silent about same-sex relationships. As many scholars have persuasively argued, the five or so Bible verses frequently referenced do not condemn homosexual conduct per se."
This week in Newsweek, openly gay writer Andrew Sullivan—who is also Catholic—wrote this about the church:
The hierarchy was exposed as enabling, and then covering up, an international conspiracy to abuse and rape countless youths and children. I don’t know what greater indictment of a church’s authority there can be—except the refusal, even now, of the entire leadership to face their responsibility and resign. Instead, they obsess about others’ sex lives, about who is entitled to civil marriage, and about who pays for birth control in health insurance. Inequality, poverty, even the torture institutionalized by the government after 9/11: these issues attract far less of their public attention.
Yet Sullivan isn't focusing solely on the church's hypocrisy. He's also searching for a means to bring Jesus' teachings of love, respect, and compassion back to the people in a pure, whole and honest way. That act should be lauded, because whether or not one believes in a higher power, many in this world—including our fellow LGBT sisters and brothers—do. And because of that fact, Sullivan's approach may actually work better at bringing equality to our people.
Sure, we could argue with believers who take a literal approach to the Bible. We could point out that it's been used to support slavery (Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-4:1; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; 1 Peter 2:18), that a literal interpreation means straight couples can't divorce (Matthew 5:32; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18), or that countless wars and forms of torture have been created in God's name. But we'll never win those kinds of arguments with fanatics. Instead, perhaps we should embrace our fabulous gayness, our earthy connections to real people in the real world, our care and kindness toward others— the qualities straight bullies mocked us for while growing up. They're not the best aspects of who we are as a people, but they're also synonymous with Jesus' teachings.
So this Easter weekend, rather than rolling our eyes at the folks walking into church, or sighing when Mom calls because it's a holiday and you're not at home, or making a bitchy remark on the White Party dance floor about some guy, let's challenge ourselves to simply do unto others as we would have done unto us. In this simple act of living by positive example, whether mental, physical or spiritual, perhaps we can make things just a bit better for gay and straight, believer and non, alike.