Religion and being gay (1/2)
I believe that if there is a God who created all things, it logically follows that he created gay people too. I cannot believe that any god – being a good, loving, infinitely wise entity - would create gay people with the expectation that they should be unhappy, lonely and repressed, and spend their lives in denial of who they are so that they might be tolerated by others and welcomed into heaven by him.
It’s beyond the scope of this website to discuss all religions' views on homosexuality, especially since the bases for these views are prone to a variety of interpretations. Here I broadly focus on Christianity.
Though you might speak to God via prayer, nobody can actually have a two-way conversation or active debate with him. And so we have friends, family, teachers and priests telling us what they think God wants, expects or demands of us. I think that homophobia in religion isn't really about God. It's about how people who believe in him choose to interpret religious texts, teachings and traditions and how that is used to justify anti-gay behaviour i.e. some churches welcome gay members, other do not. Some picket funerals, some have open days and free cake. Same God though.
The way they see it
Conservative Christian groups tend to share the following beliefs:
- The Bible makes it clear that homosexuality is a sin.
- Being gay is fundamentally wrong, unnatural, and even a psychological problem.
- Being a gay is a choice or, more specifically, being a practising homosexual is a choice.
- The Bible says that homosexual acts are wrong but not necessarily being homosexual. So being gay may be acceptable if a gay person doesn't act on their sexuality i.e. a gay person must not have sex with someone of the same gender.
- A homosexual person can become heterosexual if they want to, through prayer and/or therapy.
- God intended everyone to be heterosexual and that by choosing to be gay you are offending him. God hates homosexual acts.
- Homosexual behaviour develops due to poor upbringing or bad parenting.
- Homosexuality is not genetic and doesn't begins in the womb i.e. God would not create gay people.
- Sexually active gay people should not be welcomed by the church or ever be allowed to become priests. Some denominations are more tolerant toward gay people who are celibate (do not have sex) and who are not currently in a same-sex romantic relationship.
- Giving gay people the same rights as straight people would encourage more young people to choose homosexuality. This would undermine heterosexual union.
- Homosexual relationships undermine and have a destabilising effect on society.
Is homosexuality sinful or evil?
Homosexuality occurs naturally and is considered by many to be a normal type of sexual orientation. Gay people are more or less visible in society depending on its attitude toward homosexuality. A gay person in a very homophobic country with anti-gay laws and fervent religious persecution will likely hide who they are out of fear. This creates the illusion that homosexuality occurs less - or doesn't exist at all - in deeply religious parts of the world.
What comes to mind when you consider what's wrong with the world? War, poverty, environmental decay, animal cruelty, child abuse, bigotry and hatred, racism and homophobia? I doubt you put love and sex at the top of your list. These things are wonderful and natural. Loving someone and sharing your life with that person can bring intense happiness and pleasure, and a great sense of fulfilment and wellbeing. Most people desire romantic love and physical intimacy. It’s human nature. When a man and a woman express love for one another within a committed relationship it is usually celebrated by the church, while a same-sex couple living in a similar way may be condemned.
Homosexuality occurs in animals too. You may have heard of the penguin male couple, Roy and Silo, at Central Park Zoo in New York who hatched and raised baby Tango. Another story from a German zoo revealed that attempts by zoo keepers to turn gay penguins straight by introducing females failed. These birds are following their natural instincts. They form close bonds, have sex, and seek to become successful parents. Homosexual behaviour has been observed in other species too. If homosexuality occurs throughout nature then surely it is a normal part of the natural world. The only difference is that animals don't make value judgements (deciding if something is good or bad). In other words, homosexuality is morally neutral in species other than human.
Does the Bible say that being gay is wrong?
There is ongoing debate about whether the Bible really does condemn homosexuality or just specific instances of same-sex behaviour. Many say that the Bible is open to interpretation and that different meanings can be gleaned from it. It's safe to say that someone from a conservative religious background might be keen to see condemnation of homosexuality and messages that validate his or her own feelings, while a liberal reader might decide that the Bible does not condemn loving and monogamous same-sex relationships. Also, a person studying the Bible today may or may not be willing to question what they read in light of contemporary thinking and scientific progress. Literal interpretation of the Bible would quickly lead to problems in today's world when you consider its outlook on slavery, the rights of woman, the use of corporal punishment and the death penalty, as well as the methods used in both. The Religious Tolerance website has much more on this topic.
Sexual orientation is not a choice. I didn’t choose to be gay. I’ve never met anyone who claims to have done so. Indeed, I remember being bullied in school for being gay before I knew I was! People knew I was different. Puberty kicks in and you find yourself being sexually attracted to other people, and there's not a thing you can do about it. You can't control or direct those feelings. You can't choose the gender or person you are attracted to.
A gay person can certainly choose not to participate in sex with partners of the same gender, just like a heterosexual person can choose not to have sex, but he or she does not have the power of choice over their sexuality. Again, nor do heterosexual people. To be gay may be tolerated by the church if a person does not act on their homosexuality, but for most of us that would mean being lonely, unfulfilled and sexually frustrated: a high price to pay for admittance and tolerance - not acceptance.
Since I started this website I’ve read hundreds of emails from young people who’d give anything to be straight. Not because they think that being gay is wrong but because they think being straight is the only way to be accepted by their peers and by God. They would so desperately like to have a choice over their sexuality.
Would it make sense in a world that can be so hostile toward gay and bisexual people for anyone to choose to be anything but heterosexual? Some believe that gay people are mentally ill, which explains why they choose to be gay. But homosexuality is no longer classed as a mental illness. It's just too easy for bigots to claim that gay people are simply mentally ill heterosexuals who need help.
Some groups believe that a gay person can be 'cured' of homosexuality. This is supposedly achieved through prayer, counselling, and reparative - or 'conversion' - therapy. This is based on the idea that since homosexuality is chosen, caused by poor upbringing, or brought about by a distorted sense of how to relate to the genders, it can be treated like any other psychological problem. Many believe that conversion therapy can be dangerous to a person's mental health, causing depression, low self-esteem, subsequent substance abuse, and even suicide. These treatments are unproven and experimental. I think that a person may learn to sidestep or undermine their sexuality, and even participate in a heterosexual relationship, but it's not possible to change sexual orientation or to develop genuine opposite-sex attraction. Of course it's possible to choose not to have sex with people of the same gender or to avoid any sort of same-sex stimulus like looking at gay pornography or spending time with a gay person you find attractive, but that's not the same thing as changing sexual orientation. Many who undergo reparative therapy report failure in their ability to change their sexuality and either feel worse about their situation or move on to accept themselves as they are.
Recently, the largest ex-gay organisation in the world, Exodus International, closed. It admitted that it's not possible to change a persons' sexual orientation. Its president, Alan Chambers, apologised to the gay community for hurt caused. He admitted at a Gay Christian Network conference in 2012 that 99.9% of those who underwent conversion therapy didn't experience sexuality change. I seriously doubt the 0.1% - there's no proof even of that.
Most mental health professionals believe that homosexuality is a naturally occurring type of sexual orientation and cannot be altered through therapy or by other means. I think that being asked to change a fundamental and natural part of yourself, and being told that becoming heterosexual is the only way to be accepted by God, is sinister and deeply dangerous to a person's mental health.
Science suggests that homosexuality is genetic. In other words, you are born gay, just like you are born with a certain eye colour. Whatever weird and wonderful force that creates a straight, gay or bisexual person, happens in the womb.
I think that the only way to be truly happy is to embrace who you are. The closer you come to liking yourself and everything that you are, the happier, healthier and more fulfilled you'll become. You'll also be able to accept and enjoy the love of others if you accept yourself. The alternative to self-acceptance is not a cure, but a path of denial and repression, or worse.
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