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CHRISTIANITY AND HOMOSEXUALITY:
MORE COMPATIBLE THAN YOU THINK
All throughout the religious and secular media, gay people find themselves bombarded with thousands of messages, some subtle and some not so subtle, telling them that God hates them, doesn’t accept them, or insists they become heterosexual to be worthy of His grace. This quite naturally leads many gay people to conclude that they are nothing short of the devil incarnate; this belief is one of the leading causes of suicide among gay or questioning teenagers and young adults, especially those who have previously professed a Christian faith. This ought not happen anywhere near as often as it does, if even at all, and in this essay, I will show how Christianity and homosexuality are nowhere near as diametrically opposite as some “fundamentalist ‘Christian’” groups would have you believe.
First, I do have to acknowledge the existence of six verses in the Bible that “fundamentalist ‘Christians’” would like you to believe condemn homosexuality. I have already done the work in my essay “How to Out-Argue a Fundamentalist” to show the truth about these verses, but I will summarize that work here. The supposed “anti-homosexual” elements of the Sodom story (Genesis 19:4-8) and the two later Pauline references (I Corinthians 6:9-10 and I Timothy 1:8-11) rely on mis-translations of ancient Hebrew or Greek; in fact, Ezekiel 16:49-50 tells us explicitly that Sodom was not destroyed for homosexuality. The earlier Pauline reference in Romans 1:27 merely depicts homosexual sex as a God-given punishment for people’s failure to worship Him, without condeming gay people or homosexual sex; and the two Leviticus references (Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13) represent a hypocritical, highly-selective use of Scripture by “fundamentalists.” (It is worth noting that such selective use of Scripture is fiercely condemned by God a mere six chapters later, in Leviticus 26:14-39. Please click on the link earlier in this paragraph to see just how selective and hypocritical “fundamentalists” are truly being.)
I pose the following rhetorical question: who is it, on earth today, that passes on Christian teachings? It is not Jesus Himself, since according to Christian beliefs, He ascended into heaven on the 40th day after His resurrection. It is humans, who are imperfect and fallible (no matter how many times the Vatican may falsely claim that the Pope is infallible — as a human being, how can he possibly be infallible? — not to mention that any human who claims equality with God is guilty of a grave sin), who spread Christian teachings today. Unlike God, the Creator of all things Who is perfect, infallible, universal, and all-knowing, all human beings are imperfect and subject to limits of ability to understand things.
In fact, upon its creation in 1803, the U.S. state of Ohio admitted as much — that God is limitless and all-powerful, and that all human beings, even those who profess to follow God, are not — with the selection of its official state motto: “With God, all things are possible.” Take a minute to consider that statement; every single word is very heavily imbued with great meaning. With God, but only with God, it is possible to do anything — without Him, nothing can be done.
The point I am trying to make here is this: your pastor, preacher, or minister may repeatedly and forcefully claim to speak for, and with the authority of, God, but as an imperfect, fallible human being, he can only truly speak for his own individual experiences, prejudices, and interpretation of Scripture — and by definition, these will differ from not only yours, but everybody else’s. Stated a slightly different way, just because your religious “authorities” (who may include parents, families, friends, or fellow congregants, in addition to priests/preachers/ministers) claim that God says X is true, doesn’t mean that God in fact ever stated X to be true. It means that they BELIEVE or THINK (or have been led to believe) that God said X is true; but imperfect, limited human beings cannot even begin to grasp the full truth of a perfect, limitless God.
In the specific case of homosexuality, this carries a lot of meaning. A limitless, all-powerful, all-knowing God is most certainly not incapable of understanding the phenomenon of homosexuality; in fact, as the all-knowing Creator of every thing in the universe, He had to have created homosexuality, and He must have had some reason for doing so that most of humanity has not yet come to understand. “Fundamentalist ‘Christians’” who claim that God cannot possibly have created, approved of, and known about homosexuality, place themselves in direct opposition to and defiance of the vast majority of Christian doctrine and Scripture on the matter of the omniscience and omnipotence of God. When they make such claims, they are attempting to constrain a limitless God within the boundaries of their own personal prejudices — not only does this make no sense whatsoever, but on top of that, these people are committing the same grave sin of claiming equality with God (in this case, by bringing God down to their level of understanding, rather than by exalting themselves to His level).
Why then, you ask, do “fundamentalist ‘Christians’” hold such nonsensical, illogical, and in some cases sinful beliefs? To answer that question, we must examine the two major competing views of the Judeo-Christian God that have existed since the inception of these faiths. However, our examination need not be so profound; on many levels, these can be boiled down to the two competing views of the structure of humankind, and on an even more basic level, the structure of the family. At the very core, we are looking at two competing views of the roles various members of the family ought to play, in particular the adult male, or “father” figure. You may be surprised, however, to see how the approach to something so simple affects almost all other aspects of life, including religious beliefs.
One of these viewpoints is called the “strict father” model. As its name implies, this model of the family is based upon the idea that the “father figure” is the unquestioned authority figure within the family, and that his wife and children are subservient and subjugated to him. Whatever the “father figure” says is gospel; his decisions are final and not appealable, without regard to how much or how little logic may be present. Questioning him about anything, for any reason, is tantamount to “treason” against the family unit. Disobedience of his edicts results in punishment that is swift, severe, and intended to send the message that “you will not do this again, or else.” Roles within the family are rigidly defined, and he/she who dares to stray from his/her pre-defined “path” quickly finds himself/herself castigated, denigrated, and fiercely condemned. Finally, the “strict father” model holds that society at large is competitive; he who most ruthlessly seeks to increase his own wealth and power, with absolutely no regard for the welfare of anybody else, is seen as being the person most worthy of respect.
The other viewpoint is called the “nurturing parent” model. In this model, the father does not necessarily hold the highest position of authority over all matters at all times; rather, he assumes whatever place he needs to at any given point in time, so as to help all members of his family reach their highest levels of achievement. He may, in some cases, make final decisions for the family unit, but he realizes that all aspects of a situation, all sides to the story, must be considered first; and he is willing to defer to others when necessary and proper. He explains his reasoning; by doing so, he promotes greater understanding within the family, and by extension, in society at large. He realizes that he has a position of authority over his children, but that his role is to teach them by his example how to become healthy, productive members of society, rather than to make edicts from “on high.” Punishment, when meted out, is intended to teach a child through reason and logic why he/she ought not do the thing for which he/she is receiving the punishment, rather than by merely making the child fearful of further punishment. The roles of family members are fluid, and those roles that maximize the benefit for all family members are encouraged. A “nurturing father” teaches, and shows through his example, that the greatest respect and true wealth is achieved by taking the actions that most greatly benefit all of society.
Both the “strict father” model and the “nurturing parent” model have applications far beyond just one’s parenting method; that is, they both permeate throughout many aspects of life. Each model affects how those who subscribe to it see and react to things, people, and conditions outside the family unit. In large part, the “strict father” model is predicated upon a strictly-defined vertical hierarchy of power; that is, the man must have power over the woman, and the children are at the bottom of the totem pole — and in this model, positions of power must be defended without regard to the cost. This willingness to go so far to protect one’s position manifests itself in a nature that is highly punitive; that is to say, anybody who dares to challenge one’s position of power must be so thoroughly defeated and humiliated so that he/she will never mount another challenge again.
Expanding on this a bit, it is easy to see why those who subscribe to the “strict father” model believe that God exists mostly to punish whatever “sinners” they don’t like. That is to say, God is seen as a highly punitive “strict Father” who must thoroughly defeat and humiliate His “enemies” (all of whom, interestingly enough, seem to be defined for God by these “strict father” people). “Strict father” people believe that all of the self-contradictions present in the Bible either are meaningless, or can be brushed aside with simplistic explanations that fit their views. They believe that daring to question the teachings of their churches is a form of “treason” against God, and they give it such threatening names as “heresy” and “apostasy,” claiming that these are grave sins that immediately condemn one to hell. (It should not be surprising that “strict father”-model denominations concentrate the majority of their preaching around defining the enemy who is bound for hell, and using scare tactics to keep the flock “in line.”) Finally, these people view their “Godliness” as a sort of competition; those who can appear the most outwardly “Christian,” or convert the greatest number of people to their views, are seen as the “most ‘Godly’” people — regardless of the level of evil that may be inherent in their tactics.
As I pointed out above, the power differences in the “strict father” model cause certain roles to be rigidly enforced upon people. A boy must learn how to respect (or, perhaps more accurately, fear) his father, so the father must take actions that emphasize his position over his son. Over time, the son will learn not to challenge his father (or mother — although any power she has is, in reality, granted to her by her husband), but as he begins to develop sexually, he must learn how to exercise power over women who are on the same level as, or lower levels than, he is. The most obvious manifestation of this is that a young teenage man must learn how to exert sexual control over women; women are seen not as equals, but merely as vessels through which the next generation is conceived, thereby creating a new “lower level” of the hierarchy.
It is here that I will introduce homosexuality to this discussion. Given everything that I have stated in the last three paragraphs, it should be quite easy to see why “strict father” subscribers cannot accept homosexuality — in many ways, it goes against their model of male dominance over females. They cannot begin to grasp why any man would “not want” to assume his “rightful” position of power above some woman; defying science and logic, they claim, “it must be a choice.” Since they believe in a God who fits their model of punitive male dominance, they come up with ways (including the aforementioned six Bible verses) to claim that God “condemns” homosexuality, and that its “practicioners” are going to lead the charge to hell. They use a very similar, although inverted, argument toward lesbians; in this case, homosexual women are condemned for failing to submit to the notion of male dominance by “choosing” not to take a male partner.
The “strict father” views on other sexual topics, such as abortion, are very similar; remember, women must be lower than men in the “strict father” hierarchy. Women are seen as existing to provide pleasure for the man, and as the necessary vessels for reproduction. Any form of birth control, be it as simple as condoms, “the Pill,” diaphragms, or emergency contraception pills, or as complex and involved as a surgical abortion procedure, is at its very core a way for a woman to exercise dominion over her own body — it represents a woman taking the power to control her reproductive organs. It should be quite obvious how this is in direct conflict with the “strict father” model; “strict father”-ist men cannot bear the thought of women exercising any “unapproved” control over anything, and they respond by condemning all forms of birth control (and by extension, making spurious and false claims that hormonal forms of contraception are morally equivalent to murder). Much like they do with homosexuality, they use the “punitive God” model to support their views on abortion and birth control.
On the other hand, people who believe in the “nurturing parent” model see God as being a benevolent figure. There is a well-defined (yet flexible, given proper evidence for change) sense of right and wrong, but a parent’s role — and God’s role for His children throughout the human race — is to provide positive encouragement and set an example, while at the same time realizing that every person possesses free will and an independent, individual spirit. A sense of the inherent equality and goodness of all people is paramount — men, women, and children need not be bound in by such tightly and rigidly defined roles, and any role changes that result in a net benefit to the family (or to society at large) are encouraged.
The “nurturing parent” model does not actively encourage or promote homosexuality, abortion, questioning of authority, or anything else the “strict father”-ists condemn as evil, but at the same time, these are not viewed as “destroying society as we know it” like “strict father” people might claim. That is to say, while these things may not necessarily be seen as good or favorable, there is no good reason to use “religious” scare tactics to condemn them either. It is perhaps easiest to say that these things are viewed with at least some level of indifference under the “nurturing parent” model.
As I’m sure you’re well aware, the Christian faith is built upon the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus left His message and example for us in the form of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which chronicle the time He spent among us here on earth. I’m sure that by this point, you’re probably screaming the question, “well, what is Jesus, a ‘strict father’ or a ‘nurturing parent’?”, and we’re going to examine the Gospels to find out. The answer may surprise you.
One of the most well-known and beloved parts of Scripture is John 3:16. Combine that with the 17th verse which immediately follows it, and you get this very strong piece of evidence that God is a “nurturing parent” who sets an example, not a “strict father” who condemns:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only beloved Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but will have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
John 10:11 and 10:18 further show that Jesus acts in a “nurturing parent” mode by taking a subservient role for the good of others, and does so not because He is forced, but because He chooses to do so:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. … No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.
John 13:5-9 again shows Jesus acting as a “nurturing parent,” serving His disciples by washing their feet. In another part of this very same Gospel, we see in John 8:3-11 that Jesus does not fit into the “strict father” model of severe punishment for sins, but rather takes the “nurturing parent” approach of forgiveness and instruction:
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”
In Luke 6:20-38, a passage which includes the “Beatitudes,” Jesus exhorts His disciples to follow the “nurturing parent” model of seeking the greatest possible welfare for all of society, rather than being competitive and attempting to exalt oneself:
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.
Jesus uses the parable of the fig tree, in Luke 13:6-9, to emphasize that forgiveness must be granted repeatedly, even when it seems difficult — another “nurturing parent” behavior:
A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’
Finally, in Matthew 6:1-8, Jesus makes clear that the “strict father” desire to appear to be the most “Godly” really gets “strict father”-ists nowhere:
Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Considering all of the above examples, it is quite clear that Jesus (and by extension, God, who is His Father) operates under the “nurturing parent” model and not the “strict father” model. So many “Christian” churches today preach about a “strict father” notion of God, but I have proven that this is untrue. Several paragraphs above, I pointed out how the “strict father” model is predicated upon a rigid vertical hierarchy of power in which certain people must be placed “above” others. What all of this means, in practice, is that churches and denominations that want to make you believe in a “strict father” God are doing so to enforce a hierarchy of “more Godly” and “less Godly” people among society, rather than to try to better all of God’s children. Add to this what I said earlier about why “strict father”-ists can’t stand homosexuality, and the recipe is complete; in this view, homosexuals must be the “less Godly” people.
I am going to combine the lesson of the previous paragraph with one from further above to make the following very important statement, which I hope will really clear things up for you. Just because your church’s minister ferociously preaches the “strict father” model of God, or your parents, family, or friends keep hammering it, does not make it true. All it means is that these people THINK that God is a “strict father.” In fact, given that the Gospels show that God operates as a “nurturing parent,” these people are telling you something that isn’t true — and last I checked, one of the Ten Commandments was “thou shalt not bear false witness” (this can also be translated as “thou shalt not lie”). When anybody uses “strict father” notions of God to condemn gay people, they are doing exactly that — bearing false witness against their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in the human race.
At this point, you’re likely to be wondering, “well, what can I do to maintain my relationship with God if most ‘Christian’ churches are spreading lies?” Being a Christian is a state of the heart; it means that you strive to follow the example Jesus laid out for all of us in the Gospels, rather than merely sitting in the pews for an hour each weekend and blindly accepting the words of a mere human being from the pulpit. I am not universally condemning all Christian churches — there are many that do carry on the good works of Jesus such as those listed in the above Gospel quotes — but truly being a Christian is not about blindly obeying your minister or submitting to what he thinks. A true Christian carries perfect love and acceptance for all of his/her human brothers and sisters in his/her heart, as commanded by Jesus in Mark 12:31.
Being gay or lesbian and being truly Christian are perfectly compatible. It is churches and denominations that seek to enforce a “strict father” model of God, and the resulting hatred of gays, that artificially create the supposed “divide” between gay people and Christianity. If you can, I would encourage you to seek out churches and denominations that believe in a “nurturing parent” God; the United Church of Christ, a mainline Protestant denomination, is the largest and best-known of these, but there are many others, such as the Metropolitan Community Church, some synods of the Lutheran Church, some dioceses of the American Episcopalian Church, many Presbyterian churches, and hundreds of smaller, independent churches. If that spiritual path is not available to you, please realize that God does in fact love you just as He does all of His children, and concentrate on building a spiritually nourishing personal relationship with your “nurturing Parent” (God), even if you are forced to continue attending a “strict father” church. Let their preaching go in one ear and out the other — they aren’t telling you the truth about Jesus or what it means to follow Him.
May God’s peace and love be with you, now and forever.
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