Homosexuality and Religious belief
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Homosexuality and Religious Belief

A former professor of mine once said that if you can’t say everything you want to say about homosexuality, don’t say anything at all. The implication being that if you can’t state your position in full, parts of your position will be taken out of context or misinterpreted entirely.

For the most part I have adopted this approach because homosexuality is such a charged issue that it is difficult to enter the discussion without hurting or being hurt. However, I enter the discussion here not because I wish to defend one position or another, but because I feel the discussion has lost its bearings. Granted, it has probably lost its bearings for some time now, but the recent discussion concerning The Boy Scouts of America’s decision to accept openly gay members but not openly gay leaders has only made this more apparent.

First, as many have noted, the decision to accept openly gay members and deny openly gay leaders is incoherent. If homosexual activity were morally problematic, why would Scouts allow members to proclaim acceptance of a morally dubious position? But if homosexual activity were not morally problematic, why wouldn’t Scouts allow openly gay men to be leaders? In trying to appease both sides, the Scouts end up appeasing no one.

I have seen this incoherence in churches as well. In attempting to be accepting of everyone, some churches allow gay members and even gay Sunday school teachers, but they do not allow gay elders or ministers. The message is confusing at best and destabilizing at worst. A house divided cannot stand; a choice must be made.

But this choice brings us to the crux of the issue of homosexuality: who decides whether homosexuality is to be accepted or rejected and on what grounds do they make this decision?

In a democratic society the decision is put to a vote, as it was with the recent Scouts decision, where individuals who claim to hold a correct opinion lobby to bring others to a similar opinion so that their opinion may eventually become the popular opinion. This is all fine and good, but it is not a process that necessitates a morally correct decision. All it necessitates is a general consensus. For a morally correct decision individuals must turn elsewhere. Christians, for example, turn outward to the Bible for guidance (note that I did not say rules) on moral decisions, while non-religious individuals (usually) turn inward to themselves for guidance.

Christianity, for its part, in no way devalues the guidance that an individual may receive when they turn inward. Christianity celebrates the experience, reason, and moral conscience of an individual. In fact, democracy itself was built on the Christian principle of listening to the voice of each and every individual. And as Lars Walker recently asked in The American Spectator, “Without the Bible, can there be democracy?”

But, this is not how Christianity is perceived today. Christianity is thought to foster “loathsome” and “bigoted” beliefs – to use the words from a recent New York Times editorial on the Boys Scouts recent vote – when it calls something like homosexuality a sin. Now, many Christians are both loathsome and bigoted, no argument there, but the point needs to be made that this is not a Christian phenomenon or even a religious phenomenon, it is a human phenomenon. Religion has no special claim to intolerance or bigotry, especially when religions like Christianity explicitly speak against such actions.

The difficulty then with this whole debate is that bigotry has subtly become synonymous with religion. It is difficult to read things like the New York Times editorial and not get the impression that all traditions with ties to religion – and I am not just speaking about traditions like marriage that deal specifically with sexuality – are archaic at best and bigoted at worst. Although I can reasonably guess that the editors of the New York Times do not think that all religious belief necessarily leads to bigotry, I can also reasonably guess that many people who read the editorial will draw the conclusion that it does.

So, unfortunately, in the debate over the moral correctness of homosexual action, Christianity has become synonymous with bigotry. According to a number of sources, for example, the number one association that people have with Christianity is that it is “anti-homosexual.” In many ways, Christians only have themselves to blame. We have for too long elevated the rejection of sin over love for one’s neighbour. Loving one’s neighbour does not mean affirming everything that they do, but it does mean listening to why they do it.

Christianity is a religion that is predicated on listening to those who are voiceless, but along the way, we have lost our own voice. Any doctor will tell you that when you lose your voice the best thing to do is to stop talking. Maybe this is what Christians need to do. Unfortunately, the ones who need to stop talking the most are also the ones who are least likely to listen. And again, unfortunately, this isn’t a religious phenomenon.

Flickr photo (cc) by  stevejb68