by Michael Ditto|
The church has caused quite a bit of pain for many gay and lesbian people. Using the Bible as a weapon is an age-old craft, dating back to the times when the only people who could read or write were priests and monks. Now the beautiful centuries-old document has been altered to fit the moral and political agenda of the church as it exists in the 1990's. Even mentioning the word "church" or making any kind of God-reference can infuriate me, even though I consider myself a very spiritual person. I'm not your average Sunday church attendee, nor am I a religious person. Therein lies the distinction I suppose, that between religion and spirituality.
Throughout history the church has bred a culture of guilt which pervades the spectrum of Earth's inhabitants. For doing a thing or being a way which the church considers inappropriate, we are programmed to feel guilty. When we encounter another person who lives in or has committed a "sin" as defined by the church, it dictates that we invoke the church's current moral or political agenda and attempt to change that person. If that change is impossible or unwelcome, we are then programmed to condemn and fear that person. So you see, given the programming we have had for thousands of years, why wouldn't things be exactly as they are? Some people fear gays, and some people are afraid of their own homosexuality. Some people are accepting of other's gayness, and some people are completely comfortable being gay.
Combined with the built-in mechanisms for generating fear and guilt is the strong sense of righteousness that we have as human beings. What better candy is there for the palate of the mind than the sweet taste of always being right? Each of us has his own opinions about the state of reality. Some of them are defined by our parents when we are young, some of them are generated as a result of past experiences, and many are a result of the doctrine of the church. For hundreds of years, but most actively since the Stonewall riots in 1969, gays and lesbians have struggled to gain acceptance within themselves, with their families and with the church. But how can we change our thinking and the structure of the church and our families when we are all afflicted by the sweet-tooth of righteousness?
Many people have taken care of this dilemma by abandoning their spirituality entirely. Atheism works for many of these individuals seeking escape from the dogma which surrounds the church. Others have split from the old church and created their own churches and groups. Metropolitan Community Church is a prime example. Gays and lesbians gather together in their own place of worship, and have redefined the doctrine to be one which is not condemning of their sexuality and lifestyle. Another slice of the gay population participates in social support groups consisting of gay and lesbian members of non-gay churches. Examples of this are Tikvat Shalom for gay Jews, and Dignity for gay Catholics. And still others, like myself, have redefined their image of God in a way which does not conform to that of the traditional church.
Many people who seek out any of these options are still faced with the programming they have received since birth. Many always feel like a fish out of water being separated from that which they grew up with. Many people are at odds or even completely out of communication with their families. The first thing we must consider is that our families and churches are victims of the same programming as we are. We must have compassion for them, as we know exactly what they are going through. We must also consider that they are on the "right" side of the fence, as determined by their programming. Knowing that what causes us pain, and what causes the non-gay community to fear gays and lesbians, come from the same source can help ease some of the tension and anger that exists between us.
We all must keep in mind that the Bible was written a very long time ago, and none of it was written in English. For over a thousand years the Bible was maintained by the world's most powerful political entity, the Holy Roman Empire, then succeeded by the Roman Catholic Church. For most of history it was copied by hand by the only people who were permitted the knowledge of written language: priests and monks. Over the years, and through the translations, it has been drastically modified in several areas. For instance, the word "homosexual" did not even exist until recently, and it first appeared in the Bible when the 1947 editions were printed.
Even in recent years, it has been modified. The famous "anti-gay" line in the Bible, Leviticus Chapter 18 Verse 22, has changed within the last ten years. For instance, in the de facto standard Bible for the Catholic church, 1988 edition, the line reads as follows:
"Thou shall not have commerce with a man as thou would with a woman. Such thing is an abomination unto the Lord."
While a more recent edition of the same version of the Bible (1993) reads like this:
"Thou shall not have sex with another man. God hates that."
Obviously what we read, whatever the source, must be taken with a grain of salt. We must keep in mind that the Bible was not written by God. It is an age-old documentation of history, as perceived by men of that era, and as translated by those who control the doctrine of the church. While still a beautiful document as a whole, some have chosen to make it a weapon of politics. I believe the whole point of the Bible is to teach us to love one another and to be nice. Within the Bible, to be sure, are passages from which we, or a minister, can derive much more spiritual significance and meaning than my oversimplified summary of its content. Used as such, there is much to be gained from its continued use.
The bottom line is that we are all made of the same stuff, regardless of our positions, races, colors, opinions, sexual orientations, genders, religions or beliefs. Because of this fact, we are all subject to the same hang-ups, pain, fear and hate. By understanding this, the human condition, we hopefully can gain some insight into making life easier to live in the gay and lesbian community. By having some compassion for people who show us hate we can exhibit more of our own humanity. The more the human race realizes that we are all of the same source, and that there is nothing to be afraid of, the enormous costs of fear and hate become visible. The increased visibility of those costs hopefully will make that candy of righteousness somewhat less palatable, thereby allowing us the freedom of our own characteristics, choices, lifestyles and opinions.