[NOTE: This is Part 1 of an article, and bibliography at the end of the paper is for the whole article and some of the works cited do not appear in this part.]
What prompted me to write this article was a guy who wrote for the April issue of Oasis named Will. Will is a gay 15 year-old from Texas who has Southern Baptist parents. Will was accidentally outed when his mom unknowingly logged on to their Internet service as him and found out he was on the PlanetOut mailing list. There wasn't much use lying about what PlanetOut was, so he had to spill the beans.
Will describes the same hell I went through (and am STILL going through) when I told my conservative Christian parents that I was gay. A conversation about the evils of homosexuality usually follows which include points such as: "God didn't make you gay," "The Bible says...," "You're just misguided," "You're not gay until you have sex," "You're going to get AIDS because they're all promiscuous," and other dogmatic statements with no merit. I hate to tell people who have conservative parents this, but you're probably not going to change your parents' position. That's the way irrational religious dogma works, people aren't going to change their views regardless of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The Amish in Zion City, Illinois, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, STILL believe that the earth is flat because the Bible says that it is (yes, the Hebrew concept of a flat earth is conveyed in the Bible).
Because of the nature of dogma, this article is more focused towards helping kids with conservative parents be secure in their own positions. Poor Will is probably going to be bombarded with anti-gay rhetoric at home, at church and on the radio (if his parents listen to "Christian" radio like mine). His parents might even order books and tapes on the "Real causes of Homosexuality" and "Coming out of Homosexuality." My advice to people in this position is to stand firm! If you are gay, you need to be confident in the fact that you're gay. This article will deal with common fundamentalist opinions on homosexuality including the makeup of the conservative argument regarding social issues, the Bible's view on homosexuality, appeals to "divine revelation," and attempts to change sexuality. I apologize for the length of this article, but it contains much information that I thought would be helpful to others in my or Will's situation.
Something that reveals the nature of the conservative Christian position on this issue is the prototype for conservative Christian arguments. In the past, arguments that conservative Christians used for positions on issues that we now consider intolerant are remarkably similar to the positions against homosexuality. The most commonly cited example is slavery. Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy comments:
It is enough for me that [slavery] was established by the decree of Almighty God, that it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelations. We recognize the negro as God and God's Book and God's Laws, in nature, tell us to recognize him--our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude. (Davis 195, 319)
There are two noticeable theological concepts contained in the quotes by Jefferson Davis. The first concept is that slavery is revealed throughout the Bible. Pro-slavery activists were not just picking and choosing here and there what verses they wanted to hold on to. They knew that the Bible establishes slavery throughout (and it does) and confirmed by Jesus in Luke, and therefore based their position on slavery from their face value reading of the Bible, not just a mere interpretation. The second concept is conveyed in the phrase "in nature." In other words, pro-slavery activists believed God confirmed his will about slavery in the Bible "through nature." To a conservative Christian, to abolish slavery would result in doom to the nation, because we were doing something contrary to God's natural plan for society. Liberal Christians on the other hand, stressed broad theological concepts such as the love and compassion for fellow man, and believed that slavery was incompatible with that view.
The Southern Baptists are a good example of the conservative position because they have backed every intolerant view in this nation from abolition to integration to homosexuality, and the arguments against all of them were astoundingly similar, if not identical. The Southern Baptist denomination was formed in 1845 because of the issue of slavery. Furthermore, similar to the recent boycott of Disney, in the 1960's, the Southern Baptists organized boycotts of organizations that served blacks and whites equally (OCRT 1). Of course, slavery is not the same as sexuality, they are two different issues. But it is at least noteworthy that the prototype for conservative and liberal positions on divisive theological issues has remained remarkably similar for over a century and a half. Also, using the issue of slavery, some interesting points are raised.
The first is that Paul had many chances to condemn slavery and he didn't. Paul condemned other "philosophies of this world," why didn't he condemn slavery? The second is I Peter 2:18 tells slaves to submit to their masters, even harsh ones. If we should take the face value of every verse in the Bible as direct command, we should label Harriet Tubman (a runaway slave who did NOT submit to her master), and the people who maintained and operated the Underground Railroad (apostate Christians who caused other brethren to stumble) as sinners! If not, why not? The Bible's view of homosexuality will inevitably come up in discussions with conservative Christian parents. Although conservative Christians claim that certain Bible verses clearly condemn homosexuality, other broader theological concepts such as love for one another supersede and consequently nullify any arbitrary condemnations of homosexuality. Romans 12:9-10 says: "The commandments 'Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not covet', AND WHATEVER OTHER COMMANDMENTS THERE MAY BE are summed up in this one rule: 'Love one another.' " This verse is saying that if your actions show love to one another, then they follow whatever commandments there are. How is a committed gay relationship not showing love to one another? Jesus Christ is recorded to have said in Matthew 7:12, "In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the law and the prophets." These two verses (and many others -- particularly ones written by John), show that if you love others, then you have kept all of the commandments God requires.
The Student Bible (a conservative Bible) notes the following about the Apostle John:
The ancient writer Jerome tells of the frail apostle John, in extreme old age being carried into his congregation mumbling only "love one another." When asked why he talked of nothing else, John replied, "Because it is the Lord's command and if this only is done, it is enough" (1120).
Conservative Christians will find some sort of theological interpretation to get around the clear implication that if you love one another, you are totally acceptable to God (like trying to define love so it conveniently excludes homosexuality). This raises the question of why verses that condemn (or appear to condemn) homosexuality exist in the Bible. How can one verse have more weight another? The answer to this question is simply: Despite the view of fundamentalists, the Bible is not inerrant (even in areas of morality, as demonstrated through I Peter 2:18), and some Scripture can and should be interpreted as having more weight than others. Countless scientific errors, contradictions and acts in which God's providence is questionable can be pointed out from Genesis to Revelations. When someone points out these inconsistencies to conservatives, all sorts of "how-it-could-have-been" scenarios and alternate interpretations that ignore context are hashed.
Interestingly, pro-gay revisionists are accused of explaining away the face value and context of a verse to wrap around their theology, and fundamentalists do the exact same thing when running into contradictions. If conservative theologians explain away the face value of verses, it is intellectually hypocritical to condemn pro-gay theologians for doing it. Secondly, the Bible nowhere claims to be inerrant. II Timothy 3:16 says: "All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching..." BUT the meaning of "Every Scripture is inspired..." is under dispute and Greek scholars are divided on what it means. The words "pasa graphe" can be translated "Every Scripture is inspired by God and is useful" OR "Every inspired Scripture is useful..." (Evans and Berent 78). Furthermore, "profitable" means that Scripture is USEFUL for teaching, it does not say it is the INERRANT STANDARD for teaching. II Timothy 3:16 is one of the most disputed Bible verses and if the inerrancy doctrine rests on this debatable and confusing verse, fundamentalists have no right to say that people MUST believe their position. Some conservatives claim that other verses in the Bible support inerrancy, but these are even more vague than II Timothy 3:16.
Evans and Berent also state that:
Few if any Biblical scholars, including fundamentalist scholars hold that the Bible explicitly testifies to its inerrancy. For most scholars realize the notion is essentially a philosophical conclusion and inference based on the assumption that if God inspires something, it must be free from error. (83)
The reason for bringing up Biblical inerrancy is to show that all Scripture does not have equal weight and that some verses can quite possibly have more weight than others. Several verses in the Bible confirm that love for one another sums up all of the commandments of God, particularly verses attributed to Jesus Christ the person on whom the faith is supposed to be founded. Jesus was silent about homosexuality and emphatically taught that his commands are summed up in the rule to "love one another." Rev. Matthew Baldwin probably states it best when he says:
Paul seems to contradict himself if he does indeed teach that all forms of homosexuality are "internal" sins of rebellion against God. What is the rational for saying so? Biology? If the argument comes down to this: that the biology of creation prescribes the limit of sexuality and defines rebellion against God arbitrarily, then we have to prescribe a works-righteousness which claims that certain external behaviors (so-called "sins") prevent the human being from any reconciliation to God. But this is manifestly inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus, who has pointed us away from external form and towards the heart. (13)
Some conservatives point out that Jesus upheld marriage as an institution in Matthew, and conclude that this offers proof that the only sexuality sanctified by God is heterosexual unions. However, this is just an arbitrary interpretation and there are other, better ways of looking at it. Once again, the liberal looks at Jesus' teachings in light of the "love ethic" to love one another. The liberal Christian concludes that Jesus is teaching about the broad issue of the sacredness of metaphysical love using heterosexual unions as an example. After all, it is a HETEROSEXUAL asking the question, and how ridiculous would it be to say in a Jewish culture, where homosexual unions didn't even enter people's subconscious, "Oh, by the way, homosexual unions are okay too!" It is culturally arrogant to say the least.
Liberals should also point to Luke 12 in which Jesus talks about the relationship between slaves and masters in order to teach a lesson. Because Jesus uses the cultural institution of slavery to teach about watching for his second coming, should we assume that he is upholding the institution of slavery? When Jesus makes the scientifically false statement that the "mustard seed is the smallest of seeds" to talk about faithfulness, should we not assume that he is speaking from a cultural perspective? For all the Jews knew, it WAS the smallest of seeds. There are seeds that are smaller than the mustard seed, but Jesus used the particular mustard seed as the example. The same should be concluded about Jesus' teachings on marriage. Jesus was teaching about the importance of faithfulness to covenants and the sacredness of a sexual union using the cultural institution of marriage that goes back to the days of the patriarchs.
In conclusion, the homosexual should conclude that he should not trust conservative theology on issues concerning tolerance. Based on past prototypes of liberal and conservative arguments, the liberal position has been the one that has held. Furthermore, condemnations of homosexuality are vague, and if they are in fact condemnations, they should be regarded as incorrect and incompatible with the Christian ethic that sin is not defined by breaking rules. Pro-gay Bible revisionists are justified take "apparent" Biblical condemnations of homosexuality as a contradiction incompatible with the Christian "love ethic" and treat it like a conservative Christian would treat any other contradiction, explaining away its face value. To a Christian, sin should be defined as an action that does not show love for one's neighbor. If conservatives disagree with this, then they disagree. But the conservative position is no more trustworthy (and actually LESS trustworthy) than the liberal position.
Part two will come out next month. If you have questions or comments e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.