Last month saw an interesting exchange, right here in Portland, on the question of religious responsibility for the bullying, bigotry, and general hatred directed at homosexuals in our society. A brief posting
by Michael Stone at the Portland Examiner asked "Are Christians responsible for anti-gay bullying?" and summarized the case for the prosecution:Christian conservatives assert that homosexuality is a moral disorder. Such assertions create a cultural climate that tacitly legitimizes the stigmatization of gay young people
.....It often appears that right wing Christians fear the day they can no longer use shame and violence to punish and intimidate gays and lesbians
.....Christian rhetoric is complicit in creating a climate of alienation and despair for the gay, lesbian or questioning teen, a climate that too often leads to tragedy
The next day TomCat at Politics Plus posted a response
along the following lines:
.....I have no argument against his position. I agree with it 100%. My disagreement stems from categorizing the Theocons and InsaniTEAbaggers as Christian
.....On the subject of sexual orientation, whatever [Jesus] may have said has not been passed down, so we draw a blank there, but we can follow the example of how he treated other people that the religious hierarchy labeled as outcasts. He met them at the point of their need and treated them with kindness and compassion
.So I conclude, that the real Christians today follow Jesus’ exam- ple by opposing the hatred and intolerance under discussion here, and that those who are responsible for it, are not Christians
(In both cases, of course, read the original post -- I'm posting only excerpts here to give the gist of them, not the full arguments.)
It's clear enough that the Christian Right is promoting bigotry and hatred (see for example here
; we all know that such rhetoric is ubiquitous in those circles). But there are also millions of liberal Christians who support gay equality and denounce the bigotry. Is there any objective way of telling which stance represents real
Liberal Christians like to point out that Jesus is not recorded as having mentioned the subject of homosexuality at all. However, one might well ask, "Why not?" The New Testament records many instances of Jesus objecting to prevailing attitudes with which he disagreed. The Jewish culture of his time was presumably still guided by the laws of the Old Testament; the more gay-friendly Romans were deeply resented as foreign occupiers bringing an alien, pagan culture. If Jesus saw those who were persecuted for homosexuality as being analogous to "other people that the religious hierarchy labeled as outcasts", what stopped him from saying so?
In the same vein, as far as I know, Jesus never said anything against slavery, a ubiquitous institution at that time. Either he didn't find slavery objectionable, or he never said so in any way that anyone thought worth preserving. This certainly weakens the case of those who like to claim that he had a moral outlook similar to that of modern liberals.
(I don't, of course, believe that Jesus really existed or that the New Testament is an accurate record of anything. But we are talking about what is and is not real Christianity, and Christianity assumes that Jesus was a real person, and the New Testament is the only source we have concerning the sayings and actions of that person.)
If Jesus was silent on the subject of homosexuality, certainly the Old Testament is not. Its best-known passage on the subject is Leviticus 20:13 (KJV translation):If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them
The meaning is crystal clear and not open to "interpretation": at least among males, homosexual behavior is an "abomination" and even a single
homosexual act, never mind orientation
, must be punished by death.
Modern liberal Christians try to get round this and other revolting and barbaric Old Testament laws by claiming that they were all somehow abrogated by the coming of Jesus, whose love-thy-neighbor philosophy superseded them. This enables them to claim that a man who lived 2,000 years ago somehow held values and attitudes not too different from those of liberals in the vastly different American society of today, even if they were utterly unknown in his own era. Unfortunately, Jesus himself explicitly ruled out this view (Matthew 5:17-19):Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoso- ever shall do, and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven
I discussed this issue in greater depth here
, and I stand by my conclusion at the time:
There is no wiggle room there. All the laws of the Old Testament remain in full force and will continue to be so for as long as the Earth itself exists. If you are a liberal Christian and you claim that Christian morality does not require enforcing Leviticus 20:13 and executing every man who has ever committed a homosexual act, Jesus Christ himself says that you are wrong
and that Fred Phelps ("whosoever shall do, and teach them") is right.
(Notice too that almost all of the Biblical passages condemning homosexuality which are cited in Phelps's propaganda are from the New Testament, not the Old; they are not the actual words of Jesus, but they are the words of people much closer to him in time and culture than any modern Christian is.)
Many liberal Christians are decent people and I have nothing against them, as people. But they are decent people only because they do not
get their morality from the Bible.
The last refuge for the attempt to assert a gay-friendly (or for that matter civilization-friendly) form of Christianity is "non-literal interpretation" of the Bible, which I discussed here
. Non-literal interpretation basically means, "I don't like what the book actually says, so I'll make up something I like better and pretend that that's what the book means, even though it's not what it says." As a basis for a comfortable middle ground for those who cannot stomach the hideousness of the sacred texts but are not ready to make the leap to rejecting religion entirely, this is of great practical value, since it enables them to treat other people decently without being forced to confront the (to them) unappealing prospect of atheism as a precondition for doing so. But as a means of determining what is or is not real Christianity, it's untenable, since it simply exalts the preferences of the individual believer above the documentary evidence (such as it is) of what Jesus and his immediate followers did or didn't do or say.
Finally, if we insist that those self-proclaimed Christians who hate gays are not true Christians, we are forced to a rather bizarre conclusion. After all, institutional and popular Christianity has been violently hostile to homosexuality for its entire history until the second half of the twentieth century, and broad swaths of it -- the Christian Right, the Vatican, etc. -- remain so today. Were the vast majority of self-professed Christians over the last 2,000 years, including millions who embraced the religion with a fervor almost unimaginable to most moderns, all somehow not true Christians? Surely this is straining the plain meaning of words to the breaking point and beyond.
As I've said before, there are moderate Muslims, but there can be no moderate Islam. By the same token, yes, there are millions of gay-friendly Christians, and they are valuable allies in the struggle against the Christian Right; but in all honesty, there can be no gay-friendly Christianity.