Christianity And Homosexuality Essay, Research Paper
During the last 2,000 years of Christianity many changes have taken place in how it sees people and their place in the kingdom of God. The Church has changed its views of people of other races as inferior, or savages, in need of salvation. They have changed their views on womens equality. They are even in the midst of making amends with and reaching out to Muslims and Jews. But most modern Christians have a more hardened view of homosexuals than they*ve ever had. Some see homosexuals as being in direct league with Satan, as they also believed about “witches”. Gays are seen as a direct threat to society and to the sanctity of the family. Homosexuality is referred to as an abomination. Next to abortion, nothing seems to unite Christians more than the fear of homosexuality.
On what basis do Christians form their ideals and fears of gay people? Why do they feel the need to demonize and disenfranchise an admittedly small segment of the population? Why does the Church work so hard to prevent equal rights for gays, and for that matter, to prevent homosexuality at all? These are the questions I hope to answer. I could simply answer these questions by saying that some people are just ignorant. But I believe that nearly all Christians who dislike gays believe that they have a very strong basis for feeling the way they do. One of the first reasons that these people will give is that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin. The Bible gets the blame for a lot of things but especially for outright rejection of homosexuals. Genesis, Leviticus, and Romans tend to be the books most referrenced by those arguing the sin of “sodomy”. Another reason for Christian rejection of homosexuality is that it is unnatural. Once again the Bible tends to be the basis for this conclusion, although for different reasons. Any sex act that cannot achieve procreation is seen as being against nature, as in the case of Onan. This going against the grain of nature has therefore been considered sinful.
The rise of fundamentalism has also had a great effect on the public attitude towards homosexuals. Many evengelicals have preached long and hard against any sort of accomodation to the “homosexual agenda”. In fact many have preached for outright hostility toward gays. Groups like the Moral Majority have built large political machines by creating fear of a gay threat.
In the following pages I intend to look at all of these two areas for the reasons why Christians find homosexuality so intolerable.
The place to start, in answering my questions, is in the Bible. Much ado has been made by modern Christians about what the Bible says about homosexuality. But what exactly does the Bible have to say about it? For starters the word homosexual(ality) did not appear in any Bible in any language until 1946.1 But there are a few passages which have been interpreted as addressing the issue.
The firstchapters of Genesis give us the story of creation. God created Adam and Eve who became the mother and father of all people. Many Christians believe that this shows an intent on the part of God that only a relationship between a man and a woman is acceptable. God made one man and one woman leaving each of them no other choice for companionship or love. Only men and women can produce children, which is taken by some to mean that God only wanted people with a heterosexual orientation to be reproduced. In terms of the beginning, non-heterosexuals do not exist. A common way of putting all this is that God created Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve. This is why churches oppose gay relationships especially in terms of marriage. Recently the Catholics and Mormons spearheaded a campaign, including many other denominations, to pass Prop. 22 officially outlawing gay marriage in California. Many other states have done the same with the guidance of their local churches. Currently only the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ, and recently joined by the Jewish Reform movement2, will perform marriage ceremonies for gays.
In Genesis 19:1-25we find the story of Sodom and Gomorah. It is this story which is used most often when people speak against homosexuality. We are told that God informs Abraham that he is going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gemorrah. Abraham tries to plead with God to save Sodom but he only agrees to save his nephew Lot and his family. Two angels go to Sodom to warn Lot of its impending destruction. After Lot invites them in, a crowd of men shows up at his house and demands to see the angels so that they “…may know them.”3 This has been interpreted to mean have sex with them. Lot goes outside to discourage them and instead offers them his virgin daughters. They refuse the girls and become aggressive for the men, then the angels save Lot and blind the crowd of men. The angels then tell Lot to get his family and to get out of town. As soon as they left Sodom, God burned the cities to the ground.
Many Christians believe this story to say that God destroyed the city of Sodom because of these “homosexuals” who wanted to molest the angels. They believe that those men of Sodom were guilty of a horrible sin for even wanting to have sex with other men. This story is often used to illustrate why homosexuality is so wrong. Underlying this is the feeling amongst some that since God destroyed Sodom in order to get rid of the gays there, that they are justified in trying to rid the world of gays themselves. They feel completely at ease with their hatred of gays because they believe thet God feels the same as they do. Some Christians even feel that they have a duty to try and wipe out the evil of homosexuality. Christianity has greatly influenced how society and the laws of the land treat gays based partly in a fear that God would deliver the same punishment against any society that accepts homosexuality.It is from this story that we get the words sodomy and sodomites. In 24 states sodomy is a crime punishable by everything from a simple fine to 20 years in prison.4 If Christians truly believe that God will level a society because of it*s gays, then it*s no wonder why so many of them would be against it.
Later in Genesis 38:1-10 we get a more specific view on non-procreative sex through the story of Onan. Onan had a brother, Er, who was killed by God for being wicked. Er left his widow without a child, so God commanded Onan to father a child for his brother with Ers wife. Onan did not want to do this, so in the midst of intercourse with his sister-in-law, just as he was about to ejaculate, he pulled out and did so on the ground. God became offended by Onans defiance and ended up killing him too.
This story serves to illustrate the sin of “spilling your seed”. It is assumed that Onan ejaculated by masturbating himself, even though it is not stated that he did so. From this story Christians infer that any sex act which thwarts procreation is a sin. And while masturbation or coitus interuptus are considered sinful because they represent attempts at birth control, homosexual acts are considered to be as bad if not worse. This is because homosexual sex cannot result in procreation and therefore is seen, not as sex which avoids pregnancy, but as sex purely for the sake of indulgence. Consequently sex acts which could result in pregnancy, but avoid doing so, are bad. Sex acts which by their nature cannot result in pregnancy, like homosexual acts or masturbation, are seen as unnatural. St.Thomas Aquinas even went so far as to suggest that masturbation was worse than forced rape. He reasoned that even though rape was bad it could still result in procreation and so could not be viewed as a crime against nature. But since mastubation, and gay sex, could not result in procreation it does go against nature.5 It is for this reason that most Christians refer to homosexuality as being unnatural.
St.Paul wrote more about homosexuality than any of the Bibles other authors. But he actually wrote very little on the subject. In Romans 1:26-27 he writes that “God gave the unrighteous up to vile afflictions, that women did change the natural use into that which is against nature. Also the men, leaving the natural use of the women, burned in their lust one towards another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.”6 This is interpreted by many to mean that not only is it unnatural for women and especially men to lust for the same sex but that it is a vile affliction. Later in Romans 1:32 Paul writes that “they which commit such things are worthy of death.”7 This speaks for itself. Of course Paul was referring to a long list of things including lieing, boasting, envy, pride, inventors of evil things, and disobedience to your parents as being worthy of death. But the list begins with references to what are believed to have been gay men and women who are just like modern gays. And so modern Christians take these verses to heart in reference to modern gay people. In order for Bette Green to write her book The Drowning of Steven Jones, she interviewed about 400 inmates who had been imprisoned for gay bashing crimes. Most of them said they saw nothing morally wrong with killing a gay person because “…homosexuality is wrong and against the Bible.”8
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 provide the most direct proscriptions against homosexuality. 18:22 says “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination.” 20:13 is even clearer saying “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.”9 There again these verses are taken literally by most Christians. Many believe that Leviticus is referring to any and every gay person. It is understandable why Christianity would feel no guilt with total rejection of gays.
While these verses do seem to be addressing homosexuality as we know it today there are some Christians who don*t believe so. These people have always been a minority within the Christian faith. Yet they represent an alternative interpretation of the Bibles comments on gays. In The Good Book author Peter Gomez, Preacher to Harvard, writes “…no credible case against homosexuality or homosexuals can be made from the Bible unless one chooses to read scripture in a way that simply sustains the existing prejudice agaisnt homosexuality and homosexuals.”10 Helmut Thielicke wrote in Theological Ethics about doctrinaire prejudices which he describes as value-judgements like “homosexuality is sinful” which “…is not isolated from an objective assessment of the phenomenon but is rather projected into it,…”.11 There are other Christians who believe that the Sodomites were punished for their over all wickedness and that God had decided to do so prior to the angels being nearly attacked by the men of Sodom. Some interpret Pauls wirtings to be discussing the downfall of human nature and it*s unrighteousness as opposed to being specifically about homosexuality. It is also suggested that Paul was talking about a heterosexual man aho performs a homosexual act as being unnatural because he was going against his hetero nature as Paul was not aware of a homo nature.Leviticus has been iterpreted to speak to male prostitution not consensual gay relationships. But like I said these are minority views.
Another factor in the Christian view of homosexuality has been the rise of fundamentalism over the past 70 years. Beginning in the 1920s various denominations began uniting behind fudamentalism in opposition to the teaching of evolutionary theory. Churches were united “by their strict opposition to attempts to bring Christianity into line with modern thought.”12 This opposition culminated in the famous Scopes “monkey” trial. The trial came about as the result of a lawsuit by the ACLU which challenged a Tennessee law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in the classroom.On the one hand was William Jennings Bryan who argued against the teaching of evolution in schools. On the other hand was Clarence Darrow who, representing the ACLU, humiliated Bryan as a know-nothing Bible-thumper.13 After the loss of the case by Bryan many evengelicals withdrew from political activism, but a few remained active believeing that they had a duty to make this a God fearing country. But the sour nature of the trial and the bitterness it left set the tone for future conflicts between fundamentalism and liberalism.
. The 1950s and 1960s saw a proliferation of evengelical preachers especially throughout the South and the Midwest. Fudamentalist preachers spoke out against attempts at desegregation. There was a belief that God had a hand in segregation and that the government had no place in changing the social structure of the South. People like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were unknown outside of their local congregations. But these men, and those like them, came from a long line of evangelical thought which saw everything in terms of white vs. black and good vs.evil without room for compromise.This uncompromising view of social issues has framed the debate over gay rights to this day.
The 1960s also saw a great deal of social turmoil in the country which fundamentalists began to blame on the “liberal establishment”.They looked at decisions handed down by the Supreme Court which were increasing the seperation of church and state. They saw the rise of feminist ideology as threatening the basic family structure. They felt that the growing lack of support for the Vietnam war was exemplary of a society that was dissatisfied with a government which was becoming more liberal. There was a sense that the country was turning away from God. For fundamentalists the 60s were a catalyst to enter politics themselves and on a larger scale than ever before. They believed that their ideals, which were they believed to be the ideals of the country at large, had no voice.
In 1969 a riot at the Stonewall Inn in New York gave rise to the gay rights movement. As gay people began to become involved in politics, and ever more vocal, fudamentalists saw a great social war on the horizon. Beginning in the 70s, a little known Phyllis Schalfly, herself a Catholic, baecme a great ally to the fudamentalists.14 She had entered into politics in order to oppose the ERA. She was a great speaker and organizer against equal rights for women. It was really Schlafly who promoted the attack on gays. She sought to discredit the women*s movement by accusing feminsists of being closet lesbians. The association between lesbianism and feminism became so detrimental that some feminist leaders tried to purge their oganizations of their lesbian members. Schlafly*s attacks on lesbians, and gays in general, laid the groundwork for public, political opposition to the idea of gays having rights. She was aided in publicizing the homosexual threat by Anita Bryant and her campaign against gay school teachers.By the end of the 1970s evengelical preachers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were building large financial war chests by exploiting people*s fears and stereotypes about homosexuals.
By the time the ERA had failed to pass in the mid 80s it was no longer acceptable to speak out against womens rights. It was certainly not acceptable to preach against desegregation. Fudamentalists, which had become a huge political force through organizations like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, were resisting the perceived effects of feminism by opposing legalized abortion. They were also fighting any attempt at recognizing gays as being entitled to any type of civil rights. For the most part fundamentalism had lost the debate on segregation and feminism, as it had with evolution. But the debate on gay rights wasn*t over, and still isn*t. So gays became the “demons” that all Christians should oppose. The large organizations of volunteers and the millions of dollars that Falwell and Robertson had built up to wage social war became focused on turning back the few gay rights laws that had been passed and on preventing any others from being passed. Homosexuals were characterized as being anti-family, anti-American, pedophiles who would bring the whole country out of grace with God. They were, and are, seen by many as selfish perverts who have chosen to imperil society so that they may celebrate their perversion. Christians, along with the rest of the country, have been told to fear gays for a variety of reasons ranging from their desire to convert heterosexuals to their lifestyle to their lust for children. Fundamentalists would like the country to see gays as they see them: as the personification of evil. These extreme views have colored and at time led the publics perceptions of its gay members.
In conclusion I have looked at two main reasons why Christians have the negative attitude towards gays that they do. While there are other factors that have led to the attitude of Christians towards gay people, these two factors form the foundations of the debate today.
The Bible, while it never mentions homosexuality, is referrenced by nearly everyone who dislikes gays. The books of Genesis, Romans, and Leviticus are those most used to argue the sin of being gay. For those who take its words literally, the Bible says clearly that homosexuality is a sin and should result in death. Everybody from St. Paul to Thomas Aquinas to Pat Robertson have told their followers that homosexuality is an abomination and should not be tolerated.
Modern fundamentalism has built a huge political machine based largely on its oppositin to gay rights. This opposition by religious leaders has set the tone for their followers attitudes towards gays. Todays Christians have been taught that gay rights are a threat to Christian rights. If Christian leaders, who know what*s really right from wrong, see gays as evil then they must be.
I believe that the Bible, much like the Constitution, seems clearer than what it is. It has been written in a way that allows for interpretation. And it is these interpretations which cause so much conflict, not the actual writings themselves. As far as fundamentalism, it is a movement like so many others which had a beginning and will have an end. As a gay person I would like to thank fundamentalists for their harsh treatment. I believe that without their hate-filled and public rethoric the gay rights movement would have languished in obscurity, if it hadn*t disappeared altogether. The oppossition of people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell has spurred the growth of gay activism. If they had ignored us, our issues would most likely have gone away. Thanks Pat and Jerry!
1.Gomes,Peter The Good Book, 1996, William Morrow and Comp.,Inc. New York, P.148
2.Lattin, Don Rabbis OK Same-Sex Ceremonies Mar.30,2000 San Francisco Chronicle, P.A1
3.Ackerly,Ben The X-rated Bible 1998, Feral House, Venice,CA, P.32 Genesis 19-5
4.White,Byron Justice Bowers v. Hardwick 1986, Supreme Court Opinion
5.Ackerly,Ben The X-rated Bible 1998, Feral House, Venice,CA, P.15
6.The Holy Bible(King James) 1944, National Bible Press, Philadelphia,PA P.1324
7.Op. Cit. P.
8.Gomes,Peter The Good Book, 1996, William Morrow and Comp.,Inc. New York, P. 146
9.The Holy Bible(King James), 1944, National Bible Press, Philadelphia,PA, Pps.155,158
10.Gomes,Peter The Good Book, 1996, William Morrow and Comp.,Inc. New York, P. 147
11.Op. Cit. P.160
12.Gallagher,John &Bull,Chris Perfect Enemies, 1996, Crown Publishers,Inc. New York, P.5