Those who would outlaw abortion, contraception and same-sex [marriage] while extolling the family and breeding are themselves the active agents of the destruction of the species.
The unequivocal condemnation of homosexuality is a well-known and documented aspect of Christian tradition and history. This tradition is in turn rooted in the Judaism out of which Christianity grew.1 The Bible contains several explicit condemnations of homosexuality.2 Although historically, Islamic societies sometimes displayed a more tolerant attitude towards homosexuality than did Christians and Jews, Islamic doctrine also contains such condemnations, which are in turn confirmed by actual practice (an extreme recent example being the period of Taliban control of Afghanistan). Leaders and spokesmen of the three major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) have made and continue to make pronouncements that leave little room for doubt.
A few more liberal churches have begun to soften their attitude and even, in some cases, to recognize same-sex couples and to endorse gay/lesbian rights and gay marriage. However, they remain largely marginal to the anti-gay Christian mainstream.
Given this history, it is perhaps surprising that over recent decades, a certain number of Christian organizations have arisen within the gay and lesbian communities, the most well known being the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC). The emergence of gay Christian groups is a mainly American phenomenon, with a few exceptions, mostly in other English-speaking countries. This can be partly explained by the contradictory nature of the American socio-political climate. The United States is a wealthy, developed country with a relatively high average standard of living, although major differences between rich and poor certainly remain. The personal liberty of each individual citizen is considered to be of the highest importance, despite recent serious encroachments on civil liberties by the current government. It is also a country whose founding principles, forged during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, include the principle of separation of church and state, despite significant and frequent violations in recent years. On the other hand, religiosity, especially Christianity—including its fundamentalist varieties—is much more widespread in the United States than in other developed countries, and religious homophobia remains dangerously strong. The puritanism and religious fanaticism of the Pilgrims of seventeenth-century New England live on in modern America.
Looking for Respect in All the Wrong Places
When a group of people has been stigmatized, anathematized, and, treated with the most profound contempt by practically all elements of society (and, in particular, by those who claim authority in matters of morality) as homosexuals have been, it is to be expected that many members of that group will attempt to present a very mainstream, conformist image. This desire to wrap oneself in a cloak of respectability is undoubtedly a major factor underlying the foundation and growth of gay/lesbian Christian organizations. Given Christianity’s notorious record of anti-homosexual repression, the existence of such religious groups among those who should, theoretically at least, know better is regrettable—but it is understandable.
The establishment of gay-positive Christian organizations could be considered an appropriate slap in the face of homophobic Christian traditionalists, fighting fire with fire so to speak. Such groups may also serve a positive support role for individuals having difficulty dealing with their homosexuality because of the homophobia of their religious heritage. However, that role should be temporary, because, in the final analysis, the negative implications of gay participation in the Christian community outweigh any positive effects.
Gay religionists will sometimes quote John 8:7—“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone”—in a feeble attempt to deflect the disapproval of Christian homophobes. But this statement is impotent. It is tantamount to an admission of guilt, arguing that the disapproval is justified but should be moderated because all are guilty. It is difficult to conceive of a weaker defense.
Why would any gay person act so contrary to his or her own self-interest as to adopt a religion that promotes contempt for homosexuals and teaches the homosexual himself or herself to wallow in self-hatred and self-pity? Are they duped by the disingenuous “love the sinner, hate the sin” rhetoric that some Christians homophobes use to soft-pedal their bigotry? (If the homophobes were sincere, they would offer at least some support for gay rights in spite of their moral disapproval.)
Some women freely embrace Islam, that most misogynistic of religions, so should gays be any more immune to this kind of error? But gay Christians go further, establishing separate organizations, even completely new churches, in their race to adopt the faith of their oppressors. The MCC, for example, calls itself “a worldwide fellowship of Christian churches with a special outreach to the world’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities,” but we may simply call it a gay church, a rogue church attempting to reconstruct Christianity sans homophobia.
If Christianity is wrong about homosexuality, as gay Christians claim, is it not reasonable to ask what else is mistaken about that religion? Is there anything right about Christianity, anything worth preserving? Gay Christians don’t even consider such questions. Other religious but non-Christian gays will grant that organized religion in general and Christian institutions in particular are fundamentally flawed but insist on the importance of “true faith,” whatever that is. However, if one accepts things on faith alone, then how do we know that the Christian bigots are not right after all? If we reject rational thought in favor of faith, then anything goes, including homophobia.
When confronted with scriptural condemnations of homosexuality, gay Christians like to fuss over translations, claiming that the Bible condemns only promiscuous homosexual behavior, or prostitution, etc. But in light of the realities of Christian practice, such subtleties are just so much equivocation, and they mask another question that gay Christians never confront: What does it matter what is written in that old compilation of tribal legends commonly known as the Bible? What interest, other than historical or academic, do we have in its pronouncements about homosexuality or any other topic?
The fact is that gays have been, and continue to be, psychologically brutalized by the unrelenting Christian obsession with condemning any sexual behavior whose goal is not specifically one of reproduction. This, coupled with the underlying assumption—made by all the monotheisms—that religious faith is the sine qua non of morality and goodness, constitutes a powerful emotional assault that has taken its toll on those who do not fit the mold and whose moral character is thus denigrated.
Even the popular expression “Gay Pride” is merely the flip side of the shame that homosexuals are taught by Christianity to feel. The expression is meant to be defiant, “in your face,” replacing shame with pride, but it does as much to remind us of the shame as to defy it. In reality, neither emotion—shame nor pride—is appropriate. A person’s sexual orientation is just one detail of his or her nature, of which he or she need be neither proud nor ashamed.
The Ex and the Ex-ex
If hell exists, it can surely be found in the so-called ex-homosexual movement, of which the organization Exodus is perhaps the best known representative.3 While most homosexual Christian organizations attempt to construct a Christianity that accepts and welcomes gays and lesbians, the ex-homosexual movement fully endorses the traditional Christian condemnation. This movement, permeated with fundamentalist dogma, claims that homosexuality can be cured, or at least controlled, through the assiduous application of Christian faith. This claim is pseudoscientific at best, as all attempts to change sexual orientation have consistently failed since first attempted decades ago.
Exodus and its ilk use the standard Christian jargon of “love” and “respect” for the homosexual person, but their underlying contempt is obvious. The “ex-homosexuals” of Exodus and similar groups are a pathetic lot. They occasionally make headlines when they fall off the wagon, so to speak, becoming ex-ex-homosexuals. The 1993 documentary film One Nation under God features two men who were leaders of Exodus and left the organization after falling in love with one another.4
Homosexuality and the Catholic Church
No discussion of homosexuality and Christianity would be complete without special attention to the Roman Catholic Church, partly because of its central importance in Christendom but also because of the nature of the Catholic priesthood—in particular, mandatory celibacy. The sexual and physical child abuse perpetrated by members of the Catholic clergy and “pedophilia” among priests received enormous attention. As some observers pointed out, most of the young males involved were adolescents, so a more appropriate term would be ephebophilia. But even with that correction, most people seem to have missed the essential point: When an entire caste of men is accorded “divine” authority but denied a basic human need—sexuality—then attempts to fulfill the forbidden need through abuse of authority become inevitable. A priest is ostensibly God’s representative in his parish. It should come as no surprise that some priests will abuse that authority to obtain sexual favors. Combine this with the Christian condemnation of sexual pleasure in general and homosexuality in particular, and we have an explosive situation that the Catholic hierarchy can no longer hide.
Catholic apologists wring their hands and condemn the gay “infiltration” of the clergy, but their protestations are hypocritical. The high proportion of gay men amongst Catholic priests has been an open secret for a very long time. Nevertheless, it must be recognized that those priests who have sexual relations, and in particular homosexual relations, are complicit in the Church’s hypocrisy. Decades ago, when societal homophobia was stronger, the priesthood may have appealed to some young gay men as an escape from that repressive atmosphere, from the all-pervasive pressure to marry, into a safer, all-male milieu. But today, in the early twenty-first century, when the situation for gays has improved considerably (no thanks to Christianity), can we have any sympathy for a gay man who would be foolish enough to become a Catholic priest? Can he possibly be unaware of the absurdity of his career choice and the anguish that it will bring him? Even the ordinary gay man or lesbian who is simply a member of the Catholic Church needs to start asking himself or herself some serious moral questions—not questions of sexual morality, but rather considerations of intellectual honesty and integrity.
As for the association of gay Catholics known as Dignity, the name itself is a bad joke. Roman Catholic authorities remain dogmatically opposed to any open, honest expression of homosexuality; the members of Dignity are thus in a false position, pretending to be Catholic when they are in fact utterly rejected by the Church. Indignity would be a more appropriate name.
To the naïve who would attempt to reform the Catholic Church by asking that priests be allowed to marry, or even more improbably, that the Church accept homosexuality, we must put this question: Even if that were possible, why bother? What is the point in attempting to reform an institution that is, and always has been, fundamentally obscurantist?
The Silver Lining
In their desperate quest for respectability, Christian homosexuals have completely missed the advantage of finding themselves in a marginal position with respect to the rest of society. The alienation and rejection to which gays have typically been subjected has a flip side—the cloud has a silver lining so to speak: a unique opportunity to observe and criticize more objectively the majority from which we have been excluded; a view from the outside, offering the possibility of rethinking that which most people take for granted.
Forced by personal circumstance to question the sexual norm of obligatory heterosexuality, the homosexual can turn that marginal position to his or her advantage by calling into question other preconceived notions of normalcy, such as the normalcy of religious faith, or of patriotism, or of commonly accepted notions in any sphere of activity: political, social, artistic, aesthetic, etc. Instead, the Christian homosexual squanders this opportunity and rushes headlong in the opposite direction, straight (pun intended) into the arms of banality and conformism. The obsession with proving that the Bible is not really homophobic serves only to legitimize the biblical fetishism that is a major cause of our problems.
A friend expressed this sentiment in the following words:
1. John Lauritsen, “Religious Roots of the Taboo on Homosexuality,” a pamphlet based on a 1974 presentation made to the Scholarship Committee of the Gay Academic Union in New York City.
2. From the Old Testament: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination” (Leviticus 18:22, King James Version). “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” (Leviticus 20:13, King James Version). From the New Testament: “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet” (Romans 1:26–27, King James Version).
4. One Nation Under God, a 1993 film directed by T. Maniaci and F.M. Rzeznik.
David Rand lives and works as a software developer in Montreal, Québec, Canada. He thanks Athéo, Dean Austin, and Robert Feinstein for their feedback during the preparation of this article. A longer version is available on the site Living Without Religion, http://atheisme.ca/. This article is dedicated to the memory of Maurice Flood, an American-born leftist who played a pivotal role in the Canadian gay movement of the 1970s.