The Christian right’s baffling obsession with homosexuality
Strangely, Jesus never explicitly mentioned it, Michael Coren writes in his new book
Back in 1978, Britain’s highly successful and influential Tom Robinson Band released the song “(Sing if You’re) Glad to Be Gay.” It became, understandably, something of an anthem in the LGBTQ2 community but for some reason never caught on in the church music scene. Yes, that’s supposed to be amusing. Having said that, today in many churches in the western world, rainbow flags are waved, and Christians have come to their senses about the issue.
But among conservatives in North America and Europe, and in particular in large parts of Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, homosexuality remains a virtual obsession, seen as a sin of sins. The pain and destruction this approach causes is, needless to say, beyond calculation. Such homophobia is deadly. I use that word advisedly. It genuinely leads to people being killed.
I want to spend quite a bit of time and space on the subject here because in so many ways it typifies the problem faced by the modern church — confusion over what Scripture actually means, the gripping of one or two particular subjects as a way to provide a cause and justification for certain actions and attitudes, and the abandonment of the most crucial aspect of the rebel Christ — the call to love and to accept. But what you’ll realize in this chapter is that we quote Jesus less than elsewhere in the book, and other biblical writers more. The reason is that Jesus doesn’t
explicitly mention the subject at all.
Yet because conservative Christians are so concerned with homosexuality, the arguments have to be countered if the true Christ and his church are to be explained and defended, and that demands references to the Old Testament and to the Pauline letters.
The obsession in itself is strange for many reasons, especially in that there are probably a mere five or six mentions of what can loosely be described as homosexuality in the entire Bible. Malcolm Johnson exposes this bewildering perversion of emphasis rather well in his book, “Diary of a Gay Priest: The Tightrope Walker”: “It is condemned. It is expressly forbidden in Scripture … Four General Councils forbid it, Luther and Zwingli weighed against it, and until recently it was distasteful to most people. What is it? Lending money at interest.”
In fact only a tiny fraction of the Bible is in any way related to same-sex relationships whereas more than 10 per cent is devoted to issues of economic inequality, exploitation and injustice, indicated by what we saw in the last chapter.
From a literalist point of view, then, conservatives are looking through the wrong end of the theological telescope and seeing the important themes as distant, blurred, black-andwhite images and the insignificant on 70-inch colour plasma screens.
On a less sophisticated but deliciously naughty level there is a letter that has been doing the social media rounds for a few years now that was written by someone — we’re still not precisely sure who the original culprit was — in response to the extremely conservative and ostentatiously religious Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who seems to have rather faded away these days.
It may seem a little surprising to speak of the notorious radio host in a book about the reality of Christ, but I think this example sums up the disconnect between perception and fact rather well. The alleged expert had repeatedly made negative remarks about homosexuality, same-sex relationships and equal marriage, and based much of what she said on biblical precedent. She went so far as to refer to gays as “mistakes of nature” and at her peak spoke to an enormous and eager audience. She is not, by the way, a medical doctor.
“Dear Dr. Laura: Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination … end of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.
1) Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighbouring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
2) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
3) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual unseemliness — Lev. 15:19— 24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.
4) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord — Lev. 1:9. The problem is my neighbours. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them? … Delightful stuff.
One of the ironies, one of the imploding paradoxes of all this, is that the more fundamentalist and literalist that Christians become the more they disagree about who has the correct understanding of Scripture. Taking the Bible as literal truth, without need of context and interpretation, doesn’t unite Christians but achieves the very opposite …
The Christian understanding of the Bible, and opinions on how to live and implement biblical teachings, also change with the times. If this sounds too convenient to the subject we’re discussing, we only have to apply it to any number of historical or even recent examples of church beliefs.
Take perhaps the most viscer
ally troubling subject, that of slavery. It has always existed in human history in various forms but the European, white enslavement of enormous numbers of men and women from Africa began in the 16th century and reached a highly lucrative and obscene peak in the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries.
The abolitionist movement was led by Christians, usually evangelical and Quaker, and we cannot fully understand the work of William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, John Newton and the rest without realizing that they were motivated and mobilized by a powerful Christian revulsion at slavery based on their reading of the Bible. Without Christian men and women moved to passion and anger by the sin of slavery the trade would have continued for far longer.
But while many of the defenders of slavery were unconcerned with religion and were driven by profit or indifference there were many in the pro-slavery camp who were Bible-believing Christians and felt justified in their defence of the indefensible by their approach to Scripture.
They pointed to Abraham’s owning of slaves, to Canaan being made a slave to his brothers, to the Ten Commandments demonstrating an implicit acceptance of slavery by mentioning it twice, to Jesus not referring to it even though it was widespread in the Roman Empire, to St. Paul telling slaves to obey their masters, and what he writes about the subject in the Epistle to Philemon.
They added that slavery removed peoples from non-Christian, pagan cultures to countries where they could hear the Gospel, that just as women were commanded in Scripture to play a subordinate role to men, slaves are also part of a precise social order. They argued that Christians were obliged to obey the civil government and that followers of Jesus should not mix faith with politics — that one is still used today but usually out of convenience when it suits the person repeating it.
We may cringe when we read this today but as late as the 1860s these feelings were fairly common among conservative Christians and were all based on a strict reading of Scripture.
Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, spoke for many God-fearing people when he said that slavery “was established by decree of Almighty God … it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation … it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.”
Alexander Campbell was one of the leading preachers and ministers of the age and one of the senior evangelicals of the time. He wrote that “there is not one verse in the Bible inhibiting slavery, but many regulating it. It is not then, we conclude, immoral.” But, we
would argue today, they were choosing specific passages of the Bible out of context and in isolation to satisfy their own agendas and rather than applying the love of Christ they were incarcerated by the legalism of those he directly opposed.
So the Bible has to be read and understood intelligently and as the document is supposed to be, and not as a guidebook to be twisted into various shapes to satisfy a pre-existing social and political way of thinking. The term “cafeteria
Christian” is often thrown at those of us who believe we have to use the prism of thought, context and current knowledge to understand Scripture, but if anyone is picking only certain dishes from the theological menu so as to satisfy their own particular appetite it is surely those who feast on the minor elements of the Bible while avoiding the meat and potatoes.