By Vexen Crabtree 2014
Religions have tended to represent patriarchal norms, enforcing a straight heterosexuality at the expense of any other sexual expressions. This primal instinct, arising from both sexuality and power relations, becomes institutionalized into the religions produced by primitive societies (and minds). Most traditional religions have happened to ritualize and dogmatize practices that tend to place heterosexual males in charge of women, families, religious communities, societies and governments. This form of dominance ends up stigmatizing those who do fit into the scheme, notably, strong females and non-heterosexuals such as homosexuals. Although, thankfully, the direct influence of religion in secular society has receded from the government level, residues of its effects remain entrenched in some areas of law.
There are trends within portions of all the monotheistic religions mentioned here towards tolerance, but, for example with the Anglican church, such changes are causing serious fissures in the internal cohesion of the Church. These are issues that have been accepted by secular society and there are no large organisations devoted to non-tolerance that are not religious in nature.
Wicca is one example amongst many New Religious Movements that have rejected the loathing of homosexuality found in traditional monotheistic religions. But in its foundation Wicca could not cope with homosexuality. The Gardnerian Book of Shadows was strictly a heterosexual affair, and, one of the earliest and most successful Pagan periodicals throughout the 1970s was called The Wiccan, and showed outright hostility towards homosexuality2. But all of this changed. Alex Sanders' version of Wicca removed this bias2, and, the entire Wiccan community (alongside Pagans in general) now proclaim their distaste of prejudice based on sexuality.
Another religion that has reached this pinnacle is Satanism. What they have in common is modernity and non-monotheism.
Satanism is pro-sexuality. We should all shed the weird and stifling sexual inhibitions preached by the world's traditional religions; Sexuality is a pure form of pleasure, something that satisfies our deepest purpose in life. Modern life allows us to enjoy sex without the risks of unplanned pregnancies and sexual diseases assuming that sense is taken. Satanism supports any fetish, kink or flavor of sexual encounter as long as all parties involved are consenting. We are informed by modern and learned psychological, medical and scientific opinions on sex; there are no dogmatic principles or religious intolerance of sexualities within Satanism. It is very optimistic, positive and healthy: This can only be expected of such a carnal religion of the flesh such as Satanism! Some people like quality, some people like quantity: Just be responsible, take emotions and consequences into account, and above all, enjoy your life!”
Three world religions (Judaism, Christianity and then Islam) accepted parts of the Jewish Scriptures as canon. The Christians call them the "Old" testament. There is a lot of hype about the Biblical condemnations of homosexuality. The clearest verses come from the Hebrew scriptures and most others are indirect and unclear.
It is in Leviticus that the surest anti-gay text can be found, but the correctness of the translations have been questioned. There are six quotations taken from the Bible that can be used against homosexuality. A word that is being used is "abomination" as a translation for the word that in the Bible means "taboo", or "unritualistic". Some Bibles use the word "detestable"; it depends on which Bible you own as to how accurate the translation is.
In Genesis, the story of Lot, his daughters, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah has Lot send out his daughters to get raped by a mob (Genesis 19:7-8), because the homosexual violation of his guests is a worse sin than rape. For this "brave" and "commendable" action (2 Peter 2:6-8), God rewards "just" Lot and saves his family from destruction (Genesis 19:11-13, 15-17, 19). Infamously, this holy man Lot goes on to have sex with both of his own daughters, and they have children by him (Genesis 19:30-38). So are the twisted divine morals of antiquity! See: Lot and the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: In Genesis 18 and 19.
"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination" - Leviticus 18:22.
"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.
Wrongdoers and "men who have sex with men" and ungodly and cannot go to heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Although some say the Greek here refers only to male prostitutes, and isn't condemning homosexuality as a whole.
“Why don't fundamentalists organize protests and picket seafood restaurants, oyster bars, church barbecue suppers, all grocery stores, barber shops, tattoo parlours, and stores that sell suits and dresses made of mixed wool, cotton, polyester, and other materials? All of these products and services are abominations in Leviticus. When have you heard a preacher condemn the demonic abomination of garments that are made of mixed fabrics?”
Nearly all the verses mentioning homosexuality are unclear, and it is only via assumption that many have interpreted and translated the verses to be (coincidentally!) in accordance with cultural norms that castigate homosexuality. Approaching the verses neutrally allows one to see they are ambiguous. For Christians it should also be noted that Jesus Christ is never quoted or implied to have spoken about sexuality, so presumably it does not much matter. Christians hold that the Torah's laws are superseded by the New Testament because "we are no longer under the old covenant". The vast majority of the seemingly pointless rules from Leviticus (no clothes made of mixed cloths, no buttons...) are duly ignored. But despite there not being a single sentence from the new testament that condemns a homosexual act as worse than a heterosexual one, because Christianity has had such a strong culture of homophobia, when it comes to homosexuality the Old Testament is embraced as if it were the New although most other condemnations are ignored.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are several seemingly gay relationships, none of which are met with punishment, nor even described in negative terms. For example King David, one of the most holy and revered figures of the Bible, and Jonathan: "The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul" (1 Samuel 18:1) and "I [David] am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women" (2 Samuel 1:26). Clearly, homosexual love is fully endorsed in the Bible, and, it is hard to read passages like that without realizing that there is no condemnation of physical homosexual love, too.
In this light, Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 are merely saying that while you are laying with a fellow man, don't try to do it in the same way as you would with a woman. The meaning is unclear; perhaps it is saying that men shouldn't be gentle with each other, or, shouldn't adopt the same position with a man as they would with a woman. But rather than try to synthesize these contradictory verses into a coherent doctrine, it is probably best to assume that some of the various authors of the Bible were anti-gay, and others were ambivalent or even positive about it. As to which verses you accept is purely up to culturally-borne prejudice and personal bias.
Of the major monotheistic religions, Judaism has the healthiest attitude towards sex, aside from a few superstitious laws surrounding blood. However, despite this positive sign, it is clear that some shades of Judaism do not accept homosexual partners:
“There is no suggestion in Judaism that the celibate life is specially holy. [Sex is] the most intimate and enjoyable way of deepening a relationship. [...] A man who has no wife is doomed to an existence without joy, without blessing, without experiencing life's true goodness, without Torah, without protection and without peace.”
A man and a wife are acknowledged, but no other combination. It is readily observable that homosexuality is condemned in the Torah although some argue that this is not clear-cut and there are some strong cultural signs and institutional movements that indicate that Judaism is not in the same boat as Christianity and Islam. In the USA 81% of Jews support legalizing gay marriage (2013 data), somewhat more than the appalling national average of 52% and in the 1990s "Reform Judaism officially announced its support for gay marriage"4. The USA does have serious problems when it comes to religious intolerance, however, and in the Europe, where Christian rejection of LGBT equality has been resisted for longer, Judaism still lags behind common culture when it comes to calm tolerance, although there are still some good positive steps being made, for example::
“The Liberal movement has become the first Jewish body in the UK to sanction blessings for gay and lesbian couples in synagogue, according to today´s Jewish Chronicle. Rabbi Frank Dabba Smith, chair of the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues' rabbinic conference, said that there had been "no deep divisions" over the policy.”
On the other hand, Jewish forces of bigotry are still active:
Since inception, organized Christianity has rallied against homosexuality. Although there are signs that in some places and times there were exceptions:
“Same-sex relationships between women were consistently condemned and suppressed by Church authorities, though rarely subject to legal prosecution. Church attitudes towards male same-sex relationships seem to have been more contradictory. Although the extent to which relationships between men were tolerated is a topic of controversy among historians, the medieval historian John Boswell records examples of same-sex unions between men that seem to have been sanctioned by religious ceremonies, arguing that such partnerships were "commonplace" in early medieval Byzantine society and that it was only from the 14th century onwards that such practices were repressed by the Catholic Church.”
Gays around the world have faced frequent condemnations, political campaigns and vitriolic statements against them, from Christian organisations. In the UK as in many other counties, the established Christian church had its hand in making homosexuality illegal, and campaigned strongly against its de-illegalisation in the Homosexual Law Reform Act (1967)9. This public and active oppression continued heavily throughout the 70s and 80s (before which homosexuality was simply illegal, and very much taboo) and even in the 90s this attitude continued, with strong, rich and well supported organized Christian groups defeating several attempts by the Government to accomplish equal gay age of consent, gay rights and gay marriage. In 2007 Richard Kirker reported of "several instances in the last 10 years" when mainstream Christianity has forced the government to recede on matters of equality for gay and lesbian folk10. The most surprising element of all this is the failure of the otherwise liberal and tolerant Church of England to support gay communities.
A few other modern cases I've stumbled across:
2012 Apr the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales (CESEW) wrote to all secondary schools, urging them to promote an anti-marriage-equality petition and to tell the children at their schools to sign it. Even though investigations by public prosecutors found that any school that followed these instructions broke the law, Catholic authorities continue to engage in such anti-equality activism.11
2012 Feb: Catholic schools in Lancashire distributed a booklet to pupils entitled "Pure Manhood: How to become the man God wants you to be", which states that contraception and homosexuality are evil (against god, "disordered")6, ,12.
“The Catholic Church in Scotland sent out more than 100,000 postcards to its parishes recently. The cards were protesting at proposals of the Scottish government to legalise gay marriage. Parishioners were asked to sign the cards and send them into the consultation that the Government was conducting. 14,000 of the postcards have now been received at Holyrood and the Catholic Church is hailing this as a great success and demanding that the Government must now drop its plans.
Except that it only represents less than 14% of the cards they provided. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the RCC's bigotry.”
Despite the existence of some gay priests, the Christian hierarchy has been particularly intolerant of visible homosexuality. The fear of exposure prevented gay priests and bishops from supporting the gay rights movement, which is itself testimony to the fearsome anti-gay agenda of the Christian community as a whole, both inside and outside official ranks. Even the liberal Church of England operates in the same way, although the ECUSA (Anglican Church in the USA) have made some progressive steps. Churches have opposed and ejected known homosexuals from its ranks, and vocally considered AIDS to be "God's revenge on homosexuals".
Every decade Anglican bishops from around the world meet at the Lambeth Conference. Homosexuality (and certainly) sexuality, has always been a hot topic there. The president of the pontifical council for promoting christian unity, who is an official from the Catholic church called Walter Cardinal Kasper said that "homosexuality is a disordered behaviour that must be condemned" and said that anti-homosexual teachings are traditional because they are the teachings handed down by Jesus. He told the Anglican Communion to issue a "clear declaration" that homosexuality must be condemned, and warned that the Anglican's slightly-more-tolerant approach on homosexuality and women had caused serious compromises between Anglican and Catholic branches of Christiandom.14
In the USA there are a great many evangelical, powerful and well-funded fundamentalist outfits (the 'religious right') that campaign on a number of issues, but none so bitterly as their campaigns against homosexuality. For example the political researcher Andrew Heywood notes the Christian group Moral Majority founded by the famous bigot Jerry Falwell: "since the 1980s its principal energies have been devoted to the campaign against abortion [, ...] homosexuality, pornography, premarital sex and, in the USA at least, the teaching of Darwinian theories of evolution rather than Biblical 'creationism'"15. Other Christian "religious right" organisations and Christian activist individuals follow similar agendas against abortion and gay rights16. The USA does have a strong of a grasp on Human Rights as Europe, but establishments, courts, entire states and other portions of the social structure frequently succumb to Christian pressure, leaving many LGBT folk with only unpredictable recourse to the law when it comes to seeking equality and tolerance.
The UK is seeing the slow emergence of similar groups, with CARE17, Christian Concern, Christian Legal Centre, the Christian Institute and the Evangelical Alliance representing some of the most active groups that oppose legal equality for gays. Some groups are more civil than others - a recent EA publication genuinely sounds like it is trying to be nice to those ungodly gays, especially those who remain abstinent. Although it still says that "homoerotic" activity is against God's will, and they cannot accept legal equality when it comes to gay marriage and recommends Church discipline for those who are positive about homosexuality, especially in public18. Alongside many other Christian organisations, the EA and CARE campaigned against the repeal of the infamous anti-homosexual Clause 28 of the Local Government Act (1986)19. Teachers, for example, have a duty to verbally negate prejudice when it surfaces, but, Clause 28 was preventing them from doing so for fear of appearing to "promote" homosexuality. Thankfully, common-sense prevailed over religious tradition, and it was duly repealed.
All of the anti- groups manage to confuse personal religion with what is right under the law. In law, things like marriage are not exclusive to Christians (we live in a democracy, last time I checked), and as such, Christian superstitions should not limit who can or can't get married. If Christians believe that same-sex marriage is wrong, then simply, in order to live in compliance with their beliefs, they merely have to avoid marrying people of the same gender. Job done. When they start imposing their beliefs on others, though, and having hissy fits with each step of progress towards gay tolerance and gay equality by everyone else, they are merely highlighting the fact that their beliefs are borne from a dangerous personal prejudice that they hold to be more important than either good morality or democratic public law.
There are groups within Christianity that are concerned with the Human Rights of sexuality, however such groups are much quieter and less numerous than those that oppose any element of tolerance towards gay people. Such groups are drowned out by the larger, more numerous and better funded anti-gay Church groups. Despite the decline of established churches in the West, fundamentalist groups that are offensively anti-gay are still growing numerically, although some liberal Churches may accept homosexuality it is likely that the most zealous Christian groups will still be of the anti- kind for the foreseeable future.
In the USA I believe that the situation is different, and the liberal Churches have acted towards homosexual rights even when public opinion was against this. In Europe, the opposite was true, society in general softened to the idea of open and accepted homosexuality long before the Churches did, except in heavily religious countries such as Greece where homosexuality is still illegal.
Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, warns that "religious campaigners are trying relentlessly to reverse hard-won equality rights or [to] give religious employees carte blanche to exempt themselves from the laws and regulations that apply to everyone else". The point of equality laws is that they protect all people. There's no point encoding the morality of tolerance into law if you then exclude Christians because they happen to be a member of a religion that frequently discriminates against gays. The moral case is made and discrimination on grounds of sexuality is now illegal as well as wrong.
In the UK many of these claims are funded and managed by (1) the Christian Institute and (2) by the Christian Legal Centre behind which is lawyer Andrea Minichiello Williams (related to Christian Concern). Many cases are dismissed quickly and receive little attention, for example:
"The case of the family court judge in Sheffield who didn't want to deal with gay couples was thrown out" (2009).
Unfortunately some out-of-court settlements have gone in favour of Christian prejudice. For example:
Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service didn't fight against "a case brought against them by a Catholic firefighter who refused to provide fire safety literature to gay people. Instead of seeing the case through, the Council settled out of court". If they had fought it, they would have won.
Tolerance, equality and human rights prevent the immoral abuse of unpopular minorities, but, when it comes to homosexuality, Christian institutions are conducting a world-wide battle to make themselves exempt from the growing tide of democratic fairness towards those of all sexualities. The Catholic Church itself is the most powerful campaigner for anti-gay discrimination. In response to the long stream of failed cases in Europe, a Vatican Radio broadcast the Vatican's foreign minister Archbishop Dominique Mamberti saying that "everyone in Europe should have the right to object to issues they find immoral"20. The problem is, if your idea of "immoral" means removing the free and equal rights of others, then, such dogmas will, and should, remain firmly illegal. The Catholic Church is going to have to get used to a world that no longer adheres to its prejudiced dogmas.
In 2003 March two Sefton Council workers refused to take part in adoptions for gay parents, because they say it is against their Christian beliefs. As it is part of their job to perform this civil function, they have been fairly enough been threatened with dismissal for not doing their job. The Christian Institute fought for the two Christians' cause "based on Christian principles".
"However, during the consultation on the Employment Directive [...] the Christian Institute - and other faith groups - fought for the right to sack non-Christian workers who didn't support the "ethos" of faith-based organisations that employed them. Now, it seems they think it is OK for Christian employees to undermine the ethos of secular employers and get away with it".21
The Christian Institute wants employers to be able to sack people for not having the same beliefs as themselves, Christians, but also wants Christians to be able to remain in companies despite having religious beliefs that undermine the job the employees are supposed to do. The Christian Institute is not fighting for morals, but supporting sectarianism and discrimination based on religion, and therefore undermining the stability of equal and democratic society.
You simply can't discriminate against gays, even if you do believe they're "immoral". It is illegal to discriminate, even if you do so out of religious conviction. If employers such as Sefton Council bend to the wishes of those who wish to discriminate, then, those employers are encouraging illegal (and hurtful) behaviour.
National Secular Society's Terry Sanderson summarizes the Christian Institute's story-making, and the fact that some national newspapers report these attention-grabbing distortions. Newspapers include the Daily Telegraph, Daily Express and the Daily Mail (2009 Feb 20).
Registrars in Town Halls arrange marriages. They are government employees whose wages are paid for by the public, via taxes. They must therefore, treat everyone equally and without prejudice or discrimination, because they perform a service as a part of a democracy. Lillian Ladele felt that such lofty ideals were below her but lost her legal case after refusing to officiate for same-sex civil partnerships since 2005 Dec. Her battle against homosexuality caused additional complaints from her work colleagues, and by 2007 the office atmosphere was described as "deteriorated", at which point disciplinary action was brought against her. She took it to the Employment Tribunal and ironically claimed that she was being directly discriminated against and it was taken to an appeal court: "Lillian Ladele, the Islington registrar who refused to conduct same-sex Civil Partnerships on religious grounds, has been refused leave to appeal against the decision of an Employment Tribunal that she did not suffer religious discrimination at work. She has also been ordered to pay costs". Her case was funded by the UK evangelical political lobbying organisation The Christian Institute.The National Secular Society report that "Islington was also battling against considerable odds. These cases are being fought with huge determination and massive funds from evangelical Christian groups".
In 2009 the UK Court of Appeal upheld the ruling that she had not been subject to religious discrimination and BHA's Andrew Copson said "As the judgment made clear, in a modern liberal democracy, there can be no “opt out” for those who say they are unable to do their jobs because they wish to discriminate, even when that desire to discriminate derives from a religious belief. This judgment is extremely welcome"22. She then appealed yet again, now to the Supreme Court, but was refused on 2010 Mar 04. But it wasn't the end of the story! Lillian Ladele contined to fight, and the case eventually went to the European Court of Human Rights, where, on the 15th of Jan 2013, they also found that anti-gay bigotry was not excused in the public sector, not even by domineering Christians. She reinforced her irrational and prejudiced opinions with constant references to her belief in Christian beliefs, and the press have widely reported it as "Christian persecution".23
The Christian Institute's news article on the loss of the Ladele case said "Five judges rejected her claim, but two believed that she had suffered discrimination because of her Christian beliefs about marriage" which is a skewed perspective; she was not discriminated against because of her beliefs, but because of her behaviour. She was rightly fired because she was refusing to do her job. If her religious beliefs mean she puts herself under additional limits as to who she can treat equally, then, she should not choose to do a public-facing, public-sector job.
Gary McFarlane was employed by Relate to give counselling in sex and relationship issues. His strict Bible-based Christian beliefs were widely known especially that he sternly believed that he could never engage in any action that appeared to support homosexuality. However in 2007 he assured his employer that he would be able to, as Relate's charter states, treat people equally and fairly. He saw two lesbian couples with no problem, but in 2008 it became apparent he had serious issues with male homosexuals, and he was suspended. He stated his views had never changed, and that he still held he could never support homosexuals. He appealed, and then, supported by the Christian Legal Centre24, lodged a complaint with the Employment Tribunal, ironically, claiming that he suffered from direct discrimination because he wasn't allowed to discriminate. He lost the case, and the panel noted in particular how it is not practical to filter away homosexual clients from seeing him in confidence. It is quite easy to imagine that patients may have homosexual concerns that are not raised until they are already sat with Gary McFarlane, and that therefore he cannot be relied upon for counselling.
Catholic Care is a charity ran by the Diocese of Leeds. It stood alongside 12 other Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales that refused to place children with homosexual parents28, pretending that this was for religious reasons. Same-sex parents have proven to be as good parents, if not better, than typical heterosexual parents. Public services, or services that are counted as charitable (and therefore tax exempt), must abide by national and European human rights law, which is designed to fight discrimination and prejudice. The laws were effected in 2007. The Catholic adoption agencies faced a choice between helping children (who benefit more the quicker they are placed into homes) or sticking to their prejudices. For the sake of the children, several of these adoption agencies cut their ties with the Catholic Church and changed their policies28. But some battled on against modern equality, seeking instead to hold back human rights laws by seeking exemptions from them.
The Catholic Care's case was thrown out on 2011 Apr 26. Some arguments documented by the Judge are revealing. The charity, being defended chiefly by the RC Bishop Arthur Roche, threatens to close (doing even greater social harm) if it cannot continue to discriminate against homosexuals (Charity Commission 2011).29 This revealed that doctrine is more important than egalitarianism as a motive. Once it was known that Catholic Care's stance is not about children's welfare, then the entire charity was thrown into disrepute.
A strange contradiction and confusion exists within Christianity. Its general stance on sexuality is highly restrictive, and celibacy is enforced for priests and bishops in many denominations. Christian churches claim the right to educate others on the moralities of sexual behaviour. Yet, sexual abuse in Christian workplaces and paedophilia is rife within Christendom, and homosexuality abounds in the priesthood at a higher rate than in the general population. Politically and socially, Christian organisations have campaigned heavily against any form of gay rights, and have opposed the very idea of the tolerance of homosexuals. In 2002, the UK Government (again) pushed for greater equality for gays under the law, and (again) the principal opposition groups were Christian30. Since then, civil partnerships have been created that allow gay marriage in everything but name. A small minority of Christian institutions support gay marriage, but in history entire regions once did so.
Doctrine clashes with reality. Many parts of Christian scripture are ignored nowadays; take for example the extensive dietary laws laid down in the Hebrew scriptures. This 'old' testament, it is said by many, is now irrelevant and Christians no longer have to observe many of its laws. The anti-homosexual versus come from the same place. The creeping re-interpretation of Scripture to fit in with the known facts of the world is the only way Christianity can survive, but when it comes to homosexuality a strange obstinence emerges. It is about time that Christian authorities applied their own much-haunted 'moral high ground' to its own reality, and formally ceased the continued irrational dislike of homosexuality.
“When [...] is the Church going to have the courage to celebrate the creativity of its homosexual members, who are more discriminated against than black people or women? For those gay people who wish to be ordained there is only one way to get through the initial interviews, and that is the humiliating one of keeping their sexuality concealed. [...] It is painfully easy to remain in the closet ever afterwards, thinking that at some future date there will be an opportunity to come clean, only the day never comes. The Church, of course, encourages this silence. A description of a nervous breakdown, Jim Cotter's book Brainsquall, reveals what a terrible price gay clergy have been required to pay for such a double standard. [...]
Sometimes it seems as if the Church is almost the only body left which cannot deal with homosexuality. It is possible to get elected for Parliament as an openly gay man or woman, possible to be made a cabinet minister, possible for many eminent people to be quite straightforward about living with another man or woman. [...]
Change, of course, is inevitable. Just as the change of the status of women in society pushed the hand of the Church to ordain women; just as the change of the status of black people in Britain makes it imperative that they are seen as full members of the Church with their own distinctive contribution; just as the change in marital habits makes churches accepting of second marriages, so change in this field too is inevitable. Maybe not this year or next year, but before too long, the Church is going to have to get up its nerve (and it is not in a bold frame of mind) and accord homosexuals full status within the Church, because, like blacks or women, they are increasingly refusing the meek and silent status enforced upon them.”
We have mostly been talking about mainstream Christian denominations so far, but the same hostile attitudes obtain in sects, too. Both Mormons32 and the fundamentalist scripturalists, the Jehovah's Witnesses, both maintain an anti-anything-involving-gay-tolerance stance.
There are large numbers of gay priests but the majority of them are not like secular gays who find solace in their identity. Christian theories of human sexuality and the practice of celibacy among priests have meant that a lack of sexual development curses many priests with an abnormal and underdeveloped sexuality. Many do not consider themselves gay, hide it, deny it, but still practice it. Some even deny that homosexual acts are homosexual simply because they themselves, they say, are not homosexual and do not have homosexual tendencies. It is doublethink, to use George Orwell's famous term33.
“Generally, 30% of U.S. priests (estimates established from all sources) are either involved in homosexual relationships, have a conflict about periodic sexual activity, feel compelled toward homosexual involvements, identify themselves as homosexual, or at least have serious questions about their sexual orientation or differentiation. Approximately half of these men act out sexually with others.
[For example] A group of priests who gathered to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of their entrance into their religious order were sharing stories about their novitiate experience. One of the men confided that the novice master had a 2-year sexual relationship with him. The news came as a shock to most of his classmates, who considered the master the epitome of all of the virtues for which their religious order stood. But two other members of the group then confided that the superior was also sexually involved with them during the same period. Each one thought he was the only one so involved.
An interesting subgroup of priests is marked by their fear of being homosexual. These men are conscientious and would identify themselves as gay if they could only resolve their internal conflict. But they cannot. They might have had no adult homosexual experience and are relying on their memories of childhood or adolescent sexual play with friends or family. Some have experimented with both sexes briefly in adult life. They are not caught in preadolescent development. They are more like the college student who fearfully asks, "Am I normal?". [...] Many men fear the idea that they may be homosexual. Others are so homophobic that they cannot tolerate the idea of being close to or friendly with a homosexual person.”
The Yale historian John Boswell notes that historical gay ceremonies carried out by the church in previous centuries were in the same fashion as heterosexual ones.
“For nearly two centuries after Christianity had become the state religion, Christian emperors in Eastern cities not only tolerated but actually taxed gay prostitution. In 7th century Visigoth Spain, a series of six national church councils refused to support the ruler's legislation against homogenital acts. By the 9th century almost every area in Christian Europe had local law codes, including detailed sections on sexual offenses; none outside of Spain forbade homogenital acts. By the High Middle Ages, a gay subculture thrived, as in Greco-Roman times. A body of gay literature was standard discussion material at courses in the medieval universities where clerics were educated.
Opposition to homosexuality, as in Augustine and Chrysostom, rested on reasons unacceptable today: "natural-law" arguments based on beliefs about supposed sexual practices among hares, hyenas, and weasels; a philosophical Stoicism that was suspicious of any sexual enjoyment; a sexism that saw a degrading effeminacy in being the receptive partner in sex. All-out Christian opposition to homosexuality arose at a time when medieval society first began to oppress many minority groups: Jews, heretics, the poor, usurers. A campaign to stir up support for the Crusades by vilifying the Muslims with charges of homosexual rape also played a part in Christian Europe's change of attitude toward gay and lesbian sex.”
"Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality" by John Boswell (1980)
The author lists the original texts and English translations of a number of religious ceremonies: Office of Same-sex Union, (and similar names), 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th & 16th century translations, Greece Office of Same-sex Union, 11th century Christian church in Greece. The Order for Uniting Two Men, 11-12 century, Old Church Slavonic Office of Same-Gender Union, 12th century Italio-Greek. An Order for the Uniting of Two Men [or Two Women], 14th century Serbian Slavonic Order of Celebrating the Union of Two Men, prior to 18th century, Serbian Slavonic.
Christianity has always contained a mix of pro- and anti- homosexual elements. Periods of oppression of homosexuals and celebration of love, homosexual or not, have come and went. Finally, same-sex marriage is not only found in early Christianity - it has existed quite freely in other cultures and civilizations. For example a four thousand year old Tomb belonging to gay married couple Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep exists in Saqqara, Egypt.
It doesn't matter whether Christians "agree" with being gay or not, the actions of Christians who believe otherwise causes hate. I believe this is hypocrisy, or ignorance.
It is ignorance if they do not know they are causing hate - I recommend that they get in touch with gay support groups and Stonewall, and find out the embarrassing and worrying scale of religious anti-gay hatred that gay groups face.
It is hypocrisy if they stand for love, but knowingly cause hate.
It is inconsistent if a Christian, who believes we are all sinners (including Christians and priests) but think that being gay is worse than any other particular sexuality.
Tolerance towards sinners was one of Jesus' most controversial teachings, as was his preaching that those who consider themselves better than others (the Jewish religious rulers) should humble themselves and consider themselves worse. Christians should, like the good Samaritan, help minorities attain equal rights even if those people don't have the same beliefs. Equality in law, of marriage and anti-discrimination should be the prime rules of the Christian who loves his neighbour, and although there are gay-friendly Christian groups, they are sadly underwhelmed by the anti-gay Christian community.
Islam is probably the most rigidly and inhumanly anti-homosexual in its practices of all the world religions. The verses from the Qur'an condemning homosexuality are much clearer than those that the Christians use. In all Muslim countries (and all areas where the Islamic Sharia law is enforced), homosexuality is strictly illegal. All of Islam fits within the area of Christianity that we call "fundamentalist" with regards to sexuality. The debates in Islam about homosexuality are not about whether it is acceptable, but merely about how severe the punishment should be. Seven countries in the world can give the death penalty as a punishment for homosexuality - all of them are Muslim, and in other Muslim countries, persecution against homosexuals is rife and violent, stemming from government and religious institutions down to the actions of mobs and individuals36.
Link: Which Countries are Most and Least Tolerant?. All the worse countries are Muslim ones.
Aside from aggressive intolerance within their own countries, Muslim countries attempt to curb gay tolerance, gay rights and gay equality on the international arena:
“An attempt by the United Nations to include gay people in anti-discrimination measures is being derailed by a coalition of Islamic countries. UN sources said that Pakistan, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia were doing everything in their power to stop the resolution. They hope to delay the vote long enough to kill it off entirely. Secretary of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association in Britain, George Broadhead, commented that all Muslim countries outlawed homosexuality, and the penalties for those convicted ranged from prison, flogging, execution by a variety of perverted methods - such as throwing the victim off a cliff or pushing a stone wall on to them. "The record of these countries on human rights in general is bad enough, but when it comes to gay human rights, they are disgusting."”
Muslim communities in Europe are the least tolerant towards homosexuals, and hardliners and extremists within those communities apply pressure, violent sometimes, to ensure that no-one speaks out in defence of equality or tolerance. See: Growing Fundamentalism in Islam: How Moderates are Subjugated by Muslim Hardliners. In the UK a recent conviction saw 3 Muslims were convicted of hate crimes as a result of threatening and vitriolic leaflets they handed out in Derby, depicting gays hanging from nooses, stating they will burn in hell, and saying that God abhors them (2012 Jan)37. They defended themselves saying that it was their religious duty as Muslims to warn gays. The UK and other European countries have been subject to a long series of hate preachers, and when found by the mass media, such clerics are widely castigated in national secular news outlets.
Very few individuals speak up for homosexuality, although there is an international Muslim gay rights group, they are widely detested within Muslim countries, and opposed and campaigned against by Muslim groups in Western countries.
“According to a pamphlet produced by Al-Fatiha, there is a consensus among Islamic scholars that all humans are naturally heterosexual. Homosexuality is seen by scholars to be a sinful and perverted deviation from the norm. All Islamic schools of thought and jurisprudence consider gay acts to be unlawful. [...] Al-Fatiha estimates that 4,000 homosexuals have been executed in Iran since their revolution in 1979. 10 public executions of homosexuals have been performed in Afghanistan by the Taliban army.”
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance38
The "Arab spring", which saw popular protests against oppressive governments throughout much of the Muslim world, was not the outcry of liberals against strict Islamism. "Hossein Alizadeh of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, a New York-based lobby group, says that religious awakening is strengthening hardline interpretations of Islam"37.
The OCRT also repeat statements from Western Islamic groups citing their negative opinions on homosexuality.
“Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi of the ISNA [Islamic Society of North America] said: "Homosexuality is a moral disorder. It is a moral disease, a sin and corruption... No person is born homosexual, just like no one is born a thief, a liar or murderer. People acquire these evil habits due to a lack of proper guidance and education."”
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance38
Islamic theology, however, is inconsistent and illogical. It simultaneously states that all homosexuality is a moral evil, a corruption... yet it also holds that the animals of the world have submitted themselves completely to Allah. Yet, in nearly all animal species we witness homosexual behavior. This must mean that it is permissible by Allah to be gay, and that animals who have submitted completely to Allah can therefore also be gay. Islamic tradition is wrong to condemn homosexuality as an evil, and in denying that homosexuality is natural they are ignoring the facts of the world, it is an ignorant religious prejudice equal to that of the Christians during the Dark Ages. If those who submit to Allah are sincere, they must recognize Allah's will: And Allah purposefully creates homosexual animals and homosexual humans. It is not therefore the Muslims' prerogative to question this or condemn homosexuality.
Example Scripture: The Story of Lot in the Qur'an:
In the 7th sura (chapter) of the Qur'an Lot is mentioned briefly and the prime concern is pointing out the immorality of homosexuality. Homosexuality in all the tellings of the story in the Qur'an is "the worst sin", "never committed before" (7:80, 29:28)! Lot's people "practise their lusts on men instead of women". Such homosexuality is sinful transgression, and for this, Lot's people are destroyed in Qur'an 7:84. None of Lot's other behaviour is mentioned, because the Qur'an describes Lot as a prophet (Qur'an 26:161), sent to Sodom and Gomorrah, and therefore cannot be sinful. The Qur'an's solution to the atrocious acts committed by them is simply not to mention them!
I have documented many of the places in the world where tolerance and equality have been victorious over traditional cultures and religions:
Prejudices against homosexuality were not always encoded into law, however. In the time before the dark ages, European communities were variously accepting of gay marriage. But the Christian age of faith saw violent intolerance sweep the continent as certain types of marriage were made illegal and transformed into social taboos. People could only marry if it fit the Christian prejudices of what marriage should be. Islam arose also, and held to similar monotheistic patriarchal norms. Thankfully, since the enlightenment, much of the religious damage to marriage has been undone and in many countries adults are free to marry whom they choose. Starting with Sweden, Norway, Iceland and the Netherlands the 90s saw the beginning of the gay rights movements victories over established prejudice in an increasing number of developed countries. There is not a single case in all these victories where there have not been multiple large and mainstream Christian groups running campaigns to prevent equal rights for gays. The Catholic Church and the vast majority of Christian denominations continue to battle at local and European levels to repeal those rights already attained. The Catholic Church has gained some ground in 1997 in exempting itself from some European gay rights conventions, and the Church of England has also succeeded in partially exempting itself from UK employment anti-discrimination laws with regards to homosexuality. The traditional churches were wrong about slavery and anti-black racism, and they continue to do wrong on the issue of discrimination against homosexuals. Eventually, when enough of their youth have grown up within gay-tolerant society, the Churches will change to embrace homosexual equality as they did to embrace abolitionism and race equality.”
“Homosexuality is thoroughly natural. It occurs in a massive range of animal species, including humans, so appears to be part of the genetic makeup of life in general. The colourful and varied ways that wild animal species find to express intentional same-sex sexuality with other is surprising and sometimes ingenious, like the male dolphins who penetrate each other's blowholes. Biological causes of homosexuality have been found in Human beings. All this points to the fact that homosexuality is a part of the design of nature. If nature was designed by God, then watching Bonobo Apes for a while is convincing proof that God certainly does not mind gay sex!”
The inheritability of homosexuality (i.e., its genetic basis) is a card that most think to be good in the fight against intolerance. As we demonstrate its biological basis, religionists may admit that homosexuality is part of god's plan for humans, the same as it is for animals, and therefore decrease their prejudice. But much of the homophobia within the church is not rational, it is emotional. Rather than follow the general conservative line on genetic engineering (don't do it)39, some make an exception when it comes to homosexuality. When superstition and prejudice are combined in the same emotional turmoil, it is no surprise to hear such paradoxical considerations as the following one:
“Early in 2007, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary raised the possibility of a genetic or other biological cause of homosexuality and urged conservative Christians to consider using biotechnology to eradicate the condition.”
Abrahamic religions have contributed to the most negative and destructive attitudes towards sexual issues, especially homosexuality. Christian and Islamic communities and organisations are the most vocal assailants on any legal or societal moves towards tolerance and equality. The liberal wings of some of these religions have adapted to the wide (European) acceptance of homosexuality. Many traditional religions reject the scientific, medical and psychological knowledge that we have gained about sexuality and regard homosexuality as "unnatural", a "choice" or a "moral evil". These religions are themselves immoral and evil in their attitude, causing hatred, bigotry, violence and oppression in the name of God. Homosexual communities have become accustomed to the ranting of religious fundamentalists and traditionalists, and this causes a strong anti-religious resentment amongst them.
In the wider religious scene things are much healthier. Eastern history has produced less of the out-and-out violence against homosexuality. New religious movements and Earth religions are largely accepting of homosexuality, as these religions are more in touch with the natural world. Although there are Pagans, Satanists, Wiccans, etc, who do not like homosexuality very few make hateful statement such as those made by Muslim and Christian authorities. Although Judaism does not accept homosexuality in theory, Jews have not made many such hateful comments, but partially this may be because Judaism has not yet fully faced the issues although liberal Jewish groups match liberal Christianity in their tolerance.
To help eradicate discrimination against gays and lesbians, consider joining the following groups:
Or browse their websites and pick up addresses and details of MPs and organisations that you can lobby by writing letters, signing petitions or emailing, and get details of current events, in order to help prevent irrational discrimination.
Current edition: 2014 Jan 03
Last Modified: 2015 Aug 13
Originally published 2002 Dec 07
Parent page: Religion and Morals
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The Guardian. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper..
The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source..
The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. Book Review.
(1980) Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality. New Ed edition 1981. Published by University of Chicago Press.
(2002) "Sex and Sexuality in Satanism, the Religion of the Flesh" (2002). Accessed 2017 Aug 01.
(2004) "Marriage: Its Diversity and Character" (2004). Accessed 2017 Aug 01.
(2008) "The Peacock vs. the Ostrich - Religious Behaviour and Sexuality" (2008). Accessed 2017 Aug 01.
(2013) "Homosexuality in Animals and Humans" (2013). Accessed 2017 Aug 01.
(2000) The C of E: The State It's In. Paperback book. paperback first edition, 2000. Originally published in UK in 2000 by Stoughton.
(2003) Political Ideologies. Paperback book. 3rd edition. Originally published 1992. Current version published by Palgrave MacMillan.
(1999) The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Paperback book. 2001 edition. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Pilkington, C. M.
(1995) Teach Yourself Judaism. Paperback book. Published by Hodder Headline PLC.
(1995) Sex, Priests and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis. Hardback book. Published by BunnerMazel Inc., New York, USA. A.W. Richard Sipe is a retired Roman Catholic Priest. Lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Chair of the Board of Directors of the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institution, Minnesota, USA. (Biblio detail correct as of 1995). The Amazon link points to a modern book by Sipe on the same topic as the one referenced here.
(2002, Ed.) Global Religious Movements in Regional Context. Published by Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Aldershot, UK, in association with The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. This was a religious studies textbook in the AD317 OU course.