Homophobia and transphobia are serious issues within Canada and yet majorly overlooked due to this country’s reputation of acceptance and multiculturalism. It is reported that both gay and lesbian Canadians are two times more likely to be victimized and bisexuals are four times more likely to be victimized than heterosexual Canadians (Statistics Canada). This statistic is the product of many factors, but in the following essay I will take a look at the involvement of contemporary Christianity in regards to support for and hatred against the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual) community. While I hope to represent the whole of the LGBT community, I will be using examples mostly about male and female homosexuality due to the lack of reputable sources on bisexuality and transsexuality. I hope to demonstrate that while the sources of homophobic discrimination from Christian groups are plentiful, their lack of ability to change and progress ensures that the voice of the supportive Christian groups will inevitably become consensus opinion. First, I will identify the Christian roots of homophobia through exploring biblical passages, the fear aroused from the church’s subordination to the state, and the apocalyptic attitude that oversees it all. I will explore the community of openly homosexual Christians and the methods used to cope, and lastly, I will identify the roots of support through the fear of a larger threat, post-Enlightenment critical thinking, and also the Eastern influence on Western religion and culture.
The foundation of homophobic sentiment in the Christian faith lies within the bible. In order to remain focused, I will be only referring to the New Testament as it is the defining text of Christianity and also the most frequently read. It is a common misconception on the part of LGBT defenders that the New Testament, unlike the Old Testament, is free from homophobic passages. Unfortunately, this is not the case. While the authorship is debatable, Paul was said to have written a few passages in his epistles regarding the unholiness of same-sex intercourse. Regarding homosexuals, he states that “God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another…and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26-27). The key issue with this passage, and to all biblical passages regarding homosexuality, is its allusion to the unnatural. This is where sayings like ‘pray the gay away’ come from. Instead of accepting that LGBTs are born with their own personal gender identity that strays from the socially constructed ‘norm,’ it is perceived as a choice that stems from corruption of the soul. The idea of God’s abandonment of these people to their seductive desires and their impending punishment creates an atmosphere of punishment that begins here on earth. Nowhere does the New Testament say that they should be punished by humanity because it is commonly known that divine judgement is only for God to dole out. That being said, the message marginalizes this group of people and leaves them open to scrutiny.
The New Testament does more than solidify the idea that any sexuality other than heterosexuality and asexuality are abominations. It manages to put same-sex relations in league with other sins in order to emphasize how completely monstrous it is. Paul states, “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 5:9-10). This method of incorporating homosexual relations with truly immoral actions such as adultery and theft is used even today. A common argument against same-sex marriage is that if it were to be legal, then we would have to let people marry multiple partners, children, and even animals. The serious issue is that the act has been deemed to be a vile sin and the people involved in the act have been stripped of their agency as cognitive and moral beings. They are seen as puppets being controlled by their sinful desires and because of this, the hateful Christian parties can pretend that they are completely separate and subordinate entities.
Not all that long ago, the Church had a monopoly of power over the people of the Western world. It is unclear whether the reason behind this is that the authority of the church was unquestioned for that many centuries or if the public was merely afraid to rebel. It is clear, however, that eventually religious rule was seen as an inappropriate method of governance. In Canada specifically, “a sedate inquiry awakened in the minds of a progressive people in respect to the result of a Separation of Church from the State,” and the government officials agreed that it would be beneficial to remove Christianity as the governing body (Stimson 198). The subordination of the church to the state meant many thing for Christians including the idea that God was not an all-encompassing, political force. Ever since the inception of Christianity, it has always been common for various groups to validate their causes through the use of God. The early Christians fought Roman rule and became martyrs because they believed that God was on their side. Constantine made Christianity the state religion because he believed that God would support his army. The early ascetics made their way into the desert and lived minimalistic lives of suffering because they felt God wanted them to. What has changed between then and now is a growing sense of human autonomy and responsibility. Subscribing to Christianity is not the only way to live or succeed anymore. The separation of the church from the state is a definitive example of humanity taking fate and morality into their own hands. This is quite possibly where the fear of the hateful Christian groups began and it only grew as the government became more and more secular.
Eventually, in 1985, the Human Rights Act came out and proclaimed in Section 2 that:
all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status… (“Human Rights Act”)
This passage not only acknowledges sexual orientation as a basis of discrimination, but it also serves to humanize the parties in question by explaining that they have their own hopes and dreams, and they also have every right to live their own lives in accordance with their own ideals. Hearing such a proclamation forces a Christian to either accept and incorporate such a decree into their lives, or resent it. Those who resented this statement and the secularization of the government that lead to it, share the same emotion from which hatred stems: fear.
Fear in Christianity is noticeable in the form of apocalyptic thinking or apocalyptic literature. Like eschatological thinking, they tend to focus on God’s ultimate plan or conclusion for the world and humanity; however, apocalyptic thinking goes further to expect punishment for the wicked, rewards for the righteous, and often the destruction of the world as we know it. In any case, it is common for fearful people to live apocalyptically and this theory is seen in the works of René Girard. He came up with four stereotypes of persecution in his anthology of religion and violence known as The Scapegoat. According to him, it all begins when a select group perceives themselves to be in a time of crisis. The crisis is deemed to be a crime instead of a natural event. Due to this conclusion, it is only natural from there to need a criminal who caused the crisis and this ends up usually being a small group of people who are already “susceptible to persecution” (Girard 12-25). From here, violence is used to restore the natural order. In the case of modern day secularism, we have a group of Christians who are confused by the power being taken from the church and laws being put in place that counter sacred, biblical passages; this is conceived as a crisis. Then we have the LGBT community which is already susceptible to persecution and is, for all intents and purposes, much smaller in number. They have become the criminals who caused the crisis and only by eliminating them, shunning them, and shaming them, will the balance be restored. Violence is often used against them as was previously mentioned, but regarding Christians specifically, there are other measures that can be more detrimental than violence. The methods of social exclusion are endless: telling strangers and even loved ones that they will go to hell because of whom they love, creating camps to convert homosexuals back to heterosexuality, verbally abusing them in public sermons, Christian parents disowning their own children, etc. This reaction to crisis is primitive and detrimental to a growing society where it is becoming harder and harder to put people into separate, neat categories.
Apocalyptic attitude is not mutually exclusive to Christianity and therefore, it is noticeable even in groups who support homosexuality. In times of crisis, violence and scapegoating are not the only reactions. Sometimes Christians feel that the crisis is a call to being better Christians. Yes, this mentality can lead to the rejection of homosexuality, but it can also lead to the acceptance of it. According to Laurence Freeman, a renowned Catholic priest and monk, “We re-enact the Cross, as victims or as crucifiers, many times each day. When we gossip, spread rumours, slander or lie we are crucifiers. When we mock cruelly, strip others of their dignity, denigrate, humiliate or marginalize others” (Freeman 256). Here we can attribute the negativity in the world and within ourselves to the cruel actions that we put out into the world. This minimalizes the sense of Christian exceptionalism that is very much prominent in the more strict groups. What I mean by Christian exceptionalism is that these groups hold a sense of entitlement because they have chosen the ‘correct faith’ and from there, they can justify their decisions and actions based on that superiority. Seeing one’s self as the crucifier, however, allows every Christian to be accountable for their own actions. While it may do very little against homophobic thought, it does ensure that these Christians will refrain from outwardly putting down anyone based on their sexuality or otherwise.
There is also an apocalyptic outlook regarding the events of war and conflict happening all over the world. In times of war and violence, it does seem as though the world might end and that humanity will never reconcile their differences. In such a scenario, it makes divisions such as that of sexual preference seem silly. There are bigger battles to fight and unity is what is needed right now. This can be seen in a statement by the United Church of Canada:
The United Church of Canada is among many faith communities locally and globally that celebrate sexual and gender diversity. We as a society need to actively work for positive and safe spaces that celebrate diversity…Ours is a message of solidarity and support to the LGBT community in Saskatoon. (Kim-Cragg, 2013)
Unity and support are being offered to the formerly rejected groups and this is a very good sign. Once such acceptance is offered and considered, it is difficult to go backwards from there. Apocalyptic outlook is common in humanity as a whole, but it does manifest in different ways. This sense of unity and kindness in light of the very real terrors that exist in the world, whether physical or spiritual, is certainly the more constructive path to choose.
Ever since the Enlightenment, we have challenged ourselves to explore the inner workings of society and dissect what is commonly deemed to be the ‘norm.’ From Marx’s theory of religion as an opiate to Nietzsche’s theory that God is dead, religion has become a topic of discussion to which we can employ critical thinking. Critical thinking does not need to be used to degrade religion, but it can explore and help it grow by allowing the practitioners to see the flaws and the human contributions that have been imposed over time. According to Carter Heyward, “we no longer have to wage our campaigns for ‘rights’ on the basis of being homosexuals who can’t help it because it’s just the way we are…whether we are heterosexual or homosexual, we expect our society to offer basic conditions of human worth and self-respect to all people” (Heyward 41). Through critical thinking, we are able to transcend our biases to question our personal motivations. As Heyward says, the question of homosexuality being a choice is immaterial now because there is an understanding and expectation that as humans, we all deserve the same respect. The line gets blurry when discussing rights such as marriage and adoption, but the existence of homosexual humans has been accepted for the most part. Through critical thinking, we have been able to come this far even considering that homosexuality was still a very much taboo subject as little as twenty years ago and this very fact illustrates that we, as humans, will only explore ourselves more thoroughly from here on in.
The acceptance of homosexuality in Christian circles is effectively seen within the very people known as homosexual Christians or gay Christians. First, the fact that this term exists shows that there is an avenue of acceptance within the church; logically speaking, gay Christians have always existed, but only now do the practitioners actually feel comfortable announcing it. Understandably the realisation of one’s homosexuality is a stressful experience and it does not always happen that the person chooses to accept both their sexuality and their faith. There are generally four different strategies that one uses to come to terms with their identity. They can reject the religious identity, reject the homosexual identity, compartmentalize, or integrate their identity (Rodriguez 334).
First, rejecting the religious identity is certainly more of a modern solution. Now that Christianity has been lowered to a level where it is deemed to be contestable, it is believed that “as many as 62% of gays and lesbians feel that religion is not an important aspect of their lives” (Rodriguez 334). Some of this statistic can be seen from the standpoint that many people in general, gay or otherwise, are choosing to not adhere to a religion simply because they do not believe in it. It can also be seen as the product of rejection. The rejection of Christianity is partly a disbelief in a God who could possibly hate someone for being exactly who they are; it is a disbelief that God could create a large population people just to say that they are damned.
Second, the rejection of the homosexual identity can range from ignoring one’s own urges and choosing to marry someone of the opposite sex to undergoing therapy in order to change one’s own sexual orientation. This is quite possibly the most unfortunate choice as it forces a healthy human being into believing that they are corrupted and that they will not be pure in God’s eyes until the Christian community around them agrees that they are.
Third, compartmentalization is a “compromise between conflicting identities” (Rodriguez 334). This is perhaps not the most constructive way of meeting homosexuality with religion, but it is a start. Here, they are not violently opposed to one another. Rather, they are seen as two different parts of an identity that should never mix; be gay at home and be religious as church. The issue with this mentality is that there is still room for internal conflict and self-loathing due to the fact that neither identity is necessarily positive. Compartmentalization provides rather a sense of cold tolerance.
Fourth and last, the integration of one’s identity is the most constructive way for a person to amalgamate their religion and their sexuality. According to Rodriguez, “Such individuals hold a positive gay identity, a positive religious identity, and do not feel conflict between the two” (335). It is quite possible to hold this view without any outside influence, but it is more likely to happen when a person is surrounded by a loving community of family and friends. This is the very mentality that is seen when Christian groups speak out for the LGBT community and when individuals of the LGBT community fervently claim that God made them the way that they are and therefore they know God loves them. This is the most beneficial belief that reflects a positive church sentiment and an inner acceptance on the part of the LGBT community. The most wonderful thing, is that this mentality is clearly growing as seen through an increased number of Christian gay rights protests and public apologies from specific church communities. What I will be exploring next, however, is the reason behind this growing positivity.
The twentieth century is unique for its incorporation of Eastern culture and religion. It is not only that people in the Western world are discovering religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Daoism, but also that they are incorporating them into their own faiths. If you look at Buddhism specifically, its essence has become so engrained into culture that it is hardly noticeable. This can be seen through exploring the first four steps of the Noble Eightfold Path, a text that is one of the first pieces of dharma (teachings) that was said to have been brought to the world through Buddha when he reached Enlightenment. The first four steps are the following: right understanding, right mindedness, right speech, and right action. We do not need to have memorized this list to accept that the meaning underneath it has been assumed into our culture. We have right understanding by realizing that everyone suffers as we do; we have right mindedness when we refrain from thinking cruelly; we have right speech when we refrain from using harsh language and succumbing to self-involved thought; we have right action when we abstain from violence (“The Noble Eightfold Path”). We have entered a paradigm where it is not merely good enough to be polite externally, but we are expected to hone principles of kindness and patience into our very personalities. Such an outlook when combined with Christianity reaps very positive results. It does not change the principles that Christianity is focused on in any way; it merely allows Christians to focus more on the positive teachings and the kindness shown by Christ.
Another influence of Eastern tradition can be seen in Christian meditation. An example of the fusion of Christianity and Buddhism can be seen in the following excerpt by Laurence Freeman, “We should say the mantra without impatience, without force or any intention of violence. The purpose of the mantra is not to block out thoughts. It is not a jamming device. If thoughts attack us while we are meditating we turn the other cheek. In saying the mantra gently we learn from Him who is gentle and humble of heart” (Freeman 256). The Buddhist concepts of patience and non-violence complement the Christian belief of turning the other cheek or not letting your anger consume you to the point that you hold ill will against another. The meditator uses mantra in a similar way to their Buddhist counterparts; however, instead of learning from within oneself and contemplating the emptiness of the universe, the meditator opens themselves up to the grace and teachings of Christ. This shift in the communication between God and humanity needs to be celebrated because it is embracing God’s changing ‘nature.’ God is changing; it can be seen even from comparing his loving and forgiving self in the New Testament to his wrathful and angry self in the Old Testament. Meditation allows the meditator to feel at peace and strengthen their faith through human emotion instead of through archaic laws. Essentially, having a stagnant idea of God and a stagnant relationship with Him is simply not convenient for anyone and the introduction of Eastern elements into Christian practice has certainly contributed to the expanse of kindness seen in many modern day Christian groups.
With the way that society has been described thus far, it may be wondered how it is that these anti-homosexual groups continue to survive. There is one aspect within Christianity that allows these groups to continue on with a sense of entitlement: the belief that God is constant. While God did clearly change between the Old and New Testament, it is written in the New Testament that “the gifts and the calling of God is irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). It also refers to “the unchangeable character of his purpose” (Hebrews 6:17). Unfortunately, there is some legitimacy to the archaic and hateful messages within the bible and due to this inclusion, there will most likely always be a group of people who cannot let go of the homophobic passages. Fortunately, it is also this very inclusion that ensures that Christian support will undoubtedly become consensus opinion. It is as simple as knowing that this world is changing very quickly and we naturally adapt to survive in it. We must adapt or get left behind. This homophobic mentality that has been engrained into select Christian groups by an old text and approved of by the unwavering nature of God cannot keep up with the ever-changing expectations of the nature of humanity.
Supportive Christian groups are grounded in progress and change. It is not only a sense of kindness and acceptance that makes it so, but also that we have realized the inefficiency of discrimination. The youth of today, if cultivated, will go on to be successful and prosperous. If we degrade them, then our country and culture will go nowhere. An optimistic view is given by Calvin B. Ball when he states:
We can see our younger generation offering warming approval of inclusion for those in the LGBT community… those of us who believe that education, particularly higher education, is the gateway to opportunity, the great leveler that can unlock doors of the imagination and the future, should be able to see the urgent, vital importance of ensuring inclusive campuses now. (Ball)
Acceptance of diversity can be seen in many changes such as gender-neutral washrooms, gender-neutral vocabulary, etc. While some see these changes as Band-Aid solutions, it is better to see them as manifestations of the positivity that is slowly working its way through the world. When this positivity meets religion, together wonderful things will be possible.
Homophobia has many roots and causes, and among them is the root of religious thought. Thus, violence toward the LGBT community cannot be said to be mutually exclusive with the relationship between Christian groups and homosexual people. That being said, Christian support is a good sign of communal acceptance and perhaps the foreshadowing of decreased violence in the future.
Ball, Calvin B. “Institutions must Ensure Inclusion of LGBT Community.” Diverse Issues in Higher Education 29.26 (2013): 23. ProQuest. Web. 27 Jan. 2014.
Canadian Human Rights Act. (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-6). Section 2. Web. 1 Mar. 2014.
Freeman, Laurence. “Dearest Friends,” WCCM International Newsletter, January 1997. Web. 1 Mar. 2014.
Freeman, Laurence. “Steps in Relationship,” Jesus: The Teacher Within. New York: Continuum, 2000. 256. Print.
Girard, René. The Scapegoat. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1986. 12-25. Print.
Heyward, Carter. Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love of God. New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1989. 41. Print.
Kim-Cragg, David. “Supporting LGBT.” Star – Phoenix. Sep 21 2013. ProQuest. Web. 27 Jan. 2014.
Meeks, Wayne A., and Jouette M. Bassler. The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1993. Print.
Prebish, Charles, and Damien Keown. “The Noble Eight Fold Path.” Buddhism – the ebook: An Online Introduction. 4th ed. Pennsylvania: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, 2010. 52-53. Pdf.
Rodriguez, Eric M., and Suzanne C. Ouellette. “Gay and Lesbian Christians: Homosexual and Religious Identity Integration in the Members and Participants of a Gay-Positive Church.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 39.3 (2000): 333-345. Print.
Statistics Canada. Sexual Orientation and Victimization, 2008. Web. 1 Mar. 2014.
Stimson, E. R. “Conclusion.” History of the Separation of Church and State in Canada. 3rd ed. Toronto: n.p., 1887. 198. Print.
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