Religion as a force in the world is responsible for some of the greatest good and also for some of the greatest evil this planet has seen. Religion has moved people to reconcile with family and friends, give to the poor, care for the sick, donate their wealth to charity, and tolerate differences. Religion has also destroyed families and nations, started wars, and shackled people in lives of fear and persecution.
Love or hate?
The picket signs blare across the evening news. You fags are going to burn in hell. God hates fags. AIDS is the fiery judgement of an angry God falling down upon the heads of sinners. But are they right?
The teachings of Jesus the Christ are where the core doctrines of Christianity begin. Jesus, the man, did not leave any writings. The Christian faith is based on many things that others believed about Jesus or ascribe to Him via teachings and sayings. There are no recorded statements ascribed to Jesus pertaining to homosexuality. If same-sex relationships were the big taboo that everyone believes them to be, would He have not made some comment? (Wouldn't it be nice if there was a "Hi my name is Jesus and I like gay people" statement?)
The majority of scholars believe there is no eyewitness account of the life of Jesus and nothing was actually written about Him until 30 years after his death. Those writing the first accounts of the life of Jesus also had little problem with homosexuality, as it does not appear in any of the Gospels. The motivations around condemning homosexuality were as much political as they were a case of moral indignation towards other religious practices of the time.
If Jesus is the Saviour of Christians, yet He had no apparent problem with homosexuals, then why do His followers? Too simple? I think not.
By the time Christianity arrived in various Asian societies the negative stance towards homosexuality was firmly in place. Christianity in Asia is a recent phenomenon associated with colonialism and missionaries: China 7th century, India 1510, Malaysia 1511, and Hong Kong 1841. Sexual mores based on Western and European Christianity began to influence Asian cultures. Countries that were not colonised or had missionary activity have no written judicial laws condemning homosexuality.
Throughout history the Roman Catholic Church has taught that homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of God leading to an eternity in hell. This is a message that has been perpetuated by Catholic groups and other Christians throughout history. Despite religious tolerance in recent years it is a belief that has taken root and is hard to weed out.
The official Catholic teaching has moved away from the "all homosexuals are evil and will burn in the fires of hell" position to a "love the sinner but hate the sin" approach. It is okay to be a homosexual as long as one strives to lead a chaste life. The proclamation by the Pope against a gay gathering in Rome in 2000 was an indication of the negativity that persists.
The approach to homosexuality by the various Christian denominations, from fundamentals to conservatives to liberals, varies greatly. Again it ranges from the "you are all going to hell" stance to the "we should be able to live open, healthy lives with all the rights and privileges of heterosexuals".
But no matter what the group, the Bible is always the first weapon used in the assault on homosexuals. Supposedly the Bible is the word of God and in the Bible God says homosexuality is wrong.
Does it? The answer to that question is not the definitive yes that some people want you to believe. For every Bible passage that supposedly condemns homosexuals, scholars have suggested other possible interpretations. Even religious conservatives will acknowledge the difficulties in finding accurate translations; multiple versions of the same text, and historical and social significances of the times make it a complex endeavour. The famous Sodom and Gomorrah passages have been debated for years to no official end. Gays have been told it is a clear indication of God's anger towards them but this is not the case.
Check out http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bibl.htm for a fair portrayal of both sides of the biblical interpretations issue. It lists all the passages with both sides of the debates. It may put many of your religious demons to rest.
If you are a homosexual grappling with your religion, study it. As many gays and lesbians learn about Christianity, they begin to believe that it is possible to reconcile their lives as spiritual Christians and homosexuals. They believe based on their studies and their life experiences that a God whose message is "love one another" would not condemn anyone based on their sexuality. And if I may be so bold, if not heretical, to start you on that journey, then my personal advice to you is: if as a Christian you follow the two basic commandments, love God and love one another, feel free to think of all else as filler.
The writer holds a Degree in Philosphy and Master's Degree in Theology.