The war is over. Don’t be afraid any more. It’s time to celebrate. A battle will, maybe, be lost now and then but in the long term victory will be ours. The Christian church cannot survive as a homophobic institution. Indeed it is debatable whether Christianity itself, in its present form, will outlive us unless it is willing to become the religion of love rather than the religion of law.
Last year, I wrote a letter to God asking him to forgive me for not owning up to my gayness. [See Dear God, Please Forgive Me for Not Being Gay: An Open Letter to God] I just received a letter from a reader suggesting that the assumed positive answer I received, telling me of His love for me and sanctifying my life, was really from Satan rather than God. My reader then trotted out the usual diatribe supported by appropriate texts to prove that I am sinner and should repent or risk being expedited to the other place. It is often said that if one wished to found a new church with the anti-Christ as its head then one only had to re-read the Bible with that as the goal and the mission was accomplished. When will people realize that the Bible is a Jewish book relating the story of the Jewish people as seen through Jewish eyes?
The fundamentalists set a lot of score in transferring the literal meaning of the scriptures to our present day lives. This is especially so when relating to homosexuality. Why do they not attempt to transfer the literal meaning of the story of Joshua commanding the sun to stand still in the sky so that he could annihilate the Amorites? Aren’t all fundamentalists members of the Flat Earth Society? How is it possible to interpret male gang rape and male prostitution and transfer the meaning to loving relationships between two persons of the same gender in the 21st. century? Why is it that they infer that only male relationships are condemned in the Bible? Does this mean that they accept the love of one female for another as noble and good whilst that of one male for another is an abomination?
Interpretation of the New Testament poses similar questions. Jesus, while setting out a codex of behaviour for slaves and masters apparently does not condemn slavery. The church, not so long ago, did in fact condone slavery. This was especially true in the southern states of the USA. Similarly the church, up to a very short time ago, ably supported by quotes from Paul the apostle would have nothing to do with ordaining women priests. The church’s stance on racial prejudice is also notorious. It would be fair to say that the Christian church has always dragged its feet when it comes to social change, only to have to admit its errors years after the rest of us. It has taken the Catholic Church nigh on 400 years for its pope to admit that Galileo was right.
The Bible is a Jewish book. How does the Bible view heaven and hell through Jewish eyes? Where are they? Where were the ends of the earth? What about the twinkling stars? Even our concept of the universe is different to our immediate ancestors as our knowledge increases. What does the Bible say about homosexuality? Precious little. Homosexual relationships are not described as such. The word homosexual was first invented a little over a hundred years ago and has no place in the Bible despite the efforts of several translators to insert it. But if we cannot rely on the Bible for the truth does this mean sweeping away the foundation of our Christianity.
John Wesley (co-founder of the Methodist Church) was an academic, legalistic, guilt-ridden and a little repulsive Anglican priest before he experienced the love of God. The scriptures were not sufficient for him. He had to experience and feel the love of God before his life turned around. Wesley’s four tests of Christian truth were scripture, tradition, experience and reason.
The scriptures apparently condemn homosexuality in Leviticus but when we look at them, as a whole we find that what is actually described is not homosexuality but gang rape and male prostitution. From a traditional standpoint the church has condemned homosexuality since the 3rd century. Thus, the Bible cannot be used entirely to justify the church’s stance. Traditions have changed in the Christian church with regard to the position of women and slavery and may do so again. The question is really how this has come about. What motivates changes in tradition? One thing’s for certain, these changes occur very slowly so if we do not have the patience to wait around then we had best build our own church or move to one that is gay-friendly.
Experience is in some ways the most far-reaching of these truth tests. If nothing else can move us to discard an obviously prejudiced tradition then our experience can. What is the role of experience in the present context? It is the personal encounter with the anguish, the pain, the hurt, the suffering and the despair, which harsh and judgmental attitudes can have on persons of same-sex orientation. It is also our positive experience of all the exemplary work closeted homosexuals have carried out both in the church and society. Where would western art, culture and music be without the contribution of homosexuals?
Finally, there is reason. This can be a double-edged sword. Reason may tell us that that man was made to be with women. But when we see the diversity of the human race that God has created, experience combined with reason should tell us that God loves us all and every one. And if he has given us homosexuals the capacity to love one another then He meant us to express that love through our sexuality, not hide it away in shame.
So, if the war is won why do we have to go on fighting? Unfortunately the bigotry is still out there. Many heterosexuals still doubt our normality and the feeling of guilt still plagues many homosexuals especially the young. For them we must continue the vigil. For those of us who have had, as Paul Tillich put it – ‘The Courage to Be’, let us give thanks for our deliverance.
God rest us and let nothing us dismay.
For unto us a Saviour was born on Christmas Day.
Great Tidings of Comfort and Joy.