Religion and Acceptance of Gays
Are gay people damned to hell?
Posted Nov 21, 2011
"I worry because of the religious aspect because I would hate that she wouldn't get to Heaven because of that."
This quote reflects the fears and concerns for many of the parents interviewed for my book Coming Out, Coming Home: Helping Families Adjust to a Lesbian or Gay Child (www.comingoutcominghome.com). Considering that the Catholic Church and members of fundamentalist Christian churches and Jewish traditions have been the most outspoken opponents of gay rights, it is perhaps not surprising that LGBT people and their families identify religion as a major obstacle in accepting homosexuality and transgender identities, in either themselves or a family member.
So how does one deal with this? I am a social worker, a psychotherapist, and a lapsed Catholic/Quasi-Buddhist/Curious Quaker/New Age Agnostic—not a priest or even a practitioner of any formal religion, so I am in no position to give religious advice. However, here are some tips gleaned from what I have learned from the many people I have encountered who have struggled with this issue and found their way throught it.
1) Take a close, critical look at the justification your religious tradition uses to discriminate against LGBT persons.
The Catholic Church, the Evangelical Church, and some other fundamentalist Protestant and Jewish congregations use biblical justifications to deny LGBT people their civil rights and legal protections. I am no biblical scholar, but I think it is important to point out that doing this is simply wrongheaded. Church leaders and clergy have used Scripture, selectively interpreted and stripped of its historical context, to justify people's personal prejudices under the guise of strictly following the word of God.
From a historical perspective, this is nothing new. Leviticus states: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination. Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable" (Lev.18:22), and this passage is the one most famously used to condemn homosexuality in Judeo-Christian traditions. However, the Bible includes all sorts of mandates that have no place in today's civilized world. For example, fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible have been used to justify slavery in the U.S. In addition to its admonition against homosexuality, Leviticus also has passages that permit fathers to sell their daughters into slavery (21:7), prohibit men from shaving their beards (19:27), and call for the death of anyone who works on the Sabbath (Exodus. 35:2; The New American Bible 1991). Thus people who claim to adhere strictly to the Bible and use its teachings to justify denying lesbians and gays their rights are arbitrarily selecting certain teachings to follow while ignoring others.
2) Find an understanding clergy person.
I have known many LGBT accepting clergy from religious traditions not known for tolerance. For example, I have met Catholic priests who have been affirming with LGBT people, urging them to accept themselves and also encouraging families to do the same. Keep in mind, LGBT people are everywhere and, in fact, some clergy from these religious traditions are even gay themselves.
3) Consider your religion's view of the gay issue as something that is a component of your religion that you will simply not accept.
Although it is a somewhat negative term, there are many people who are what are somewhat derisively referred to as Cafeteria Catholics. These are people who consider themselves a member of the Catholic Church but who do not follow all of its precepts. For example, they might get divorced, or use birth control, but they still believe in the sacraments and the Holy Trinity. Despite the mildly negative connotation, the term reflects how some people have found a way to reconcile their religious beliefs with church teachings that seem unreasonable to them. I am familiar with this term because I was born and raised Catholic. However, I am willing to bet that there are people in almost every religious tradition who have found their way to modify their religious beliefs and practices in a way suits them.
4) Find a religion that welcomes LGBT people
There are many—including Unitarian and Episcopalian churches as well as accepting and affirming offshoots of traditional religions such as Dignity (for gay Catholics). (BTW the lapsed Catholic/Quasi Buddhist/Curious Quaker/New Age Agnostic religion to which I belong welcomes everyone—I promise.) But seriously, many LGBT and allied persons have found supportive, open and accepting spiritual homes, and you can too.
5) Start Reading
Here is a (partial-there are others) book list by authors who have found ways to reconcile religious concerns with gay sexual orientations:
The Lord is my Shepherd and He Knows I'm Gay. By Reverend Troy Perry (a classic)
"Thou Shalt Not Love" What Evangelicals Really Say to Gays by Patrick, M. Chapman
What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by Daniel Helminiak
Fortunate Families: Catholic Families with Lesbian Daughters and Gay Sons by Mary Ellen Lopata
However, I think the most important piece of advice I can give is to tell people struggling with these conflicts is to remind them that they are on a journey; indeed a spiritual journey and like all journeys, it is important to continue to move forward until you reach a place of peace and acceptance—for your God, for yourself and for those you love. This journey is very personal—I can't tell you which direction to go. But I can wish you safe travels.