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Selective Christianity

Through their well-publicized proclamations on the subject, the leaders of the ex-gay ministries and their Christian Right partners have tried to create the impression that their abhorrence of homosexuality and their opposition to gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender rights on religious grounds is widely shared by other Americans of faith. This, in fact, is not the case.

Just as the ex-gay movement's methodology and data are rejected by professional organizations of psychologists and psychiatrists, some of its key theological premises are rejected in mainstream religious communities. When the ex-gay movement operated outside the political arena, many religious leaders-strong believers in religious freedom for all-took a neutral stance. However, its recent marriage to the anti-gay political agenda of the Right brings it into sharp conflict with many religious leaders who publicly support equality under American law for people of all sexual orientations.

As mentioned, Christian ex-gay ministries have as their first premise that heterosexuality is God's creative intent for humanity. That premise is being widely debated among theologians today, and seriously challenged by a number of Biblical scholars and religious leaders. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said: "We make [homosexuals] doubt that they are the children of God, and this must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy."45

In 1997 the US Catholic Bishops wrote a public letter on the issue of homosexuality in which they state, "God loves every person as a unique individual. Sexual identity helps us to define the unique persons we are. One component of our sexual identity is sexual orientation...God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual."46

In testimony before the US Congress, the Rev. Dr. Herbert Valentine, Moderator of the 203rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, (USA, observed) notes that homosexuality is not a prominent Biblical concern. "If you sat down to read what the Bible had to say about homosexuality, you would find it short reading...You have to really hunt for relevant passages. They are not mentioned in the ten Commandments ...there is not a single statement in any of the four Gospels. Homosexuality is not a big Biblical issue. If Jesus had an opinion in this matter, he didn't express it."47

The Union of American Hebrew Congregations has also weighed in on the subject of homosexuality: "In accordance with the teaching of Reform Judaism that all human beings are created `Betselem elohim' (in the divine image), Reform Judaism...stands in the vanguard of support for the full recognition of equality for lesbians and gays in society."48

Clearly, the premise that heterosexuality is God's creative intent for humanity is controversial within the religious community. Even more controversial is the second premise of ex-gay ministries: that when a person has a correct relationship with God, that person will have a heterosexual orientation. This premise is marginal among prominent theologians, many ministers, and lay people, as well as within denominational bodies, just as it is marginal within the professional psychological and psychiatric communities.

In their 1997 letter, the US Catholic Bishops noted that there seemed to be no single cause of a homosexual orientation and that, in fact, experts commonly believe that multiple factors are involved. "Generally, homosexual orientation is experienced as a given, not as something freely chosen. By itself, therefore, a homosexual orientation cannot be considered sinful, for morality presumes the freedom to choose."49

The linkage of ex-gay ministries with right-wing political groups leads to a third premise: that because sexual orientation can be changed, no civil rights should be accorded to those homosexual or bisexual people who do not become heterosexual. This premise is widely rejected by a majority of Christian and Jewish theologians, ministers, rabbis, and lay people, as well as denominational and interfaith bodies.

Mainstream religious leaders overwhelmingly support legislation affirming the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. One simple example indicates how severely out of step the political and religious Right is within the mainstream faith community regarding gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender rights: numerous churches and religious organizations from the American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee to the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church have endorsed the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.50#50

Opinion polls show that this opposition to discrimination on the part of mainstream religious leaders is shared by their congregations. A "Faith and Fairness" poll conducted by the Human Rights Campaign, a national lesbian and gay organization, found that: "By a margin of 3 to 1, Christians believe that Americans should be protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace. Evangelicals support protecting gays and lesbians from workplace discrimination by an impressive margin of nearly two to one...Most people of faith understand that sincere religious disagreements over the issue of sexual orientation are not grounds for discrimination, and that these deeply felt divisions ought to be checked at the workplace door-just as other religious differences already are. The following polling results help illustrate that religious Americans realize that they do not have to choose between faith and fairness-and that, in fact, faith demands fairness of us all."

To conduct its survey, HRC asked the question, "In general, do you think gays and lesbians should be protected from discrimination in the workplace?"51

 

All Christians

Protestants

Catholics

YES

70%

65%

78%

NO

23%

26%

16%

Support for equality for gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender people is widespread within communities of faith. Intolerance also is widespread, but the commitment among the vast majority of people of faith to compassion and acceptance is exactly why political groups that use demonizing rhetoric, such as the Family Research Council, have needed to unite with softer, more pastorally-focused ex-gay ministries. They are looking for a way to push forward their political agenda without looking exclusive or non-compassionate.52

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