It’s no surprise that our political polarization should break along religious lines, with Fundamentalist Christians, Jews, and Muslims and many Catholics gathering right, while more open-minded faith communities lean left. This is not new. Throughout history, hard times have brought out extremists of all kinds, with one side attributing our troubles to the “wrath of God” and the other disparaging those who oppose progress as Luddites and haters. Yet just because it’s so doesn’t mean it’s right. From both a religious and psychological perspective, this relentless battering takes its toll on our personal beliefs as well as our social values and mandates.
It is unhealthy, unproductive, and—okay, I’ll say it—unacceptable.
Of late, our divisions have played out virulently in the arena of gay rights and marital equality. Currently we’re glutted with coverage of hate groups like the infamous Westboro Baptist Church and Focus on the Family, backwater preachers advocating death for homosexuals, and the tot who brought an Indiana congregation to its feet by singing, “Ain’t no homos gonna make it to heaven.” And we should be canny about why this is. Gay people are low-hanging fruit. Not only does the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community constitute our nation’s only invisible minority. It’s also one of its smallest.
With better than 90% of the population identifying as heterosexual, gay people are an easy “other.” They’re out there somewhere, but not always seen. Indeed, despite the proliferation of gay images in the media, it’s entirely possible for millions of Americans to survey their families, communities, and institutions, and assume “everywhere but here.” Common sense and consistent data expose the flaw in that idea, of course. Gay people are everywhere. They appear randomly across the entire population. Yet the hostility waged against them drives many underground—or, quite frequently, away from their homes, communities, and churches. They’re not seen because they don’t want to be seen or they’ve vanished in search of safer, more supportive, healthier shores.
The polarization grown out of our economic and political crisis has given birth to another one: the negation of gay people. Nowhere is this tragedy larger than in faith communities. Ideally, religious institutions should be open to all as safe havens for faith seekers of every stripe. Obviously, this isn’t how it works. As Karen Armstrong documents in The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (2006), the dawn of religion gave quick rise to sectarian strife and warfare—the very things it professes to abhor. Gathering around gods spawned self-righteous insularity (our gods are the best and they only love us) that fomented hostility and violence toward anyone whose beliefs veered from accepted norms.
Perhaps the most glaring example of this is found in the New Testament, where Jews and Samaritans engage in seething hatred for one another, even though both are Semitic peoples, claim common ancestry in Abraham, and worship the same god. We can measure the severity of their hatred in this: although both suffer greatly under Roman oppression, when Jesus epitomizes neighborly compassion, he tells the story of a good Samaritan—not a Roman (Luke 10.25-37). So religious animosity and bigotry have been with us from the first and, short of a miracle, will remain to the bitter end. It is a truth we can’t escape: religion can be a very mean business.
Without exception the onslaught of religious hate-fests is so wildly skewed that it brooks no interest in the validity of same-sex affection or the positive outcomes of affirming the self-worth of all people. These attacks are not about making the world a healthier, safer place. They’re about “proving” they’re right by categorizing those they hate—along with those who revile their hatred—as wrong. (Our gods are the best and they only love us).
As a rule, the incidents’ shelf life lasts no longer than one or two news cycles—about as long as the shock value and its attendant Facebook and Twitter furor can be sustained. What should concern us, though—as people of faith, students of psychology, and members of one human family—is where these absurd outbursts come from and their repercussions in the culture at large.
Faith communities—most prominently, “conservative Christian” ones—are the last bastion in American society in which LGBT equality and acceptance are hotly debated. And this issue isn’t limited to ersatz sects or provincial outposts. From the most progressive denominations to the most legalistic ones, the gay question continues to wear on the fabric of American faith. Welcoming congregations struggle to embrace LGBT inclusion, even as they worry about its overtaking them and turning them into “gay churches”. Churches that exclude LGBT people—or insist they reject their identity to be accepted—cling to six “clobber” texts, i.e., unrelated scriptures that, when stripped of historical and biblical context, appear to vilify homosexuality. In the process of trying to figure out God’s opinion of all of this, gay people endure tremendous psychic pain and social hardship. An all too familiar dynamic emerges. The LGBT community responds to the religious community’s suspicion and hatred with equal suspicion and hatred. The cycle spins with equal disregard. Faith communities are saddled with reputations as haters and homophobes. Revulsion toward the hypocrisy behind gay exclusion fosters profound antagonism toward all things religious.
When faith inclusion is reduced to a zero-sum game of who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s in, who’s out, everybody gets hurt. Nobody wins.
Ironically, many who embrace anti-gay doctrines and attitudes are the first to ask, “What would Jesus do?” (Strange how the answer always seems to be, “He’d do what we do”). But the question is a non-starter, as the gospels reveal a Jesus who invariably does the opposite of what the religious crowd expects. Throughout his ministry, He subverts their doctrines and prejudices with outright defiance. He touches lepers and corpses, parties with sinners, pardons an adulteress caught in flagrante delicto, engages in conversation with Samaritans, Romans, Greeks, and other pagans, and draws children to His side, even though they’re viewed as society’s most negligible, least productive members. The answer to “What would Jesus do?” is a great big “Who knows?”
The real question is, “What did Jesus say?” Open the gospels to any page and you’ll find at least one statement that verifies Jesus is consumed with social justice, compassion for minorities, and hatred of inequality. That’s right—hatred. Jesus hates religious traditions that demonize outsiders and propagate exclusion. His loathing is hardly passive; he’s not a sideline head-shaker. He doesn’t settle for feeling sorry for the oppressed and disenfranchised. He calls it as he sees it. What’s more, he speaks to social ills of his day in the public forum—not from the cushy confines of diversity conferences and petition signing. Wherever Jesus finds oppression and exclusion, he has something to say about it. And it’s never what the holier-than-thou crowd wants to hear.
Let’s look at one of these episodes. Jesus is moving into the final phase of his work. Transition of power is on everyone’s mind. The disciples ask Jesus who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Their inquiry reveals much about their ambitions. Jesus calls a child over and says, “Whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18.4-5). Then he says something very interesting: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned into the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (6-7).
Here we get a crystal-clear picture of how religion is supposed to work—which is to say, faith communities should be designed upside-down. Those at the top, the presumptive leaders and most devout, forego their status to welcome the most vulnerable into the fold. And Jesus says anyone who excludes those traditionally viewed as the least deserving of acceptance deserves a fate worse than death!
It’s right there in black-and-white, waiting to be taken however we choose—literally, metaphorically, or philosophically. One has to wonder how people who argue against science by insisting the world was made in six days—who pull a few verses out of context and apply them literally to condemn LGBT people—can look at this passage and not recognize what Jesus is saying. Don’t they get it? Of course, they do. But humbling themselves to welcome those they fear or don’t care about asks too much. They’d rather risk becoming stumbling blocks than overcoming their prejudices and hunger for power.
Homophobia, anti-gay doctrines, and unholy hatred of the “other” bring great harm to all. Obviously, they wound and isolate LGBT people. They present a false portrait of religion as the last bastion of hatred and prejudice. What often goes missing in this discussion, however, are the scars and consequences borne by communities who practice exclusion. It is they who suffer worst, because they never master the fear, ignorance, and stubbornness that turn their professed beliefs into falsehoods.
Gay people, much like children, are extraordinarily resilient. When doors are closed to us, we find places where we’re welcome. When disease and violence strike our community, we rally to restore health and safety. When lunatic prophets defy sacred principle to promote hatred and destruction, we come alive. When governments and religions conspire to cheat our rights, we take to the streets and seek the support of all who cherish justice and equality.
Yes, we suffer deep wounds and nearly unbearable sorrow. But we’ll be fine. Adversity has always been one of the LGBT community’s greatest allies. It has never failed to bring us together, make us stronger, and broaden our horizons to welcome any and everyone who’s committed to justice and equal rights. So change will happen. Healing will come.
The real question is whether or not those who reject us can survive the misery they create. Based on what Jesus says—and what psychology teaches—the outlook for them is not bright. That’s why religious homophobia and hatred are unhealthy, unproductive, and unacceptable. And we should have no problem saying so.
iNKBLOT‘s guest blogger, Tim Wolfe is a freelance writer, creative director, and author of Straight-Friendly: The Gay Believer’s Life in Christ. For the past five years, he’s authored a devotional blog for LGBT and other alienated Christians, also called Straight-Friendly. A graduate of Northwestern University (BS, Psychology), Tim lives in Chicago with his partner of 21 years, Walter Swift, and their two precocious cats, Cody and Max.
- The Drew Marshall Show God Blogger, Tim Wolfe (6/12/12)
- Mere Mortals (straight-friendly.blogspot.com)
- Our Golden Opportunity (straight-friendly.blogspot.com)
- Homosexuality and the Bible (cohstreaming.com)
- ‘Family’ leader vows to never stop hating LGBT people (rawstory.com)
- How do Christians Respond to Restrictions on Religious Expression? (livingontilt.wordpress.com)
- Jesus wasn’t a homophobe so why are you? (coffeehousediscussions.wordpress.com)
- How to combat repression of LGBT people (76crimes.com)
- Directing astute noises (mamanpoulet.com)
- Boy’s ‘Aint no Homos Gonna Make it to Heaven’ Receives Praise and Standing Ovation from Church Members (saintleoinkblot.com)
- Why the Hatred? (candidobservation.wordpress.com)
- Evangelical Pastor Raises $6,500 for LGBT Kids – With Theater! (slog.thestranger.com)
- 9-year old joins religious group protestors with a message of his own that has taken the country by storm. (saintleoinkblot.com)
- Dr. Harry Rotter weighs in on school bullying and Zachery Gray’s suicide attempt. (Photos & Video) (saintleoinkblot.com)
Welcome to iNKBLOT, the blogosphere intended for Saint Leo University‘s Psychology students, faculty, and friends from around the world! Psychological research and the many forms of media (e.g., Internet, local, regional and world news, and etc.) provides a wealth of opinions and experiences for psychologically minded students and professionals in the field, especially Social Psychology, to engage, discover, or inform them of the many amazing aspects of their chosen discipline. iNKBLOT‘s mission is to promote psychological oriented information to its readers in hopes of sharing resources and discussing important ideas in our ever-growing field….more information HERE. I welcome your comments below