Why Christians should support equal rights for gays and lesbians

The key justification for the widespread anti-gay stance of many Christians today is scriptural. It’s hard to get past the scriptural prohibitions on homosexuality, even if we were to discard the Old Testament texts as having been superseded by the new covenant, there are still the passages in the Pauline epistles. So given this, then the question is settled, end of discussion, right?

Perhaps not.

There is a moral question on which Christians are universally united (I suppose there might be some marginal sects which disagree, but they are vanishingly small, if they exist), in direct opposition to scriptural teaching. More universally even then doctrines that most Christians consider central to the church, such as the Trinity, or the idea that Christ was both fully human and fully divine.

Before reading further, I suggest you take a moment to see if you can figure out what moral stance Christians take that is contrary to the clear teaching of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

The answer is slavery. The institution of slavery was considered normative throughout most of the history of Christianity. A few early figures, such as St Patrick stood up against slavery, but in a limited context, excommunicating Coroticus for enslaving some of St Patrick’s converts to Christianity while raiding Ireland. Not until the sixteenth century with the question of the treatment of the native Americans by the Spanish and Portuguese was there any official statement from a pope indicating that the Church opposed enslavement of native peoples, but even the three bulls issued by Pope Paul III in 1537 did little to change the overall attitude towards slavery. And Paul himself made a number of decisions in the years that followed in support of institutional slavery.

As slavery began to fall into moral disfavor in the late 17th and early 18th century, it’s interesting to note an attempt to re-interpret scripture similar to what some contemporary theologians do with the passages on homosexuality. Just as the contemporary theologians make the argument that prohibitions of homosexuality should be read as prohibiting such behavior as it related to pagan cultic practices, these attempts fell short in their persuasiveness. After all, the literal meaning of the text is clear. Instead, anti-slavery forces were forced to focus their moral arguments on the lived experience of slavery and its outcomes, the idea that the people who had been enslaved were human beings with souls and capable of salvation (for African and American slaves, this was a surprisingly long-lived question), the impact of slavery on these same people in their real lives.

If we look at the impact of the anti-gay stance of so many Christians, we can find similar outcomes. Youths find themselves hating themselves and their lives so much that they fall into drug abuse, depression and suicidal tendencies. Surely, this cannot be the result of a Godly view.

But it’s not being gay that we condemn, some Christians will protest, it’s acting on homosexual urges. And I can sympathize with that claim. I was there once myself. The problem is that this is easily said, but not so easily done. I’ve been at social gatherings among people who would never say anything racist or sexist who are comfortable with homosexual slurs. And I attribute this directly to the claimed stance of condemning the sin and not the sinner. 

The fact of the matter is that sexual orientation is an inborn trait, something that’s part of our created nature. And unless we subscribe to the Manichaean heresy, than we believe that creation is inherently good (in fact, that is the essential message of Genesis 1, not the absurdity of a 6,000-year-old earth and all the deception inherent in creation that such a belief necessitates), and from that comes the fact that homosexuality cannot be inherently evil. It’s precisely this point that causes many evangelical Christians to deny the clear results from biological and psychological studies that show that people are born gay and that sexual orientation is fixed. 

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