Nick Autiello, Contributor
I’ve been absent from this site for quite a while now, as I notice have been most of my colleagues here. But an article written on The College Conservative has prompted me to write this. Parts I originally wrote in response to this ridiculous article called “On Being Gay: Fighting the False “Hate” Dichotomy”.
In her article Amy Miller puts forth, unfortunately without the verbal dexterity of actual scripture, the standard evangelical Christian position about homosexuality: I don’t hate you; I love you so much I want you to see that you’re living in sin. Now, there are many Christians who genuinely believe this line of thinking, and hear it regularly from their pastors every week. I am not questioning their faith. That is not my place. What I am questioning is the reasoning that brought Church leaders to preach this kind of message in the first place. Miller contends that this is not a position of hate, and who am I to say whether or not any individual is hateful or not. This position itself, however, is hateful and bigoted. Again, I am not saying that any individual Christian who believes that homosexuality is a sin is hateful or bigoted, I believe you are a sincere Christian living out your values and you genuinely believe what you’re saying. That’s fine. I think faith is one of the most important of human values. But the thinking that has brought parts of the Christian faith to deciding that homosexuality is a sin is entirely flawed.
Before I begin my argument I want to back a distinction on the use of the word homosexuality. It is true that homosexuality as a wide-spread social construct is something entirely new to human society. Homosexuality that simply refers to physical relations between members of the same sex, however, is as old as time. I will assume that as an educated reader, you will be able to tell the difference in my usage going forward.
Now for one thing, Jesus never once mentioned homosexuality. Not one single time. Jesus condemned a lot of things, people intolerant of other people being one of the biggest. But he never condemned homosexuality. Now, this is certainly not to say that he was ignorant of it. First, since Jesus is God, he knows everything that goes on, and would certainly know about how widespread homosexuality was in the ancient world. Second, and less a matter of faith and one of historical veracity, Jerusalem at the time of Christ was dominated by Greek cultural trends and under Roman rule. Both Greece and Rome were cultures where homosexuality was normal and accepted, and in the upper classes homosexuality was even expected. The Greeks had various social constructs to deal with natural same-sex attraction. In Athens, pederasty was widely practiced as a perfectly normal and acceptable category of human relationships. In Thebes, the famed band of 300 warriors (who no, were not from Sparta) was sent into battle on the premise that if the love between each pair of men was strong enough, there is no way they could lose a war. Achilles, Alexander, Socrates, Augustus, Hadrian, all manner of prominent Greeks and Romans slept with men. Now, given that homosexuality was a part of the larger culture surrounding Jerusalem, if Jesus had a problem with it, he would have said something. He did not, and as a Christian, I am much more interested in doing the things Jesus told me to do than worrying about things he never mentioned.
So let’s look at the places in Scripture that do mention homosexuality. The first is Leviticus. OK, I’ll give the anti-gay Christians this one. But in the same passages, Leviticus also says I should kill someone who works on the Sabbath, that touching the skin of a dead pig is an abomination (which would mean football is an abomination) and all manner of other things we’d find ridiculous today. All we can surmise from this is that these were the cultural and societal norms of the ancient Hebrews, not the religious prescriptions of God. But given the wide variety of things prohibited by the Torah that most modern society would find not only absurd but illegal, why are we picking on gay people? Sodom and Gomorrah, too, is held up as having been destroyed by God’s wrath against homosexuals in the city. This is entirely untrue. God didn’t destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because they were full of gay people. He destroyed them because they were full of arrogance, apathy toward the poor and ‘detestable things’; they were full of immorality unbecoming of God’s chosen people. These are things the culture-warrior Christians today are certainly guilty of in part, as opposed to the ones who spend their time feeding the homeless and visiting prisons and taking care of the sick. So that’s what the Old Testament has to say: No football or gay people. If that’s true, we might as well just appoint Xi Jinping the new President of the United States and the new President of China at the same time this fall, because there won’t be anyone left in America.
So we get to the New Testament where, after Jesus says nothing about homosexuality and then sacrifices himself to save the world, we have the tricky issues of Saint Paul. Romans 1 is generally taken as a blanket prohibition of homosexuality. Any contextual reading of it would tell you that it’s not and that the modern conception of homosexuality I described above is not the same thing as a man cheating on his wife with another man, which is what Paul was railing against. Also, Paul, who never once actually met Jesus, was in favor of slavery and so his moral authority is questionable at best. On top of that, his letters were included in the Bible by a very close vote three hundred years after they were written at the Council of Nicaea. Whatever your beliefs about how the current canon came into being, it was an incredibly political process.
My point? There is nothing in pure Christianity that condemns our modern conception of homosexuality. The Christian faith is about love. Genuine love. An all-accepting love. The love of Christ as the only being capable of salvation and a love of fellow man, in imitation of Christ, which is the only thing that can’t lead to one’s own salvation. Deus caritas est, God is Love, was the title of the first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI’s reign. Despite the fact that His Holiness has taken a very strong line against homosexuality, a stringency not shared by all Catholic bishops mind you, this first message of his to the world was about loving one another, and that “pure love which is not self-seeking but simply benevolent. The devotion of the faithful shows an infallible intuition of how such love is possible: it becomes so as a result of the most intimate union with God, through which the soul is totally pervaded by him—a condition which enables those who have drunk from the fountain of God’s love to become in their turn a fountain from which “flow rivers of living water (Jn 7:38).”
Now, when we reconcile the fact that there is no real scriptural basis for the condemnation of homosexuality, and the notion that the most important part of the Christian religion is love, there is no longer any rational or faith-based basis on which to hold the opinion that Ms. Miller holds, and this is what makes the position so offensive, especially to gay men and women of faith. This is why it’s not OK to say “I’m not against gay people, just gay marriage.” Because the argument used by Ms. Miller and millions of others is nothing more than a veil of false love covering a deep-seated prejudice against homosexuals. Instead of this, the Church should welcome homosexual expressions of monogamous love, and should be encouraging homosexuals to become people of faith, to raise children with the true values of the Christian faith and to work with all of us toward a better and more just world. It’s been oft-repeated by Christians who have no problem with homosexuality, “how many more gay people does God need to create before the rest of the world understands that he wants them here?”
But not only is it wrong that homosexuality is a sin, it is also wrong that this is what the focus of the Church has always been, “the protection of the family and traditional marriage”. Well, what is traditional marriage? Why is homosexuality all of a sudden a thing? Why haven’t there been widespread same-sex relationships before? Well, the answers to all of those questions lie in the same place: our own economic progress.
The idea that all of a sudden, about a hundred years ago, people started having feelings toward people of the same gender is ridiculous. As noted above, there have always been people with sexual desires for the same sex. But economic reality informed the religious and social values of cultures that preceded our own, not the other way around. For most of the last 1500 years, the family has been at the center of economics. Even the word economics comes from the Greek work οικoς, ‘oikos’, which means “house”. This was the reality. People needed to have a lot of children in order to put them to work, especially when most people lived on farms. Having more kids was the only way a family could produce enough to survive. This meant that the only economically feasible social situation for most people was to be in a heterosexual marriage that produced lots of children. This in turn created the social norm about human sexuality in the Western World for a long time. Among the upper classes, too, marriage was not so much a ‘sacred institution’ as most Christians would have you believe it has always been, but a political tool. We all learn about how Henry VIII just killed his wives when he decided he didn’t want to be married to them anymore in sixth grade, but I don’t see Christians running around trying to force Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn out of the classroom as affronts to tradition marriage. On top of that, history is literally flooded with high-born men who slept with other men while marrying women strictly for their families’ political or business purposes, and later because that was the social norm, not because they were in love with these women (Cole Porter is a notable example of the latter). Then the modern world happened, and prosperity began to be spread around much more liberally and equitably. This, for the first time in world history, allowed people to be economically self-sufficient, to be able to provide for themselves without the need for a large family to bring in enough money to survive. This allowed people to begin exploring the idea of living in a relationship with a person of the same sex as something viable, which it never had before. Now, not until this started happening did churches have such a vocal problem with homosexuality. There is even a professor at Yale who has discovered in church archives across Europe rites to marry people of the same sex that date back to the Middle Ages.
The notion that homosexuality is a sin and un-Christian is one that is less than a hundred years old. It is wrong, and has no basis in scriptural or historical reality. Christians want to be relevant to the debates going on in our country and around the world. They should be. But they should be vocal about the atrocities going on in Syria, the way the Chinese treat human beings as pawns in their game of social perfection, the widening gap between rich and poor in our own country, the homeless, the starving, the destitute, the afflicted, the imprisoned, in short, all people who truly do need saving. There are many Christians who do focus on these things and they should be commended, for they are truly the saints of our time. But those who use corrupted doctrines to demean others and justify their own prejudices? I believe that Dante described their place in quite vivid detail.