LGBTQ Rights v Religious Freedom

During my junior high school years, I was often the target of excessive bullying and harassment. As a kid who was born in the 80’s, it wasn’t uncommon to hear homophobic slurs tossed around among my peers at school, whether they were done jokingly or as a personal attack. Admittedly, I have been guilty of partaking in the use of this language myself. But there was something utterly humiliating about being called these names, as though to imply my worthlessness as a human being. Some days, the constant teasing and name-calling was so unbearable I would come home from school, lock myself in my room and drown myself in music while planning out ways to end my own life.

Although I am a heterosexual male, I could not imagine how much worse it must feel for people who are attracted to the same sex to endure such horrendous treatment.

There is no getting around the fact that members of the LGBTQ community have suffered tremendous unjust discrimination and hostility, especially from those who claim to be religious. Too often have so-called Christians humiliated, persecuted, demonized and dehumanized persons of different sexual orientations while hiding behind the banner of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin!’ If certain people continue to pretend homosexuality is the worst kind of sexual sin, then how can rape, cheating on a spouse or supporting the porn industry somehow be treated as venial?

When it comes to Christian sexual morality there is very little wiggle room, which is why a life dedicated to Jesus is not an easy one to live. It’s important to note both the Church and secular society withhold two completely different views for the meaning of human sexuality. As Christians, it is impossible to hide from the fact that the Bible forbids all forms of sexual activity outside of the context of marriage. This not only includes abstaining from homosexual activity, but also all forms of promiscuity, premarital sex, impure thoughts, masturbation, pedophilia, incest and bestiality. Orthodox Christianity views human sexuality as a beautiful and precious gift God created for us, and marriage as a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the Church. With seemingly so many do’s and don’ts when it comes to Christian sexual ethics, it seems damn-near impossible for anybody to fully live a life of chastity. Since they view human sexuality as a sacred relational bond as well as a gateway to bearing new life (procreation), this is why the Church (namely Catholic and many Orthodox denominations) discourage the use of contraception – because it allows childbearing to be viewed as an inconvenience to the pleasures of the binding sexual act.

If the Church only viewed marriage as nothing more than a civil contract on paper, there would not be any such controversy to begin with.

I see the problem going both ways. Living a Christian life requires loving people of all lifestyles, ages, races, creeds, sexual orientations and self-defined gender identities – but it also requires to accept the philosophy and theology of the Bible as a whole. Nobody who calls themselves Christian can claim to fully believe in the Bible and pick and choose the parts that are most convenient to them, nor can anyone claim to believe in tolerance if they openly discriminate against anyone with different values of any sort. Whether anyone is inherently religious or not, the hardest people to love are those we share the least in common with.

As Christians, we need to be reminded not to hold persons who are not religious to the same expectations as we would for our own fellow believers.

Many critics of Christian theology would site references from the Old Testament about punishment by death for sexual immorality, but then it becomes an issue of isolating single verses from the context of the entire Bible. Jesus once said regarding sexual lust,

“And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna.” (Mark 9:47 NAB)

At first glance, this seems to be a highly extreme way of dealing with lust. But how many people do any of us know gouged out their own eyes because they were eyeing up someone attractive walking by? Most likely, none whatsoever. This is Jesus’ use of hyperbole to describe how deeply sexual lust really affects us. Granted this, there isn’t a single person in this world who is immune to sexual temptation. But because of Christ’s death and resurrection, there is no need for sacrificial death as payment for sins.

There are many church denominations nowadays who are changing their doctrine to accommodate marrying same-sex couples. While this may seem like a wonderful way to reach out to the LGBTQ community, in reality these churches are in denial of the very theology they claim they stand for. It would be considered hypocritical if a Christian speaks out against sexual exploitation, yet indulges in pornography behind closed doors. It is highly unlikely orthodox Christianity (let alone Judaism or Islam) would change any doctrine that was thousands of  years in the making.

As the LGBTQ community continues to grow among a large religious population, what common ground can be found between such diverse groups in order for them to live with one another?

Discrimination is not something based out of a genuine concern for someone’s well-being, but out of weighing a person’s worth as a human being. Disagreeing with someone’s views, actions or lifestyle should never be viewed as a form of bigotry. Even if someone were to call me out on a belief that does not align with their own worldview, I should never take that as persecution but as an opportunity for me to dig deeper into why I believe it.

For example, if I was about to move in with a woman with whom I have an unhealthy relationship with, it is very likely that one of my friends or relatives would pull me aside and express their concern about it. If I know my relationship is eventually going to end in a nasty breakup, should I take their input as discrimination? Absolutely not! It is an expression of genuine love and concern for not only my well-being, but for the other person’s well-being as well. But when all is said and done, how I respond to their concern is up to me as part of my free will. I have every right to act upon my desires and decide who I want to be with, but it does not keep me safe from the consequences of how I manage my relationships. If a religion has a theology that requires someone to abstain from any form of sexual activity, it should be free to do so within the state. But just as I am free to abstain from certain foods or substances due to personal health reasons, I also have the freedom to neglect a physician’s advice. Free will does not mean freedom from consequences.

If free speech, equality and tolerance are truly valued, both the LGBTQ and the traditional religious communities should be able to peacefully co-exist free of discrimination. Both sides must continue to understand that people are more valuable than ideology, whether or not we agree with their worldviews. Having a specific sexual orientation or religion does not reflect a person’s self-worth as a human being. But regardless of where a person stands, these basic rights need to be fully protected in our nation. If people are continually allowed to censor or suppress those who disagree, whether by bullying or by genocide, then our ‘free’ society will never know what freedom really is.

In light of the Orlando massacre, it is an absolute travesty to know there are people who believe these killings were justifiable by reasons of religious extremism. As Christians, it is our duty to stand in solidarity with victims of violence, even if they partake in activities we would strongly be opposed to – and without expecting them to conform to our expectations. There are people in this world with fundamentalist, extremist views who will persecute, torment and kill those who identify themselves as members of the LGBTQ community because they view them as less than human. If our only focus is to try and change them or convert them, then we are failing at our own ministry. The only way we can show how much we love them is to show we are willing to lay down our lives for them, whether it may be through speaking out against homophobic slurs or standing between them and their oppressors at gunpoint. They have just as much right to exist on this earth as every other precious human being made in God’s image. If Christ loved them so much as to die for their sins, the least we could do is imitate that same sacrificial love for them ourselves.

They need to know they are all worth dying for.

The point of this blog entry is not to convince the Church to change its doctrine, nor to impose our moral standards upon those who think differently. What I would like to accomplish in this article is to eliminate hostility, open the doors to rational discussion (regarding our basic human rights, accepting and understanding each other’s philosophy) and understand what the true definition of bigotry really is.

Orthodox Christianity, Judaism and Islam will not be disappearing from this earth anytime soon, and neither will the LGBTQ community. But the very least we can do is figure out a way to share this world and learn to live with one another, despite everyone’s strongly opposing philosophies.

Love is not just love. Love is patient and kind. Love is never jealous. Love is not boastful or conceited. It is never rude and never seeks its own advantage. It does not take offence or store up grievances. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth. It is always ready to make allowances, to trust and to endure whatever comes.

Love endures forever.

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