More and more people are beginning to speak out for gay rights and for the understanding of gay and lesbian people by the church.
Last week we featured “The Bible Tells Me So. Oh Really? Part 1” This week, Ross Lonergan looks at how the church’s treatment of gay people can contribute to depression, family break-ups and even suicide.
When she was away at college, Anna wrote to her mother and told her that she was gay. Mary Lou reacted to this news by first going to the bathroom and throwing up and “then just going completely underground, not telling anybody and being ashamed and embarrassed.” She wrote her daughter back and told her “some things…that were not very loving.”
This is part of what she wrote: “Undoubtedly the most difficult part of your letter is the gay thing. I will never accept that in you. I feel it’s a terrible waste, besides being spiritually and morally wrong. For a reason I don’t quite fathom I have a harder time dealing with that issue than almost anything in the world. I do and will continue to love you, but I will always hate that.”
Mary Lou thought her daughter’s sexuality was a choice and that “she needed to just get her act together and stop this.”
The letter caused an irreparable break between daughter and mother. Ten months later, before there could be any reconciliation, Mary Lou’s daughter took her own life by hanging herself from the bar in her bedroom closet.
The death of her daughter led Mary Lou to question what she had been taught by her church—that being gay was a choice, for example—and to begin to research the subject of homosexuality for herself.
What she learned was this: “…instead of taking the Bible literally, I have to take it in the context and culture of the day in which it was written.” She has since become an activist for the advancement of gay rights and for the understanding of gay and lesbian people by the church.
Jorge Valencia of the Trevor Project Suicide Hotline says, “It’s estimated that every five hours an LGBT teen takes his life, and for every teen that takes his or her own life, there are twenty more who try. One of the top five reasons why teenagers call us is for religious reasons. They’re feeling there isn’t a place for them and God.”
And Reverend Jimmy Creech of Faith in America says, “The church, because of its teachings that homosexuality is sinful, is wrong, is a perversion, has created the climate in which gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered children growing up feel very much in conflict with the world in which they live. It really shapes their thinking so that they hate themselves, so that they internalize this judgment and condemnation.”
In The Bible Tells Me So, a number of clergy members, including biblical scholars like Reverend Peter J. Gomes of Harvard Divinity School, stress the wisdom and importance of reading the Bible in the context of the period and culture in which it was written. They point out, for example, that the famous prohibition against homosexuality in Leviticus—“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall be put to death. Their blood is upon them”—does not exist in isolation from other abominations: eating shrimp, planning two different seeds in the same hole, co-mingling crops, eating a rabbit, and so on.
Moreover, biblical scholarship has determined that in the Hebrew Bible the word abomination “is always used to address a ritual wrong. It never is used to refer to something innately immoral. Eating pork was not innately immoral for a Jew, but it was an abomination because it was a violation of a ritual requirement.”
It is not a stretch to say that selective reading of the Bible, as a constitution, led to the tragic death of Mary Lou Wallner’s daughter and has led to the deaths of many other young people. It has also resulted in closeted lives of fear, self-loathing, and confusion for countless numbers of LGBT teenagers who do not take their own lives. In this age of information, where the truth of both scripture and homosexuality are readily available, the choice of pastors and laypersons to not only remain ignorant but to preach in ignorance is, in the sense of the word as they so like to use it, an abomination.
In A New Kind of Christianity, Brian McLaren suggests an alternative metaphor for the Bible; his suggestion is that we think of the Bible as a library, which is “a collection of documents.” His rationale for the use of this metaphor is that “in a good library you want to present all sides of an issue. A good library preserves key arguments; a good constitution eliminates all arguments.”
A library is a sacred place of ideas. For every argument you find there, you will find a counter-argument, made with the same intelligence, with the same love for truth as the first. This interplay of ideas promotes growth—spiritual, intellectual, and emotional. If we can see the Bible as a library rather than as a constitution, Christian churches and Christian families might begin to have respectful and loving conversations that include the LGBT members of those churches and those families and that allow them to be who they are.
If you have not seen The Bible Tells Me So, I highly recommend it. You can watch it on YouTube in nine parts.
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