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DIG DIRECTOR

Larry Gross
Larry Gross is the director of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and is a pioneer in the field of gay and lesbian studies....








 
 

Inventing Sin: Religion and Homosexuality

No matter their own scandals, religious institutions through history have a consistent scapegoat: homosexuals.

(Page 4)

In this ecumenical enterprise, homosexuality’s threat to the “traditional nuclear family” and to heterosexuality itself is constantly emphasized. As the Ramsey Colloquium, a conservative theology group, put it, “heterosexual marriage, despite its divine origins, is a fragile institution in need of careful and continuing support.” And, as Jewish theologian Samuel Dressner worries, acceptance of homosexuality is the first step down a familiar slippery slope: Once “heterosexuality within the marital bond is dismissed, then how can adultery, pedophilia, incest or bestiality be rejected?”

Among mainline Protestant denominations, the United Church of Christ was the first to permit the ordination of open lesbians and gay men, and in July 2005 its rule-making body voted to endorse same-sex marriage. In 1992 the Presbyterian Church initiated a three-year study of homosexuality, which failed to resolve the issue of ordination of gay people. In 1993 a draft statement on homosexuality by a committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America set off what a church official called “the most volatile explosion in the life of this church.” In 1996 conservative Episcopal bishops failed in their attempt to force a heresy trial for a bishop who ordained a non-celibate gay man, and in 2003 the election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire rocked the Episcopal Church in the United States and reverberated through the Anglican Church around the world.

In this, as in other arenas, the issue of openly gay clergy widened a split not only between liberal and conservative factions within the American church but between the Old World churches of Europe and the United States and the fervent, rapidly growing churches of the Third World in Latin America and Africa. Reacting to the election of Robinson in the United States, Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, who leads the largest church in the 70 million-strong Anglican Communion, set the tone by describing it as “a Satanic attack on God’s church.” In 2004 the leaders of two Southern California Episcopal churches, St. James’ Church in Newport Beach and All Saints’ Church in Long Beach, voted to withdraw from the Episcopal Church of the U.S. and put their flocks under the authority of the conservative Diocese of Luwero in Uganda, with the blessing of the bishop of Luwero.

In February 2005 the leaders of the global Anglican communion asked the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to temporarily withdraw from a key council-a move designed to avoid a permanent schism over differences on homosexuality and same-sex unions.

[PBS Newshour report]

The issue of openly gay clergy continues to roil most mainline Protestant denominations. In December 2004, an openly lesbian United Methodist minister was stripped of her ministerial credentials by a church trial court. The Rev. Irene Elizabeth “Beth” Stroud was found guilty Dec. 2 of engaging in “practices that are incompatible with Christian teachings.” Stroud’s case was the third lesbian trial in the United Methodist Church since the denomination adopted a law barring “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from the ministry in 1984. On April 29, 2005, however, the denomination’s Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals overturned the trial court’s verdict and penalty, citing legal errors, and restored Stroud’s clergy standing. On Oct. 27, 2005, a hearing on the appeal was held by the Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court, and on Oct. 31, it defrocked the Rev. Stroud for violating the denomination’s ban on “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” clergy.

Beyond the fringe of mainline denominations lies the rapidly growing domain of the Protestant fundamentalists who erupted onto the public stage in the late 1970s, amassing enormous financial and political power through broadcast and cable programming, direct mail and videocassette distribution. Organizations such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, Beverly LaHaye’s Concerned Women for America, the Rev. Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association, Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, the Rev. Lou Sheldon’s Traditional Values Coalition, and the Christian Coalition founded by televangelist Pat Robertson have made attacks on lesbian and gay people a major attraction of their crusades and their fundraising.

In August of 2003 Jerry Falwell informed his followers that:

I am dedicating my talents, time and energies over the next few years to the passage of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which will protect the traditional family from its enemies who wish to legalize same-sex marriage and other diverse “family” forms. I have just created a special website (http://www.onemanonewoman.com ), whereby one million American are being recruited to sign a Federal Marriage Amendment Petition which will be forwarded to all 535 members of Congress and to President Bush. My line in the sand has been drawn!

Even farther out, beyond the pale for most Christians, lies the website God Hates Fags, created by the Rev. Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Phelps and his followers are best known for picketing the funerals of gay people who have died of AIDS or anti-gay violence, such as Matthew Shepard. As they put it on their website:

WBC engages in daily peaceful sidewalk demonstrations opposing the homosexual lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth. We display large, colorful signs containing Bible words and sentiments, including: GOD HATES FAGS, FAGS HATE GOD, AIDS CURES FAGS, THANK GOD FOR AIDS, FAGS BURN IN HELL, GOD IS NOT MOCKED, FAGS ARE NATURE FREAKS, GOD GAVE FAGS UP, NO SPECIAL LAWS FOR FAGS, FAGS DOOM NATIONS, etc.

Meanwhile, back in Rome, the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church gathered to elect a successor to John Paul II. In the shortest conclave in memory they elected as the new pope Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Whether Pope Benedict XVI will, like Nixon going to China, surprise both his supporters and his detractors remains to be seen. What is unquestionable at the moment of his election, however, in the words of Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson, is that “the church fled to yesteryear, hoping to avoid facing today.”

Dig last updated on Nov. 30, 2005


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By Dave Trowbridge, December 2, 2005 at 3:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Michael, one “draws” the line at non-consensual relationships: marriage can only exist between consenting beings. (This understanding, BTW, is in line with Catholic teaching, which holds a marriage null—non-existent—if not freely consented to.) Adults of whatever gender can consent to a relationship, children and animals cannot.

Frankly, I think those who condemn homosexuality have not the mind of Christ.

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By Yankee in exile, December 2, 2005 at 11:27 am Link to this comment
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Thank God for science.

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By Rob Burke, December 2, 2005 at 8:29 am Link to this comment
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The “threat to the family” presented by the opponnets of gay rights and gay marriage imples that if homosexuality is recognized as a valid way of life for those who freely choose it, many more people would go that way. If a significant number of traditional marriages occur because the partners consider the gay alternative attractive but reject gayness only because it is unnatural and sinful, then the human race is indeed in deep trouble. It must be quite heartbreaking for the wives of Dobson, Phelps etc to know that they are only the second choice of their tormented but devout husbands.

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By M Henri Day, December 2, 2005 at 8:13 am Link to this comment
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But dear Ms Respess, you are not <u>expected</u> to get it ; you’re just expected to do as you are told. That is why the Benedictines, for example, chose as their motto not sape, but ora et labora....

Credo quia absurdam....

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By Andy Hurvitz, December 1, 2005 at 5:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Catholic Church is increasingly part of the lives of Africans and Asians where traditional and public “family vaules” are adhered to. While Western Europe and North America may be moving towards liberalization in our secular laws in regards to gay issues, we can’t expect that the Church is going to suddenly reverse its teachings and say homosexuality is OK.

However, as a non-Catholic and a gay person, I object to and fear any faith that condems those biological facts that cannot be changed. We are born gay and remain that way—but Christianity is a lifestyle choice and how one practices it can be reformed and modified to tolerate and understand the truth about human sexuality. If it is “true” that Christ was born in immaculate conception then anybody who accepts the Church’s teachings on sexuality is being informed by a lie.

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By rheomode, December 1, 2005 at 4:22 pm Link to this comment
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A quote from J. Krishnamurti cuts to the heart of the matter:  “All following is evil.”  Until that is understood, there will continue to be those who are torn between their “faith” and the reality of their lives.

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By Michael, December 1, 2005 at 3:26 pm Link to this comment
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Sexual taboos in western society has for centuries included adultery, sodomy (homosexuality), pedophila and intercourse with animals.

While adultery hardly gets a notice except with the parties involved, sodomy has “come a long way” down this same path. However, heterosexuals are the majoritiy and thus homosexuality holds less attraction than does adultery. Pedophila has fewer advocates still and “farmsex” is still way down there on societal approval lists.

So where do you draw the line? All or nothing? Or is it “do as I say and not as I do?”  Ideally, none of the above is the healthiest for society. But would a lesbian couple approve of their child (adopted or otherwise) marrying a horse? How would they answer the very same questions they put forth to justify their position? Okay then marry your horse because that is your sexual preference? Or would it be well that’s different, a horse is not a huuman being. To which heterosexuals will say, well that’s different, we’re of opposite sexes and can naturally produce offspring.

So if one has to draw a line then best to draw it at none of the above because then any argument used to justify one can be used to justify the other. The road to Singapore, as they say, is paved with good intentions.

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By Michael, December 1, 2005 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment
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Disjointed comments from a 20 year convert to Catholicism…
The thing about the “new” strictures of the Vatican against practicing gay priests is overblown.  The Vatican need only say the same thing about heterosexuals.  Heterosexual priests aren’t allowed to practice either, so what’s the big deal?
It’s time for priests to be allowed to marry. And gays too, while we’re at it.

It’s time for gays to be allowed in society to live openly and with the same rights as heteros, including marriage.

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By Grok Your World, December 1, 2005 at 12:49 pm Link to this comment
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Great photo! We “used” that one ourselves at grokyourworld.com.

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By natalie brown, December 1, 2005 at 12:00 pm Link to this comment
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The church is the last stand of the patriarchial establishment of spiritual and state control.  The collusion between the two is nothing more than the bullies on the playground of our lives.  They are so desperate to control what is in heaven and on earth that they have confused themselves relative to God.

They function only by what is ordained by man, not by the creator, their souls are veiled with power, greed and control in order to satify their own inadequacies, real or imagined.  They require our love and prayers, they too are born into sin and are of sin.

I would rather be the camel that slipped through the hole of the needle rather than the one left to hold the needle looking up at the light trying to find the hole.

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By Nicole Grande, December 1, 2005 at 11:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

For the love of God, why do we have to continue this debate?  It seems to me that the only people who put their energy into this matter are the religious fanatics.  Perhaps if they moved on to more pressing matters, like, peace and feeding the hungry, they would get over their hidden perversions.  I think their interest in what goes on in someone else’s bedroom is just their own perversion looking to be quenched.

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By peter, December 1, 2005 at 11:32 am Link to this comment
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as a homosexual myself, i have come to realize that i play an essential role in society and organized religion. without me - and the millions of other men and women like me - politicians, clergy, and the “faithful” of all stripes would have no convenient way to distract themselves from that tedious, old question of navigating a moral, ethical, godly course in a world of ever-increasing information and ever-dwindling resources.

and that would just suck, y’know?

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By Margaret Harnish MD, December 1, 2005 at 11:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Excellent article. Those of us who have bothered to study the subject of homosexuality know that there is abundant proof of the genetic basis for homosexuality. The very unchrist-like posturing by the culture’s “moral” leaders is just the continutation of the tradition of exclusion of what they peceive as different from themselves. Apparently SOMEONE must be the scapegoat or the enemy. The Church has a long history of genetic discrimination ; look how they continue to perceive women! The heart goes out to those who have been demonized by an ignorant, bigoted hierarchy so bereft of christlike or even human kindness.

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By Sandy, December 1, 2005 at 10:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Until the church can show me when or where Love is ever a sin then it’s incessant teaching of condemnation towards homosexuals is one of the most blatent heresies of Christ’s teaching ever. It takes the second commandment to love your neighbor as yourself and adds this caveat, unless your neighbor is gay. And make no mistake two people of the same gender can most definitely love one another with the very same love a hetersexual couple does. The emotion is one and the same.

However I as a lesbian take up my cross and hang there saying “Father forgvie them, they know not what they do”. Perhaps one day these self-righteous hypocritical Saducees and Pharisees will one day come to know they are forgiven, only as they forgive, and that blaspemy of the Holy Spirit (Love) is the only sin that isn’t be forgiven.

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By Marsha L. Respess, December 1, 2005 at 9:54 am Link to this comment
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As a lesbian I feel threatened and unwelcome in my own country.  I live in California where anti-gay groups are trying to put at least 3 propositions on the ballot for next year that would not only ban same-sex marriage but would also overturn all the hard-won domestic partner legislation we have and I fear that this will pass because even the people I always considered to be progressive are opposed to same-sex marriage and their arguments are just as nonsensical as the rigt-wingers.  I am at a loss to understand the hostility that we engender.  After Gene Robinson was installed as the first openly gay bishop the Anglican Church has started to splinter over it and one of the most vociferous critics was the archbishop from Uganda who somehow saw this as terrible threat yet not the civil war raging in his own country that continues to kill thousands of people every year.  With all of the poverty, misery, disease, death, and war in the world it is a mystery why homosexualty is seen as a terrible threat.  When the Catholic pope issues an edict it is about not the suffering in the world but gay priests.  I don’t get it and I never will.

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Dig Director's Blog

Jan. 17, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI has intervened in the upcoming Italian elections, specifically on the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage—no extra credit for guessing what side he’s on.  The topic of same-sex marriage is especially touchy, as Spain, another predominantly Catholic country, recently legalized same-sex marriage despite the Church’s explicit opposition, something the pope seems to have taken as a personal affront.  If the same thing were to happen in Italy it would be truly insulting to the newly installed Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ….

- - -
Dec. 14, 2005

Scapegoats talk back, and the boys in black squabble over the meaning of the Vatican “instruction.”

- - -
Dec. 13, 2005

The fight between several conservative Southern California episcopal parishes and the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles escalated…

- - -
Dec. 1, 2005

Speaking of religion, the current controversies over same-sex marriage are mostly derived from the hostility of religious institutions to the inclusion of lesbian and gay people in the “sacred institution” of marriage.

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