Dear Libby: How do I talk to a homophobic religious friend?

Dear Libby,

I know a person in a club I’m part of who genuinely believes in anti-equality messages. So far he hasn’t dropped Leviticus on me, but he has offered up Genesis 2:24. There’s a whole lot of “I didn’t make the laws and I wasn’t consulted on them” as excuses for his homophobia. Is it even worth engaging with somebody like that?

I’m sorry to bother you, but you’re really the only person I can think of that has any experience with this level of intractability. The highly religious in my life tend to be liberal (including two ministers), so I’m not sure where else to ask. I sincerely hope you’re not offended by this email, and I know you’re busy, but if you have any ideas I’d appreciate them.

Kaoru

This is a hard question, because when someone believes something because they believe the Bible says it, and that God inspired the Bible, it really puts a stop to intellectual inquiry pretty quickly. Sometimes the case becomes hopeless.

I grew up believing that the Bible condemned homosexuality. In college, I heard this challenged, and I realized some of the problems with my belief. For example, the Leviticus passage can’t be used as an argument unless the other passages in Leviticus, such as those condemning the wearing of clothing made from two kinds of fibers as an “abomination,” also continue to be in effect. I also learned that the verses condemning homosexuality in the New Testament are problematic because we’re not sure we’re interpreting the Greek correctly.

I tell this story because even as I realized that the Biblical case based on verses like these was completely unsound, I continued to believe that the Bible condemned homosexuality because of precisely the passage you mention. 

Genesis 2: 18-24 - The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

In other words, God’s perfect plan for marriage was as a union between a man and a woman. The two complete each other and are meant for each other. Where does a union between two gay men or two lesbian women fit into this? It doesn’t.

What changed my mind? First, contact with gay individuals who made me realize that being gay wasn’t just something someone chose and that gay people are just as much people as anyone else. Second, a declining belief that the Bible was directly inspired and an increasing conviction that the Bible’s authorship was highly influenced by culture.

For me, I was homophobic both because of what I believed about the Bible and because I had never known anyone who was gay and had been taught lies about gay people. As I had more contact with gay people and as my understanding of the Bible changed, the causes of my homophobia disappeared. The two causes were both distinct and interrelated.

What I don’t know from your email is how religious your friend is. Does he go to church regularly? Is he an evangelical, or perhaps a fundamentalist? Are the majority of his friends and relations also highly religious? Does he read the Bible and spend time in prayer? Is he influenced by the teachings of groups like Focus on the Family?

If your friend is not very religious in general he may merely be using the Bible as a cover for his homophobia. In this case, increased interaction with and understanding of gay people as human beings would help normalize it, and possibly change his views. If the Bible is only a cover and he has already had positive interaction with gay people, then I’m afraid he may be too bigoted to help.

If, however, your friend is genuinely and devoutly religious, it’s likely to be more complicated. More exposure to gay people and an increased normalization of their lives would still be beneficial; it could create a tension between his personal feelings toward gay people and what he believes the Bible says that might cause him to reevaluate his beliefs and what he believes the Bible says. At the very least, it could make him look more favorably and understandingly on gay people even if he continues to oppose gay marriage for religious reasons.

However, if his homophobia is not based at all on ignorance about or fear of gay people, if he has already had plenty of positive interaction with gay people and his homophobia really does genuinely spring entirely from the Bible, you’re in a tougher spot. You have to target his conception of what the Bible says, and that’s not easy.

You could point him to some gay Christian websites that argue that the Bible is completely compatible with GLBT rights and gay marriage. These sorts of resources would at least point out to him that there is more than one way to interpret the Bible. He might be able to change his views and join the ranks of progressive Christians who accept gay rights and gay marriage as compatible with Christianity.

You could also point him to resources that talk about how the Bible was written, thus challenging the facade of infallibility he has built up around the Bible. Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible, or Silberman and Finkelstein’s The Bible Unearthed, or Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus would all be good. These could put him on the path to skepticism, or perhaps simply help him realize the complexity of the Bible’s origins and the problems with a more literal reading of it.

But even with all this, if your friend has surrounded himself with conservative Christian friends and relatives and is highly invested in his conservative religious beliefs and his conservative church, it may be impossible to fully change his mind on this issue. Changing his mind – accepting that the Bible is less than fallible or that the interpretation he has been taught is wrong – might mean losing his Christian friends and his religious community.

People often overlook the extent to which one’s surroundings influence what they do or do not believe. Someone whose life is encompassed by conservative Christianity will be less inclined to consider completely changing his or her views, especially on a hot button issue like this, because for many churches that would mean becoming a pariah. It would mean losing everything. It’s a sacrifice most are not prepared to make, and the need to conform in order to retain family and friends and community often trumps one’s ability to be willing to challenge what he or she believes.

I think one reason I was able to change my views on this issue, among others, was that I was at a transitional period in my life. I had not yet settled down, married, and formed a community of like-minded friends. Sure, changing my views on things like this might mean a breach with my family of origin and my childhood friends, but I was at a point in life when most young people strike out on their own anyway. This helped give me the space I needed to rethink my views and ask hard questions. Unfortunately, not everyone has that space.

Anyway, that’s my two cents. I wish you the best in dealing with your friend!

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • eric

    Another point: one does not have to be dominionist to be christian. Immoral does not always have to equal illegal. Christian secularism is still christianity. Just as Voltaire said “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” one option for the christian conservative is to take the position: I disagree with what you do, but will defend your legal right to do it.

    Or, does that argument have zero traction for this community?

    • jamessweet

      Or, does that argument have zero traction for this community?

      While it’s a cogent point to be sure, I have seen virtually nobody who says “I think same-sex marriage is immoral, but I support other people’s right to decide that for themselves.” The only example I can think of — and unfortunately I cannot recall the specifics or find a link — was a lawmaker somewhere who recently came out in support of marriage equality despite saying that it ran contrary to her faith. But you almost never hear it.

      It’s probably worth a try, but for whatever reason not a lot of people seem to be going that route.

      • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

        You’re thinking of Mary Margaret Haugen who was the 25th vote in the Washington senate, which made the bill able to pass. She wrote the following on her blog, “For me personally, I have always believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman. That is what I believe, to this day.

        “But this issue isn’t about just what I believe. It’s about respecting others, including people who may believe differently than I. It’s about whether everyone has the same opportunities for love and companionship and family and security that I have enjoyed.”

        http://blog.senatedemocrats.wa.gov/haugen/haugen-announces-stance-on-marriage-equality/

      • jamessweet

        Thank you, that’s exactly what I was referring too. I thought I remembered it was Washington state, but for some reason I was thinking it was the governor (who has been staunchly pro-marriage equality).

        And yeah, how often do you see that? Now, I’m not exactly standing up and cheering… she still thinks same-sex relationships are inferior, and that’s pretty crappy.. but at least she understands that one’s religious beliefs and one’s opinion on public policy are not one and the same. It appears to be a very rare position — I have not personally heard it expressed anywhere else.

        The fact that I could recall no supporting details, and you still came up with the exact same example I was referring to… well, I think that says something about the rarity of this position :)

      • http://thaliasmusingsnovels.com/ Amethyst

        Actually, I know several conservative Christians who believe homosexuality is a sin but are in favor of gay marriage, or at least against DOMA. They see it as a government interference issue. Most of these people would say that they don’t believe the state should be in the business of regulating/sanctioning marriage at all.

      • jamessweet

        Interesting. Your experience is a fair bit different from mine. I know exactly one conservative Christian who leans towards that position, and even then it seems he’s not quite exactly sure.

        I guess it goes to show how reliable anecdotal data is, heh :D

    • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

      Actually tried that argument and it failed miserably (i.e. “Why should I support something that I think is wrong?” shortly after saying that they believed people have a right to make their own decisions). I do, however, know people who are like that in this and similar subjects. Just didn’t work with this person.

      • eric

        Well, the horse has already left the barn, but for future arguments:

        You aren’t supporting what you think is wrong, you are supporting other people’s rights to make their own decisions. Its the golden rule: do you want other people to tell you who you can marry? What you can say? How to worship? No? Then don’t dictate to others how they do these things.

        Somewhat related, to paraphrase Matthew 25: whatever you do to the gayest of His people, you do to Him. You gonna tell Him who He’s not allowed to love?

  • http://alisoncummins.com Alison Cummins

    Following up on what Eric says, civil law is not about the Bible. Civil law is about how different religious and non-religious people can get along in a civil society. Religious concerns are excluded by definition.

    As a member of civil society, he has obligations to participate and he is accountable for the laws. (Just as you, Libby, are accountable for the existence of the Guantanamo prison and I am accountable for the Canadian trend toward increasing incarceration.) Whether he agrees or disagrees with the law, he is responsible for justifying his action or inaction to the civil society of which he is a member, not to his church.

    While I am not religious, I have always been impressed by the explicit and very modern separation of citizenship, civil law, nationality, religion and ethnicity in the New Testament. We are obligated to treat others well not because of who they are but because of who we are. Jesus explicitly opposed theocracy, and by imposing his personal religious practice on his fellow-citizens he is going directly contrary to Jesus’ instructions.

  • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

    Thank you very much for answering my question, Libby. I appreciate the advice.

    To be honest, I don’t know where to go with this one. I’m still getting a handle on this person and their beliefs. I haven’t encountered them (the beliefs) in person, but I find that more worrying since that basically makes it seem as if he’s hiding his disagreement with people’s “behavior” in order to get along in their presence.

    1. What I don’t know from your email is how religious your friend is. Does he go to church regularly? Is he an evangelical, or perhaps a fundamentalist?

    I’m gathering from online discussions he and I have had that he’s pretty close to fundamentalist in most things, and goes to church regularly.

    2. Are the majority of his friends and relations also highly religious? Does he read the Bible and spend time in prayer?

    I don’t know about his prayer habits and family, but the majority of his friends are both highly religious and not at all. I’ll explain.

    His main hobby, from what I can tell, is our mutual club, which he’s been part of since he was 16. It’s a medieval re-enactment group with a fairly wide variety of religious belief (and non-belief, I found out last month while discussing Hitchens with another fencer). Most of the time it’s not talked about, or is talked about in a historical context (e.g. “the persona I’ve created comes from this time and place, so he likely would have been [this] religion, but there were a significant number of people who believed [that]…”etc.), but the people he’s primarily associated with, despite also being incredibly kind one on one, also hold these types of views. In one way, the wider group is more accepting (and is pushing toward equality in their own way, actually), but his specific in-group isn’t.

    3. Is he influenced by the teachings of groups like Focus on the Family?

    Couldn’t say for sure, his the websites he tends to link fall within that sphere of thought, so I wouldn’t much be surprised.

    I think talking about his approach to Biblical interpretation might help. I’ll be sure to check out those books. Also, my minister friends are both liberation theologians, so they might have something to add.

    I feel like I have very little choice but to simply deal with him, be polite in places where we have to be together (again, we’re part of the same club, so we’re going to interact) and just not try to develop a closer friendship as I won’t be able to get over the idea that whether he would put it in these terms or not, he basically considers me a second class citizen. And that’s a shame because he’s too nice of a person to have such twisted ideas of what it means to care about other people.

    Believe it or not, this does help quite a bit and I really appreciate you answering (and in public, no less). I’m still a bit confused, especially since I’m still trying to understand how one can be kind individually while oppressing other people, but at least this gives me an idea of what to expect if I don’t want to let well-meaning but bigoted statements pass, and I’m not sure if I have it in me to do so.

    • MadGastronomer

      SCA, or something else?

      Seriously, just don’t associate with him. Tell him why you won’t, too. It’s not your job to change his mind, and you have no responsibility to spend time with someone who thinks that way.

      I’m all out of patience with homophobia, though. I’ve endured a lot of it, and these days I will no longer spend time with anyone who says anything like that. Some members of my family still have issues, but they won’t say anything about them in front of me, and that’s a compromise I’m willing to accept with them — but not with anyone else.

      • Ace of Sevens

        Isn’t trying to make the world a better place for everyone everyone’s job? Isn’t reducing homophobia part of this? You seem to be implying we only have a duty to look out for our own interests, the big picture be damned, and I don’t buy that.

      • MadGastronomer

        Being subjected to homophobia is actively damaging to us. Yes, including such a “mild” version. We are not obligated to subject ourselves to that. We are not obligated to hurt ourselves to make other people better. There are lots of ways to make the world a better place.

        You are telling me I should hurt myself.

    • Benjamin Allen

      Hi Kaoru!

      Take it from the homosexual raised similarly to Libby. It will be counter-productive to attack the bible directly. However, as libby said, there is a very wide range of ways to point out holes in his interpretation.

      I’ll start from the top:

      Leviticus 18:22: The first thing you have to remember is that the laws of leviticus do not apply to gentiles at all, let alone christians. They are part of the covenant made with the jews. The Noahide covenant made post-”flood” (I use quotes because I am a biologist), contains seven rules, one of which is a blanket proscription against bestiality, adultery and fornication. However, homosexuality was widely accepted in the ancient world, and there is no reason to believe that this was intended to include homosexuality. As for Levitics itself, if he does not accept this argument… Well, in the original hebrew, it does not translate the way he thinks it does.

      First of all, it is a logical contradiction to think that this can apply to homosexual men in the way it is commonly interpreted. A heterosexual man has no desire to lie with a man as they would a woman, and a homosexual man has the exact same lack of desire, only in reverse. Thus, it is a proscription against having sexual relationships with one to whom you are not attracted. Given that It is not good for man to be alone. — Gen. 2:18. No man (or woman, because Man is often used inclusively of all humans), should be alone. In addition, bearing false witness. A homosexual man having a heterosexual relationship is lying to themselves and their partner. The same is true of a heterosexual man in a homosexual relationship. Bearing false witness is prohibited.

      There is a reason why most jewish groups with the exception of crazy ultra-orthodox jews (who are a recent development) affirm homosexuality, and ordain gay rabbis.

      Now, in the New Testament… Things get interesting.

      Romans 1:26-27: “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence [sic] of their error which was meet.”

      God… raped them by proxy. This is not a prohibition against homosexuality. It is God deliberately twisting the minds of human beings in violation of free will in order to punish them. There is no way around this. This also backs up my above interpretation of Leviticus

      I Corinthians 6:9-10
      “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”

      This is massively massively mistranslated. First off, effeminate in the original greek does not mean what we would consider effeminate in english. The original word is malakoi, which is a sort of “softness” characterized by lack of pain tolerance, cowardice, and hedonism. The second word is Arsenkoites, which does not become anything even remotely resembling homosexual until the 16th century when John Wycliff called it the Synn of Sodom in Late Middle English. Earlier 5th century latin vulgate translations translate it to masculorum concubitore, which means Male Prostitute (god I love speaking latin)

      So, there is no binding on non-jews to follow leviticus at all, and even if there were, there is a much better interpretation. Additionally, in the New Testament, there is absolutely Zero prohibition on homosexuality.

      • Irreverend Bastard

        A heterosexual man has no desire to lie with a man as they would a woman, and a homosexual man has the exact same lack of desire, only in reverse. Thus, it is a proscription against having sexual relationships with one to whom you are not attracted.

        This does not float.

        First of all, few people are strictly heterosexual/homosexual. Most people are bisexual to some degree.

        Second, this could shoot down sex in arranged marriages. What if he’s not attracted to her, or she’s not attracted to him? Scratch that last, though. Females have no say in the matter, according to the bible.

        Third, it is impossible to “lie with a man as they would a woman”. “Tab A” and “Slot B”, you know.

        Of course, there are other genders than just the “regular” male/female, but the bible is strangely silent on this.

      • Benjamin Allen

        Irreverend Bastard says::

        <>

        That depends. Most people go through their lives as one or the other, and there is an intersexual difference. Females are more likely to be bisexual. Even males who are bisexual tend to pick one statistically depending on what their primary preference is. Someone who is a 5 on the Kinsey Scale is still pretty much gay. Someone who is a 1 on the Kinsey Scale is still pretty much straight, and the distribution is decidedly bimodal (ha! Puns!). Someone there on the scale might have “helped a friend out” in college etc, but it is not their primary attraction. Relatively few are equally attracted to both, even compared to the frequency of homosexuality.

        <>

        This is true. My interpretation is certainly much more modern than a bronze age one. I would go into the hebrew and see what said hebrew actually says (I suspect the word translated to abomination is actually respecting ritual impurity considering the context of the surrounding text, and thus does not apply to the Goym), but if the fundamentalists are allowed to be selective and use sophistry, so am I.

        <>

        Well… yes. :P

        That was obvious.

        <>

        My anthropology sense is tingeling. I am not sure middle eastern cultures have ever been aware of or accepting of “third sex” individuals which is what the transgendered are called, and often revered for, in other cultures.

      • Benjamin Allen

        My apologies, I am still learning the Code syntax for this format. Consider your comments responded to by context.

  • http://alisoncummins.com Alison Cummins

    “Immoral” has a few meanings here.

    Child rape is immoral no matter what the law says. It’s an act of violence against a vulnerable person. If it isn’t against the law then it should be, and you are under a moral obligation to change it.

    Driving on the right side of the street is immoral in England because it places other people at risk. There is nothing inherently wicked about the right side, but there is something inherently wicked about deliberately placing others in harm’s way. Here the law itself is part of the context of immorality: it’s not distinct from it as in the case of child rape.

    Having sex with someone who has different needs and expectations from you is often immoral because it is likely to cause avoidable pain. Note that the issue here is the difference in needs and expectations, not the details of the particular needs or expectations. There is rarely any law against this, nor should there be. Sexuality is something that is so individual that it needs to be negotiated directly by the people involved. (Think of all the reprehensible sexual behaviour by conservative christian public figures. Do you really want them all sentenced to prison terms?)

    Having inappropriate priorities is often considered immoral. Hungry people often view the keeping of pets by wealthy people as immoral, because animals are being provided better lives than fellow-humans. In situations where consumption of limited resources does directly affect their availability to others, consuming may be restricted by law — for instance, lawn-watering in the desert.

    Specifically religious failings like going back to work after Friday mosque may be considered immoral within that religion, and observant individuals may consider people with no similar observances to be immoral (because undisciplined) but in civil society we do not mandate that people attend Friday mosque or that they refrain from returning to work afterwards. We don’t even mandate that they pick a religion and observe it, even though we might privately think that a better person would (and that the best person of all would observe our own religion).

    And then there’s the “Ewww, gross” category of immoral. Eating horses, for some people. People who are afraid of dogs often think that dogs are disgusting, and that there’s something disreputable about a person who would keep one. A straight man imagining that another man is looking at him like a sexual object — the same way that he looks at women — might be extremely offended and conclude that gay men are inherently offensive (and therefore immoral). This “gut feel” method of determining immorality is not a particularly good method, and unexamined it is no good at all for making civil law.

    If someone thinks that something is immoral in such a way that it needs to be reflected in civil law, then they are putting it in the same category as child rape or watering your lawn in the desert. If gay sex is in one of these categories then not only should gay people be denied the rights of marriage, they should also be fined or imprisoned.

    On what grounds exactly is it immoral to love someone with similar genitals to yours?

    *** *** ***
    That is… define “immoral.” It’s a heavy word and can hide some major bait-and-switch. You might not be able to talk them out of homophobia, but you might be able to get them to think more about what they mean when they use the word.

    Or not. If he’s the kind of conservative christian who believes that he would be raping children if he didn’t think he were going to go to hell for it, you’re likely to have a lot of trouble with him. (Though I believe that in the Old Testament there are only two definitions of rape: that of a boy less than two years old, and that of an engaged virgin who was attacked in the country where there was nobody to come and help. If he’s a real fundie, you could always ask him why he isn’t a child rapist if it isn’t forbidden in the bible.)

    *** *** ***
    If your genitalia are ambiguous, is it immoral to love anyone at all? If people with ambigous genitalia aren’t civilly culpable for loving, why would the law be different for people with unambiguous genitalia?

    • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

      Those are actually very interesting points, and ones I’ll have to keep in mind. I’d never thought of driving on the right in England as being immoral, but that’s a cool way of approaching the immorality argument in general.

      I’ve only known the guy for a short while, but we’ve had fun talking at club activities and both left the same previous club for the same reasons (and had heard about one another, though never met), so I don’t know if he thinks he would be a child rapist without a reward/punishment structure in place, but I suspect over time I’ll find these things out.

      Ultimately, it kinda hurts to see someone who is otherwise nice so casually degrade other people without even really understanding what he’s doing.

      • http://alisoncummins.com Alison Cummins

        You can try asking him very specific questions about what he thinks the appropriate role that civil law — not his church, not the mormon church, not a local rabbinic court — should have in various situations. You could start with Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond:

        http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?oid=11589595

    • MadGastronomer

      Can we not reduce gender to genitals? It’s cissexist and essentialist, and it’s not ok.

      • http://alisoncummins.com Alison Cummins

        I’m not reducing gender to genitals. I didn’t refer to gender at all.

      • MadGastronomer

        I am a woman. I have dated women who have very different genitals than I do. Still lesbian relationships. You ARE equating gender with genitals.

      • http://alisoncummins.com Alison Cummins

        MadGastronomer,

        Can you be more specific about my assumptions?

        When I referred to gender (“straight man,” “man,” “women”) I made no reference to genitals.

        When I referred to genitals, I made no statements or assumptions about the genders of the people with the genitals.

        The assumption I am making is that for this particular homophobe, “homosexuality” is about sex (hence the word “sex” in “homosexual”) and not gender.

        I note that you referred to your own relationships with people with dissimilar genitals as “lesbian” (refers to gender) not “homosexual” (refers to sex).

        I specifically chose an example of people with ambiguous genitalia to confound the issue of sex, which is at issue here. I deliberately set gender aside, as genderqueer politics are unlikely to be compelling to our homophobe at this stage in his development.

        *** *** ***
        As long as we’re boasting about cred: I identify as a cis-gendered lesbian legally married to a man in a jurisdiction where I could legally marry a woman and where sex-reassignment surgery is covered by public insurance. I was straight until I was 22, lesbian separatist until I was 32, a lesbian who had sex with men after that. I am now 47. My first threesome (five days before the wedding, did not include my fiancé) included a transman still living and presenting as a woman at the time. The bi group most accessible to me is primarily trans. The woman I lived with for ten years was butch and while she didn’t identify as trans she really didn’t identify as cis. I met my beloved (a cis man) on an internet dating site, and one of the clues that he was the one for me was that his best friend is a no-op transsexual.

        This isn’t a pissing contest. I knew the difference between sex and gender before you were born.

      • MadGastronomer

        I’m older than you think.

        And trans people these days do generally find having their sex defined by their genitals to be really insulting. The gender/sex divide is a lot more complicated than it was made out to be fifteen or twenty years ago, when I was first learning about it, and it is cissexist to refer to it that way.

        My lesbian relationships with trans women have all been homosexual.

      • MadGastronomer

        Sex is as much a legal and social construct as gender is. Do you think my relationships suddenly became homosexual if my partners had bottom surgery?

      • http://alisoncummins.com Alison Cummins

        I repeat:

        When I referred to gender (“straight man,” “man,” “women”) I made no reference to genitals.

        When I referred to genitals, I made no statements or assumptions about the genders of the people with the genitals.

      • MadGastronomer

        And I repeat: Separating sex and gender by genitals is offensive and cissexist.

      • http://alisoncummins.com Alison Cummins

        You still haven’t managed to show how I did that when gender and genitals don’t even appear in the same paragraph. I asked you to be specific. Calling me cissexist and offensive isn’t addressing the question, and does nothing to help Libby’s letter-writer.

      • Ace of Sevens

        If your genitalia are ambiguous, is it immoral to love anyone at all? If people with ambigous genitalia aren’t civilly culpable for loving, why would the law be different for people with unambiguous genitalia?

        I think MadGastronomer is taking this to mean that a heterosexual pairing necessarily means a penis and a vagina. I only take it as presuming a Christian fundie (target of the argument) would think this, which is a safe bet.

  • http://alisoncummins.com Alison Cummins

    Actually, you should be very clear about being out and about finding certain things unacceptable. The single greatest predictor of tolerance is knowing gay people. When gay people are just this imaginary representatives of evil “out there” somewhere, it’s much easier to be smug. When they are the smart, kind, reasonable person in front of you who is visibly hurt by things you say, it’s different.

    • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

      Yea. I suspect that I’m bi and not gay, he’ll be able to justify that since I can “choose” to be with men or women that I can simply pick women, but being out couldn’t hurt and I had no intention of doing otherwise anyway %). Really need to get my “Kinky Bisexual Atheist Feminist Geek” shirt made.

  • Stacy

    Kaoru, you might also point out that it is clear that the Bible accepts and promotes polygamy. It was “one man and as many women as he could afford (both wives and slaves)”. The “one man, one woman” marriage modern fundamentalists promote is not really biblically based.

    • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

      Tried that one. He shrugged it off as those people being wrong for no particular reason other than that it conflicted with his current belief. Good thought, though.

      • http://alisoncummins.com Alison Cummins

        So we’re back to some un-thought-through agglomeration of “religious observance” and “eww.”

        That is, he doesn’t actually think it’s wrong. He thinks there’s a religious injunction against it, similar to the injunction against eating shrimp. And just as shrimp-eating is not restricted by civil law, neither is loving.

        He just assumes he thinks it’s wrong.

  • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy

    Then, again, there’s the aspect of homophobia which itself is primarily driven by personal revulsion (which itself can sometimes mask latent homosexuality). Some people just latch on to the religious angle because it’s a fit to their already-existing homophobia. Those people are harder to argue with, can be dangerous, and their homophobia is harder to get rid of than those people who only believe that homosexuality is wrong because THE BIBLE.

  • Savoy47

    The god of the bible does not have a problem with homosexuality. He has a long history in that book of killing people whom he is displeased with. He did not hesitate to kill every living thing on the planet except Noah and his boat full of life. It is well within his power and keeping with his past behavior, to kill the gay away if he had a problem with it. The fact that he has not done that is evidence that he has no problem with it.

  • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

    The other question to ask about this is is it hypocritical to want him to be more accepting? Should he want me to accept Jesus as my personal lord and savior (not saying he does, but for example), and I refuse because I don’t believe in that, is it equally wrong of me to try and argue that he should accept gay people as equal? Or is there a distinction because I’m asking him to stop interfering with people’s lives as opposed to trying to convince him that there is no god?

    • MadGastronomer

      Nope, not hypocritical. We want to be treated equally under the law; they want to be able to treat us unequally. Different things.

    • jamessweet

      Not to be too much of an absolutist, but there’s a difference right off the bat, in that marriage equality is a good thing, but coming to Jesus is not. The fact that many people see it exactly the opposite does not make it any less true. The apparent symmetry is an important thing to remember when it comes to convincing people, but I think it is less important when it comes to what is right.

      On the same note, you’re asking for acceptance, not that he do anything in particular.

      I suppose an argument could be made that, if you were trying to get him to not just change his position on LGBT rights, but to decide that homosexuality was not a sin, that this could be “hypocritical” if you didn’t want him trying to convince you to come to Jesus. An argument could be made, but I’m not sure I’d buy it. Again, truth is not just something that is socially constructed in a vacuum. This is not an argument over what’s the best topping on pizza; there is a right and a wrong answer here, and the fact that you’re right and he’s wrong matters — even if he thinks the same thing in reverse.

      • http://alisoncummins.com Alison Cummins

        “there is a right and a wrong answer here, and the fact that you’re right and he’s wrong matters”

        Yes.

        Being able to explain why you’re right is important. The “eww, you’re mean” gut feel is important for you to take notice of, but it’s not a sufficient explanation of why you’re right. If it were, then “eww, butt sex” would be a sufficient justification for denying rights to people whose sex lives made you uncomfortable.

        Evangelical christians spend a lot of time learning to argue their positions. They aren’t usually good arguments, but if you aren’t familiar with them you can be unsure how to respond.

        In that spirit, this is a very nice letter written by a scientist to a child who has been educated in scripted arguments.

        http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/06/dear_emma_b.php
        So you’re absolutely doing the right thing asking for help!

  • http://alisoncummins.com Alison Cummins

    Would it be hypocritical of you to show him a photograph of the earth from space if he said the earth was flat?

    Everyone is entitled to speak their mind without going to prison, but that does not make everyone’s opinion is equally valid. Some opinions are better informed than others.

  • Ace of Sevens

    Exposure definitely does it. I’ve seen my fundie parents drift from “homosexuality is disgusting and immoral” to “homosexuality is eccentric.” They’re for legalized gay marriage, even, mainly because they’re afraid that if religious sentiment gets too much legal traction, it will come back and bite them. My ad doesn’t want gay people raising kids because they’re a bad influence. My mom is afraid that reasoning could be used to take kids away from Christians for spanking or teaching them about hell or something, so she’s begrudgingly for it.

  • Erika

    Almost irrelevant point: Ehrman’s _Jesus, Interrupted_ is, in my opinion, strictly superior to _Misquoting Jesus_. The content is quite similar, but the style is much more engaging.

  • Sarah

    This is really interesting to me: I read that Genesis passage with fresh eyes just now, having been an atheist for nearly a decade (after growing up conservative Evangelical, very devout and literalist). What’s interesting to me is that, unless the original ancient language is very different from the English translation, that passage isn’t about God’s plan for heterosexual marriage. Rather, it’s about humans needing companionship: they leave their parents to be joined in a partnership. There’s nothing here about the kind of sex they’re having, or the necessity of having children in this relationship.

    I’m not saying that your average fundamentalist would be swayed by my reading (after all, Adam is male and Eve is female, and you could argue that this relationship is intended to be the example of the first marriage), but I think it’s worth pointing out that the text is about Adam being alone and God setting him up with a companion. God decides that Adam needs a fellow human to be in relationship with him, simple as that–not God decides Adam needs a wife to produce babies for him, or Adam needs to fulfill the role of man/head and needs a submissive wife to do so. I think that this could be read in contrast to a conservative or fundamentalist Christian understanding of marriage, with their emphasis on legal structure (your commitment isn’t legit until you can file taxes jointly), gender roles, and making babies.

  • Lyra

    To be absolutely honest, I’m surprised anyone would use this passage as an argument against homosexuality because it is one that I would see as arguing in favor of homosexuality. How?

    Well, for a good chunk of Christians, the answer to homosexual urges is for the homosexual in question to remain single/celibate. But God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” That would seem to indicate that homosexuals should NOT remain single; they, too, need a helper.

    Now, some will insist that God clearly meant for all men to have women helpers, as God made Eve (female) for Adam (male). But I find that argument to be strange. Surely many of these individuals have wives and girlfriends who they love, women who they find to be suitable companions. Do they believe that they would be just as happy if their wife/girlfriend was spontaneously replaced with another woman? No, because they recognize that a person who may be suitable for them will not necessarily be suitable for everyone else. If John loves Jane, it is not simply because she is a woman, but because she is a woman with a set of characteristics that work well with his. This is why marriage is not done by lottery. Eve was Adam’s suitable helper. To assume that whatever traits she possessed are mandatory in all of men’s partners is strange.

    In short, if man is not meant to be alone, that would include homosexuals.

    But Christians don’t seem to take that passage at face value expect when it comes to homosexuals. If a man chooses to never marry, most Christians will not criticize him; they certainly don’t criticize him like they would if he was in a gay relationship. Strangely, it’s a mandate of heterosexual relationships for homosexuals, but it isn’t a mandate of heterosexual relationships for heterosexuals.

  • Lyra

    . . . and I see that Sarah beat me to part of my post. Whoops.

  • MadGastronomer

    Sure, exposure to LGBT people can foster acceptance among the intolerant. But it’s not our responsibility to report for that duty, not our responsibility to expose ourselves to homophobia (which is damaging to us, on an individual as well as a societal level) to make the homophobes better people. We can, of course, volunteer to do that, but it’s not our job, and the “if gay people spend time with homophobes, the homophobes will get better!” argument can carry overtones of it being our job.

    We don’t exist for society’s sake. We exist for our own.

  • scotlyn

    You could point him to some gay Christian websites that argue that the Bible is completely compatible with GLBT rights and gay marriage.

    This website is the work of a number of gay Christians, including a man who, I recently discovered, came out many years after being on the welcoming committee for my own missionary family on our arrival in Latin America in the 1960′s.

  • Aliasalpha

    Kaoru, do you happen to know much about this person’s musical or movie tastes? There’s always a chance that this person already likes someone gay & just doesn’t know it

  • kisekileia

    Two good links to start out with, from SoulForce: What the Bible says and doesn’t say about homosexuality, and What science says, and doesn’t say about homosexuality.

    My reasoning for abandoning anti-gay beliefs was: Jesus is clear in his description of the two greatest commandments–love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself–that they include all lesser commandments. I came to realize, through a couple of Christian friends coming out (one became atheist, one stayed Christian) that holding anti-gay beliefs and loving one’s neighbour as oneself are incompatible. The “love” that one shows gay people while holding anti-gay beliefs does not bear the fruit of love–the recipient does not experience it as love. Since the anti-gay passages in the Bible are all pretty questionable in terms of translation and/or universal applicability, and “love your neighbour as yourself” is clearly a much higher priority, the latter trumps the former. Since abandoning anti-gay beliefs is required to love one’s neighbour as oneself, that is what a Christian should do.

  • Brett Blatchley

    Wow, I really like how you’ve analysed and expressed this so well.

    People *are* so invested in their communities, and for me a number of things gradually changed until eventually I had to break with those who were rejecting me. It took a couple years before I could really move on, but I WAS actually moving onward, and with many of my former ties cut, it was easier to cut ties with Evangelicalism, as I’ve been doing many things in growth at once. Yet, through this journey, my gender journey, spiritual and marital journeys (often tightly intertwined), my faith in God has grown deeper and (I sense) more pure (less ‘trash’ in there). Humans growing is such an amazing thing, difficult, poignant, with some of the most important parts below the surface like an iceberg.

    Libby, what you’ve written helps me better understand my Christian friends and family members, really people in general, and it will help me be a better, more patient person…maybe better able to “pick my battles.” I’m finding that the best (tangible) thing I can do for the all is to live as authentically as I can, embodying all the best I’ve been taught about how to love other people, and to forgive, and to let their stuff be theirs…we all have our stuff…life is tough and short enough that we shouldn’t be trying to push others into our molds. (sigh)


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