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Christians and Homosexuality
by Richard Deats

Growing up in the South I remember my shock when devout Christians told me that it was the communists who were trying to integrate the state and undermine our civilization with "race mixing." They earnestly believed that southern segregation was biblical, that God had ordained the races to be separate. By trying to integrate the Texas Methodist Student Movement, I was therefore accused of being a communist! It was so ludicrous it was almost funny. At that timel hardly knew what communism was but I had learned in Sunday school that everyone without exception was created in the image of God and that "God has made of one blood all nations to dwell together on the face of the earth." It was abundantly clear to me that Jim Crow and Jesus Christ were utterly incompatible.

The hysteria today about homosexuality in the churches reminds me of that time when many Christians fought integration every step of the way in the name of Christian morality, just as earlier Christians had supported slavery and forbad women the right to voteor to enter the ministry. To use the image that Martin Luther King, Jr. used, the Church is the tail light instead of the headlight of society. Rather than being open to God's leading us into a fuller and, more compassionate approach to life, many Christians sacralize the past and close their minds and spirits to the future.

This was vividly brought home to me some time ago at a meeting of the national council of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Representatives of a Christian community who had been working with us in trying to bring peace to the Middle East, and stop violence in U.S. communities, announced they could no longer be affiliated with us. They were withdrawing because of our growing advocacy for the full human rights of homosexuals, including their presence on our staff, committees and governing council. One of their representatives assured us, "I love homosexuals just like I love ax murderers." She meant it as a sign of tolerance and Christian grace; I was appalled and angered at this equation of murder with the mysterious God-given sexual orientation that people do not choose. Medical science once branded homosexuality as a sickness and psychiatry called it a disorder, but today it is more and more seen simply as a given that people are born with. Preaching against homosexuality and counselling to change homosexuals into heterosexuals can do little more than produce guilt and despair and entrench homophobia.

It is tragic that many Christians give no choice to homosexuals except a forced acceptance of heterosexual orientation as the only Christian norm. If a homosexual cannot come to own heterosexual feelings as his own, then life long chastity is the only option left. Cruellest of all are those Christians who say that AIDS is God's punishment for gay sex. What, I wonder, do they think God is punishing humans for when they have cancer, tuberculosis, Down syndrome, Alzheimer's disease? What plagues has their God sent on rapacious landlords, racist bigots, and wealthy CEOs ruthlessly laying off faithful workers?

The arrogance with which many Christians dismiss homosexuality as simply a "lifestyle" choice adopted willy nilly make it sound like it is as casual as putting on a coat or getting one's ears pierced. A homosexual asked, "Why on earth would I choose to be something that my religion condemns, that horrifies my parents, that could destroy my career and even get me killed?" Another, whose father said he would rather see his son dead than be a homosexual, wrote in Fellowship magazine, "If forced to choose between two alternatives, either having their son kill another man in war or having their son make love to another man, most American, church going parents would choose killing rather than lovemaking. How insane for the Church to condemn affectionate sex between men as unnatural but to sanction and finance brutal bloodshed between men as our natural, patriotic duty! In Arlington National Cemetery, the gravestone of a gay Vietnam veteran reads, 'When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."'

I remember a few years ago reading an article by a gay man who grew up in an isolated rural area. As he grew in years, although he never read anything about homosexuality nor knowingly met a homosexual, he realized that he was only afttracted to his own sex. But he never had anyone to talk to or confide in. He felt totally alone, felt like he must be a freak and for some unknown reason possess depraved feelings. He said that if he had been born into a family oppressed because of its race or religion or class, that at least he would have known his family understood what he was going through, as would others in the same predicament. Homosexuality, however, put him in a closet where he had to keep his feelings to himself, even from his parents and siblings. To confide in a friend might mean losing that friend or even being physically attacked.

Today the increased openness in our society has brought homosexuality out of the closet. Rather than being a sign of moral decay, I see this as a sign of greater maturity and honesty. The movement for gay and lesbian rights, similarly, has taken its place alongside that great American tradition of advocacy and protest againsf prejudice and injustice, essential in any healthy democracy. The movements against slavery and segregation, the women's movement, the labor movement, the environmental movement have all helped prepare the way for the civil rights movement of homosexuals of today. This is not a movement for special rights; it is a movement for the human rights that everyone else takes for granted. The Christian's place is in this struggle for justice, pointing the way forward and by so doing witnessing to the
gracious and loving purposes of God.


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