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Homophobia, the church, the mosque, and the synagogue

It’s not too late for religions to shed their homophobic and socially irrelevant image—they just need to take a more positive, metaphorical, and liberal approach

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One of the biggest obstacles to the reestablishment of religion as an integral part of society and our lives is its homophobic characteristics.

There has been a dramatic shift in society’s perception of homosexuality since the 1960s. I think there is a strong case for suggesting that law evolves and is shaped by social changes rather than culture being shaped by the law in subjects like this. Homosexuality was illegal until 1967 in England and Wales, which is perhaps unthinkable to us in a liberal Western society today.

Further advancements in LGBT rights have materalised since the 2000s. The right for a person to change legal gender was established in 2005, for example, and full protection against discrimination has been made statutory since 2010.

Of course there are problems and disagreements amongst minorities and right-wing fundamentalist groups, but generally it should be celebrated that society has finally accepted homosexuality is a real, natural, and important part of people’s lives.

Somewhere along the line, the perception of religion as truth, positivity, and something that adds value to people’s lives has been tarnished by its reputation as a group which revels in homophobia. Indeed, it’s obvious that the Church previously has been an advocate for homophobia, yet I personally believe it’s possible to believe in God and also support gay rights, gay marriage, and stand against homophobia.

Russell Brand’s comments in reply to Stephen Fry on religion really interested me. Although he didn’t specifically talk about homosexuality in detail, Brand talked about the metaphor of religion being true instead of its literal meaning. He also said that you cannot judge religion by the bad bits, just like you wouldn’t judge something like football by negative events that have happened throughout its history.

However, the big question that remains is whether the Church’s reputation for being homophobic has stained its reputation for good.

Firstly, I think it’s important for the secular world to understand that the views of particular denominations or high-profile religious figures aren’t always the views of all people associated with that religion.

Religious texts such as the Bible, the Qur’an, and the Torah are integral to their adherents’ lives and become part of their identity because of their individual interpretation of it and how it applies to them personally.

A non-literal interpretation allows for more liberal views on contemporary issues. Many religious people’s argument is that they do not want to change the core values of their faith just because society dictates that they should. After all, faith is meant to be something eternal, not shaped by changing whimsical thought and social values.

However, the said perspective is narrow. Most religious texts were written thousands of years ago in completely different cultures to the one we live in today—not to mention that human beings wrote them; whose minds were shaped by their own particular surroundings.

It has been widely accepted in other areas that the Bible is contextual, for example when it comes to the prominence of women. I’m sure 50 years ago no one would have envisaged women bishops or women who are world-famous evangelists and teachers, but culture allows such a change to occur which richly benefits religion in general.

Thus in the same way, I wouldn’t be surprised if in 50 years’ time homophobia is something of the distant past in mainstream Churches. A recent survey showed that ‘homophobic’ was in the top four words that sprung to mind when asked to describe Christianity—alongside irrelevant, judgmental and boring. As a Christian, I am extremely embarrassed by this, as I believe all of these words are enemies of true religion.

All in all, it would be ridiculous to interpret religious texts literally. For one, the Bible was written in Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, and other languages, thus many of its translations are questionable and imprecise. And for some of the provisions that may seem irrelevant in today’s culture, it is important to remember the context in which scriptures were written and to give a margin of appreciation when it comes to condemning people’s belief systems.

Religion should be opposed to arrogance and judgment. Rather, it should send a positive and encouraging message to the secular world. It will surely take time to repair the reputation the Church has gained, but I believe it can do so through a more liberal, metaphoric approach to interpreting scripture.

 

  • sarah

    As a Christian myself, I find this article to not only be very offensive but extremely “generalistic” and misinformed. If you truly do want homophobia towards gay people (which you claim is mostly from religious people but I beg to differ) then writing these sort of articles really wont solve the issue. It seems strange to me that a community such as LGBT who have been oppressed for so long and constantly fight for equality, seem to turn a blind eye when it comes to faiths. Just as much as everyone has a right to have whatever sexuality we also equally have the right to practice any faith we choose, freely. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t homophobic religious people and I’m not condoning those actions. But attacking and attempting to belittle their beliefs (e.g. through articles such as this) is also repeating the process of oppression and segregation in society. By no means will I comprise my faith just because the majority of people think homosexuality is okay, similarly I don’t expect a gay person to all of a sudden accept the Christian faith. But what I do expect is tolerance and an understanding from both sides. (And as a side note, just because the majority think something is fine doesn’t automatically validate it.)
    And what is even more outrageous is your attempt to discredit and basically mock biblical scriptures. I can tell whoever wrote this obviously has never picked up a Bible themselves or is just greatly misinformed about the origins and truth behind it (Funny that we can trust old books sitting in museums and take them as fact, but can’t get our heads round a book that is practically playing out in this world word by word) But the point I’m trying to make is that you can’t complain about homophobia from Christians and then proceed to attack the Christian faith. This is so contradictory it’s crazy that you can’t see it (or many you can, and that’s even worse).
    There’s so much I could say about this but I’m getting too wound up loool. But just to finish, yes I am a Christian, yes I do believe homosexuality is wrong, no i am not homophobic and I genuinely do care about the church building better relationships with not just gay people but everyone in the community as a whole. I just don’t think fighting fire with fire is the way to do it. If anything young Christians can symapthise with gay people, I know what it is like for people to mock and put me down due to be beliefs (i.e this article), I know what it is like to be the minority in a largely secular world and not being able to fully fit in.
    So, yeah this is dragging on a bit, but I can tell you what progress in this area, so do I. But I’ve give you a word of advice this is not the way to go about it. And please do not try to mock and belittle the Christian faith, because in that you are just as bad as your oppressors.
    I’d like to keep this conversation going (calm one), so feel free to reply, agree, disagree whatever. But thank you for raising this long over-due issue anyway, God Bless :)

    • Marcus

      Hi Sarah,

      I would encourage you to re-read the article as I believe you may have misunderstood certain key tenets of the article.

      Of note: “Thus in the same way, I wouldn’t be surprised if in 50 years’ time homophobia is something of the distant past in mainstream Churches. A recent survey showed that ‘homophobic’ was in the top four words that sprung to mind when asked to describe Christianity—alongside irrelevant, judgmental and boring. As a Christian, I am extremely embarrassed by this, as I believe all of these words are enemies of true religion.”

      I’ve asked the author if she could respond to your comment, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to read what she has to say.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • Lauren

      Hi Sarah

      I’m the author of this article. In reply to your comment, I really appreciate your feedback. I am a practising Christian just in response to your comment about the writer not picking up a bible. I am really passionate about religion and believe the church should improve relationships with minorities in society.
      This is an opinion article and I’m glad you feel that you can share your opinion – I respect that you disagree with homosexuality but it becomes problematic when Churches say that everyone is welcome to “come as they are” as it’s often put yet reject that being homosexual is part of someone’s identity. Whatever denomination condemns homosexuality will not make people feel welcome in places of worship whether that be Christian or other religions. This is why the survey I mention in my article is important – on the top of the list of words associated with the Church is “homophobic”- that is public secular opinion of the church.
      It’s difficult because I know people don’t want to compromise their faith. But I do think ideologies need to be challenged. Paul, for example, referred to women as inferior to men – in terms of being quiet in church, not having a leadership role in ministry, and submitting to their husbands.

    • Lauren

      Sorry I couldn’t finish my last thought on that post – these ideologies about women have evolved over the past 50 years, and I believe the same will happen with homosexuality as it was culturally unacceptable at the time it was written but not necessarily today.
      Just to clarify. I believe in God, I am a practicing Christian but I do not believe homophobia and a rejection of homosexuality has a place in church today if the church’s goal is to truly reach people with God’s love. Thank you for your comments
      Lauren.

    • Phil

      Hi Sarah
      As a gay man I do not take offence from what you are saying and I understand that you are taking the standpoint that you do not agree with homosexuality but are not homophobic (?). Some people reading this may not quite understand how that can be the case as it sounds contradictory – but from being on the receiving end of homophobic comments for most of my adolescence, I believe that people can not agree with homosexuality but are not necessarily discriminative of it.
      I can live with this as, for example, I do not really understand how people can be Scientologists, but that does not mean that I hate them for it. As you stated, it’s all about tolerance. Yes it’s not nice to be cast under the ‘tolerance’ umbrella because of my sexual orientation, having said that, the development of society has come on leaps and bounds in just three years whereby I was on the receiving end of homophobic abuse for holding my boyfriends hand in the street.
      I think Marcus is right that maybe you got the tone of this article wrong as from reading this I did not see any attack on religion, merely just highlighting the stereotypes of those who are not religious think about when they see Religion and Homosexuality in the same sentence.
      Hope all involved can see my point of view.
      Thanks,
      Phil

    • djbethell

      As a human-being myself, I find your comment very offensive, extremely misinformed and yep, I’m going to say it, bigoted.
      Another rant by another christian who has never read the bible either, except for those little bits that they believe will back-up and make their own fears and prejudices acceptable.
      And to conclude that young christians can sympathise with gay people because you’ve been mocked and put down for your beliefs, is really beyond laughable, though I did splutter out a mouthful of coffee (you owe me a new keyboard).
      So, this would be the christians who have told gay people throughout history they are wrong and have no place here as active gay people (active, as in making love), and who need to atone for their sins (sin, in this case, being in love). Yep, those christians. Wow! The aggressors want to fool the victims with some, “but hey, we’re victims too..” tomfoolery. Behave!
      I suggest you take your contradictory beliefs, and your condescending rattle, (sympathy? Try empathy and you might just start to understand a little about life), and your poor-little-hurt-me routine, and go off and have a a good, long, hard think.
      Gay people aren’t “belittled” and “mocked”, they are forcibly kicked out of families and societies, daily beaten and bullied at school, jeered at in the streets, and murdered on a night out (if they haven’t already committed suicide back at school). Now that is what one calls oppression!
      And yes, that oppression has been induced and supported by christians worldwide, so please don’t try that we-have-so-much-in-common crap.
      Seriously, you take the cake for having no fucking clue what you’re talking about.
      Sexuality does not need any sorting out, sexuality just is. Like colour.
      Faith and belief on the other hand, is always open to change; it’s not fixed, ever, or as a woman, you couldn’t and wouldn’t even be having this conversation with me, a man, according to certain passages from the bible, but hey, hate gets changed and women got freedom.
      So there you go – Hate changes, Love never does.