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.