The current issue of ILGA-Europe’s Destination EQUALITY magazine focuses on reconciling sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and religion. The magazine includes personal testimonies of LGBT Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists and an interview with Krzysztof Charamsa, the Polish priest and theologian who lost his job at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Vatican after coming out in October 2015.
From the introduction by Executive Director Evelyne Paradis:
Of course, for years, we have critiqued the institutions and structures built up around different faiths when their actions and statements have caused people direct pain. But we have overlooked the core beliefs that are at the heart of those institutions, as well as the common values that we might share. We have not sought to bridge the conversation on equality and the conversation on faith. By doing so, we gave space for messages telling people to pick ‘one side’ or ‘the other’ to abound. We allowed the idea that you cannot identify as LGBTI and have faith to fester. And as a result, we are guilty of having excluded a particular section of the LGBTI community, of causing LGBTI people of faith great difficulty by indirectly condoning the messages telling people they must tear away one very personal part of the fabric of their life.
Just because the LGBTI community wasn’t leading the conversation doesn’t mean that there was silence on the intersection of religion and beliefs, sexual orientation and gender identity. Far from it. And by not engaging with the issue for so long, we have also conceded ground to anti-equality groups who claimed that particular space with relish. It is all too common to hear that “it’s a battle of ‘gay versus god’”, that campaigns for LGBTI equality are essentially campaigns against religions, when this is simply not true.
…Ultimately, as a human rights organisation, it is also our role to reclaim the conversation around religion. We cannot perpetuate the idea that fundamental rights sit together in a hierarchical arrangement. The right to freedom of religion and belief is incredibly important, in the same way that the right to equality and to freedom from discrimination because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is.
…I’m reminded of a comment that archbishop and human rights advocate Desmond Tutu made in July 2013: ““I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.” I personally feel that this is how so many people think based on their religion, faith or belief. And that is our opportunity to make the present a more open, understanding and inclusive place to be for everyone.
“We allowed the idea that you cannot identify as LGBTI and have faith to fester. And as a result, we are guilty of having excluded a particular section of the LGBTI community, of causing LGBTI people of faith great difficulty by indirectly condoning the messages telling people they must tear away one very personal part of the fabric of their life.”
And herein lies the tragedy of the current divisions within Christianity on the issue of sexual-identity and faith; the hard-line conservatives, who spend more time reflecting on six verses of the Scriptures that condemn homosexuality – in an era of ignorance of the reality of sexual differences in creation – than the whole of the New Testament, which calls us, in Christ, to “love one another ‘as I have loved you’ “.
This schizophrenia at the heart of our Christian community – concerning the inbuilt sexual difference of less than 10 per cent of our membership – has blinded the conservatives to the nature of agape – that love “which passes all understanding” – that covers a multitude of sins. However, our modern understanding of sin and the human condition might have real difficulty in believing that innate sexual-identity might be put into the category of humanly expressed ‘disobedience’ of the God (sin) who created its subjects.
I heartily recommend deep reflection on what the writer here is suggesting – that the Church itself may be guilty of a sin – as grievous to God as any other relating to other sins of ‘blindness’ to the reality of creation as it reveals itself – especially in those whose lives are disadvantaged by being the target of homophobia and sexism. This may, paradoxically, call for repentance on the part of Churches where homosexuality and sexual difference are treated as mental illness, sexual dysfunction, or ‘rebellion against God’. What seems to have been forgotten is that many LGBTI people are members of our Churches – praying and worshipping the One, True God, alongside their heterosexual counterparts.
The interesting thing about this article is that it shows the same difficulty that other religious groups have with homophobia and sexism. Christianity is not alone in this, but that does not mean that we can congratulate ourselves that we are not the only people who practise this particular spiritual and social form of discrimination.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand