Religious Believers and Homosexuality: Two Choices

Portal of the Church of Pilgrims, in Washingto...
Portal of the Church of Pilgrims, in Washington, DC, with a LGBT banner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If the particular strain of Christianity, Islam, or whatever other religion you prefer places you in opposition to LGBT persons, same-sex marriage, or to homosexuality in some abstract sense, it seems to me that you have two choices. First, you can choose to fight, tooth and nail, against the trend of growing acceptance of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and LGBT persons in our culture. You can aim to roll back what most of the rest of us consider progress in this area, returning society to a time when bigoted attitudes were more common. There is certainly precedent for this choice. Many Christians in the U.S. made this choice when confronted with suffrage, civil rights, interracial marriage, reproductive rights, and so on.

Second, you can choose to allow your religious beliefs to evolve. You can re-interpret your "holy" texts as you have done countless times before, changing how you relate to them in order to bring this relationship in line with modern morality. Your "holy" books are quite clear in condoning slavery; however, almost none of you interpret them that way today in order to advocate for a return to that barbaric practice. As clear as the words in these books are, you have chosen to ignore or re-interpret them. You can do the same thing when it comes to homosexuality if you so desire. As I am sure you realize, some Christians and Muslims are already doing so.

Of these two choices, the first might seem easier. After all, it requires the least amount of change on your part. All you really need to do is dig in and prepare for a fight. It is a fight during which you will be able to claim that you are being persecuted for your beliefs, and it may even seem like that is happening. And yet, it is difficult to come up with examples where this particular choice (i.e., standing against what most of your neighbors perceive as progress, seeking to increase bigotry, and roll back the rights of others) has accomplished what those making it want. Not only is it rarely successful, but those who make this choice are often regarded as bigots who were on the wrong side of history. The most likely outcome associated with making this choice is not just losing but losing in such a way that one is almost certain to be marginalized by one's contemporaries and by history.

The second choice is more difficult, as it seems to place one at odds with one's core religious doctrines. And yet, many non-fundamentalist religious believers have made this choice over the decades and seem to be better for it. It usually seems to be a matter of de-emphasizing certain portions of one's "holy" books while emphasizing others. Almost all religious believers, even the fundamentalists, have had at least some positive experiences doing this (e.g., slavery). Those who make this choice generally seem happier and are far less likely to be discarded by the culture as bigots. Some have even become quite adept at rationalizing it. For example, I have heard some religious believers suggest that their god(s) would want their understanding of religious doctrine to evolve with changing morals and the like.

I suspect that whichever choice you make, it is far too late to reverse the trend toward increasing acceptance of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and LGBT persons. More and more young people are growing up today without the fear and hate some of us remember toward LGBT persons. They have LGBT friends and relatives. They see LGBT characters on TV, in the movies, and in their favorite bands. They are not nearly as likely as some of us were at their age to regard homosexuality as deviant. So much progress has been made toward not just tolerance but full acceptance and normalization that it is almost impossible to seriously think anyone could bring about a reversal of course now.

That means that your choice should probably be guided more by how you'd like to approach the new reality than any serious consideration for drastically changing this new reality. For a steadily growing majority of the population, homosexuality as as normal as heterosexuality, same-sex marriage is legal, and LGBT persons are every bit as worthy of dignity and respect as their heterosexual counterparts. You can continue to fight a losing war against this reality or adjust your religious worldview to make room for it. The choice is yours.