“Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.” ― Billy Sunday
Anti-LGBTQ religious bigots use the Bible to validate their bigotry. And they give a veneer of respectability to their hate by claiming that homophobia is a “Christian value”. Is it a Christian value? It depends on how you define the term. And whether Christian values and biblical values are synonymous. It is safe to say they are not. For something to be considered a Christian value, it is axiomatic that it must be something Jesus Christ supported. While the religious scholar — real or self-described — can find biblical values anywhere in the Good Book.
Bearing that in mind, consider that Messiah never mentioned gays, lesbians, bis, trans or queer. And the usual verses marshaled to support the homophobe’s position are found outside the Gospels. And the number of verses that address gay sex pales in comparison to repeated demands of Jesus to love “the other.”
Regardless, the resolute bigot, determined to ignore Jesus’s overarching message of inclusion, empathy, and concern for all people without regard to their position, profession, and immigration status, will give undue weight to anything in the Gospels that might tangentially support their prejudices.
To underpin their gay hate, they point to Matthew 19:4-6 and say that Jesus viewed marriage as a commitment between a man and a woman. In reply to an inquiry about marriage, Jesus said,
“at the beginning, the Creator ‘made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
But to give context to the answer, we need to know the question. Here Jesus was responding to the question “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” Jesus could only refer to marriage as it existed at the time — exclusively opposite sex. He was not speaking out against gay marriage.
Conservative Christians who want to crush deviants under the full weight of the Bible will insist Jesus obligated his followers to adopt all the rules of the Old Testament when he said, in Matthew 5:17-18,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
But the first Christians quickly abolished many of the Old Testament rules, including circumcision, dietary laws, the Jewish sabbath, medical requirements, animal sacrifices, et al. And today’s most strident Christian originalists are not lobbying for a return to goat roasting on the altar or a penile nip-and-tuck for the still-foreskinned.
Beyond the Old Testament and the Gospels, the Christian bigot uses a third biblical source to justify gay bashing — the Epistles. Three of them, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy, call homosexuality a sin. However, note that St Paul supposedly wrote all three of them. And he was possibly a gay man who struggled with the fact — which may have colored his thinking.
Further mudding the waters is the question of authorship. Some biblical scholars believe someone else wrote Corinthians and Timothy and credited Paul. In which case, they may have been guessing what Paul would have written — hardly a firm foundation for promoting social policy.
However, regardless of who wrote the passages, they all include other trespasses besides homosexuality. But the Christian values enthusiasts never suggest banning remarriage for divorced people. And while they might criticize ‘the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers’ (see 1 Corinthians), they never show them the same opprobrium they shower on gays.
In 1 Timothy, the Bible identifies slave traders as bad people. I think most of today’s conservative Christians agree that slavery is a sin. If true, that points to bitter irony. Many of the ancestors of American religious fundamentalists used the Bible to justify owning slaves.
Some even went so far as to say that slavery was a Christian value. Bishop Stephen Elliott of Georgia thought enslavement was a step up for Blacks.
”I may say millions, who have learned the way to Heaven and who have been made to know their Savior through the means of African slavery! At this very moment there are from three to four millions of Africans, educating for earth and for Heaven in the so vilified Southern States—learning the very best lessons for a semi-barbarous people—lessons of self-control, of obedience, of perseverance, of adaptation of means to ends; learning, above all, where their weakness lies, and how they may acquire strength for the battle of life. These considerations satisfy me with their condition.”
Faced with this unabashedly barbarous thinking, Frederick Douglass dissected the self-serving sadism of the religious bigot. He pointed out how far conservative American Christians had turned their back on the Son of God and his message. And how divorced their values were from actual Christian values.
“Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason but the most deceitful one for calling the religion of this land Christianity…”
And that, dear reader, is as honest a damnation of the fake religion practiced by conservative Christians as a man who has suffered under its lash can make. And while the LGBTQ community today is not forced into hard labor and physical injury or death, the justification for their persecution springs from the same expedient biblical cherry-picking their slave-owning progenitors practiced.
Religion is like a hammer. For many, it is a useful tool. But it should never be used to hit someone in the head.