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Dispelling the myth of God versus Gay.

IMAGINE LYING to everyone you know, all the time, and feeling that your soul is distorted, evil, and broken--and, because of something you cannot change, God hates you. What would you do? If you are like me, you would do everything you could to hide this awful part of yourself, constructing ever more elaborate masks that concealed (you hope) the dark truth inside--and, when all else failed, maybe you would think about ending your life.

Studies indicate that 40% of gay teenagers consider suicide--four times as many as straight kids. Strange, is it not, that some people say sexuality is a choice, or a lifestyle. Yet, if that is true, why would kids want to kill themselves if they could just choose the other way? I was one of those statistics myself. Now I am married, successful, and happy physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Before I came out, though, I was miserable and suicidal.

There are some people in religious communities who would have us believe that such self-hatred and contradiction is required by a loving God, a God who cares for human beings and nurtures them. These individuals believe that God wants five percent of human beings to repress the very parts of themselves that can lead to love, intimacy, and holiness; that He wants us to lie about who we are; that it is better to be alone than find companionship in a loving same-sex relationship.

However, God has said otherwise: "It is not good for a person to be alone" is the first flaw God finds in creation in the story told in Genesis. "He that works deceit shall not dwell within My house," the Psalmist sings in Psalm 101. The prophet Micah tells us that what is required of religious Wayple is to "act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."

Notwithstanding these and hundreds of similar exhortations, some people believe that five verses---two in Leviticus, and one each in Romans, Corinthians, and Timothy--are all the Bible has to say about homosexuality. Five verses out of 31,102.

Here is a key point: those few texts are ambiguous, marginal, and subject to interpretation. Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, despite living in a culture where it was widespread. The Ten Commandments never mention it. either. So, the question is how we interpret them. We all know that the devil can cite scripture for his own purposes. I can read Leviticus to ban all gay people from ever gaining respectability, or as proscribing one particular act in one particular con text that does not apply to anybody today. That is easy. The hard part is deciding how to interpret them in the first place, and that is where the other 31,097 verses of the Bible come in, as does our conscience, reflection, science, and sincere engagement with one another as human beings. These sources tell us how to read and how to live.


We do this all the time, of course. For instance, the Sixth Commandment states very clearly "Thou shalt not kill." Yet, other texts in the Bible speak approvingly of religious wars, and most people believe it is acceptable to kill in self-defense.

So, even the most straightforward commandment gets interpreted-how much more so these obscure verses about sexual behavior? Sacred texts and traditions do not exist in a vacuum. Individuals have to apply their fundamental values, and the truths of their hearts, to the teachings of their tradition. For instance, God's statement that "it is not good for the human being to be alone" is a remarkable utterance. Everything is good until then: the stars, the seas, the animals. Humankind even is "very good." Then suddenly, in Genesis 2:18, something is not good: loneliness. This tells me that the reality of loneliness, and its opposite, love, should guide how I understand ambiguous scriptural teachings.

Of come, for most people, the "solution" to that problem is Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve--but not for all. For some of us, the fundamental flaw in creation only can be healed in a same-sex relationship. Love is sacred, and the love of human beings opens us up to the love of God as well. Thus, love teaches me how to read, as does the value of honesty. Before I came out, I was sure that doing so would spell the end of my religious life. Raised in a strict Jewish household, I absorbed the message that being gay was about the worst thing in the world. I thought it meant I never could have a family, and could not be gay and Jewish.

Ironically, accepting and celebrating my sexuality was the beginning of my religions life, not the end of it. Only once I was honest with myself could I be honest with other people and with what some call "God." In retrospect, this seems obvious but, at the time, I was like one of the dead people in the movie "The Sixth Sense." I did not realize how dead inside I was---and alienated and repressed.

What I learned from 10 years in the "closet" is that a loving God could not possibly want it for anyone. In contrast, what we call in our popular culture "coming our' is a powerful spiritual experience, a gateway to the holiness of love. I was able to stop being dishonest, with myself and with God. Instead of sex being furtive and shameful, it became an integrated part of my emotional life. Coming out is sacred--and that is hue with many other core values of our shared religious heritage. To pursue justice, to empathize with the "stranger," to not blind ourselves to truth as we understand it--all of these values impact how we understand our religious traditions.

What about those "bad" verses? Like I said, that is the easy part. Leviticus only applies to certain sexual acts, to men, and in the context of idolatry. Romans, meanwhile really is about "natural" gender roles, i.e., men being dominant over women. (Thankfully, this is not a value many of us today hold dear anyway.) Corinthians and Timothy am not prohibitions-they am warnings to Christians to stay away from "pagans" because they once were like them themselves. The story of Sodom is about rape---not homosexuality. Reading Sodom as being about homosexuality is like reading a story of an axe murderer as being about the axe.

Again, it is not that these interpretations are the only plausible ones, but they am the only ones that accord with our shared values of love, justice, empathy, compassion, and honesty, and with the actual lives of our family members and friends, who we know am not the demons they sometimes am made out to be.

Acceptance of sexual and gender diversity does not threaten civilization as we know it, or the family and traditional religion. Sure, some gay people am wild and crazy, while others are boring and dull--just like straight people. Whatever your approach to sexuality, whether you am a family man or a playboy, you will fred gay people who live like you do. The gay-straight line just has nothing to do with sexual morality--or with raising healthy children for that matter.

Incorporating sexual and gender diversity within our culture is good for everyone, because diversity in general is good for everybody. Could you imagine how much more impoverished---and unjust---our society would be without the contributions of women, people of color, or of others whose voices once were squelched?--so, too, with gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender individuals. Our churches, courthouses, cinemas, and dries am enriched by the gift of sexual diversity, and this only will grow over time. Just look around. If this world, with its astounding variety of life, culture, and natural beauty indeed was made by God, then surely God likes variety.

The painful, divisive conflict I call "God versus Gay" is a myth. It is untrue, unsupported by scripture, and contradicted every day by the lives of gay people. I have worked in gay religious communities for more than a decade and, in that time, I have met thousands of people wounded by what they see as the conflict between religion and homosexuality. I have counseled families who have been tom apart, people whose parents see them in the grocery store but will not acknowledge their existence--and before I came to reconcile my own sexuality and spirituality, I felt the conflict myself and wondered why God had cursed me.

From where I stand now, this all seems like a tragic misunderstanding. Religious people should support equality, inclusion, and dignity for sexual minorities because of our religious traditions, not despite them. There is no contradiction.

In spiritual communities, beating witness is a sacred act. We testify to the troth of religious teaching and tell stories about the operation of grace in our lives---and what we say has meaning because it is our experience and it is hue. So, let me bear witness to the reality of sexual orientation-not as a choice (though some may experience it that way, I do not), and not as a deviant pathology, but as a fiber of the soul. My story is not everyone's story, but the troth of my experience, and that of millions of other people, is that homosexuality exists as a trait, and it can be, like heterosexuality, a gateway to holiness----or to its opposite.

Such testimony has provoked uncertainty and reflection among many sincere believers in different faith traditions because it seems to contradict what some of our traditions say about sexuality. We need to reexamine what we thought we knew and reflect upon beliefs that seemed certain. Then again, isn't that a consummate religious act as well?

Jay Michaelson is the author of God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality, from which this article is adapted.
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Title Annotation:Religion
Author:Michaelson, Jay
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2011
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