Faith vs Sexuality
Written by Anthony Venn-Brown | 18 April 2011
For many, Easter is a time for spiritual reflection. But for others in the GLBT community, it can lead to a heightened sense of conflict. Here, Anthony Venn-Brown, says it’s possible to be out about your sexuality, as well as your faith.
Can you be LGBT and a person of faith? Is there a deep sense of spirituality within the lives of some people within our community?
The answer to both these questions is yes!
Like many people, I used to believe it was impossible to be a Jew, Christian or Muslim and be gay. For a long time many believed a person had to change their orientation because only heterosexuality was ‘normal’ and acceptable to God. Many of us from religious backgrounds took the path to ‘wholeness’ only to discover that even though we prayed, had faith and believed God could do miracles, for some reason this one eluded us.
Was the problem with God or us? The conclusion that I am a really bad person or I don’t have enough faith sent us down a path of further guilt, condemnation and self loathing. When I resigned from the ministry, 20 years ago this year, I only knew of two options. Heterosexuals can get to heaven if they are good and have faith, but homosexuals go to hell no matter what. I didn’t know a single person who believed anything different. And even if there was, I would have thought they were into self justification or deceived believers.
Like many people I walked away from faith never expecting to return. But that often leaves us with a problem. We can be out about our sexuality but our faith and beliefs are locked away in a closet.
When people come to me to seek help about the conflict between their faith and sexuality, I let them know it’s not black and white; several options are available to them. They can reject their previous belief system, redefine it, adopt an entirely new belief system or integrate it. They need to work out which is the healthiest option for them at that time. So stressful is the inner turmoil, that for some, I suggest putting their belief system on hold completely for a period of time; maybe forever.
Not only has there been a change in societies understanding of sexual orientation, this has also happened at a delayed rate within Christian circles. The delay is caused by the added prejudices and beliefs inherent in religions that say we have the truth.
A 2005 study Mapping Homophobia in Australia showed there were still 35 percent of Australians who believed that homosexuality immoral. Whilst this is disturbing, it is a huge shift from what was once 100 percent. By 2009 that figure had dropped to 29 percent. Three factors contributed to the likelihood of homophobia, gender, age and religion. Even in the deeply religious culture of America shifts happen annually and changes regarding attitudes towards gay marriage and gays serving in the military have changed. Recently, the question, ‘Should homosexuality be accepted by society?’ finally bumped over the 50 percent mark in the affirmative. Go USA!
The marketing principle is as true about society’s attitudes and concepts as it is about the introduction of a new product such as a personal computer or smart phone. Firstly there are the innovators, then early adopters, followed by the early majority and finally the late majority and laggards.
In 1968, after the tragic suicide of a number of his friends, Troy Perry (innovator) gathered 12 people in his lounge room and had the very first meeting of the Metropolitan Community Church. It seems Troy was the first person who dared to believe that there wasn’t a conflict between his sexual orientation and Christian faith. This was the birth, not only of a denomination but of a revolution. Since then the number has grown to many, many 1,000s (google ‘Gay Christian’). The number of mainstream churches and denominations (early majority) who welcome and affirm LGBT people has grown exponentially over the last three decades and expanded to eighty six different denominations across forty six countries.
So today we have a new, emerging group within our community. They are LGBT people of faith and religion. They are not only out about their sexuality they are also out about their faith (even in the often hostile anti-religion LGBT community). On our Freedom 2 b[e] online community, what took decades for some of us to sort out, we have young people who have resolved faith/sexuality issues at 15 and 16. Others have come back into faith later in life; feeling the need to reconnect with their spirituality and possibly thrown the baby out with the bath water. Some have taken on less structured and formal beliefs, adopting meditation of other spiritual practices.
One thing I have found fascinating, is the number of community leaders I have met who came from faith backgrounds and, even though they no longer attend a church or belong to a particular religion, are still living their inner values of purpose, making a difference and justice, but serving our community.
The churches loss – the LGBT communities’ gain.