When God said he loved all, he meant it
• Bryan Patterson
• From: Sunday Herald Sun
• October 17, 2010 12:01AM
AMERICAN comic Lynn Lavner once observed that the Bible contained six admonishments to homosexuals and 362 admonishments to heterosexuals.
“That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love heterosexuals,” she said. “It’s just that they need more supervision.”
So where does religious homophobia spring from? Why do some who quote the Bible that portrays Jesus embracing the outcasts and inviting “all” to come to him also view gay people as the enemy?
The recent suicides, over a week, of five gay US teenagers – the youngest was only 13 – who were horrendously bullied because of their sexuality are most shocking because they are not isolated events.
One survey has found that 30 per cent of gay, bisexual or transgender teens in Australia attempt suicide.
Social pressure puts gay youth at higher than average risk of mental illness, depression, anxiety and homelessness.
We are all part of the problem, whether we have any religious inclination or not.
And most disturbing are the loud, but hopefully small number of religious cults that have played a part in disrespecting and dehumanising homosexuals and promoting a culture of shame about sexuality.
There is absolutely no excuse for treating another human being poorly.
The battle lines were drawn long ago with fire-and-brimstone preaching that singled out homosexuality as a sin worse than any others.
Many gay people were taught, and internalised, the belief that God hated them and rejected them.
As a teenager I was what would now be described as homophobic because I did not trust those who I saw as being different in their understanding of love.
My views changed slowly but surely as I came to know, respect and love some extraordinary gay men and women who crossed my path.
It was ignorance and fear that caused my homophobia and love that destroyed it.
The reason people first gravitated to Jesus was his practice of unconditional love.
He didn’t come to create another narrow religion, another vehicle for exclusivity.
Preachers who tell their congregations God hates gay people and homosexuals deserve to die are as repugnant to most Christians as terrorist acts committed in the name of Allah are to most Muslims.
I have gay Christian friends who have stopped attending churches, not because they are outwardly ostracised, but because they sense some parishioners inwardly view them with suspicion and fear.
Tolerance is not enough.
Even that most famous of atheists, Karl Marx, once said that religion was “the heart of a heartless world”.
Although, as P.D. James said: “Perfect love can cast out fear, but fear is remarkably potent in casting out love.”
There have been many positive shifts.
Rob Buckingham, pastor of Melbourne’s Bayside Church, raised some eyebrows when he formally announced that gay people were welcome in his church.
He said he wanted to “shatter” preconceived ideas that religion must be inherently homophobic.
“I believe the Christian message is for everyone and it breaks my heart that some sections of the church have left people out and even shunned them,” he said.
“I think it’s time we took a closer look at all the scriptures relating to homosexuality and, at least, stop bashing gay people with the same verses in the Bible,” he said.
“So much of the Bible speaks of the love and grace of God towards everyone.
Why not focus on this?”
Buckingham said both the gay community and the church needed to form some kind of truce to move forward.
“It’s easy to keep our distance and shoot at each other,” he said. “I am asking people to stop firing and get to know each other.”
It was a similar message to the one former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivered to his Anglican church a couple of years ago.
He said the church was “obsessed” with the issue of gay priests and should rather be focusing on global problems such as poverty and HIV.
“If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship that God,” he said.
Churches which minister to homosexuals are becoming an increasingly powerful voice for gay rights.
They add an important spiritual dimension to the fight for justice.
Any religion that professes to be concerned about souls but sanctions homophobia and discrimination is spiritually moribund.
There is nothing uglier than the oppression of a brother or sister.
And nothing more beautiful than awakening people to their dignity and rights.