There’s nothing more pure and wholesome than loving someone. When they love you back, it can be all-consuming. Love is the most common bond we share as people around the globe. Love doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, young or old, gay or straight. Love doesn’t recognise social or cultural boundaries. Love is love, after all. But when love and religion meet head on, LGBTQ love often becomes more complicated.
There are so many religions around the world, new, young and old, that play a central role in people’s lives today. Many of us growing up in the UK have forgone religion - but what if you haven’t? What happens when you’re LGBTQ and hold to a faith, yet your religion denies you simply because of who you cannot help but love?
For years I’ve read and heard the horror stories of men and women cast out of their churches, temples and mosques simply because of whom they happen to love. Intolerance, scripture and the proclaimed word of God are always the go-to justifications for casting people out. It’s a cold, cruel act which always appears to me to contradict religious teaching of love, respect and community.
The mainstay religions have always been critical of us gays. Christianity, that 2,000-year-old religion with its many and often complex branches, is most certainly one. Roman Catholicism, the Eastern Orthodox Church and many Evangelical branches are adamant in their opposition to same-sex union, viewing homosexuality ultimately as sinful. While in some cases members of the LGBTQ community are able to remain within their religious community, two men sleeping together is deemed as a bridge too far; a seemingly unnatural subversion of marriage and procreation. While same-sex feelings are tolerated in the individual, that person must remain chaste, denying themselves the opportunity of love and sex. Toleration and chastity are the bywords of this religion, and it can’t fail but leave a bad taste in the mouth. Who wants to be tolerated and chaste?
The Pope and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch
My Jewish friends fair no better, especially if they’re Orthodox. The ancient Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, states ‘a man shall not lie with another man as he would with a woman because it is an abomination’. For Orthodox Jews, gay sex is a definite no-no. Yet some Jewish theological studies have begun to argue that only the act of anal sex is prohibited, leaving gay men with greater opportunity to remain true to their faith but avoiding what is, for some, a key part of their sexual experience.
In Islam the rules are not so relaxed. Homosexuality is strictly condemned, being seen as an unnatural temptation and a subversion of the natural role and aim of sex. Complete abstention is expected, with social exclusion a likely outcome for anyone thought to be gay. In many Middle Eastern countries, those caught in the moment are likely to suffer the death penalty.
In Mormonism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has a broader teaching that no one should engage in sex outside of marriage, so LGBTQ people are therefore excluded from expressing their sexual desire and love at all.
I recently watched a documentary on iPlayer called Believer, which focuses on the lead singer of Imagine Dragons and also singer/songwriter Tyler Glenn - both Mormons; the latter, gay - working to change hearts and minds and create acceptance for LGBTQ people within their religion. Appealing to their audience, they are tapping into the younger generation of Mormons who are generally more liberal in their faith, despite much more conservative church peers remaining resistant to change.
Dan Reynolds - Imagine Dragons
Yet attitudes are changing in other religions too. Reform or Liberal Judaism takes a more pragmatic view, believing that the old laws are no longer binding or that they should be read with our current understanding of sexuality. In other words, being gay and engaging in a loving, sexual relationship is deemed acceptable.
In Christianity, in some branches of the Anglican Faith, LGBTQ communities are now accepted rather than just tolerated or expected to modify their behaviour. Yet this remains a highly divisive issue, polarised in recent years by the advent of gay marriage in church. Too many churches are still allowed to opt out on grounds of faith.
Hinduism is a much more decentralised religion, and more complex to wrap your head around. Some elements of Hinduism, like the Rigveda, when referring to the nature of Samsara, state that diversity is what nature is all about, so by default what can be seen as unnatural is in fact natural.
Some Hindu texts, like the Manu Smriti, also refer to a third gender, asserting that some people are born with a mixed male and female nature which is natural and simply part of the biological order. These enlightened texts, despite being between 2,000 and 3,000 years old, could teach many other religions, and indeed many modern cultures, a thing or two.
Hijra, the male-to-female trans community in the Indian subcontinent goes back 4,000 years.
NEW GAY GOD
Yet as the world undergoes a paradigm shift and liberal cultures find their voice, being gay and with a belief in God is not entirely incompatible. In Taiwan, the people of Yonghe District in New Taipei City have created a new religion: Tu’er Shen, otherwise known as the Rabbit God. The temple was founded by Lu Wei-ming in 2006. The Rabbit God is a gay god, acting as a shrine for the LGBTQ community. Apparently, over 9,000 people visit annually, praying for same-sex love and a good life.
So where does religion leave us?
Many men and women with religious convictions are fundamentally facing hard choices.
The desire to exercise their faith has to be reconciled with their LGBTQ identity. Growing up gay, coming out and living life is hard for all of us, but doing this as well as reconciling it to your faith - when your religion tells you you’re wrong or should be ashamed, and that you are somehow ‘lesser’ - remains a disaster of our modern, enlightened times.
For many, there ends up being only one choice: the agonising decision to leave their faith behind and seek a new life of their own, sometimes leaving their family as well as their church behind.
If God is great, omnipotent and the master of creation, then surely we are all part of his design? ‘Religion’ - the construct of those who proclaim a prescribed and structured faith - and not God, has much to answer for.
Love is love, and no matter what your faith may say, you have the right to be loved by simple virtue of who you are. Surely that is part of a much greater divine plan.
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