Thursday, October 27, 2011

To Each His Own Interpretation

On this blog, there have been many times that I have discussed the interplay of religion and sexuality and how religious viewpoints impact the debate over homosexuality.  This is an ever evolving discussion, and in our Judeo-Christian based culture, is especially important in turning the cultural attitudes and opinions about the validity of same-sex relationships and LGBT issues in a positive direction.

Though we are engaged in a fight for legal validity and respect, it cannot be understated that the true war for equality is found in demolishing the cultural and religious edifices which currently discriminate against us and building in their place centers of inclusiveness and respect. For example, why is our community fighting for the word “marriage”? Because in our culture the word "marriage" exudes a sense of commitment, of respectability, and in religious circles, a sense of divine blessing.  

When our enemies in our fight for social legitimacy claim that we are attempting to fundamentally restructure society and society values, we should agree. But what they view as a negative decent into “moral chaos” must instead be framed as our acceptance of everyone no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Instead of playing on their terms, and arguing from a negative perspective, we must frame the debate in positive terms (this in fact, is being accomplished by many a person in our movement).

We must also, in our fight against cultural and religious oppression, make it clear to those who use religious texts to claim that we are living “sinful” lives, that we are not going to let them use such texts with reckless abandon. For example, a normal discussion regarding the sinfulness of homosexuality, goes something like this.

Anti-Gay Person: “Homosexuality is an abomination, it is evil. This is because the Bible says so, and I believe what God’s Word says”

Gay Person: “Who cares, you can feel that way all you want too. I don’t believe in the Bible, so it really does not apply to me”.

What does this exchange accomplish? Does it challenge the “Bible-Basher” to reflect on his usage of a religious text to bash LGBT people? Not at all. Instead, the anti-gay religious person can just go home and pat themselves on the back, content with the notion that they stood up for the truth of God against the homosexual who is living in blatant rebellion.

Instead, let me give you and exchange which would be more likely to plant those “seeds of doubt” regarding an individual’s belief in the evils of homosexuality.  In response to the original statement, our representative from the LGBT community should instead say this,

Gay Person: “How do you know that is what the Bible says? Have you read the original Greek and Hebrew?”

Anti-Gay Person: “No, but I trust the translators, and I know that what they have translated is truth”.

Gay Person: “Were you not aware that even in translating a text, an interpreter places his or her own biases into the text? Did you know that the words in the New Testament which supposedly discuss homosexuality have a checkered history in their translation? Did you know that the passage in Leviticus which is translated “abomination”, does not mean the same thing today as it did back then?”

What did the member of our community do in this exchange? Did they just say that they don’t believe the Bible and therefore that it does not apply? No, instead they engaged in a dialogue on this issue. They showed the religious person that their belief was not necessarily based upon fact, but was instead based upon interpretation of text. This is the planting of doubt.  This doubt is not bad, for doubt allows us to reexamine those truths that we have clung to for our whole life. Doubt allows us to recognize how prejudices and misunderstandings have shaped our interpretation of what we deem The Holy Scriptures.
Thankfully there are many people within our respective religious communities who are working to challenge this fundamentalist adherence to interpretation as dogma. Friends of mine, like Kathy Verbiest Baldock, are having this dialogue within these religious spheres. They recognize that in order to truly win the “culture wars”, we cannot stop at the gate of legal equality. Instead, they know that the bastions of religious and cultural oppression must fall. So this is my challenge to you all. No matter if you are religious or not, respectfully challenge individuals who cling to interpretation as fact and who use the bully pulpit of their religious persuasion to demean others. It is time that our community has a full on dialogue with our religious institutions – whether it be Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, or Sikh – and show them that there is enough room at the table of religion for all of those who are made in the Image of God. 
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