Feeding Christians to the Homophobic Lions.
|Being queer and being Christian in our culture have a fair few things in common at the moment.|
For example, there are people who disapprove of Christians and/or LGBT people who believe that
Yet queerness and Christianity are often spoken about as if they are not only mutuality exclusive identities, but as if the rights of one contradict the rights of the other. This isn't true.
The people who argue that this is true are predominantly Christian homophobes, who would very much like it to be true. Homophobia is becoming increasingly unacceptable and, in certain contexts, illegal. For some people, this presents all the righteous indignation of being persecuted and a sense of justification in their hatred, without anything very bad actually happening to them. Which is a bad thing for queer people and good Christians alike.
Now, there are many obvious differences between sexuality and religion, where these things come from, how likely they are to change in a lifetime and how much power we have over them. Clearly, some religious ideas are actually wrong and we can reason them away, whereas, there is no right or wrong - nor rhyme nor reason - about who we love and how we love them.
However, all this is mostly about love that others find confusing. Love for a God who may not exist. Love for a human being of the same gender. Some folk, who have never experienced these things themselves (and a few folk who have and wish they hadn't) find it so strange they think it must be wrong.
There are also big differences between the way that Christianity and queerness are treated within our culture. In politics, queerness is a much less acceptable and Christianity is almost default; the Conservative Party has precisely one out homosexual MP and Nick Clegg is the very first leader of any political party to be an open atheist. Our head of State is also the head of the Church of England and there are twenty-six places in the House of Lords reserved for C of E bishops. All kinds of political events as well as legal oaths, decrees etc., invoke Christianity by default. (Historically - such when I was a kid - these privileges were much greater; Christian assembly at school every day, non-church goers banned from adoption, blasphemy laws etc.. I can't think of any other group who have lost quite so much social and political privilege, quite so rapidly.)
In popular culture, Christianity is not at all cool. It is far more acceptable to mock Christians than gay people on TV (I mean Christians, not Churches which, like many institutions, deserve mocking and in some cases, outright condemnation). In popular entertainment, it is easier to be openly gay than Christian. In British fiction, especially television drama, Christians are almost universally aggressive, delusional zealots or effete figures of ridicule. Writers and artists continue to use Christian religious imagery combined with sexual, violent or scatterlogical imagery to make their work shocking (I realise some artists use religious imagery as part of self-expression, but it is at least often about garnering attention.)
One trouble is... how things are in the US.
To most Britons, religion in the United States is baffling, hilarious and deeply disturbing. Of course, we only hear about the extreme stuff, about TV evangelists, creationists, people who bomb abortion clinics and people who use God to justify gun ownership and capital punishment. Their laws allow people to picket funerals to shout abuse at the mourners because they think that's what God wants. They have large groups of people being persuaded that the world is about to end. And religion really really matters in US politics. Politicians talk about God all the time, in the most bizarre contexts. In the UK, politicians sometimes mention faith or Christianity specifically (e.g. "This is a Christian country."), but never ever mention the old man in the sky.
Often, Christianity in the UK is criticised as if it was operated in the same way, or had the same political power, as it does in the US (worse, a caricature of the way things are in the US). I would say that the different ways in which Christianity is understood are a particularly profound illustration of the massive cultural differences between our two countries.
Another trouble is... The Catholic Church
Not Catholics. Blaming Catholics for the considerable sins of the Catholic Church would be like blaming the people of an undemocratic country for the sins of the current administration. Sure, they could leave their country, but they love their country and anyway, that's where they grew up, where their family is and where they feel at peace. However, senior members of the Catholic Church are still trying to wriggle their way out of responsibility for decades of covering up for and enabling child rape and other abuse. They are still spreading myths about condoms to people for whom HIV/AIDS and overcrowding are the two greatest threats to health and happiness. And they are still talking about homosexuality as if that's a worse thing, worse than all this - worse than climate change! The Catholic Church is in big trouble, both morally and in terms of its place in the modern world.
I don't know about Catholics around the world, but British Catholics are certainly not represented at all well by their Church. However, Catholics and their church are frequently lumped together, with Catholics assumed to be guilt-ridden prudes, obsessed with what other people get up to in the bedroom.
A third trouble is...
There are people who get very angry about Christianity - not just angry at the bad things done in Christianity's name, but angry at its very existence - and in my experience, they're almost always people who with few natural predators when it comes to freedom and social justice. People who genuinely think that in the UK, in 2012, calling oneself an atheist is a daring act of rebellion against society itself.
Yes yes, there are contexts, families, certain work environments, school catchment areas, where this can be genuinely uncomfortable. But atheists, agnostics and other non-religious people are not subject to nearly so much religious-based violence or harassment as even Church of England Christians, let alone other groups. This may be partly because we're not so easy to identify; there's no non-religious clothing or symbols and we don't congregate in and around prominent landmarks, but even so. My atheist church organist brother-in-law is frequently invited along to Christian events with church friends who add, "It is quite a religious thing, and we wouldn't want you to feel uncomfortable."
And then there's homophobia.
Homophobia is often presented as the preserve of religion - specifically Christianity, in most contexts within our culture - for a number of reasons. These include:
By some queer fluke of my social circle, about half the Christians I know are gay. The rest are a mix of egalitarians and social conservatives. Yet none of my socially conservative Christian friends or family members have ever said anything homophobic in my presence.
As far as I can make out, none of them understand homosexuality to be some great bane on the human race. They may see it as wrong, but wrong in the same way other consensual sexual behaviour can be, like infidelity or having sex with a member of UKIP - a private wrong, and something that is between a person, their partners and their God, not something that decent people pass judgement on in polite conversation. Many of my friends are ethically vegan or vegetarian, but I don't hear them telling others that meat is murder. I think most people who object to homosexuality on religious grounds see it a bit like that; believing that this not the best way of doing things, but it's kind of up to individuals to work that out for themselves.
This must be one reason why the Church of Scotland, having sent out 200, 000 postcards for church attendees to simply sign and be sent to the consultation on equal marriage, got a little over 10% back; either most church-goers are in favour of equal marriage or they simply have more pressing things (like poverty and deprivation at home and abroad) to concern themselves with.
This, compared to the bonafide homophobes I know. People who make lewd jokes about LGBT people, who use gayness as a insult, a mockery, who make sweeping statements about what queer people are like, the damage they do, who don't want queer people near their children and who spend a hell of a lot of the time worrying about whether anything they do might possibly be perceived as a little bit gay. The ones I know are too polite to shout at people in the street or throw bricks through windows, but it's all in that same infected vein.
And these people are not religious. They are people who grew up anxious about sexuality, because we have live in a world obsessed by but disgusted by sex and sexual expression. They are people who grew up anxious about gender roles and the near impossibility of fully conforming to them. They are people who grew up with a sense that love is precious in a way that means it should be rationed. They are people used to blaming perceived outsiders - pretty much any perceived outsiders - for the social and economic problems in their own lives. They are people whose humour is very heavily based on mocking other people - again, especially supposed outsiders. They are people who very easily adopt a position of victimhood in the face of changing social attitudes, which they call political correctness.
If they were religious too, they'd claim it was a position of faith and throw a few Bible verses in there (if they'd actually read the book) but it couldn't make it any worse.
I think everyone needs to get behind equality, and religious tolerance is part of this. It would be ludicrous to make concessions to discrimination law - or indeed, common behaviourial standards of any kind - on the grounds of religion. But Christians are not the enemy of queer people. Homophobia, in all its weird and horrible forms, is.
I know this post is all about Christianity and a lot of the same things apply to other faiths, but there are some major differences (like Christianity's unique place in our culture and history), and Christianity is the religion I know by far the most about.