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Articles of Faith: Reframing Issues of Religion, Public Policy, and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community

The following is a press release issued on Friday, February 11, 2005 by the National Leadership Roundtable, an organization in which DignityUSA is a member. These articles show our work on a vital front in the struggle for GLBT equality.

“In my efforts to understand the political and religious issues I want to ask: How do you differentiate between homophobia and religious beliefs that say that homosexuality is a sin?" The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force received this question on religion and homophobia by e-mail. A frequently asked question, we offer a response from the National Religious Leadership Roundtable followed by a collection of responses from individual Roundtable members and supporters.

A Statement from The National Religious Leadership Roundtable of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Religious Leadership Roundtable:

In the case of most people who claim religion as a motivation for their anti-gay beliefs, their opinion is not based on a nuanced understanding of their scripture and tradition, but on teachings perpetuated by churches, families, and religious leaders. Although their religious instruction may have portrayed beliefs condemning gay people as immutable theology, there are scholars in every major religious tradition that have proposed convincing alternatives to assumed anti-gay readings and traditions. Faced with the wide array of religious opinion on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, one can only refer to continued belief in anti-gay teachings as a choice.

The implications of choosing one set of religious teachings over another are important when it comes to public policy. For instance, there was a time when most Christians in America opposed interracial marriage, and the laws of the state reflected this belief. The 1964 Virginia Supreme Court ruling upholding the state’s anti-miscegenation law made a direct appeal to the divine:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay, and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangements there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

In 1967, the Supreme Court overturned all of the racist marriage laws in the states. Most Christian organizations that had resisted interracial marriage in the name of God eventually changed along with society and the state, and many have instituted racial justice programs in their denominations.

Faced with the long history of societal, legal, and religious change in favor of greater freedom and equality, the burden of proof rests on those who oppose equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people: Why is this belief so important?

As weak answers of “protecting traditional marriage,” or “encouraging moral values” fall away, they reveal the face of homophobia. This is not to suggest that all those who oppose equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people for religious reasons are hateful people. But all homophobia sprouts from the same twisted root of hatred and fear of the different that underlies all racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, and social discrimination. When religion is used not to challenge prejudice, but to uphold it, it becomes a tool of hate.

Highlights from Responses of Religious Roundtable Members and Supporters

There is no differentiation between these ideas. Religious beliefs that say homosexuality is a sin have been influenced by homophobic attitudes.  They are not developed in a vacuum...In the Christian world, beliefs in the sinfulness of homosexuality have been influenced by centuries of ignorance about homosexuality in the Western world generally.

—Francis DeBernardo
New Ways Ministry

If someone can forget the overriding religious principles of love for all of God’s creatures (including homosexuals), and of the primacy of conscience in moral issues, and the civil issue of separation of Church and state, in order to deny equal civil rights to homosexuals — for jobs, housing, medical care, and yes even marriage — but this person has no problem with divorce or other established civil rights which they might not exercise because of their personal religious beliefs, then I would say that person is homophobic.

—Sam Sinnett

Homophobia is an irrational fear of gay people. Because religion itself requires an embrace of the irrational – in the sense of the mysterious and paradoxical — it is possible for other irrational beliefs to become canonized under the umbrella of religion. Religiously based anti-gay attitudes are therefore felt to be a matter of faith. The problem is when beliefs become the basis for harmful actions against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people — in the form of physical assault, or the more subtle violence of societal exclusion and legal discrimination.  Religious leaders who care about justice must help their followers separate the “wonderful irrationality” of faith from the harmful irrationality of fear and hatred of gay people.

—Matt Foreman
Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

There is a difference between heterosexism and homophobia...The difference is: Are they motivated primarily by a belief that heterosexuality is superior, or by a real fear of homosexuality or gay folks? To what degree does the individual go beyond the teachings of the faith in question both in expression of their ideas and in further political action?... References to such things as ‘the gay lifestyle’ are clearly stereotyping and not statements of faith.

—Chris Purdom
Interfaith Working Group

I find it impossible to separate any religious belief (from homophobia) which condemns another for who they are.

—Durga Das
Majaya Kashi Ashram

There are any number of religious teachings about activities that are considered sinful. Some faith groups teach that drinking alcoholic beverages is a sin, some believe dancing is a sin, some believe divorce and remarriage are sinful...In a pluralistic society grounded in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, we respect individuals’ rights to express their own religious positions. But theological positions on sin cannot be the basis for public policies that violate basic constitutional principles of equality under the law.

—Peter Montgomery
People For the American Way

Although to me homophobia and not homosexuality is a sin, our nation is predicated upon religious freedom and I respect people’s faith, even when it is vastly different from my own. BUT no government money, policy, support, or resources, should ever go to support particular religious beliefs. This undermines the freedom of religion. Our common covenant in this nation is the Bill of Rights, not the Bible.

—Meg Riley
Unitarian Universalist

The better name for the systemic problem here is heterosexism. Homophobia is more personal and can be one form heterosexism takes...Homophobia is a response that may or may not be linked to religious views. It is a response that sometimes (all too often) produces reactions which can fall on a range from simply unpleasant, to dangerous/deadly, or illegal.

—Emily Erwin Culpepper
Professor, Women’s Studies and Religious Studies Redlands University

I don’t differentiate...as Gertrude Stein said: a rose is a rose is a rose.

—Rea Carey Deputy
Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

First convened in 1998, the National Religious Leadership Roundtable of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is an interfaith collaboration of more than forty denominations and faith-related organizations. The Roundtable seeks to reframe the public religious dialogue on issues involving the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community by amplifying the voices of LGBT-affirming people of faith, countering religious voices of bigotry and intolerance, and working to advance full equality for all.

Copyright © 2005 National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
All other trademarks mentioned herein belong to their respective owners.  The Task Force Foundation is a non-profit 501©(3) organization. Tax ID #52-1624852.