I often ponder on this recurring question of whether or not religion and faith can belong in the LGBT community– and likewise, I am asked the reversed, can the LGBT community belong in religion and faith? There are days in which the answer seems so obvious in the affirmative. As diverse as the human population is, so diverse is religious expression and faith, right?
Well it seems that way on some levels but under closer inspection, sometimes I see very closed, exclusive, insular religious communities with very fixed and finite definitions and rules and expressions of faith and religious expression and adherence. Some of these views and their metaphysics and systems of belief have no room for diversity or inquisitive thinking or divergent thinking. Some religious communities are very homogenous and very uniformly exclusive. It seems important for some religious communities and organizations to only include those who share precisely the same beliefs and theology as themselves and they demand of their membership total obedience without questioning or critical thinking or critical analysis or evaluation. Some, perhaps many religious institutions balk or shy away from self-evaluation or questioning. Some organizations fear criticism, afraid that their core, fundamental beliefs will be undermined and the foundations of their belief systems will crumble underneath them.
There are some religious communities and organizations that have expressed quite plainly their distrust, dislike, or disgust of the LGBT community-at-large. Mainly this is so because they feel that for anyone to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is to be something unnatural or not condoned or created by God. To be LGBT according to some of these more conservative and tightly woven insular religious groups is to exist in every way contrary to their Scripture and religious laws and precepts.
Rather than thoroughly research their own Scriptures or delve into critical analysis or consider anthropological or sociological research that looks at the environments and societies of the cultures that produced these Scriptures, it seems far more acceptable to some to cherry pick quotes to win arguments or to reduce the Scriptures to talking points or to ignore historical facts entirely and simply take the most strict but narrow literal interpretations of Scripture without question.
The other side of the discrimination or exclusion is the more plain and more basic human element of all– personal bias and personal preference and personal dislike or discomfort. Religious beliefs aside, there are plenty of people who simply do not like LGBT people. For most haters, it is not about religion. It is about personal dislike and personal bias or preferences against people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. There are plenty of people who see something in the LGBT lifestyles expressed around them to dislike. There are plenty of people who cringe at the idea of two men passionately kissing in public but have no issue with men and women making out at the beach or kissing at the park or whatever– so long as they are heterosexual. These folks have no problem watching a steamy sex scene on TV or in a movie so long as the romance conforms to heterosexual relations.
Some people are aggravated or annoyed with gay men “acting out” or being “flaming gay and outrageous and overly flamboyant and effeminate”. Some people can’t stand seeing a woman with a short cropped buzz cut wearing flannel and sporting hiking boots. Some people believe transgender people are just basically men dressed as women for the sole purpose of sneaking into women’s bathrooms to rape anything that comes in. Some people truly believe that all LGBT people are sexual predators or sexual deviants and criminals. Some people have personal discomforts being around people who express themselves more freely than themselves. But rather than deal with these discomforts or personal biases or find ways to overcome myths and stereotypes, they push the LGBT community away or lash out at them rather than try and find positive, healthy ways to work through the differences and discomforts.
When it comes to forming open and affirming and all-inclusive communities of faith and religion for the LGBT community to be a part of, the obvious key element for all concerned is communication. People need to be willing to have conversations with each other. Communication enables education and compromise and understanding as well as empathy. If people can’t empathize with each other, then they really cannot hope to grasp how the other side lives and thinks and perceives the world. Empathy has to be established for any relationship to work.
To foster empathy, there has to be communication. For communication to really occur, perhaps certain beliefs have to be temporarily suspended or set aside. You have to be willing to question why the fears and preferences exist and why a belief system finds value in separating or condemning a portion of the human population. You have to also be willing to question what it is you are seeking in religious thinking and faith. What are you hoping to find in a church or temple or religious community?
My LGBT Ministry blog here believes that you can have faith and can find something of value in religion without selling yourself short or sacrificing your identity and core sense of self. You are created by God and you have a purpose on this Earth as equally and fully as anyone else. You exist and that alone is proof that God wanted you here among us.
God however did NOT create hatred or bigotry or apathy. These are elements of human design and come from Satan, who has it in his mind to deceive us from the truth of God’s work and design. Satan wants to divide and conquer us. We have been led to believe that some are better than others. We have been led to believe that some people deserve to be second-class citizens and looked down upon. We have been encouraged to separate ourselves into class and rank and socio-economic status and political ideology and so on… we divide ourselves constantly! Yet God did not intend for us to be so divided amongst ourselves. Diverse, yes! But distanced from each other? No. We all might have different languages we speak and different skin tones and eye colors and hair styles and so on… we may be different in the way we think and what we believe but in our core we are all human beings and we all share a single planet. We all have basic fundamentally common needs– food, shelter, love, security, and family. Yet it seems so easy to focus on the differences and dislikes we see in each other than it is to look past all that nonsense and see each other for the humans we are and the diversity that spans humanity to make humanity so brilliant and colorful and so fascinating.
Some religious organizations seek to minimize or trivialize or outright control how we see humanity and the role of diversity within humanity. Some neglect to acknowledge the full existence of diversity. They may see an infinite God, but they don’t see the infinite potential of that God’s creation. There is the assumption that God can only make male and female in only specific ways and means or that males can only express themselves a certain way and likewise females. In a closed system that enables a very finite God and finite picture of creation, gender fluidity and the notion of gender and sexuality as a spectrum of expression does not exist.
Building empathy towards understanding diversity requires exposure to diversity– engagement with diversity. You cannot hope to understand the world if you are not willing or able to explore it. That is why the LGBT community has to be visible and expressive and honest with itself. That is why coming out is important. Yet it is also why coming out can be dangerous and risky. Not everyone wants to see diversity of gender expression to sexuality. Not everyone is ready or willing to have their beliefs or world view challenged or undermined.
Where do the LGBT people go for faith and religion then? How does the LGBT people raise awareness and increase visibility to encourage empathy? I think we begin with conversation. We begin with communication.