By Claire Dwyer PO ’20
One kind of rhetoric seems to be common to a lot of individuals who want to justify their homophobia—the Bible, or their Christian faith, tells them to do it. As a medievalist historian and a queer individual with a Catholic extended family that supports me no matter what my sexuality, I’ve always taken issue with this. I’ve consistently had trouble believing it is the religion itself which “legislates hate.” Rather, it is the individual, or in some cases the institution surrounding the religion, which makes such hateful choices, even though it is never something that “Jesus would have done.”
As someone who spends a great deal of time educating herself about Christianity, I am perhaps one of the greatest opponents to this kind of hate, and I take that responsibility seriously. It is hard to argue for homophobic hate against a queer woman deeply educated about religion, because I know that such ridiculous protestations are more than unfounded—they are just worthless misinterpretations of Scripture that do not truly reflect Christian ideals. Because unfortunately for those who use a few isolated Bible verses to justify their own unimaginable “sin,” we also have Matthew 7:12, which refutes all that hateful quibbling instantly, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (NIV).
But in any case, the best way to refute hatred perpetuated by anti-gay individuals using Christian tropes to justify their bigotry is to ask actual Christians what their religion means to them. For there is nothing more horrifying for those who use “Christian” ideology to promote hate than real Christians, who radiate the love, kindness, and acceptance that is truly commensurate with the core of their faith.
One such Christian is Rebecca Harvey (PO ’19), a Roman Catholic, who argues rationally and eloquently on why it is ridiculous to use the Bible, and Christian ideology in general, to perpetuate homophobic hatred based on just a few passages like Leviticus 18:22.
“The Bible is not a monolith, there are too many contradictions in it for that,” Harvey said. “I once heard someone describe it to me as “the Bible is not prescriptive, but rather descriptive.” It includes everything: sacred stories, cultural norms, history, military records, poetry, mythology, religious law, and prophecy. This means we cannot take everything we read at surface value; by its very nature, it demands that we discuss, question, and interpret it. The way I see it, the Bible’s divine inspiration is not God laying down the law, but rather inviting us into a constant conversation. Also, the Bible was written by humans who saw the world in a very specific way, and very differently than we do now. I mean, the Bible is all about context.”
The context she speaks of is the very same thing that we as historians or scholars of religious studies grapple with all the time. It is hard for me to see the Bible outside of its “medieval” context—it is, after all, a medieval document, one with a rich and varied history. We must approach its study not only with an understanding about this complex history which it emerged from, but also with an understanding of how all the Bible’s different parts (both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament) collectively contribute to its general message.
Sarah Grace Engel (PO’20) isan aspiring Anglican theologian and an individual who sees love at the core of her own faith. “I have grown up in the Episcopal Christian tradition, which openly accepts homosexuality and celebrates same-sex marriage,” Engel said. “I believe that scripture on the whole demands that its adherents align themselves with the oppressed; Jesus tells us that our treatment of those whom society rejects is in fact our treatment of him. Personally, I feel my relationship with God calls me to go out into the world with the intention of radiating love, and sometimes that love comes in the form of confronting systemic injustice.”
Engel sees the love which is truly at the core of Christianity. This is the love with which Jesus lived and the love which ought to be in the media, instead of hatred disguised as Christianity which merely appropriates Scripture.
“If the Bible says any one unified thing, it is that humans have an essential relationship with the divine,” Engel said. “While it gets complicated sometimes, I believe that this relationship is defined by love. Anyone who begrudges that pure love on the basis of difference is profoundly misguided, operating from a mindset of scarcity rather than abundance. Those who believe that God is love and loves humans more than we could possibly comprehend should not be saying, “No, there isn’t enough love for you.” At their best, faiths of all kinds call their adherents to start from a place of compassion, striving to build better lives for each other. We cannot afford to ignore that call.”
And we certainly can’t—not in a world which is so full of bigotry, hatred, and anger. We must live, religious or not, with a focus on promoting change in our world, and on being radically “kind.” It takes a great degree of courage to do so, to set aside our own worries, to look someone in the eye, and to say, “I love and support you,” whatever that “love” might mean to us.
“My conclusion has always been that God loves us radically, with no limits, in ways that we cannot even begin to understand,” Harvey said.“So, in that tradition I try to practice radical love, which in our current society means loving those who are considered different, deviant, queer, and not restricting our definitions of love to those prescribed to us by our ancestors. God does not restrict her love for us and radically does not restrict the ways in which we can love.”