By Jeffry Faircloth
“Being gay is a sin.” “Homosexuality is against the Bible.” “God made male and female, he did not make people transgender.” “Read Leviticus 18:22.”
If you are reading this, you have likely encountered these sorts of statements at one point in your own life. What they reflect is a society that has been saturated with so much religious negativity surrounding gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, that it is often very difficult for individuals to think of religion in any other way than as against the LGBTQ community. Indeed, for many people who are LGBTQ themselves, such anti-LGBTQ religious hostility has been cause to avoid religion all together.
Yet, while it is true that much of the dominant understanding in Christianity—indeed, in many religions—is that gay relationships and transgender gender identity expressions are immoral, there is also a growing world of scholarship in terms of what the Bible actually states on matters of sexual orientation and gender identity that casts enormous doubts on the validity of such religious understandings. The idea that being LGBTQ somehow is against Christianity is something that many scholars of the Bible have concluded to be completely false.
Recognizing this reality highlights some specific problems that have challenged the modern LGBTQ community for practically its entire existence. The popular belief claimed by many religious institutions that being LGBTQ is sinful and against the Bible has the effect of legitimizing an oppression of LGBTQ individuals all throughout society. In particular, many of the political struggles for LGBTQ equality and equity have ended in defeat, mostly because of rampant religious beliefs against LGBTQ people among large segments of the population. One only needs to point to Houston’s experience with the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance in 2014 and 2015 as a case in point.
At the same time this has been occurring, it appears that the vast majority of the LGBTQ community has been disconnected from the available scholarship necessary to counter such religious oppression, either because people are unaware that it exists, or because they decided to remove religion out of their lives a long time ago. Most people, for example, might be surprised to learn that reputable biblical scholarship refuting the assertion that homosexuality is sin has actually been available for at least four to five decades.
And so a cycle continues in our society: churches condemn LGBTQ people and equality from a moral standpoint and as against the Bible. Not many people directly challenge the specific religious claims of the anti-LGBTQ religious groups. While some advancements for equality are made by the LGBTQ community, they are usually achieved based on secular arguments. The popular idea that being LGBTQ is a sin largely remains unaddressed by many, and still stigmatizes LGBTQ people in society, making future fights for equality considerably more difficult.
One organization that sees the need to make more accessible much of the modern biblical scholarship that refutes the falsehood that being LGBTQ is against the Bible is the Reformation Project. Established in 2013 by a Harvard University student named Matthew Vines, the Reformation Project is a direct action organization that seeks to promote inclusion of LGBTQ people in Christianity by reforming the popularly believed religious teachings that being LGBTQ is sinful. Each year the Reformation Project launches a semester-long online cohort program to educate selected individuals from all over the world in some of the biblical scholarship that reveals the claims of the anti-LGBTQ groups to be incorrect. For this specific year of 2017, I am proud to have been chosen to participate in the cohort program. What I have discovered is a community that not only sees the need to reverse the oppression of LGBTQ individuals by religious institutions, but that such goal cannot be achieved without also focusing on intersectionality and fighting for racial social justice; discrimination in a religious context rarely, if ever, manifests as a single issue.
As the LGBTQ community moves forward, we will continue to win equity within the political arena. Culturally, however, until the ideas that homosexuality and being transgender are against the Bible are finally put to rest, there will still remain incredible levels of oppression experienced by many people—think of all the LGBTQ teenagers who must still sit in church pews and be told that who they are is wrong and sinful. Even if one is a non-religious person, one must recognize that the anti-LGBTQ beliefs put forward by most religious groups cannot be left unchallenged. For those who wish to become educated about this specific problem faced by the LGBTQ community, the Reformation Project promises to be an organization to help individuals from diverse backgrounds learn how to change religious thinking on LGBTQ issues and to create a world of true equity and societal acceptance.
Jeffry Faircloth currently sits on the board of PFLAG Houston and was co-president of the organization from 2014 to 2016. He currently also sits on Mayor Turner’s LGBTQ Advisory Board. A recent graduate of University of Houston, he is in the process of applying to seminaries for graduate school.