If, instead of celebrating SS Philip and James yesterday you had continued with the lectionary readings from Exodus, you would have read about Moses coming down from Mount Sinai and discovering the Israelites dancing around the golden bull calf that had come out of the fire after Aaron had thrown the gold in – so he claimed. In truth, he had cast it in a mould. Except of course the whole story was stitched together some 1,000 later than the events Exodus sets down as a historical narrative. In a fit of anger Moses smashes the stone tablets and rallies the Levites to his side. He says to them:
‘The Lord the God of Israel has said: Arm yourselves, each of you, with his sword. Go through the camp from gate to gate and back again. Each of you kill brother, friend, neighbour.’ The Levites obeyed, and about three thousand people died that day. Moses said, ‘You have been installed as priests to the LORD today, because you have turned each against his own son and his own brother and so have brought a blessing this day upon yourselves.’ (Exodus 32.27-29)
If you believe the Bible is the Word of God, and if you believe that from Genesis to Revelation it contains God’s wisdom and laws which stand for all time, then you might be the kind of person who, reading this passage, and following conservative orthodox teaching about homosexuality and the clobber texts, and reading in Leviticus 20.13 that men who have intercourse with a man as with a woman, might legitimately believe that this is what you should do because God commands it. The Levites killed their own sons, brothers and neighbours, gaining a blessing from God.
The idea is an obscenity to me. And yet, some people murder others because they are gay, because they have sex with another man. Sacred texts are sometimes the source used to fuel murder and hatred against LGB&T people.
The murder of Robert Anthony Odhiambo in Kenya
Fred Odinga reported that at Kendu Bay, Homabay County in Western Kenya, Robert Anthony Odhiambo, aged 24, fondly known as Bob, was buried last Thursday. Reports said he was found hanging on the morning of Monday April 16 in the bathroom of a recently built, but vacant house belonging to a relative. Until his death he was an active member of Pictures Youth Group, an affiliate of NYAWEK in Kisumu. Dan Onyango, chair of CA Kenya, reported that Bob’s death was under investigation.
Fred and other members of NYAWEK viewed Bob’s body at the mortuary. They could not recognise in his coffin because acid had been poured on his eyes and petroleum had been poured over his entire body. Viewing Bob’s body was a deeply painful experience for his friends.
The post mortem examination and an examination of the murder scene failed to find any fingerprints which might have identified his murderers. The examination revealed that those who handled him last had worn leather gloves. Police investigations are continuing to ascertain the cause of death.
Eighteen Gambian men face homosexuality charges
Eighteen men were arrested on April 9 in a bar allegedly engaged in homosexual activities. After a court hearing they were held in custody on charges of “indecent practice among themselves at a public place.” Under Article 144 of the Gambian Criminal Code, any same-sex sexual act is punishable with up to 14 years imprisonment. Kebba, one of those arrested is well known to Changing Attitude. He tells me the group was celebrating his birthday in a bar, doing nothing more provocative than dancing. They have been released on bail to appear in court on 8 May.
In February 2012 President Yahya Jammeh reiterated his stance that he would never accept homosexuality in the Gambia. Jammeh said, “We know what human rights are. Human beings of the same sex cannot marry or date.” In 2008, Jammeh promised “stricter laws than Iran” on homosexuality and said he would “cut off the head” of any gay person found in the Gambia.
The spectrum of prejudice
The murder and mutilation of Robert Odhiambo in Kenya and the arrest of Kebba and 17 of his friends are two extreme reactions to homosexuality, one violent in the extreme, the other violent in its effect on the lives of a group of young gay man.
Changing Attitude believes we are all somewhere on a spectrum of human sexual identity, from 100% gay to 100% straight, with many in a complex middle where people might identify as bisexual. We believe it’s okay to be anywhere on the spectrum – God doesn’t hold prejudices about our sexual identity. That’s what the Church does.
I want to propose the idea that there is also a spectrum of attitudes towards LGB&T people, from those who are fully accepting to those who are deeply prejudiced and homophobic.
Research recently published in America confirms the belief that some are homophobic because they have repressed their own same-sex desires. Parental and religious attitudes are the source of shame and guilt about these desires. Others believe that the Bible, Christian teaching, and the faith they have inherited provide the authority to persecute, murder, abuse and invoke the law against LGB&T people.
That’s how people behave at one extreme end of the spectrum. At the other end of the spectrum, people have ceased to view LGB&T people as in any way a special, ‘different’ category of persons.
In between, there is a whole variety of reactions, mirroring the complexity of the spectrum towards sexuality. Human beings are complex, anxious and to a greater or lesser degree neurotic, especially about our sexuality. Somewhere in the middle, for example, are the leaders of FCA who castigate those who promote a ‘false gospel’, meaning a gay-affirming gospel.
At the other end of the spectrum are people who are at ease with themselves and their sexuality, whatever it is.
- If you have a more conscious and heightened awareness of your sexuality and gender;
- If you are aware of the conflict between who you experience yourself to be in the core of your being and what the Churches have been saying about you for centuries;
- If you have come to a place of resolution and integration, an acceptance of your sexual identity;
- Then you are fortunate indeed, and of course, you are likely to be the kind of person who questions the ‘orthodox teaching’ of the Church;
- And you will have resolved any conflict in favour of your own self-awareness, health, well-being and sanity and will be living at ease with yourself.
The spectrum of human sexuality should be free from value judgment. Post-was legal reforms recognised this in respect of homosexuality. What adults choose to do, as long as it is not abusive and is within boundaries acceptable to the majority, should not be the subject of legislation.
The spectrum of reaction to LGB&T people and the degree of prejudice held is not value-judgment free. I want to suggest that any place on the spectrum apart from the fully affirming and inclusive is not an acceptable place.
If you are LGB&T and conflicted because of your Christian values, or you are a conservative, biblical, orthodox Christian who believes LGB&T people are not entitled to the same place in the kingdom of God as heterosexuals, you are not reconciled, integrated or fully at ease with yourself. The external teaching and rule you have adopted puts you in conflict with a higher and more universal teaching of the Church, that God is love and all who live in love live in God.
The FCA leaders believe they represent the orthodox, unchanging teaching of the Church and of God’s intention for human relationships and sexual activity. It may be true that the majority in the Anglican Communion believes this – though no-one has ever asked them. It is unexceptional for many to accept this as the truth revealed by God.
I want to suggest that we are moving from this as an acceptable way of seeing things, to the end of the spectrum where prejudice against anyone because of their sexuality becomes unacceptable for Christians. There will always be a remnant which disagrees, of course, even in the Kingdom, but … there cannot be a spectrum of negative responses, from mild and therefore okay to extreme and therefore clearly not okay.
All negative responses to the presence of LGB&T people in creation provide potential fuel for those who exhibit extreme intolerance and wage a campaign of persecution against LGB&T people, leading to arrest and imprisonment in the Gambia, murder in Kenya (and the USA and UK), and suicide, depression and lack of self-acceptance for LGB&T people everywhere.
There cannot be a spectrum of Christian responses to homosexuality, only unconditional love and full inclusion.