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Image for Gay Census: Religion

Gay Census: Religion

The results are in from the Gay Census. So far we’ve looked at gay marriage, sex and drugs, and gay parenting. This week we’re taking a long, hard look at religion. It’s not surprising, given religion’s history of gay persecution, that we’re a little wary of the whole thing. They always told us it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, but is the Bible about to change?

If you thought religion an unlikely pastime for gays and lesbians, you would be correct. The majority of respondents (59% of gay men and 61% of gay women) to the Australian Gay and Lesbian Census indicated they are not a member of any organised religion.

Of those who responded that they were members of a religion, the Census found that 28% of gay men and 22% of lesbians are Christian, a figure much lower than that of the general population. The 2006 Australian Census found that 58% of the general population aged 15 to 44 are Christian.

Anthony Venn-Brown, author of A Life of Unlearning and convenor of Freedom 2 b[e] (a network of gay Christians from Pentecostal and Evangelical backgrounds) who attends the Hillsong church at Waterloo says, “Having a majority of non-religious gays and lesbians is reflective of our secular society in Australia.” His statement is supported by findings that show the vast majority of those who indicated that they are religious are lapsed or non-practicing, with 52% indicating they never attend service or prayer.

One explanation for the lower percentage of Christians amongst the gay community, when compared to the general population, is that many Christians who come out as gay often repudiate their spirituality because of a conflict between their spirituality and their sexuality.

Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby, a practicing Christian, explains this general sentiment by saying, “It is hardly surprising that so many gay people give religion away. With few exceptions, religion, and religious people, are hostile to gays. Even the Dalai Lama has made unfriendly statements. When I tackled him on them, he said: ‘I know. In America many of my supporters are gay. But the problem is the old scriptures’.”

However, Kirby notes the change happening within Christian churches. “In the Christian context, the languages are Greek or Hebrew and the further we study these histories and scriptures the further we learn about the historical and cultural context or particular phrases,” says Kirby. “Just as Christians, Jews and Muslims have to read afresh the Genesis passages that say the world was created in seven days, in the light of Darwin’s discoveries about evolution, so religions have to re-read passages antagonistic to gays in the light of the knowledge we now have from Alfred Kinsey, Evelyn Hooker and modern science. People do not deliberately choose their sexual orientation to be difficult or defiant. It is just part of the variety of nature. If it exists, it has a purpose in nature and evolution. Eventually all the religions will come around to this, but a lot of violence, stigma and cruelty will be done in the meantime,” Kirby says.

Venn-Brown agrees with Justice Kirby’s on the interpretation of scriptures. Venn-Brown says, “There are only six passages that can be assumed to speak about same-sex behaviour, but when they are looked at in their historical and cultural context and in their original languages, then one discovers that they are actually talking about temple prostitution, idolatry, exploitative relationships (pederasty) and rape. They are not talking about same-sex orientation as we know it today.”

Venn-Brown also notes, “The word ‘homosexual’ did not appear in any English translation of the bible until 1946 at 1 Corinthians 6:9” (Revised standard version).

David Barrow, a 23-year-old queer activist who is also Christian and is currently the President of the National Union of Students believes that generational change is also a contributing factor. “There is a progressive shift in theology in line with generational change that coincides with attitudes towards climate change, women, gays and international poverty,” says Barrow.

This change in the understanding of theology seems to be happening even in the most unlikely of churches – the Pentecostal church, to which Mr Venn-Brown is a member.

In responding to my shock at the acceptance by the Hillsong Church of homosexual members, Venn-Brown says, “We often focus on the Christian extremists. For example, the Westboro Baptist Church in the south of the US. (Westboro Baptist Church own the website Godhatesfags.com.) We should focus on the changes happening in the Christian movement. The Westboro Baptist church is an incestuous cult of about 100 members. They are not representative of Christianity.”

While he recognises the damage done by religion, Justice Kirby is optimistic about a future where it’s a little more gay friendly. “My partner, Johan, rejects religion. I stick with my Christian beliefs because the fundamental message of Jesus is love and reconciliation. Eventually, Christian leaders will remember this. The churches will give a great big apology to gay people. I hope I live to see it,” says Kirby.

Mr Venn-Brown believes that, “the debate within Christianity is done and dusted. It is only a matter of time before [homosexuality] is not going to be a problem.”

Interestingly, Census data reveals that 12% of respondents experienced conflict between their sexuality and their religion, which is less than those who chose Christianity as their religion. Most respondents indicated that they don’t have conflict between their sexuality and their religion, or if a conflict does exist, they don’t care about it.

Venn-Brown acknowledged the assumptions in the gay community about the conflict between Christianity and homosexuality, but says that this scepticism and antagonism towards Christianity is changing. “What is happening now [within the gay community] is similar to what happened in the early 70s. The gay rights movement was birthed and people began coming out. Now, three decades later, with the shift in understanding about Christianity, many are coming out about their faith and spirituality also.” Venn-Brown calls this ‘the second coming out.’

Venn-Brown goes on to say that there is actually an increasing number of gay members of the church. “Gay people of faith and religion are an emerging group within the gay community. Walk into any gay bookstore and you can see how much impact they are having,” says Venn-Brown. An author himself, Venn-Brown recalls, “It’s not long ago that you would never find a single book on being gay and Christian, only books about how poorly the church has treated homosexual people over the centuries. Now in all gay bookstores there are entire sections of gay Christian books. Including stories, such as mine, theology and observations of the gay Christian movement. An even further development, is the recent appearance of several books on being gay and Moslem.”

David Barrow would be an example of emerging members of the gay community who are also proudly Christian. He says he didn’t feel any pressure to be one or the other, but says, “Many of my friends responded to my Christianity with suspicion, derision, concern and condescension. However, they have learned to accept my sexuality and my Christian identity, which are both important to me.”

Looking at its popularity amongst the generations, it seems that spirituality is mainly practiced by older generations. The Australian Gay and Lesbian Census found that older gay men and women are more likely to be religious.

The Australian Gay and Lesbian Census also found that more gay men and women belong to alternative or eastern religions (Hindu, Buddhism, Wicca/Paganism) than the general population.

So maybe the future of homosexuality and religion is as Michael Kirby said, less about blame and sin and more about love and respect.

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Comments

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Travis de Jonk

Travis de Jonk said on the 24th Sep, 2009

A wonderful article Michael, that helps put the stats into context. It's amazing that the ancient written word still bears so power even with all that we know of the world now. Religions and institutions need to reflect the human element.

Joal

Joal said on the 24th Sep, 2009

I think you're full of words of wisdom, Travis. You should write a gay Bible.

Flaneur

Flaneur said on the 24th Sep, 2009

I would take this more seriously if this article had not made such an effort with Barrow. I just can't take an article that cites my classmate all that seriously.

The premise and statistics are interesting though.

Travis de Jonk

Travis de Jonk said on the 24th Sep, 2009

Sorry, i didn't mean to come across like a tosser. I just mean that 1000 years ago someone wrote that the world was flat, and even though we know it to be round now, we have to deal with that 'flat world'.

Travis de Jonk

Travis de Jonk said on the 24th Sep, 2009

LOL Joal!! I'd never write anything that 'told' people how to worship or believe.

Chancethegardener

Chancethegardener said on the 24th Sep, 2009

Great article!

I remember reading a book by Graham Robb a few years ago now in which he mentioned several biblical passages that, when interpreted in their historical context, could be interpreted as accepting of gay people. One was when Jesus sent two of his disciples to find where the last supper was to be held - they were to look for 'a man bearing a pitcher of water.' Back then fetching water was a task explicitly for women, and the reference to a man carrying a pitcher of water could be interpreted as referring to an effeminate man.

The other one I remember was when a Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal a servant who was 'very dear unto me.' The story is mentioned in two of the gospels, but both refer to the servant differently as 'slave' in one, and 'boy' in the other. Back then the idea that a centurion would be grief-stricken at the sickness of a male slave, let alone a young boy, would have had widely acknowledged homoerotic undertones!

Asherbella

Asherbella said on the 24th Sep, 2009

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTT8znGeibQ

ammonite

ammonite said on the 24th Sep, 2009

Great article!

I remember reading a book by Graham Robb a few years ago now in which he mentioned several biblical passages that, when interpreted in their historical context, could be interpreted as accepting of gay people. One was when Jesus sent two of his disciples to find where the last supper was to be held - they were to look for 'a man bearing a pitcher of water.' Back then fetching water was a task explicitly for women, and the reference to a man carrying a pitcher of water could be interpreted as referring to an effeminate man.

The other one I remember was when a Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal a servant who was 'very dear unto me.' The story is mentioned in two of the gospels, but both refer to the servant differently as 'slave' in one, and 'boy' in the other. Back then the idea that a centurion would be grief-stricken at the sickness of a male slave, let alone a young boy, would have had widely acknowledged homoerotic undertones!

interesting, was that 'Strangers: Homosexual Love in the 19th Century'?

Chancethegardener

Chancethegardener said on the 24th Sep, 2009



Yeah, I think it was. It was pretty good.

Light-Bearer

Light-Bearer said on the 24th Sep, 2009

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk41Gbjljfo

Tim D

Tim D said on the 25th Sep, 2009

Amazing article. Thank you.

Matthew_Jackson

Matthew_Jackson said on the 26th Sep, 2009

A very interesting perspective on homosexuality vs Christianity. And how some Christian groups accept homosexuals. I think religion or the thing that we call on in times of need and guidance is an interesting thing to explore and how homosexuality and spirituality connect in some form of way. Which would fourthly interesting to explore the psyche of our homosexual minds. Do we seek religion through contemporary pop art, or may be its the many forms of art that are used for escapism, each style, make-up, walk that give us/people individuality, character. I've meet so many guys in my life that have spoken of religion in terms of smoke scene, bells, tie-dies, relaxation music, spells. But all in all, it was just some how a contemporary though, or a contemporary image where the expressed the rules, their believes on saving the planet etc. Two years latter a new style has formed and a complete abandonment of there so called religion is left behind. The closest I've seen to a common belief/connection or maybe a common Cosmo is through the very connection through art, consumerism and lifestyle experience.

musicman

musicman said on the 27th Sep, 2009

Was there any other data on non-Christians? Jews? Muslims?

paxie

paxie said on the 27th Sep, 2009

What saddened me most is how religion who suppose to connect us to the soul of love and kindness then got twisted by the so called righteous fanatic who came judging and interpreting the rules and act as if they can read God's mind.

Organisation like Exodus made me sick ;/ I am not against those who feels that their attraction is unwanted, if so called "changing" your orientation make you a happier person then I won't judge you. I just disagree with their agenda that made it sound as if it is a choice and we need to be cured. I am happy to be who I am and the ones that lights the fire inside me happen to be a person of the same sex, if I take that away I may as well life as a robot to conform with the society. What kind of life would that be? Shouldn't the truth set us free...

I am a gay catholic and people always got stunned ...if that even exist lol..but it does there is a group that I have been going to monthly. I went through a long journey of reconciling my faith and sexuality. As to why I keep on being catholic even if the Pope (umm yes I am not a big fan of him) disagree with my life style is another long story.

Also, this letter has an interesting point of view : http://www.godmademegay.com/Letter.htm

This movie is a must see too : http://www.forthebibletellsmeso.org/

Just wondering where did you get the stats from?

PS: Nice article Michael :)

Chrish_Tiyan

Chrish_Tiyan said on the 27th Sep, 2009

I enjoy watching lgbt films, gay comedy, gay drama and gay horror. I think these are a must see movie and I really enjoy watching these movies. http://www.ariztical.com/filmsAZ/november_son.html

AnthonyB

AnthonyB said on the 28th Sep, 2009

Very interesting article and comments thread.

I'm also a gay man who was raised as a Catholic (by quite devout parents) and still identifies as Christian. The excesses of Catholicism have led me to explore the more mystical elements within Christianity and the "New Faith" teaching of such individuals as John Shelby Spong and Francis McNab, but I still have a deep sense of the divine and the fundamental message of love and justice which underlies Christianity.

To quote Spong, "...God, the source of life, calls us to live fully. God, the source of love, calls us all to love wastefully. God, the Ground of Being, calls us all to have the courage to be ourselves."

blueterrace

blueterrace said on the 29th Sep, 2009

In one sense I am glad christians turned away from me. It caused me to question what's in the bible. I have no problem with the bits about the "message of love and reconciliation" as Justice Kirby put its. But as anyone who has read the bible knows, those passages are surrounded by reams of prejudice, hate and a mish-mash of bizarre (and often quite lame) miracles. I suspect that one of the reasons why christians and their leaders have been capable of such spectacular brutality over the ages is that for every passage on brotherly love, there is another on poking people’s eyes out or enslaving the children of other nations.

What's more, the events in one gospel are frequently contradicted by those in another. Even if you want to accept the thoughts and events outlined in the bible, it’s damned hard working out which version you should believe in. Delving back to earlier versions of the bible, as Kirby suggests, only opens a can of worms as one discovers that various church councils accepted and rejected gospels to suit the pragmatic needs of the church.

But the stories of the bible go further back than Kirby’s Greek translations: many Old Testament stories echo those of earlier religions (shout out to the 'Epic of Gilgamesh'). Combine this with the illogicalities of the book and you can see why the faithful have to resort to that old standby … faith.

Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense, just trust that it’s all ok. Was God please with his creation (Genesis 1:31) or not pleased with his creation (Genesis 6:5-6)? Or maybe it's time humanity moves on from the entire concept of an omnipotent deity creating the world, and all its flora and fauna in seven days. (And then either throwing a tanty when He didn’t like the results, or sitting back with a very human sigh of self satisfaction at its/his perfection).

The New Testament isn’t much better. Does Jesus reject disciples unless they hate their parent’s, wives and children as is written in Luke 14:26 or does hating your brother make you an actual murderer as claimed in John 3:15. No doubt theologians developed defenses for these inconsistencies way back in the dark ages, but there are literally hundreds of them and the mental gymnastics required to sustain belief in the infallibility of the book is staggering

So why not accept the bible for what it so obviously is; a work of fiction - the myths generations of nomadic goat herders used to explain their world. Nothing wrong with that…(except for the bits about killing slaves, slaughtering infants, ham stringing horses, smiting the lords enemies, or cursing those unimpressed with Jesus miracles)

lisggoldcoast

lisggoldcoast said on the 5th Oct, 2009

Being a Gay Mormon I understand this situation myself, I also come across catholics, anglican, utarians, it is a very being movement around us, many of them are silent in the community.

leverarchfile

leverarchfile said on the 6th Oct, 2009

I was sent to sunday school attended a private church school....chapel once a week, and always though the whole thing was a crock of shit........a nice fairy tale to allow many bad people to clothe themselves in righteousness......

local_warming

local_warming said on the 7th Oct, 2009

well of course gay christians "dont have a conflict of interest between their sexuality and faith" if your a christian you'll swallow any bullshit facts served up to you with out questioning it. faith is blind, it needs to be otherwise everyone would workout what rubbish they are basing their lives on

local_warming

local_warming said on the 7th Oct, 2009

Great article!

I remember reading a book by Graham Robb a few years ago now in which he mentioned several biblical passages that, when interpreted in their historical context, could be interpreted as accepting of gay people. One was when Jesus sent two of his disciples to find where the last supper was to be held - they were to look for 'a man bearing a pitcher of water.' Back then fetching water was a task explicitly for women, and the reference to a man carrying a pitcher of water could be interpreted as referring to an effeminate man.

The other one I remember was when a Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal a servant who was 'very dear unto me.' The story is mentioned in two of the gospels, but both refer to the servant differently as 'slave' in one, and 'boy' in the other. Back then the idea that a centurion would be grief-stricken at the sickness of a male slave, let alone a young boy, would have had widely acknowledged homoerotic undertones!for more information log onto www.clutching_at_straws.com.au

Andrew Morton

Andrew Morton said on the 10th Oct, 2009

Almost every religious version of creation is farcical, so why would anyone bother with it? Furthermore, most religious people are merely objectiphiles, whom worship a bound scripture.
I have always thought that GLBT people who find it necessary to follow some sort of religion only do so in a vain attempt to be 'accepted' somewhere. Choose to believe, not to belong.

MichaelAnthony

MichaelAnthony said on the 10th Dec, 2009

Hey all, thanks for enjoying the article! I really enjoyed writing it. Sad that I can't contribute any further articles. Hope to contribute in the future if circumstances permit.

Michael.

tricky28

tricky28 said on the 10th Dec, 2009

Religious homosexuals are like battered wives who keep going back to their husband because they want to believe he still 'loves' them.

They spit in the face of all those who have championed for their queer rights in the face of heavy religious opposition. And succumb willingly to the oppressor in a stupor of false comfort.

PS. Hot picture.

local_warming

local_warming said on the 16th Dec, 2009


i dont have a tattoo, but now i want the above statement - on my forehead