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By Bishop Gene Robinson
There is so much wrong with Tony Perkins’ recent Guest Voices post, published by On Faith with the title “Christian compassion requires the truth about homosexuality.” The “Christian compassion” touted in the headline is faux compassion at best. It offers virtually nothing to ease the fears and self-loathing experienced by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teenagers who contemplate choosing suicide over a life they are told is condemned to unhappiness, loneliness and despair. Indeed, Mr. Perkins’ comments only go to support the attitudes held by the bullies who drove gay teens around the country to make that choice.
However, as a Bishop of the Church, and a trained theologian, let me focus on Mr. Perkins’ flawed reasoning and inadequate exegesis in quoting scripture to bolster his arguments. He cites the story about the woman caught in adultery, whom Jesus admonishes, “Go and sin no more.” In this approximation of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach, the religious right tries to sound pastoral, while violating the true meaning of this passage.
The sin referred to in this passage is intimate sexual relationships outside the bonds of marriage. Indeed adultery, by definition, is a violation of the vows taken in marriage by one or both partners. Jesus rightly tells this woman never again to engage in such violation of those vows.
But it is just as important what Jesus did NOT say: “Go and never have sex again.” Had he done so, this scripture might be relevant. But he did not. The sin was not intercourse, but the context within which it occurred.
If the religious right wants to argue that the context for same gender intimate relationships is important, then they should join the fight for same gender marriage, helping provide the trustworthy, responsible and mutual context for all intimate sexual relationships. Not to provide such a context only supports the culture of promiscuity the religious right rails against.
Similarly, had Jesus asked the woman to “stop being a woman,” she would not have been able to obey, since it is who she is, not just what she does. Being homosexual is who we are, not just what we do. The 13-year-olds who committed suicide may never have acted on their sexual impulses, but they were gay, and they knew it. And all the “love the sinner, hate the sin” rhetoric would never make them feel okay about being gay. They could no more stop being gay than fly to the moon. This nuance, put forward by Mr. Perkins, is lost on the gay 13-year-old struggling to come to terms with who he is, as it is on his bulliers.
Such rhetoric serves as a support for those who would bully and commit violence against gay and lesbian people. For the religious right to deny their complicity in this bullying and violence is absurd. They may claim, as Mr. Perkins does, that they never meant to support such bullying. This is disingenuous at best, and he and his conservative religionists need to be held accountable. When someone in California, through their careless actions, starts a wildfire that destroys homes, they are held accountable for their actions – despite their claims that they never meant to cause a raging wildfire. When the religious right exports their condemnation of gay people to Uganda, they must be held accountable for the draconian “kill the gays” legislation that results, despite their protestations that that’s not what they meant. And when their hateful rhetoric gives support and permission for bullies to make the lives of young gay kids miserable, they must be held accountable for the results of their words and actions.
Mr. Perkins citing of the “woman caught in adultery” passage of scripture simply does not apply here. What does apply is the Christian value of respect for the dignity of every human being. What does apply is the right and responsible support by religious people and institutions for the context of marriage (for all) in which intimate sexual relationships should occur. A right reading of scripture would urge Mr. Perkins to support young men and women to view themselves as the beloved children of God that they are, worthy of respect and protected from the unwarranted harassment and intimidation now being perpetrated against them.
The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson is the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire and Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.