With marriage equality efforts in Oklahoma, Utah, and elsewhere making headlines this month, the intersection of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) rights and religion has been a hot topic of discussion among atheists.
While many Christians in the United States support same-sex marriage—including, for example, nearly 60% of all American Catholics and over 50% of white evangelical Protestants under the age of 35—some atheists have recently debated whether Christians can truly support marriage equality.
Last week, this discussion received broader attention due to a series of tweets written by Dave Muscato, Public Relations Director for American Atheists, which were published by the official American Atheists Twitter account. Among the claims put forth in the tweets: “if you’re a Christian and an LGBTQ supporter, you’re doing one of them wrong.”
As a queer person and a former evangelical Christian—and an interfaith activist who works alongside many LGBTQ and ally Christians—the ensuing conversation caught my attention, and it has since been a topic of discussion among a number of atheist activists. On Monday of this week Michael DeDora—Director of Public Policy for the Center for Inquiry—challenged Muscato’s position in a post on The Moral Perspective.
I believe that you can of course be a Christian and also be LGBTQ or an ally, but I wanted to give both sides of this discussion an opportunity to argue their positions. So I have invited two of the participants in the initial Twitter discussion to defend their perspectives in this column—and I hope both atheists and Christians will share their thoughts in the comments.
Dave Muscato—Public Relations Director for American Atheists—wrote the initial tweet, and he defends his perspective below. Dean Roth—a queer Humanist and former evangelical Christian—offers a dissenting perspective in part 2 of this post.
Part 1: No, you can’t be a Christian and support LGBTQ rights, by Dave Muscato
Editor’s Note: The piece below reflects the opinions of its author, Dave Muscato. It does not reflect the views of Religion News Service columnist Chris Stedman, and it does not necessarily reflect those of Muscato’s employer, American Atheists.
There are many parts of the Bible that are completely ignored by Christians. In many cases it’s because Christians don’t know what the Bible says. They haven’t read it and don’t care to. In other cases it’s because they do know what it says, but their own sense of morality overrides this—otherwise known as “cherry picking.”
Despite their claims, many Christians don’t get their moral compass from the Bible. If they did, they would be fine with slavery, they would not get divorced, they would not wear gold wedding rings, and they would not have sex before they were married—something virtually 100 percent of Christians do. Religion makes people into liars, which is one of the problems with it.
In reality, we all get our ideas about what’s right and wrong from society, the study of ethics, and the changing cultures in which we live. Not only did these precede the writing of the Bible—but they evolve and the Bible doesn’t. That’s good. There is no reason we should expect that our ideas about what is moral and immoral cannot be improved upon. This has never been true in the past and there are certainly a lot of things society disagrees about now that are likely to be settled one way or the other eventually. A pertinent example is marriage equality.
People who claim to be Bible-believing Christians and also claim to support marriage equality are hypocrites. Fortunately, the realization of this—and the inability to reconcile their belief that marriage equality is moral with what Christianity teaches about the morality of gay relationships—has led many to abandon Christianity. I hope it leads more to do the same.
Is it possible to be a Christian and support the right for gay Christians to engage in sexual relations if they so desire?
Not if a person identifies as a Bible-believing Christian.
There is no question that the Bible prohibits sexual relations between men (Leviticus 20:13) and says engaging is such behavior is detestable. God himself, speaking directly to Moses, orders execution as punishment for this. While execution is arguably prohibited for Christians (John 8), in no way is it suggested or written that sex between men is therefore acceptable for Christians.
Lest Christians think that Jesus wiped clean the slate and Old Testament law no longer applies, consider what Jesus said in Matthew 5:18: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven…”
Being a Bible-believing Christian (or Jew or Muslim or other group that follows the Old Testament) requires a lot of rationalization. Some of the most creative people I know are Christians. They have to be, because the Bible prohibits all sorts of things Christians will defend as moral.
Now, of course, none of this really matters. The Bible isn’t true in the first place, and it makes no difference what the Bible says about the morality of gay relationships. Marriage is a human right and LGBTQ relationships are moral.
Am I “silencing” gay Christians by telling them that they are wrong about the belief that one can be both gay and Christian at the same time?
Oh, it’s much worse than that: I am telling all Christians that what they believe about the entirety of reality is wrong.
As supportive as I am of marriage equality—and, while I consider it a private matter, as a member of the LGBTQ community myself, I certainly am supportive—quibbling about this minor aspect of Christian doctrine seems ludicrous. Christians can cite this verse or that verse, interpret the Bible this way or that way, but it doesn’t matter. Have we forgotten that the Bible claims Jesus was a zombie?
That book has much more laughably obvious flaws than its position on gay relationships. The only thing miraculous about Christianity is that anyone takes anything the Bible has to say seriously in the first place.
(Click here to read part 2, where Dean Roth offers a different perspective.)
Dave Muscato is a civil-rights activist, public speaker, and Public Relations Director for American Atheists. He can be reached via Twitter at @DaveMuscato.