Homosexuality and religion, especially Christianity, are generally not a good mix. Homosexual believers have to overcome greater barriers.
In 2021, an Ipsos poll of participants from 27 countries found that 80% of people recorded themselves as heterosexual, with 3% gay, 4% bisexual, 1% asexual, 1% other (non-binary, trans, fluid etc.), and 11% didn’t know or wouldn’t say.
In the whole scheme of things, that’s a lot.
For example, if you were designing the world where it was a sin on pain of hell to do X, but you designed, say, 15% of people to do X, then you would be seen as a sadist, which is why Christians like to blame people and not God. It’s also why, according to many of them, homosexuality is a choice and not remotely connected to myriad other variables that God designed into the system.
The U.S. has around 20 to 30 million LGBT+ people. That’s a phenomenally high error rate in design if he is the conservative God so many conservative Americans project him to be. If God’s intention is to fill the racks and cauldrons in hell, then well done him.
But God is love, no?
Of course, it doesn’t make sense. All of these data points we see around the world and universe do not accord very well with the OmniGod of supreme power, knowledge, and love.
What is OmniGod?
OmniGod is a term I use to describe the God of classical theism: omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. So God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving. This includes the ability of divine foreknowledge so that God knows all future events, or potential events (counterfactuals) in real and potential worlds he does and could create.
No matter which way you cut it, homosexuality presents a problem for Christians. For example, let us look at hell, and the vastly increased chance gay people have of visiting it permanently (so we are often told). This terribly retributive concept presents an issue for Christians who like to see the good in people. They struggle to see the good in God’s creations when it is integrated with inherent sinfulness.
Rejecting Christianity because of the homosexuality of someone else
Here is an excerpt from one of my earlier books (Beyond an Absence of Faith) detailing deconversion stories from various people from various religions in various places. This is part of Counter Apologist’s account of how his belief system fell apart, with the first cracks coming as a result of knowing someone and becoming their friend. Before they came out.
Eventually this person came out as gay and I effectively freaked. My wife was instrumental in pointing out that I was being an asshole, and that I was not supposed to be freaking out about this. She pointed out that I had no problems with this person before I knew he was gay and that this was not a good reason to stop associating with him. As a result, we stayed friends.
At this point there is something you need to know about my growing up. Someone being gay was pretty much the worst thing ever. They were effectively the most “demonstrably wrong” thing a person could be. So my wife actually did quite a bit of work making me not as bigoted towards gays, and so did my friends. They put up with a lot of shit with the way I acted initially. I learned to stop using the word “gay” as an insult. I stopped using the word “faggot” because that made people I cared about uncomfortable. As a result, I eventually stopped being a bigot and grew as a person.
This is indicative of the prejudice that homosexual people receive from within religious communities. It has been bad enough in societies at large, but the challenge is significantly compounded in many religious settings. For the writer, here, it seems that Christianity and homosexuality are obviously incompatible:
Not too long after my wife and I got married, our friend found a partner….
We became very close friends with them, which was causing a bit of cognitive dissonance for me. Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress where one holds two contradictory beliefs at the same time which causes the mind to try to harmonize those views in weird and wonderful ways, or one set of views or evidence in favor of the core belief. This isn’t something that’s limited to just religion, but it impacts us all in a variety of ways. Many of us go through minor instances of it daily; however, it becomes a potent effect once you become aware that you actually hold contradictory positions on topics that are important to you. Religion was extremely important to me, but I had a group of friends who not only weren’t saved, but their lifestyle made it near impossible to bring up the Gospel! My church at the time said that the way to deal with this was us being a “light for Jesus.” We were supposed to have our lives exemplify the values of Christianity, and that would eventually convert our gay friends to Christianity.
But then there was another problem. I was in this fantastic marriage which caused some reflection in me. I realized how much I truly am in love with my wife. I realized that I knew what true love was. Through my relationship with my friends, let’s call them Jason and Tom, after knowing them for eight years, it was clear they had the same kind of loving relationship that my wife and I had. They went through the same kind of couple issues my wife and I had. In fact, as far as couples go, we were so similar it was uncanny. Basically, I knew what love was, and it was clear as day that they had it. Jason and Tom were in love, and that is a good thing!
The problem was that, eventually, I could not call their relationship wrong. There was no way you could tell me that love was wrong. Having a loving relationship is probably the most wonderful thing that you could ever experience, and to call that wrong just didn’t compute for me.
This view on their relationship was in direct contradiction with the Bible. What’s more, it was about this time that I was going online and debating politics and eventually came across some general criticism of religion. And while normally that would be something I’d blow off, I couldn’t do that once I started seeing problems with the Bible. After that initial crack, I started finding lots of problems with my holy book.
And based on my own research and writing, I agree with him. There are problems with the holy book, problems with prejudiced believers, and problems with theology.
Yes, I know some liberal Christians do reconcile it, but, to me, that’s a stretch. You have to contort the Bible and theology to do so. Such contortion is commonplace because Christianity is whatever people make it, being so malleable. If you love gays or hate gays, there’s a Christianity for you. Love money and capitalism, or love socialism… Love slavery or hate slavery… Love burning fossil fuels and driving huge belching trucks, or love the planet and environmentalism…
But, prima facie, Christianity and homosexuality are not a good mix.
Rejecting Christianity because of one’s own homosexuality
In 2020, a paper in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion reported that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people were almost twice as likely to quit their church than heterosexual people. The religious background element involved in coming out as gay can disproportionately lead to homelessness. Evangelical communities appear to be the least accommodating, as we have amply seen from the late Billy Graham.
There is much to be said for the power of intuition and instinct. You can do all the rationalizing you like, but it is hard to overcome the actual experiential ramifications of reading overtly homophobic holy texts. It is hard to deal with encountering homophobic clergy and laypeople who use their beliefs to morally evaluate you.
Despite what gay conversion therapy advocates tell you, sexuality doesn’t just go away after just thinking about it a bit. This is a huge problem for religious belief. While there is some degree of environmental causality involved, there is also a good deal of biological sexual attraction. “Do you know what? I’m going to give up being heterosexual today. Yup, time to choose a different path.”
It doesn’t work like that.
Religious belief, though? Much more so. You can choose your religious beliefs. There is much more cerebral involvement in assenting to an entire theological framework or even in the simple proposition concerning the existence (or not) of God.
In short, god-belief plays second fiddle to sexuality in a good many cases. So, from a theist’s perspective, that is a design fault that needs explaining.
How many readers here have had to throw off their belief in God (or known someone who has) and associated religious beliefs because they just weren’t reconcilable with their core identity, their sexuality?
Okay, so some churches are modernizing and adapting their theology to become more accepting and universal, but many are not. Globally, evangelical Christianity (particularly Pentecostalism) is growing. In the U.S., evangelicalism is stubbornly refusing to decline, which is more evidence of a growing polarization of society.
The Bible: A barrier to retention
Being an outright racist is something of a barrier to entry for humanism. In the same way, sexuality acts as a veto to religious belief. Not only is there the theological quagmire that LGBTQ+ people have to navigate, but the social quagmire of church prejudice and interpersonal discomfort. Together, these are powerful motivations to disaffiliate and deconvert.
This is to say that even if there was a True Christianity™ that unequivocally included LGBTQ+ people among its flock, it would be hard-pressed to keep or attract those people.
Why? Well, in large part due to there being a number of obviously problematic Old Testament texts, including (but not confined to):
“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Leviticus 18:22
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” Leviticus 20:13
The New Testament provides further barriers for the LGBT+ community, including in Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and 1 Timothy 1:8-11. It is clear that such people will not inherit the kingdom of God. They are listed among a number of other supposedly morally bad people.
This might mean that such people are essentially left saying, “Well, I don’t care what all the fantastic and wonderful things this religion says, I just can’t get past these texts.” I remember reading the Qu’ran as a humanist and feeling exactly that.
If, as a believer, you are met with “You are not righteous and will not inherit the kingdom of God, but these people over here are and will,” then your initial reaction is one of rejection of who you are, of your core being. “But don’t worry, you can change your behavior—hate the sin, love the sinner” or “But don’t worry, we’ll just reinterpret the words so they don’t mean what they obviously mean” are both hatchet jobs in trying to create solutions.
The most obvious solution is that this holy text and resultant religions are not true and are not morally acceptable.
God is not fair
By setting up the world so that some people are more likely to access God’s love than others, and some are more likely to err and sin than others, the unfairness of God is firmly established.
If OmniGod exists, wouldn’t such an entity be as loving as possible (remember, God is love, infinitely so…)? If God was as loving as possible, He would not be unfair and ditch equality of opportunity. There’s just no way God would not give people completely unequal access to his love and predisposition to sin.
The bottom line: God does not exist or God is not OmniGod, take your pick.
I would genuinely be interested in LGBT+ readers who have struggled with a reconciliation of their sexuality with a religious belief to give their account, to tell their story. Or you can always submit a guest post.