By Robert Stribley
I place the struggle for the victory of reason and of moral values above a peace brought by their loss. – Václav Havel
My Own Words
I don’t remember how the subject of homosexuality even came up, but one Sunday morning on the way to breakfast at the Bob Jones University dining common, I told one of my friends that “gays ought to be lined up and shot.”
“Oh, you mean people like my brother?” my friend replied. I literally stopped in my tracks. I don’t remember how I responded, but I do remember I instantly understood I was in the wrong. Those two sentences between friends proved a catalyst to me. The frankness of my friend’s response to my words shocked me into realizing how I sounded. I knew his brother, knew he was likely gay and still I had made this incredibly callous comment. Nonetheless, my friend’s frank yet polite response had an extraordinary impact: It coupled my vulgar generalization to the specific humanity of one single person. Someone I knew. Someone I most certainly wouldn’t want to see “lined up and shot.” That remark made me instantly aware of an inconsistency in my thinking. So I began to think further and having begun to think, I couldn’t turn back.
I’m horrified that I ever spoke those words. I was 20 years old at the time. So why admit to them now? To underline the fact that at one time I was very anti-gay, so anti-gay that I would’ve have thought the very word “homophobic” nothing more than politically correct propaganda. Part of the “gay agenda.”
Sadly, my words wouldn’t have been terribly out of place at Bob Jones University. If many people there may not have used the same words, many also would not have disagreed entirely with the sentiment. To this day, my alma mater stands by its belief that homosexuality is an “unnatural affection,” an “abomination,” a “sinful lifestyle choice.” I’ve moved on, changed my opinions on this issue. The school has not. So it’s somewhat ironic that as a freshman student at BJU, I began a journey of the mind, which lead me away from such deeply-ingrained homophobia.
I can look back now with sadness at the sentiments I expressed as a 20-year old kid, and I can forgive myself a little for them by understanding that I was living within an environment that cultivated and enabled those prejudiced opinions. At that time, however, I probably would’ve used some of the same arguments I still hear now: “The Bible calls homosexuality an abomination.” “No culture which has ever tolerated homosexuality has survived.” “Homosexuality is unnatural because gay people can’t reproduce.” What people offering those arguments to me now don’t realize is I’ve already heard them all before. In fact, I could share a few more arguments with them, which they probably haven’t heard before. Invalid, inaccurate, horribly simplistic arguments all. Arguments which are used to demean and judge and confine my gay friends, my fellow human beings, every day.
What Does the Bible Say?
Many people in our culture refer to the Bible to back up their belief that there’s something inherently wrong with gay people. As I learned, the problem with using the Bible to condemn homosexuality is that we have to ignore a lot of other things in the Bible, and we have to ignore a lot of facts, which science has revealed to us in modern times. For example, the same sections of the Bible, which describe homosexuality as an abomination, also proclaim a lot of things that, well, most Christians simply don’t believe.
Let’s look at some examples:
- Leviticus 11:10 says that eating shellfish is an abomination. Do you believe it’s wrong, worse than wrong, “an abomination” to eat shellfish?
- Exodus says “the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death.” Do you believe that someone who works on the Sabbath (which is a Saturday by the way, not a Sunday) should be stoned to death?
- Exodus 21:7 says it’s OK for parents to sell their daughter in slavery. Do you believe it’s OK for people to sell their daughters into slavery?
- Leviticus 19:19 even says that it’s an abomination to wear clothing of mixed fabrics. So most of us are probably committing an abomination on any given day.
Most people, most Christians, no longer believe these things. Yet they use the same sections of the Bible as artillery to condemn gay people.
My belief is that the yardstick for what is immoral is not whether some verses written a few thousand years ago tell me something is right or wrong, but whether an action is truly harmful to a person. You don’t believe that someone should be stoned to death for working on the Sabbath, I’m sure. And you don’t believe that because it would be bringing unnecessary harm to that person. We generally believe as human beings that it would be irrational and unjust, in fact, monstrous to kill someone for working on a particular day of the week. So I think there are many things that you or I would not practice from the Bible because it would actually be wrong to practice them. I’m not suggesting that anyone should give up all of their religious beliefs. I’m only suggesting that very, very few people take all of the Bible literally, so why do they pick some verses from the same sections of the Bible, where they ignore so many others?
Jesus himself made no comments in the Bible about gay people at all. Ever. His message was simply to do unto others as you’d want to have done unto yourself. I’d argue that his definition of morality dovetails nicely with my secular one above. In fact, what made Jesus so radical at the time was that he too was pointing out that Old Testament law was invalid. If his disciples continued to make arguments against homosexuality at the time, they did so out of their own culturally-enabled ignorance.
So why do so many people still refer to homosexuality in this way? Likely just to justify their own deeply felt prejudices.
What Else Did I Learn?
My thinking was challenged and I changed my mind. Because to believe those things, I had to ignore the facts, including a lot of science. Also, in order to maintain those beliefs, I would have had to hold onto a lot of stereotypes and untruths about gay people, despite all that I learned to the contrary from all the good gay people I met out in the world, when I moved on.
Among my discoveries:
- I realized that just because people have believed something for hundreds, even thousands of years, that doesn’t make it right. Consider slavery, for example. Or women’s secondary placement in society.
- I found that we can learn a lot about the nature of homosexuality from science now, and we know that it occurs often and quite naturally.
- I realized that promiscuity may be unhealthy, perhaps you could maintain that it’s “wrong,” but you can’t argue that homosexuality equals promiscuity. Because “straight” people are promiscuous, too. And just as not all heterosexual people are promiscuous, neither are all gay people.
- I learned that there are stereotypes about gay people, which simply aren’t true. You get to know some gay people and you realize that the popular representation of the so-called “gay lifestyle” isn’t even accurate. That gay people live “normal” lives all over America. In fact, I know many gay people who are in long-term relationships with people they have deep feelings for.
- After speaking to many gay people, I understood that they didn’t just choose to be gay at some point in their lives, but they realized since they were very, very young that they were gay. No choice was involved. Just as I didn’t choose at any point in my life to be heterosexual.
- I realized that the love two gay people have for each other does me no harm. In fact, their relationships are really none of my business.
- I now understand that gay people are not just sexually attracted to people of the same gender; they love people of the same gender, and as such they deserve the same rights to marriage as a couple, access to healthcare as a couple, to adopt as a couple, etcetera. This underlines the fact that their relationships are not just sexual, as they are so often stereotyped to be.
- In fact, I realized, the so-called “gay agenda” simply intends for gay people to enjoy the same basic human rights the rest of us do. Gay rights are human rights.
Being gay is different. But it’s not wrong. People used to believe being left-handed was wrong, too. But it’s just different. The word “sinister” actually refers to left-handedness, a symptom of our superstition around left-handed people. We used to believe a lot of things were wrong, but now we know they’re just different. We used to believe a lot of things in the Old Testament, but I guarantee that everyone reading this post really doesn’t believe everything in the Old Testament. We’ve moved on to a more modern understanding of morality. And that’s OK. It’s not that we have no morality. We just have a different understanding of morality. And I believe a better one.
There’s another chapter to my story, which I haven’t mentioned yet. A few years after I experienced that seismic shift in my opinions about homosexuality, my brother Christopher told me he was gay. Is gay. Since he always has been gay. He didn’t decide to become gay: He knew he was gay since he was 5 years old. He didn’t wake up one morning and decide he’d like to make elementary and high school even more difficult for himself by inviting the mockery and bullying of his fellow students. He didn’t choose “the gay lifestyle.” He was born with a homosexual orientation. Just as I was born heterosexual. Just as I was born left-handed. Just as he and I were both born red-headed.
I am grateful then that when he began to wrestle with his orientation, my opinions had changed significantly, so that he could share his thoughts and struggles with me. I can begin to understand now how lonely and painful his path to that point must have been. And I must say that the University we both attended was not equipped to help him: It was only prepared to highlight, to judge, and to criticize his differences. Instead of celebrating the variety he brought to the institution, they isolated it like a cancer and cut it out. My brother is not a cancer. He is a talented, creative, kind-hearted human being. I celebrate his existence.
Why So Serious?
Due to my increasingly vocal support for gay rights, I’ve had more than one person assume I must be gay. Fine. If I thought there were anything wrong with being gay, I might be offended. I don’t. Nonetheless, if we went back in time a few years and you were to find me supporting the right for African-Americans to vote, would you assume I were a closet African-American? I think this leaping assumption says more about the person addressing me than it does me. Perhaps, however, this essay will go a long ways to explaining why I now support gay rights so vocally.
We human beings often don’t enjoy confrontation, but sometimes we need to be confronted. It’s not my intention then to be unkind to my fundamentalist friends. I don’t want to provoke them simply for the sake of the provocation. But I do want to provoke them. I want to provoke them to reconsider long-held beliefs, as I did. Nonetheless, I often hesitate before posting my thoughts like this because I know many people won’t agree with me. Because I know members of my own family emphatically disagree with me. But in the end, I feel like that’s why I have to post them. I know too many gay people now, who’ve suffered for far too long because of the beliefs of otherwise good people. I feel that if I’ve learned these things and I say nothing, I am doing wrong. I am contributing to injustice. I think my silence would be immoral. We have few opportunities in our time on this planet to truly make a difference, so I can only hope to make some modest difference in sharing these thoughts.
Because if I can change my thinking, others can, too. Anti-gay sentiments simply don’t hold up under the scrutiny of reason. To dispel them, however, it’s going to take a lot patience and hard work. But the answer to this issue is simple (if difficult to execute): Education. Educate people about the facts of homosexuality, rather than the fallacies. People think they have the facts, but they don’t. Unfortunately, this education takes time and effort. I’ll admit that this frustrates me. But, if I truly care about my fellow human beings—regardless of their sexual orientation or their political affiliation or their religious beliefs— I have to be willing to reach out and to engage in dialogue, to continue answering the questions and arguments raised by those who oppose, not just homosexuality, but related issues like gay marriage and parenting. Because these arguments can be answered. And (some) people can change their minds.
Finally, however, there’s something even more important to remember in the meantime. To all my gay friends and loved ones: Don’t give up! Don’t give up! Don’t give up! Don’t let them win. After all, there is light and love and hope and understanding in the world. It may take some time to find it, but it is most assuredly there. It can get better.