This past holiday season, I was treated to a four-hour drive home to South Carolina, where I was greeted by purring cats, a new Beyoncé album and a binge watching of House of Cards. Being a resident of South Carolina certainly has its benefits—for instance, if I weren’t a ginger I probably would have been able to tan over the break—but it also means that whenever I travel back to that beaming corner of the Bible Belt, I know I will be exposed to strict social standards that are far different from my own.
I am simultaneously Christian and gay. This means I support things like happiness, jail instead of public execution, musical expression, hot chocolate, human rights and the ability to freely love and marry another consenting adult regardless of sex. Some might be surprised when I say that I support all of these things not because I am gay, but because I am Christian.
Growing up I always felt confused about how exactly I identified religiously. My parents were members of different Christian denominations, so I often felt hazy as to why my family attended a Catholic church one week and a Lutheran one the next. I am thankful for growing up in this type of household because the focus was never on the specifics of religion, but rather on the importance of what faith can offer. Faith offered me a moral compass that I have always tried to stick to, and central to this morality is the intrinsic belief that whether individuals are made by a god or not, every life has significance.
I value reasonable arguments that challenge my own beliefs. In some ways, I am most bothered not by inequality, but by the ways in which people brandish misunderstood notions of their faiths in their attempts to justify it. I believe inequality to be the effect of ignorance, yet I remind myself repeatedly that when it comes to issues like these, the solution is not to personally attack social conservatives as “bigots.” Such a label fails to leave room for respectful discussion or open-mindedness.
When someone like Michele Bachmann laments that “Our children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal and natural and perhaps they should try it” or Rick Santorum argues that “Christians are the most tolerant people in the world…for the Republican Party to even contemplate going along with [DOMA’s repeal] is the destruction of our republic,” a refutation should explain what the Bible actually says about homosexuality. I do not mean that the Bible should be the go-to source for checking our moral compasses—it shouldn’t. But for any argument for gay rights to hope to carry traction against biblical conservatives like Bachmann and Santorum, it must at least in part respond to their biblical misrepresentations. When it comes down to it, the Bible says little on the topic in comparison to the hundreds of verses it spends promoting lifestyles of love, positivity, selflessness and non-judgment.
Neither the Torah nor the New Testament explicitly refers to homosexuality. In few instances, verses speak vaguely and with modern translations of words that did not originally refer to homosexuality. Leviticus reveals that “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: It is an abomination.” A literal understanding implies men cannot cuddle with other men. The sheer amount of looser interpretations for verses like this one reveal the ambiguity modern understandings face. In 1 Corinthians, Paul listed “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai” in a list of individuals who will not be granted access into heaven. Modern translations turn these words into “homosexuals,” but they more closely signify passive sexual partners. Not once in the New Testament is there a regulation against homosexuality.
The truth is that using the Bible to endorse a modern social issue is about as useful as giving an iPhone to a Roman citizen of the first century would have been. “Natural” has nothing to do with human interpretations of how God created the earth to be. If so, Rick Santorum would be expected to not wear suits of multiple fabrics, and—had she lived a century ago—Michele Bachmann would not have been allowed to give her views because Christian men would have told her that women were not naturally created for politics. Being “natural” has everything to do with what society should and should not accept, and this should not be dictated by loose, manipulated interpretations of a book written in a different era and culture.
Brendan McCartney is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs every other Tuesday.