10 reasons why gay rights is a religious issue?

Robyn Vestal drew my attention to an interesting article by Jay Michaelson from the San Francisco Sentinel, entitled Ten Reasons Why Gay Rights Is a Religious Issue.

After arguing that “Civil rights movements that appeal to religion succeed. Those that do not, fail.” Michaelson proceeds to outline ten religious reasons for embracing gay rights, which are:

  1. It Is Not Good to Be Alone
  2. God Loves Us and Does Not Want Us to Harm Ourselves
  3. Compassion Is Holy
  4. Justice Is Holy
  5. Because the Hebrew Bible Doesn’t Say What the Right Says it Does
  6. Because the New Testament Doesn’t Say What the Right Says it Does
  7. Evolution of Religious Doctrine Is Healthy
  8. Curbing Brutishness Is the Point
  9. Because the Separation of Church and State Helps the Church
  10. Sexual Diversity Is a Beautiful Part of God’s Creation

Have a read of the article for yourself and tell me what you think.

Personally I think he has a long way to go yet; that some of his detailed arguments and not nearly as strong as some of his paragraph headings, and that he probably needs to differentiate between the more theologically solid and more theologically tenuous arguments, to maximise theological credibility. But I think he has succeeded in identifying where conversations need to happen, and why they need to happen.

Because, like it or not, I think Michaelson is right. If gay lifestyles are to achieve broad acceptance, then religious conservatives need to be convinced along with religious liberals. As a committed Christian, I need to be convinced that it’s Christlike. I think that’s a tough call, but this is the sort of conversation I’d be interested in having.

18 thoughts on “10 reasons why gay rights is a religious issue?

  1. Eric, yes, that’s precisely one of the theological weaknesses. He took his bearings for point 1 off Old Testament rather than the New Testament, ignoring the singleness of Jesus. Was his lifestyle sub-optimal?


  2. Actually, much as I believe this is a significant argument and needs [a lot of] discussion, these points are riddled with fail.
    2) sets up a false dichotomy. Frankly, thereare more choices than “Express a certain sexuality” and “Hurt yourself”. So this adds little to the argument.
    3) and 4) are true, but ignore a crucial point – If homosexuality is wrong (and this is the question we really wish to address – not “can we love gay Christians?” but “Is what they’re doing actually acceptible in the first place”), then compassion does not mean to grant approval to wrong choices, and justice may even be fairly interpreted as preventing such choices. So whilst they are valid points, they are points which could actually have an opposite meaning to what Michaelson intends.
    5) and 6) are very broad assertions, and place the writer on pretty thin ice. For them to be true, the “Right” needs to speak with a united voice (which it self-evidently does not. And since the “right” says an awful lot about any given subject, to make such sweeping statements is confrontational and unhelpful (though I concede that such statements could be a subject heading for more constructive dialogue).
    7) Is true ONLY if such evolution leads in a direction that makes people more Christ like. Many evolutions which have taken place in the history of Christendom have in fact been unhealthy in the extreme. So this statement is false.
    8)is basically an opinion, and depends greatly on one’s definition of “brutishness” and how it applies to this question.
    9) may or may not be true, but it is not particularly relevant to a constructive dialogue regarding the rights and wrongs of the issue.
    10) is totally opinion based – one could say with EVERY BIT as much justification that “Human sexuality is intended to be the beautiful union of male and female.” It is an entirely aesthetic judgement.
    Whoo, far more treatment of this article than I intended . . But yeah, it needs to be discussed.


  3. Adele, well I’d say that’s one of the issues up for discussion, where theological conservatives need to be convinced; convinced by theological arguments and not just sociological ones.


  4. Johno, what I also see lacking is a recognition of any difference between (1) the right not to be brutally bashed in the street and (2) the right to be happily married in a Christian church. Yet in my experience there are huge numbers of Christians who would affirm the former as a right even though they don’t recognize the latter as a right. Yet without such recognition, recognition by gays that many evangelicals do care about gay rights to some degree, it’s difficult to convince conservatives that there’s space for constructive dialogue. Fortunately there are exceptions, but unfortunely they are mostly exceptions.


  5. I always find these discussions leave me in limbo as some theoretical entity… I find my own sex more attractive, but have yet to be convinced that this is a good choice for me to make (even within marriage). I find on the one hand I appreciate the openness of friends on the more liberal end of debates, but often times debates make me want to shout out that it’s ok not to get married. It’s more than ok, it’s good. You don’t have to be in a relationship +/- having sex to be a whole person. (which seems to be the crux of certain parts of the argument). On the other hand I often find that the more conservative end are so busy being theologically correct about things, that they’ve forgotten that the reason they were trying to know was in case someone actually in that boat dared voice a question about the issue in the first place! K sorry hijacking rant time over.


  6. I’ve only skimmed the article, but it seems to me that Mr. Michaelson is quickly conflating two separate issues: Whether Christians should consider same sex sexual relationships moral and whether Christians should support LGBT people’s right to be treated equally under the law and in all aspects of the public sector. I find this an all too common and highly unfortunate tendency.
    As such, I find many of his points (1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 10)irrelevant and unhelpful. I may think some of those points (7 in particular) may point to some important theological discussions that need to take place within Christianity, but I consider those discussions mostly unrelated to the question of LGBT rights.
    I also think that Mr. Michaelson missed some other, more important discussion points too. For example, I think Christians need to think very seriously about how much the church — through the means of state coercion or other forms — should try to act as the conscience/moral agent of individuals outside of the church.


  7. My solution would be to get the government out of the marriage business; allow civil unions between 2 consenting adults and let churches perform marriages.
    IMHO way too much attention has been paid to homosexuality as a sin in the Christian church and it seems to me odd that the sins that Jesus preached the most strongly about; over attention to rules without compassion, not caring, not loving are ignored while much more obscure issues have become symbolic of what the church stands for.
    I think it would be better to focus on what is the loving caring thing for the church to do. Slavery isn’t condemned in the Bible but we clearly read the love and respect for human beings taught in scripture to not condone slavery in this time period.


  8. Dave, not a hijack at all. Very much on topic IMO. To be honest I’d feel a whole lot more comfortable if both sides in the media debates admitted the issue is a whole lot more complex than we oftn give it credit for. For instance, I think Brian McLaren opened up a whole bunch of stuff for Christians to consider by introducing a hermaphrodite character into his A New Kind of Christian series. Sexual diversity on a physiological level. Much more difficult for us to walk past than sexual diversity on the psychological level. What does wholeness look like for a hermaphrodite? That’s a darn good theological question.


  9. Jarred, you know, I think this simplistic but common conflation of ethics and law by gay activists like Michaelson actually does the GLBT cause a serious disservice in terms of legal reform.
    Because whilever people insist that ethical teaching must shift for law reform to occur, and that ethical teaching is grounded in deeply held religious belief, nothing is going to be going anywhere fast. But if a significant majority of Christians can come to understand that granting gay couples the same rights as de facto opposite-sex couples in tax, health, superannuation and aged care legislation does not require a moral compromise on their part, well, that’s going to shift the conversation considerably.
    As you know, I personally believe that Christians should be very wary of putting works (Christian sexuality) ahead of faith (Christian spirituality) in the public arena. Our conversation with the GLBT community should give priority to the latter not the former.


  10. Robyn, I recall reading that civil unions now make up 51% of all unions in Australia, so church blessed marriages are a minority now anyway.
    I agree too much attention has been paid to homosexuality as a sin. In fact, I think such attention has distorted popular understanding of sin in many unhelpful ways.


  11. If gay rights is a theological issue, then the question I would ask is what theological issue is at stake?
    And though I’m not sure about how theological it is, why do we need gay rights as opposed to human rights?
    What makes one group that is defined by what turns its members on sexually eligible for special rights, as opposed to other groups with different sexual preferences, or defined by different criteria?
    What about underwear fetishists rights, or left-handed rights, or motorist rights or gun freaks rights?


  12. Steve, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt that, unlike many leaders of the Religious Right here in the USA, you’re not using the phrase “special rights” to intentionally muddy the waters and hide the fact that gay people are being denied the same rights that many heterosexuals enjoy without a second thought.
    And that’s the issue. Yes, in an ideal world where people treated all human beings the same and gave all humans the same rights based solely on the fact that they are human, then there would be no talk of gay rights — or women’s rights or racial minorities’ rights, for that matter. There’d be a list of human rights, and all humans would be afforded them, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or any other factor.
    Unfortunately, we don’t live in that ideal world. We live in a world where people still think that certain aspects of other people make-up makes them less deserving of at least some of those human rights. We live in a world where landlords decide that two gay men should be evicted (or denied a lease in the first place), despite the fact that they’ve been model tenants, paid the rent early every month, kept the apartment or house in good order, and have been active and positive contributors to the neighborhood and wider community. Unfortunately, we live in a world where sometimes, you need a law explicitly reminding some landlords that being gay is not a valid reason to throw out model tenants (or refuse to rent to them in the first place). Sometimes, you need an explicit law to remind some employers that the fact that an employee (especially one who does his job well) is gay is not a valid reason to terminate him, nor is finding out that a highly qualified applicant is gay a valid reason to refuse to hire her.
    Yes, it should be all about human rights. But until everyone starts remembering that gay people are fully human and therefore deserving of their human rights, the gay rights issue will remain.


  13. Jarred,
    The Bill of Rights in our Constitution explicitly states that no one may be discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation.
    That is concerned with human rights. So I’m not sure what you are asking for — a separate Bill of Rights especially for gay people? But that would contradict the Constitution, because it would be discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
    PS I agreed entirely with your comment above that the question of “rights” and the question of moral theology are two separate issues, and ought not to be confused.


  14. steve, in that case the situation there in Oth Africa is very different than the one here in the USA. HERE, THERE IS NOTHING IN OUR Constitution explicitly forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (or sex or race, for that matter). Therein lies the probem. Here, discrimination has been historicall handlled through other legisalture. Currently, such legislature exists to protect people from discrimanation based on religion, sex, race, and other factors, but not sexual orientation. That’s what were trying to change. Were trying to get the same protections based on sexual orientation because here, that protection iss sorely lacking.


  15. Here’s the relevant section from the Bill of Rights:
    9. Equality
    Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.
    Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms. To promote the achievement of equality, legislative and other measures designed to protect or advance persons, or categories of persons, disadvantaged by unfair discrimination may be taken.
    The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.
    *1 No person may unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds in terms of subsection (3). National legislation must be enacted to prevent or prohibit unfair discrimination.
    Discrimination on one or more of the grounds listed in subsection (3) is unfair unless it is established that the discrimination is fair.

    You can see the whole thing at:


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