Stuart Edser: Being Gay, Being Christian, You can be both (Exisle Publishing 2012). [Foreword by the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG]
My journey out of Pharisaism on gay/lesbian issues began in an Australian Broadcasting Corporation TV studio back in the 1970s. A ‘conservative evangelical’ pastor, I was then Victoria’s spokesperson for The Festival of Light. Two women – who, let us say, practised an ‘alternative sexual lifestyle’ – and I were invited to discuss morality. One of them departed from Peter Couchman’s script and asked ‘Why do you Christians hate us?’ I muttered something about ‘loving the sinner but hating the sin’ but she retorted: ‘Then why don’t we feel loved by you people?’ I was speechless.
Here’s the first book I would give any literate Christian seeker-after-truth/reality about gay and lesbian issues . Dr Stuart Edser has the relevant qualifications: brought up Catholic (including three years as a teenager in a monastery preparing for a possible vocation as priest), then following several years as a born-again Christian in Protestant/Evangelical/ Pentecostal churches he entered a period of ‘searching’ about his gay orientation (which refused to succumb either to exorcism or reparative therapy) and then trained as a psychologist. Finally he has come to believe that God actually loves him – even likes him – the way God made him…
Stuart tells it like it is. He’s especially vitriolic about elderly males in the Vatican issuing pronouncements about how we should believe/behave – especially when science disagrees with their presuppositions (remember the backflip on Galileo?). He’s an expert on the relevant research: the endnotes alone are worth the price of the book. And with the help of Marcus Borg, James Alison et. al. he’s reconfigured his old simplistic fundamentalist theology (so those inhabiting ‘simplicity this side of complexity’ will have a rough ride through some chapters).
His main theses:
â€¢ The word ‘gay’ comes before the word ‘Christian’ as ‘a gay sexuality is part of the fabric of the self, whereas a particular religious affiliation is a belief that one can adhere to today and eschew tomorrow’
â€¢ If gays/lesbians automatically go to hell 350,909,790 [5%] of the world’s people are in big trouble
â€¢ Sexual orientation is set early in life and changes minimally: ‘preferred sexuality’ is a nonsense: one does not choose to become either straight or gay
â€¢ The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official list of ‘mental disorders’ in 1973, followed by the American Psychological Association (1975). In the 1990s these two Associations plus many others called for an end to legal discrimination against gays, and so-called ‘reparative therapy’. Summary of the peer-reviewed research: Are gay people more psychologically disturbed than straight people? No. Besides being therefore unethical, does reparative therapy work? ‘Gay and lesbian sexuality , like heterosexuality, is neither wilfully chosen nor wilfully changed. I have yet to see God perform a … miracle in any gay individual’s life to make him or her straight’
â€¢ In the Bible’s 50 references to sex only eight sexual acts are forbidden: promiscuous sex, incest, paedophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, adultery, homosexual behaviour by heterosexual persons, and rape. The Bible has nothing to say about homosexuality as a lifelong orientation. The Holiness Code in Leviticus bans male-male ‘cultic sex’: fertility rituals are an ‘abomination’ (the technical Hebrew word is ‘toevah’). There’s a lengthy discussion of the Romans, 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy passages: again, they do not refer to homosexuality as an orientation (the concept was unknown) nor to a same-sex lifelong commitment.Â Romans has the same themes as the Leviticus passages – referring to idolatry and thus sexual practices as part of ritual practice. This passage, the clearest and largest treatment of homogenital beaviour in the entire Bible, does not condemn what we know today as people with a gay sexual orientation. While Paul finds such practices socially disreputable, he uses very different language to when he is condemning outright sin. The 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy passages are both treated in detail as well and are found to be identifying not people with a gay sexual orientation as science understands today, but exploitative sex that includes the buying and selling of sex or people for sex.
â€¢ The traditional Catholic view is that the main purpose of sex is ‘generative’ rather than ‘unitive’. The 1975 Seper Declaration asserted that ‘homosexual behaviour is wrong, immoral and intrinsically disordered’. [Stuart’s comment: ‘I must have missed something. I know of no Scripture verse, Old or New Testament, that suggests, states or shows such a thing’]. However, the Ratzinger Letter (1986) concedes that ‘although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil’. [Stuart’s comment: ‘No other line of church text has caused so much debate, so much hurt and so much offence to gay people, and many straight people’] . And, wait for it: according to respected researchers Donald Cozzens and Richard Sipe, between 30% and 50% of American priests are gay! ‘Big religion does not understand that its rules were made for humanity, not humanity for the rules.’
â€¢ Why didn’t Jesus mention the whole vexed matter? ‘I can think of only one good answer to such a question. I don’t think same-sex attracted people were an issue for Jesus, vexed or otherwise.’
NB. I don’t remember Stuart mentioning the current debate in Australia about marriage equality. I take the view that straight marrieds like me ought to be guided by our [Christian] gay and lesbian friends on that issue. Here’s Justice Michael Kirby’s comment in the Foreword: ‘The self-same news item that reported the dire predictions of [Anglican] Archbishop Peter Jensen [ie. ‘This claim for [same-sex-marriage rights] could open the door for other forms, such as polygamous marriages or perhaps even marriage between immediate family members] contained reports of a recent Galaxy Poll which found that three in four Australians believe that it is “inevitable” that same-sex couples will be allowed to marry’.
 Next I would suggest recent books by the Australians Justice Michael Kirby, Michael Kelly, and Anthony Venn-Brown. See
Rowland Croucher May 2012
Disclosure: I am currently national chaplain of the Australian ‘Freedom2B’ GLBTI community.