Many religions experience controversy over the matter of homosexuality. This might seem surprising since nearly all religions preach tolerance, kindness and respect for one another.
On the other hand, marriage to a person of the opposite sex is central to many religions and cultures and may make the concept of non-heterosexual identities hard to accept.
This makes things very difficult for parents who find themselves unsupported by their faith when a child comes out. It is not uncommon in these circumstances for parents to change their place of worship or to leave their religion altogether:
At this time I found it very difficult to reconcile my churchgoing and…Christian beliefs with my growing understanding of the terrible prejudice and bigotry with which many gay people are treated. I wrote an article for the church magazine (with the agreement of the vicar), telling honestly about our son and our experiences. As he had gone to the Sunday school, the people there knew Mike. I was hoping simply to help people I regarded as my friends to understand a rather complex and hidden subject. How naive I was! Not one person mentioned the article to me.
The silence was deafening.
I severed all connection with the local church and eventually, religion of any description…
…I felt very strongly that I did not want to belong to any organisation that might think our son was an “abomination”.
Co-founder of FFLAG
In the case of homosexuality, religion is, sadly, too often: ‘…a source of conflict rather than solace’ (ChildLine casenotes, NSPCC website, 2010)
However, there are clearly debates taking place within some religions, and, whilst the turbulence that this causes may be uncomfortable, it is reassuring to see that those discussions are taking place. Most of the major religions now have some followers who are working towards a more tolerant and respectful approach towards homosexuality.
Some religions now distinguish between homosexuality and homosexual acts, but are often unclear about what constitutes a ‘homosexual act’. After all, heterosexual people participate in all sexual acts, (see section on Sex, Relationships and Family Life) and there is no sexual act which is specific to either lesbian or gay people.
In practice, this distinction does nothing to protect younger people who still experience homophobic bullying in school, even though they are not sexually active.
For some religions (for example, the Anglican faith) these debates are taking place across continents and are probably reflective of different cultural attitudes towards homosexuality as much as religious ones.
In the Sikh religon, for example, the central text, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, does not mention homosexuality, and none of the Gurus gave a view of homosexuality. However, according to SARBAT: ‘Punjabi culture is extremely homophobic, and because almost all Sikhs are Punjabi in ethnicity, this can sometimes cause tensions to arise between gay Sikhs and their families as a whole.’
A recent study by Stonewall: ‘Love Thy Neighbour: What people really think about homosexuality’ (2008) has shown that many people of faith are accepting of lesbian and gay people and co-exist in harmony. Religious objections to lesbian and gay sexuality are more likely to be promoted by religious leaders, rather than followers. Sometimes the views of religious leaders views come over as homophobic, especially when reported in particular ways in the media. This can perpetuate hate crime and bullying.
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