Your daughter and her new girlfriend have joined you and your extended family for a holiday feast. You're thrilled that they agreed to come. But your favorite uncle apparently didn't get the memo about how great it would be to have a lesbian couple sitting at the table. Somewhere between the hors d'oeuvres and main course, he starts grumbling about how "crimes against nature" and "abominations" are ruining his holiday.
Do you: a) fake a migraine and escape to your bedroom for two hours; b) switch the topic to politics, which would surely be easier to talk about than this; or c) adopt a non-anxious, self-confident posture as you calmly explain why God has no problem with your daughter's relationship and neither should anyone else?
I imagine most people would like to choose option "C," but far too few feel sufficiently prepared to do it. I don't recommend delivering a lecture on this topic over dinner. But if you're worried about entertaining homos for the holidays, here's a brief religion survival guide that can help soothe the family conversations. Just imagine chatting with your beloved uncle over eggnog. Whenever he makes one of the following claims (as he likely will), just respond calmly and lovingly in return, like this:
Uncle Claim #1: The Bible clearly condemns homosexuality.
Your Calm Response: Lots of people think exactly the same thing! But did you know that most biblical scholars agree that biblical writers never addressed gay and lesbian relationships as we know them today? The word "homosexuality" wasn't even invented until the late 19th century. Biblical writers cared much more about guarding against idolatry and condemning social and economic injustice than worrying about who fell in love with whom. Want to talk about year-end bonuses for Wall Street moguls?
Uncle Claim #2: But wait, God destroyed Sodom because of all that gay sex, right?
Your Calm Response: Actually, in the story of Sodom in Genesis 19, all the men of Sodom attempt to gang-rape some foreign visitors. As in rape cases today, this act is not about sexuality but about violence, power, and the hatred of strangers. All the references to this story in the rest of the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) confirm that the "sin" of Sodom was hatred of foreigners, pride, and abuse of the poor. No sexual "sin" is mentioned in any of these later references to the story of Sodom's destruction. You know, biblical writers would probably urge us to discuss U.S. immigration policy if we're going to talk about "sodomy."
Uncle Claim #3: Well, OK. Still, the Bible clearly supports heterosexual marriage as the ideal.
Your Calm Response: I used to think so, too! But did you know that the primary form of marriage in the Hebrew Bible is polygamy, with the prize going to King Solomon, who was said to have 700 wives and 300 concubines? I was really surprised to realize that in the New Testament, both Jesus and Paul were unmarried and childless and seemed to recommend that everyone else follow their example (the best thing Paul could think to say about marriage is that it cures lust; take a look at 1 Corinthians 7). Actually, we could talk about the amazing biblical stories of same-sex devotion concerning Jonathan and David or Ruth and Naomi!
Uncle Claim #4: Then why did God create Adam and Eve, you know, rather than Adam and Steve?
Your Calm Response: Have you met Steve? He's fabulous... OK, just kidding. But think about this: the biblical creation stories in Genesis never mention same-sex relationships of any kind. The purpose of those stories is to show that God is the creator of everything that exists -- don't you think that this would include people who have a sexual orientation towards others of the same sex? And think about the creation story in Genesis 2. That chapter seems to say that the explicit purpose of creating sexual partners is not for the procreation of children but instead for the relief of loneliness. Same-sex relationships fulfill that purpose of creation as well as different-sex relationships do -- just look at your grand-niece! Doesn't she seem happy with her girlfriend?
Uncle Claim #5: Of course she does! But the Church won't accept her relationship!
Your Calm Response: You know what? Lots of churches will! And you know what else? The Church has never really figured out what to say about marriage. Way back in the first few centuries of Christianity, the Church actually elevated celibacy as the spiritual ideal, not marriage. Only in the medieval world and especially in the Protestant Reformation during the 16th century did Christians start to talk about marriage as a significant Christian vocation. Today, lots of churches recognize same-sex relationships as a blessing just like heterosexual couples are. But right now, dear uncle, don't you think the most important thing is to make my daughter and her girlfriend feel welcome here, in our family?
Your holiday conversation probably won't go exactly like that. But here's the most important thing: religion is supposed to draw us together, create community, and deepen our love for one another. You love your uncle, and you love your lesbian daughter. Religion should never force you to choose between them. That's the good news of religion this holiday season: God loves LGBT people just as much as your beloved uncle. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Follow Rev. Jay Emerson Johnson, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/revdocjay