Anti-gay Christians love to quote John 8:32, which says that "the truth will make you free." According to them, if only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people would simply accept the truths of the Christian faith, we would discover the error of our ways, repent of our sins and miraculously change our misdirected sexual orientations and/or gender identities.
As an openly-gay theologian, ordained Christian minister and seminary professor at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I agree that the truth will make us free. However, the anti-gay Christians have it backwards. As the groundbreaking events of 2010 have demonstrated, it is actually the truth of the fundamental goodness of LGBT people and our lives that will make us free. Ironically, this truth also will free anti-gay Christians of their own heterosexist prejudices and theological blind spots.
What were some of the truths about the goodness of LGBT people and our lives that were demonstrated in 2010? In August, the first fully-litigated U.S. federal court trial about same-sex marriage concluded that there was no rational basis for prohibiting LGBT people from entering into civil marriage. The trial court struck down California Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that stripped LGBT people in California of the right to marry. Judge Vaughn R. Walker's ruling demonstrated the truth that LGBT civil marriages are grounded in the same ethical values of love, mutual caring and commitment as non-LGBT civil marriages.
In September, after a rash of horrific suicides by young gay men across the United States, the openly-gay author and syndicated columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller started the "It Gets Better Project." This project has resulted in more than 5,000 Internet videos of LGBT people and our allies, speaking directly -- and giving hope -- to suffering LGBT young people around the world. Each video tells the truth about how even though many of us suffered at the hands of bullies and bigots while growing up, our lives ultimately have become better in the process of coming out and speaking the truth about our lives to the world.
In December, the U.S. Congress authorized -- and President Obama signed into law -- the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell statute that had prohibited openly lesbian and gay soldiers from serving in the U.S. military for the past 17 years. The repeal was based upon overwhelming evidence that allowing lesbians and gays to serve openly in the military would have no adverse consequences to national security. In fact, the evidence showed that encouraging truth telling by lesbian and gay soldiers would actually enhance the effectiveness of our armed forces. As most of us learned from an early age, telling the truth is a virtue and not a vice.
There were a number of other encouraging examples in 2010 of speaking the truth about LGBT people. For example, in September a Florida state court struck down an anti-gay statute that expressly prohibited LGBT people from adopting children in that state. Shortly thereafter, the Florida Department of Children and Families declined to appeal the decision, thus conceding the truth of that ruling.
In December, the United Nations spoke the truth by voting to protect LGBT people around the world from extrajudicial killings and arbitrary executions, notwithstanding the strenuous objections of a number of member countries. Even Pope Benedict XVI, in a recent book-length interview with a German journalist, took a first step toward speaking the truth about LGBT people by saying that the intentional use of condoms by a male prostitute to prevent HIV/AIDS infection could be the "first step in the direction of moralization."
Interestingly, anti-gay Christians love to cite over and over again the half-dozen or so verses in the Bible that purportedly condemn same-sex acts as sinful. However, they ignore the nearly 200 verses in the Bible that emphasize the importance of truth-telling from a theological and ethical perspective, not to mention the explicit prohibition of bearing false witness against one's neighbors in the Ten Commandments.
These anti-gay Christians would do better to heed the stern biblical warnings against bearing false witness. Recently, the venerable Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) officially designated 13 anti-gay Christian groups -- including the American Family Association, the Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition -- as "hate groups" for spreading "known falsehoods" against LGBT people. Another five groups -- including the Concerned Women for America, Liberty Counsel and the National Organization for Marriage -- were cited for their use of "demonizing propaganda" against sexual minorities on the SPLC's website.
Anti-gay Christians, including those who are affiliated with the above groups mentioned by the SPLC, would do well to read more closely the first chapter of letter of St. Paul to the Romans. In particular, they should read Romans 1 as applying to themselves. Often that chapter is used solely as "proof" of the sinfulness of LGBT people. What anti-gay Christians seem to forget, however, is the traditional doctrine of original sin, as articulated in Romans and interpreted by theologians such as Augustine of Hippo onwards, applies to all people -- including themselves!
What if the warning of Romans 1:18-21 against the "ungodliness" and "wickedness" of those who "suppress the truth" -- and those whose "senseless minds" are "darkened" -- actually referred to those anti-gay Christians who fail to acknowledge the truth and empirical evidence about the fundamental goodness and loving nature of LGBT people and our relationships?
What if the "lusts," "impurity" and "degrading" actions (including "exchanging the truth about God for a lie") as described in Romans 1:24-25 actually referred to the lust for political power, wealth and idolatrous self-worship as exhibited by many anti-gay Christians, some of whom scapegoat LGBT people as a convenient way of diverting attention from their own sexual sins?
What if the condemnation of the "shameless acts" committed with "one another" and the "debased mind" described by St. Paul in Romans 1:27-28 actually referred to the brutal gang rape (metaphorically speaking) of LGBT people by anti-gay Christian hate speech - hate speech that has resulted in numerous queer bashings and suicides by LGBT people, including innocent young people whose lives were tragically cut off before reaching their prime?
Although admirable progress was made during 2010 with respect to basic human rights for LGBT people, much more needs to be done. In particular, the rise of state-sanctioned anti-LGBT violence in other parts of the world, including the Middle East, Asia and Africa, is frightening. For example, the upcoming vote by the Uganda legislature on its "kill-the-gays" legislation is one example of this state-sanctioned violence that must be condemned by people of faith everywhere.
As LGBT people, we must remain ever vigilant and hopeful that the truth of the fundamental goodness, and holiness, of our lives and relationships will free us from the sinful bondage of homophobic and heterosexist oppression. However, LGBT people are not the only ones who will benefit from this truth. The truth will also free anti-gay Christians from their own heterosexist prejudices and theological blind spots -- shortcomings that would otherwise prevent them from entering fully into the reign of God.
Follow Rev. Patrick S. Cheng, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/patrickscheng