Friday, June 06, 2008

Converting Gays - Save your breath, folks.

Today's Orlando Sentinel published a story about the Focus on the Family meeting in Orlando during Gay Days to try to "convert" gays and lesbians. Predictably, the story ignited a storm of comments (57 by 10:30 a.m.) most of which trotted out the same red herrings of pedophilia, bestiality and selective biblical literalism. Knowing it's probably a waste of time (homophobia stops a working mind) I offer my contribution to the fray:

Some thoughts to consider:

1. “Conversion” is an unhelpful and disingenuous term in discussing sexual orientation. The opposite of homosexual is not Christian, it’s heterosexual. The opposite of Christian is not gay, it’s non-Christian. Conversion speaks to one’s coming to hold an ideological persuasion, often religious but sometimes political. As used by conservative Christians regarding homosexuality, the more accurate term is repentance, an understanding tied to notions of sin. Homosexual sinners can repent of sins just as homophobic sinners can repent of sins. But sexual orientation is not a sin, it’s a human condition. And to test that theory one only needs to consider the impossibility of repenting for being heterosexual.

2. Christianity is not a synonym for homophobia. Nor is holding homophobic views a tenet of Christian believing or a requirement for those who do. Christianity is a stream of religious tradition. Homophobia is a socially constructed form of misanthropy. It is perfectly possible to hold Christian religious tenets but not hold homophobic views. Many, perhaps most, Christians do so, many despite pronouncements by church officials to the contrary.

3. Sexual orientations inhere in the individual and are part and parcel of their person. Thus notions of choice are inapplicable in discussing sexual orientation. Those who insist that homosexuality is a choice cannot themselves recall in detail when they chose to be heterosexual, who presented the choices, what the advantages and disadvantages of each possible choice were and why they chose as they did. Hence, the assertion that homosexuality is the result of a choice is made by those who have not themselves made a choice yet insist that others have. The burden of proof must lie with those making such an assertion, a burden unlikely to be met.

4. Homophobia is generally defined as an irrational attitude about homosexuality. While the studies of how sexual orientations come into being are far from complete, numerous studies have found that sexual orientation is tied to any number of factors, mostly biological with the way those factors play out affected primarily by cultural factors. In light of such findings, it is hard to see attitudes about homosexuality which would punish those who have such orientations with everything from criminal laws to eternal damnation as anything but irrational. Thus, ironically, while sexual orientation is not a matter of choice, homophobic attitudes held in the face of evidence suggesting such attitudes are unfounded are always a matter of choice.

5. Legitimation of misanthropic attitudes is often attempted through the aegis of religion. Slave holding southern ministers were the loudest voice against abolition of American slavery and pulpit pounding preachers were the loudest voices against women’s suffrage. But at heart, misanthropy remains misanthropy even when toxic views are placed on the lips of the divine through selective literalism.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

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