I’m also a Christian.
Society often tells me that this isn’t possible or I should feel some kind of conflict between my sexual orientation and religion. I’m told that Christians don’t accept the LGBTIQA+ community. If Christians do ‘accept’ the LGBTIQA+ community, I’m told that they don’t agree with the ‘gay lifestyle’ or marriage equality. Except it is possible to be a Christian and truly accept the queer community without feeling conflicted.
I already accepted the queer community before I realised I was bisexual, and I had always been a Christian. My family didn’t force my religion on me, and while I went to a religious school, we were also taught about other religions and lack thereof, so I chose to be a Christian. When I realised that I was bisexual, I didn’t feel a conflict between my sexual orientation and religion. I knew it was okay to be bisexual and that God loved and accepted me for who I was. I also knew that being bisexual wasn’t a sin and wouldn’t send me to hell.
Thou shalt not use the Bible to discriminate
The arguments against being a practising Christian and accepting LGBTIQA+ people usually involve references to the Bible.
The Old Testament of the Bible was written from approximately 1200 to 165 BC. The New Testament was written in the 1st century AD. The concept of sexual orientation was born in the 19th century, and the concept of gender as we know it today was born even later.
Those passages in the Bible that reference same-sex relations don’t condemn the fact the behaviour is between people of the same sex, but rather the violence, exploitation, adultery or idolatry related to the behaviour.
Additionally, the term ‘homosexuality’ didn’t exist when the Bible was written. So where some English translations of the Bible use ‘homosexuality’, they are carelessly simplifying the matters at hand.
Some of the things I treasure most about my religion are its underpinning values of love, respect and justice. It hurts me to see other Christians using our religion to discriminate against the queer community of which I am a part of and in doing so going against those values.
Religious freedom should be about a person’s right to choose their religion (or to choose no religion) and practice it without discrimination. It shouldn’t allow people to use their religion, including poor interpretations of its texts, as an excuse to discriminate against others. That is religious privilege, and it is manipulating the power that still comes with religion to reinforce a destructive heteronormative worldview.
Christians can accept the queer community. Such acceptance doesn’t go against the Christian belief, but rather supports it. Accepting the queer community means showing love and respect towards others, being inclusive and supporting equality. There are practicing Christians and churches out there that accept LGBTIQA+ people, will gladly join them in worship and will happily marry them.
I would also like to point out here that being a Christian is a choice. Religion is a choice. Sexual orientation and gender are not choices. We cannot choose who we are naturally attracted to or the gender we naturally identify as.
Incidentally, discrimination is a choice too.
Debating basic human decency
Seeing a nationwide debate play out, over whether or not religion should be used as a means to discriminate against you, can be incredibly damaging. All LGBTIQA+ people want is to be treated as human beings with equal rights, yet we continue to be treated as some threatening alien species. People are literally arguing over their ability to discriminate against us. The effects this has on the mental health of LGBTIQA+ youth, in particular, are distressing.
This has also become a significant political debate, with the government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill sparking fear in many LGBTIQA+ Australians and their allies, including Christians. Many of us are concerned about how far this will push back the LGBTIQA+ rights movement in Australia, erasing important legal protections that we’ve fought so hard to achieve and at a time when we’ve still got a long way to go to achieving equality.
The bill would ‘amend existing Commonwealth legislation relating to freedom of religion, including amendments to marriage law, charities law and objects clauses in existing anti-discrimination legislation’. This means that the current laws protecting LGBTIQA+ Australians, which vary from state to state could be rendered invalid as the Australian Constitution dictates Commonwealth legislation overrides state laws.
Additionally, the bill would appoint a Freedom of Religion Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission. Currently, the Australian Human Rights Commission has age, race, sex, disability and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander commissioners. There is no LGBTIQA+ commissioner.
The bill may also keep employers from putting policies in place that prevent employees from using religion to discriminate against the queer community according to Attorney-General Christian Porter. Such a clause wouldn’t have allowed Rugby Australia to terminate Israel Folau’s contract over his homophobic Instagram post on the grounds that it breached the players’ code of conduct. In other words, employees could freely spread homophobia and transphobia (among other forms of discrimination) without any ramifications under the guise of religious doctrine.
Already we’re starting to see the negative effects this debate is having on the mental health of LGBTIQA+ Australians. National spokesperson for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Australia, Shelley Argent, has said “there is an increase in the number and severity of calls to helplines from stressed LGBTIQ people, which shows how much anxiety this debate is causing”.
I recently experienced this firsthand when I attempted to call QLife, an Australian LGBTIQA+ peer support service, upon feeling distressed as a result of the religious freedom debate. The phones were all busy. I then attempted to use their webchat for almost an hour. Still, I couldn’t get through to anyone.
The distress I’ve felt throughout this debate, and even before it began, isn’t as a result of me being a Christian, but bisexual. I’ve felt distressed from being discriminated against by my fellow Christians for being bisexual, and I’ve felt distressed as a specifically bisexual Christian in feeling isolated from the rest of the queer community.
It’s ironic that one of the Morrison Government’s commitments is improving mental health when here they are politicising a completely unnecessary debate that is worsening the already poor mental health of LGBTIQA+ Australians.
Creating problems where there are none
Just 1% of respondents to the ABC’s Vote Compass survey prior to the election selected religious freedom as the most important issue to them. Far more pressing issues were the environment, the economy and healthcare. Ahead of religious freedom, too, was LGBTIQA+ rights.
There are even religious leaders who don’t believe religious freedom is a problem in Australia. Rev. Peter Weeks, co-convener of the Uniting Church in Australia’s LGBTIQA+ network, Uniting Network, has said his organisation’s view is that “there is no need or demonstrable evidence for new religious freedom legislation. It is our position that existing legislation that permits discrimination against LGBTIQ people in religious organisations is not only wrong but not theologically sustainable”.
Australian Jesuit priest, human rights lawyer and academic Fr. Frank Brennan; Anglican Bishop of Newcastle The Right Reverend Dr Peter Stuart and Dean of St John’s Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane The Very Rev. Dr Peter Catt also agree that new religious freedom legislation is unnecessary.
LGBTIQA+ advocates have widely condemned the Religious Discrimination Bill, the first draft of which was recently released by Christian Porter. The draft bill explicitly invalidates Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which protects LGBTIQA+ people from discrimination and is arguably the best law at doing so in the country. This comes after Porter previously claimed the bill would not interfere with state law.
The Morrison Government is also yet to consult with any LGBTIQA+ groups in their development of the bill, despite consulting with numerous conservative religious groups.
The Religious Discrimination Bill is not only unnecessary but also set to harm LGBTIQA+ rights (and is already harming LGBTIQA+ people). Instead, the Government should be making laws that protect the queer community from discrimination or at least be focusing on more urgent issues.
If this bill is going to be passed, though, I can only hope as both a Christian and a member of the queer community that the Government consults with a number of LGBTIQA+ groups before they create the final draft, as well as religious groups who are allies. And I hope all Australians are aware of just how significant this debate is and how devastating the repercussions could be.