As Minnesotans gear up for what will most certainly be an extended, loud and possibly vitriolic public debate in advance of the November 2012 vote on the anti-same-sex marriage state constitutional amendment, advocates on both sides of the issue might be surprised to find that many of them share a common belief about religion. Right-wing, cultural conservatives’ beliefs about marriage generally correlate with a belief that the teachings of Hebrew Bible and the New Testament expressly condemn homosexual behavior. This belief serves as a platform upon which to extrapolate their position that the institution of marriage is naturally intended exclusively for one man and one woman.
Those who advocate for equality for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, and who are also religious may find themselves in an awkward position. They believe that affirming gay and lesbian people is required in a just society, yet they may also be troubled by so-called “proof texts” in scripture that are used by opponents to declare same-sex committed relationships at a minimum to be inferior to heterosexual marriage or perhaps even offensive to God and the natural order. This discomfort is not driven by an abiding belief that scripture actually says what the conservatives say it does. But rather, it comes from a lifetime of feeling that it is difficult, if not impossible, to completely integrate their religious life with their gay-positive outlook.
In his new book God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality, Jay Michaelson sets out to make the case that religious people should support equality for gay people because of their religion, not despite it. Using a straightforward style, Michaelson outlines six reasons that the fundamental values of Judaism and Christianity lead us to support, rather than oppose equality for sexual minorities.
In summary they are:
- the ability for all human beings to enter into intimate relationships heals the first flaw in creation: loneliness;
- a loving God leads human beings to self-acceptance and authenticity, and abhors the closet;
- we are called by God to enact radical love through authentic compassion for all people;
- sexual diversity is a naturally occurring part of creation;
- the commandment to not bear false witness transforms coming out into a sacred act; and
- God’s exhortation to pursue justice makes inequality in all of its forms an affront to God.
The author argues that many of the foundational aspects of Judaism and Christianity do not merely permit equality for gay and lesbian people, but actually require it. In making his affirmative case, Michaelson consistently ties his assertions to the scriptures and traditional values of Judaism and Christianity.
In the chapters that follow, Michaelson analyzes 13 “bad verses” from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testemant, using linguistic, historical and anthropological frameworks to challenge the traditional interpretations that condemn homosexuality. In a video accompanying the book’s release, he discusses the story of Sodom and Gomorrah:
Michaelson’s analysis is clear and intellectually honest. When he encounters an area that is open to multiple interpretations, he says so. He does not give the appearance of overplaying a plausible interpretation to an unreasonable conclusion, merely to make it fit into his agenda. However, the author articulates a clear principle that he follows throughout the book: when there is at least one plausible interpretation of a problematic biblical text that does not condemn homosexuality, the six affirmative principles outlined in the first section of the book require religious people to affirm gay and lesbian people.
While God vs. Gay is intended for a lay audience, Michaelson’s text is rigorous and well referenced. A book of this type could easily become dry and professorial, but instead it is straightforward and economical in its style, with occasional moments of stunningly beautiful prose. Michaelson is a prolific essayist, scholar and Jewish gay activist, and he draws on his personal experiences liberally throughout the text. But the book never feels like a coming out memoir. (However, after reading this, I’d be interested in reading such a book by Michaelson.) Rather, he uses very few brief, impactful vignettes from his life experience to illustrate the powerful effect coming out had on his spiritual development.
God vs. Gay is a book that is perfectly timed to add important insight to today’s cultural and political debate about the fate of gay and lesbian people in the United States. Jay Michaelson has been an important Jewish voice in this conversation for quite some time, and with the publication of this book he will likely become widely known among many more people of faith.
A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.
Photos: Jay Michaelson, Beacon Press