I experienced a stunning revelation of the biblical type, an experience so intense that I was struck dumb, and it centered around Jesus.
The world that I grew up in was quite different than today’s and expectations concerning right and wrong, moral and immoral, ethical and unethical, have changed dramatically in the fifty-six years that I have been alive. I welcome many of the changes, especially those that promote greater equality. I am a strong believer that we all deserve the same fundamental rights regardless of sex, race, religion or sexual orientation.
People use religion to promote both equality and inequality. Religious people, both Christian and other, use the tenets of their faith to advance what they perceive to be a better, more God centered world.
Religion has been used to provide both dogged conservatives and radical liberals justification to either vigorously uphold the status quo or to promote a radical new world view. My religious, moral and social upbringing tended to focus on the importance of preserving the conservative societal status quo while recognizing a need to promote justice for all; a difficult tight-rope to walk when many of society’s injustices are embedded in practices and underlying precepts of mother church.
Sexual orientation and gender specific roles are two underlying cornerstones of liberal versus conservative Western societies. The view that men were created by God to have qualities A, B, and C while women have X, Y, and Z and that these qualities are in many ways mutually exclusive creates a world view where men must act in rigidly defined ways and that women’s proper roles are complementary but fundamentally different than men’s; a conservative, restrictive, dogmatic view of peoples’ places in society. This view has been challenged for centuries as evidenced by women gaining the rights to have property, vote and myriad advances that have removed inequality under the law based on sex.
The realization that men and women should have equal rights under the law and the ensuing rate of change in rigidly defined sex roles has increased dramatically in my lifetime. Though women have many battles in front of them to gain true equality, in the USA at least, the largest legal hurdles have been removed. Another group that has suffered even more outrageous legal discrimination than heterosexual women is homosexuals of both sexes but particularly men.
My upbringing concerning women’s changing roles was conservative but supportive in contrast to the underlying teachings that homosexuality was sinful, should be punishable by legal discrimination including prison and that gays are inherently pedophiles who recruit otherwise healthy heterosexual youngsters into a sick lifestyle that is in direct opposition to God’s desires. This description concerning how homosexuals were widely viewed is not exaggeration. Thomas Jefferson proposed castrating men who committed sodomy, and this was a liberal proposition; his goal was to remove sodomy from being a capital offense.
So what in Jehoshaphat’s name does all of this have to do with my little biblical moment when I was struck mute for a second? It’s because I cried out, “Jesus wasn’t gay!” in a vehement, heartfelt, gut-punched response to some playfulness.
One of my coworkers is a young man with a sparse beard and long hair that he usually wears in a tight bun. He had pulled it down and it lay draped over his right shoulder. Another coworker, a woman in her forties, laughingly said, “You look like Jesus.”
It was at this point that I declared my unquestioned, unmitigated, prejudiced statement concerning Jesus’ inherent heterosexuality. I said it because the young man’s hair was curled over his right shoulder, looking luxuriously long. I made my declaration to be funny but even as I said it I recognized the two subconscious underlying principles beneath my little joke.
One principle was that Jesus represents heterosexuality and the other was that gay therefore represents less than Man’s ideal state. (And, of course, only a gay man would have long, luxurious hair.) As my tongue made my joke my brain realized how little I have actually risen above the basic, prejudiced positions that I was brought up with. My first response was that Jesus as homosexual is foreign and wrong and my immediate, albeit too late, second reflection was, “Says who?”
Humor is important. It is a great vehicle to explore assumptions and tackle underlying prejudices. My conscious mind rejects the absurdities concerning homosexuals, that they are less than heterosexuals, that they are wrong, unnatural or contrary to God’s will, but my subconscious? It seems to go right back to my earliest training.
I will keep fighting the darkness, both within and without, but in my heart I know that no matter how much more accepting and enlightened I become there will remain at my core the child who was reared on rigid laws, codes and expectations.
Sometimes the best one can hope for is to do battle even though victory will be ever out of reach.