Does Religion Breed Homophobia?

To mark the anniversary of the infamous Orlando gay bar massacre, I’d like to quote the then Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Flordia, who, on the day after it happened, said on his blog: “Sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for, gays, lesbians and transgender people.”

We have to face the fact that gay-bashing is often encouraged, perpetrated and justified by believers. In the aftermath of the heinous crime committed at Pulse Nightclub many ,so-called religious people, took to social media suggesting that this was punishment from God. It is absolutely shocking to see these reactions from Christians. Sadly most of the US Bishops who issued statements about the killing could not even bring themselves to mention the word gay in their statements when, quite clearly, this was more than just terrorism. It was also an abominable homophobic attack. It’s an uncomfortable question but one that we have to courageously face and take responsibility for: what role has religion, across the board, played in fueling homophobia? The answer is just as uncomfortable. While religion and religious language are not entirely to blame for homophobic sentiments, believers must interrogate the words they use and the positions they take. Religious positions and language contribute to a cocktail in which homophobia is incubated and bred as it powerfully shapes perceptions, attitudes and actions. Religious teaching strives to shape perceptions, attitudes and actions, but this should be for the good. Phrases such as objectively disordered are not helpful.

Many bishops at the Synod of the Family in 2015 called for a re-look at such language; others, unfortunately a number from America and Africa, were vociferous in their objection. The man who pulled the trigger was Muslim, but frequently gay people feel that the trigger is pulled in the Christian community . Many feel unwanted and unwelcome in our Church. Families are embarrassed to go to Church or even shunned because of a gay family member. Gay people and their families have been treated as second-class citizens . Many gay people who have left the Church were never physically driven away, the language alone was enough. Bad religion, which includes bad religious language, is an insidious assault rifle and it is sued often, even from the pulpit. We need an urgent discussion in our church about the way we speak about, and treat, gay people. We need the conversion of mind, heart and language. The Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Martin, said “homophobia is actually God-phobia because God loves everyone.”