Religion and homosexuality

Many people struggle mightily with the position of their religion, or their parent's religion, on homosexuality. That tension is a huge problem for those dealing with their sexual identity, especially youth who are still forming that identity and are also still deeply connected into their family structure. The tension is all too often characterized by judgment and condemnation and made worse by fear of the reaction and response of both family and society.

Where do these vehement views, which can cause so much pain and anguish, come from? What is the root cause of the level of intolerance and even hatred of homosexuality, that all too many people have to suffer through? In a word it is religion.

A brief history of recent LGBT rights

Undoubtedly there has always been some opposition to homosexuality in many societies throughout history, for various reasons. But until the advent of Judaism, followed by Christianity and then Islam, it was never codified as a degenerate moral condition. In most societies it was simply understood as one of many forms that sexual expression can take, though it was not accepted as a major, and certainly not preferred choice, because it did not produce children.

We live in a time when the thinking and understanding about homosexuality has changed dramatically. Most people, even gay people, don't know that it was only in 1973, less than fifty years ago, that thanks to the efforts of Dr. Charles Silverstein, the American Psychiatric Association finally de-listed homosexuality and removed it from the list of mental disorders to be treated and cured!

Between 1956 when Germany decriminalized homosexuality, and the mid-70's, most major European countries passed decriminalization laws. Homosexuality was only decriminalized in the United States by the Supreme Court in 2003.

In 2001 the Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage, and now all Western European countries have either legalized it or have legalized civil unions. It was only in 2015 that the United States Supreme Court required all states to grant same-sex marriages and recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states.

Yet, despite these recent advances there is still significant opposition to homosexuality in the United States and even in parts of Western Europe, to say nothing of Islamic countries and much of Africa and Asia, and this can be traced to the underlying cause that has always been the major driver, organized religion.

The role of religion

It is important to understand that the formal position of an institution on sexuality is very different than their position on drinking alcohol (Mormons), or the day of the week to worship (Seventh Day Adventist), or which calendar to follow (Eastern Orthodox). The reason being that a position on sexuality constitutes a position on personal identity because as human beings we are all sexual beings. Thus, a judgment and condemnation on the one hand, in contrast to an approval and support on the other, goes directly to the core of who and what a person is...and how they feel about themselves.

People don't live in isolation. They live in a familial web that begins with parents and immediate family, includes extended family, then community, and beyond that society at large. All those people and the groups and tribes and networks that they are part of hold specific views on any number of things, from football to politics to homosexuality. We grow up in that web, are shaped by it, and when we find ourselves at odds with it (for whatever reason), we risk being challenged and confronted, even shamed and hurt.

And, religion plays a major role here, because it shapes the beliefs that form the values of these groups on any number of subjects. Yes, as many people point out, Jesus (as recorded in the New Testament) said nothing about homosexuality. But the historical fact is, Christianity's position on homosexuality is not predicated specifically on the words of Jesus. It is built on a doctrinal view inherited from Judaism. That, in turn, was further developed in Medieval Europe, coincidentally while the Islamic view was being built during the Ottoman Empire.

The personal impact

The point? Regardless of the term they use, the result in all these religious contexts is to label the homosexual as a sinner (and more specifically a depraved sinner. There is a difference, but we do not need to concern ourselves with that here. If you are you are interested in understanding the difference, read further).

People have to understand this: talking about homosexuality as a sin is a somewhat abstract concept. It only becomes concrete and real when it is understood in terms of the person that it describes. If you're gay and homosexuality is a sin, then your religion considers you a sinner.

That means a judgment has been rendered upon you. From that judgment comes a stigma—you are a sinner of a specific type (for details see link above). Associated with that stigma comes the torment, the pain and the anguish because it is being inflicted simply because you are who you are.

Bill Maher, the American comedian and political commentator makes a telling observation: "faith is an opinion." By that he means that there is virtually no demonstrable objective facts that can be shown to justify or support a "faith position." Still, people are entitled to believe what they want to, and have a faith if they choose to. Now, extend that concept just a little. Doctrine is an opinion too. It is not an immutable cosmic truth. It was an opinion decided by some person or some group of people at some point in time to further an institutional goal. Regarding homosexuality, there was certainly no consideration of, or concern about, the consequence of the doctrinal decision on those who are gay.

That's the problem, and it will be until all these religions address it at a doctrinal level, instead of trying to play nice by saying "we accept homosexuals...." but still have a formal doctrinal position that homosexuality is a sin or one sort of another.

Many religions have modified their position on homosexuality in the past fifty years to be more accommodating, but it should be noted that none of them did it voluntarily—they all did so in response to changes in the broader society, and pressure being brought to bear on the institution.

There are many good resources on religious positions on homosexuality and we list some them below.

Here's a quick view of major religion and stream positions in a table.

Religion and Homosexuality


Wikipedia is a useful starting point for any research journey, though the list below is necessarily incomplete. Perhaps the best place to start is Religion and LGBT people, scrolling to the foot and expanding the navigation box named "Religion and LGBT people". Some articles asre linked directly below as samples: