Not “Evangelicals,” Christians

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In 1533, the English parliament passed a statute prohibiting “buggery,” or what we would call “sodomy,” meaning mostly anal intercourse, but the definition of “sodomy” has always been fairly elastic, such that it often included oral intercourse as well.

The English Parliament felt the need to enact such a statute that year because King Henry VIII had not long before expelled the Catholic Church from England. While the Catholic Church operated there, the state had no need to prohibit buggery because it violated Church law, and the Church would prosecute violators.

Twenty years before, the Spanish conquistador, Balboa, discovered “sodomites” in what is now Panama and fed them to his dogs as punishment. Differences in gender norms and sexual practices were key points with which Christian invaders distinguished themselves from Natives during their invasion of “the Americas.” Imagine, exploring a place you had never seen and killing a group of people you found there for a form of cultural expression you don’t understand. Such is the arrogance of Christians.

Hostility towards LGBT persons, or queers, for short, is a deep seated impulse in Christianity, almost defining. Certainly, in “the Americas,” given that most, if not all, Native societies valued and respected their members with same sex attractions and atypical gender expression (assuming “gender” as we understand it was even an operative concept to Native societies — we’ll never know for sure because Christians destroyed Native cultures without bothering to find out), hostility towards queers was essential to the definition of Christian culture as distinct from Native culture and to the extirpation of Native cultures, in part by administration of the death penalty, as the English statute prohibiting buggery provided.

Now, too many people are trying to excuse or obfuscate this ugly feature of Christianity by calling its continuing impulse in Republican/Trumpian circles a function of “evangelicals.” “Evangelicals” are Christians, and they see themselves as preserving and perpetuating older standards of Christian morality that are disappearing from modern society. With their hostility towards queers, they are definitely working toward that goal.

There are undoubtedly various corners of Christianity in the modern United States that have adopted an explicitly welcoming attitude toward queer persons and now explicitly oppose discrimination against queers. Good for them. But that development is mostly the result of protest by social movement actors aimed at those denominations. Nothing about Christianity has much changed, as “evangelicals” like to keep reminding us. Even within the more welcoming denominations, the question still often proves very divisive.

Evidence for this claim that is hard to notice because it is so blindingly obvious is the continuing hostility of the Catholic Church, the oldest Christian institution in western culture and self-proclaimed keeper of the cultural traditions of Christianity, towards queers. The pope continues to denounce transgender persons and their growing visibility and equality, and to oppose same sex marriage.

This should surprise no one. Christianity is the oldest continually functioning ideology in western culture and is inherently very conservative, as culture tends to be.

The drive to paint “evangelicals” as somehow different from the rest of Christianity is badly misconceived and rests on zero historical evidence. It would be more accurate and honest to call “evangelicals” “Christians” and modern, queer-friendly Christians something else, since friendliness to queers is so alien to the history of Christianity. Nothing indigenous to Christianity gave rise to the reduction in hostility towards queers.

Can queer-friendly Christians offer interpretations of the bible to support their position? Sure, but that only shows how susceptible to virtually any interpretation a text as huge, floppy, and corrupt as the bible is. Queer-friendly interpretations of the bible are modern adaptations that queer activists developed and advocated, not Christian leaders apart from queer social movement protest.

Christianity is implacably hostile towards queers as a historical question. “Evangelicals” are the norm, not the exception in this respect.

Pretending otherwise is a major cop out.

Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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