Baha'i News -- The moral opposition

The moral opposition

Most Americans believe gay sex is wrong. Yet a majority believe gays and lesbians should be able to live their lives free of government interference or discrimination on the job.

By CODY LOWE
The Roanoke Times

In one sense, the questions are not tough at all for Blacksburg resident John LeDoux.

Is homosexuality a sin? Yes, he believes the Bible clearly teaches that. Does he love his homosexual son? Yes, indeed. No doubt about that, either.

For most of the past 25 years -- until just recently, LeDoux said -- his family has been able to closet whatever misgivings they have about homosexual behavior in order to embrace the one member who is different.

Their gay son has the same right to their love as their seven other children, LeDoux and his wife believe. And that son has the same right to work and the same right to privacy as everyone else.

LeDoux's opinions on the subject reflect the national mood, recent polls say. Significant majorities object to homosexual sex, a slim majority of them on the basis of the Bible's injunctions against it.

But an even larger number believe that homosexual relations should be a private -- and legal -- matter between two consenting adults.

LeDoux just doesn't want anyone -- his son included -- to tell him that he has to accept homosexuality as an equally good alternative to heterosexuality.

In that, LeDoux, a former Virginia Tech engineering professor and a political activist, shares a position with any number of conservative Christian churches and organizations.

But LeDoux also understands the issue on an intimately personal level.

A retired U.S. Navy commander, the 76-year-old LeDoux and his wife of 52 years have eight children -- four boys and four girls. The couple raised the family Roman Catholic -- the religion of LeDoux's family for more than four centuries. But after extensive study and a religious conversion experience in a charismatic worship group, they left that church. LeDoux is now an elder in Tried Stone Christian Center in Blacksburg, a conservative Pentecostal congregation.

The church's statement of faith begins with a proclamation that "The Bible is the only inspired, infallible and authoritative Word of God."

LeDoux says now that he never saw any indication that one of his sons, Duffy, was gay while he was growing up at home. As a high school student, the artistic Duffy dated girls and seemed pretty serious about at least one, his father said. After graduating, he went to art school in Ohio.

There he met a man with whom he began a homosexual relationship. The family found out about it not long afterward and, LeDoux says, quickly adjusted to the news.

Over the next 25 years, Duffy and his partner continued to participate in family gatherings, although the physical distance involved -- they eventually moved to California -- made visits rare. "We never condemned them," LeDoux contends, and "never had any problems" although it was no secret that he and his wife believed homosexual behavior was wrong and destructive.

"We still loved him," LeDoux says, and he and his wife were impressed that his son and his partner were able to maintain their relationship so long. Although he wishes his son were not gay, LeDoux is quick to praise him -- his talent on the piano, his sense of humor. "He's a great guy."

Then two years ago, there was an argument after a family gathering at which Duffy's partner was accused by another family member of inappropriate behavior. After a lengthy exchange of letters, in which LeDoux says he continued to express his love for his son, contact was cut off.

LeDoux's eyes turn sad when he explains that he doesn't even know where his son is now; the last letters were returned unopened. He believes his son had been diagnosed with a life-threatening liver disease before his last visit home. Now he wonders whether he is dead or alive.

"Even if you forget what the Bible says," LeDoux says, his anxieties about his son's behavior are driven by what he understands are a host of medical problems associated with homosexual behavior, among them AIDS, hepatitis, and "gay bowel syndrome."

Underneath it all, however, there is the Bible. "It says it is an abomination," LeDoux says softly.

But, he quickly points out, the Bible also says "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," eliminating the justification for picking out any individuals for special condemnation.

In fact, there are only a handful of biblical references to homosexuality.

One story stands out above the others:

A long time ago, two angels approached a man who was sitting at a city gate. The man invited the angels to his dwelling. After dinner, the men of the city came pounding on the host's door. "Send out the two strangers who are with you that we may know them." The men of the city didn't have after-dinner conversation on their minds, but sex.

"Please don't do this," the host said. "I have two virgin daughters, take them instead."

Fortunately for the daughters, the angels -- presumed to be male -- instead struck the attackers blind and pulled the father back inside. Next morning, the angels forced the man, his wife and the daughters out of the city. "Flee, and do not look back," they said.

When the family left, the angels called on God to rain fire and brimstone on the city of Sodom, utterly destroying it and its inhabitants. Their host's wife could not contain her curiosity and was turned to a pillar of salt when she gazed on the destruction.

It is a story so commonly known that the act of homosexual sex has come to be known as sodomy.

Dating back 4,000 years, the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah has been used throughout the Jewish, Christian and Muslim worlds as evidence of God's displeasure with homosexual behavior.

Today, some see the Sodom story as a condemnation of rape and inhospitality rather than of all homosexual conduct. Certain theologians also have reinterpreted other biblical passages on the subject in recent years. They argue that some passages -- literally read -- condemn homosexual prostitution or homosexual behavior by heterosexuals, but not all homosexual behavior.

For the majority of Christians, however, the biblical record seems clearly to ban homosexual relations.

Indeed, when Moses is recorded as having written down some specifics about God's laws, the ban on homosexual acts is codified. Leviticus 20:13 says, "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them."

The penalties have changed, but homosexual behavior continues to be a crime in more than a dozen states, including Virginia, where it is a felony punishable by jail terms and fines.

Legally, Virginia defines sodomy as oral or anal sexual relations between people of the same or opposite sexes, but its origins are in opposition to homosexual behavior. A recent challenge to the Virginia sodomy law resulted in its being upheld in the state court of appeals. Additional legal challenges are likely.

While Virginia's law was written under the influence of the Christian faith of most of the state's residents, opposition to homosexual behavior transcends religious boundaries and is widespread in the United States.

A 1998 poll conducted for the Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation and Harvard University found that 72 percent of Americans believe sexual relations between two people of the same sex are unacceptable. Some 76 percent said marriages between people of the same sex are unacceptable.

Despite that disapproval, nearly three-fourths of the sample said it did not bother them to live and work around homosexuals, and they said that government had no business trying to either discourage or encourage acceptance of homosexuality.

More than half -- 55 percent -- said private homosexual relations between consenting adults should be legal. A large majority, 87 percent, believe homosexuals should have equal job opportunities with heterosexuals.

Among those who object to homosexual relationships, 22 percent said that was because they were "not natural." But more than half -- 52 percent -- said they objected because homosexuality is a sin forbidden by God.

That slim majority may reflect the decades-long debate in many religious denominations over just what God's will is. A sometimes rancorous dialogue has led to some changes in the way many churches -- and synagogues -- construe those holy texts.

Primary among them is the now widespread -- though not universal -- acceptance of homosexual orientation as distinct from homosexual practice. The predominant understanding now is that romantic or sexual attraction to people of the same sex is not sinful. Only actions resulting from that attraction -- specifically, genital sexual contact -- are considered a violation of religious law.

The Roman Catholic Church has taken that position for some time, and United States bishops recently issued a call for the parents of homosexual children to love them, even though the church officially condemns homosexual behavior as "intrinsically disordered." Gays and lesbians can participate fully in the life of the church, but "are called to chastity."

Because all Roman Catholic priests vow to be celibate, homosexual orientation is not intrinsically a bar to ordination.

Among Protestant churches, positions can vary widely.

The nation's largest Protestant body, the Southern Baptist Convention, a decade ago amended its bylaws to include a provision excluding from membership "churches which act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior." Several churches have been expelled from the denomination over the issue, and some others left it voluntarily.

Last summer, the SBC reworded a doctrinal statement, the Baptist Faith and Message, asserting that Christians should oppose "all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography." While the statement is not binding on congregations or individual members, it appears to reflect a majority view in the denomination.

Other churches -- notably the United Methodist, Presbyterian Church (USA) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America -- have struggled with refining church law. The result has been to welcome homosexuals to membership but to avoid official sanction of homosexual behavior, the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians, or the endorsement of a formal wedding rite for homosexuals.

Some Episcopal Church bishops have ordained non-celibate gays and lesbians in the United States. The denomination is currently studying the creation of a rite for homosexual unions.

The American church's position has brought it into conflict with the apparent majority of the international Anglican Communion, whose bishops in 1998 called "homosexual practice . . . incompatible with the Scripture" and counseled against union ceremonies.

Some other denominations refuse to admit homosexuals into membership.

Numerous World Wide Web sites run by individuals and organizations condemn homosexuality on religious grounds, sometimes in terms of hatred and disgust. The most notorious is www.godhatesfags.com, run by Kansas Baptist Fred Phelps. He protests at the funerals of gays and lesbians who die of violence or of AIDS and other diseases associated with homosexual behavior. By pointing out his view that God hates homosexuals and their behavior, he says, he hopes to get other gays and lesbians to change their ways.

Condemnation of homosexual behavior also is common in other faiths, some of which also are debating the issue. Among Jews, responses range from the traditional Orthodox Jewish opposition to homosexual relations to Reform Judaism's approval of same-sex union ceremonies.

The Koran's only direct mention of homosexuality appears to be in condemnations of the people of Sodom. But many Muslims also revere the Hadith, a collection of the sayings of Muhammad, which specifies the death penalty for homosexual behavior between men. It also condemns lesbian sexual activity.

Like most large religions, Buddhism is practiced in many forms. Many Buddhist monasteries prohibit homosexual activity, while other practitioners find no problem with homosexual behavior. The Buddha's discourses apparently do not touch on the subject. The Dalai Lama, revered by millions of Buddhists, said in a 1997 interview that homosexual relations are "generally considered sexual misconduct." Homosexuality is not improper in itself, he has written, but Buddhism prohibits all oral, anal and manual sex as "an improper use of organs that previously have been defined as inappropriate for sexual contact."

Other religions -- including some forms of Hinduism, the Baha'i faith and Scientology -- also proscribe homosexual behavior.

While depictions of homosexuals and homosexual behavior have gained increasing acceptance in the popular entertainment media, and the performances of openly homosexual artists are common, gays are still targets for slurs and condemnation, especially in some forms of rap or hip-hop music.

Companies that provide benefits for gays -- or that are perceived as gay-friendly -- have been criticized and sometimes boycotted by religious groups that oppose the normalization of homosexual relations.

And many people believe that acceptance of homosexuality threatens public health, families and society by legitimizing behavior they see as inherently destructive and dangerous.

John LeDoux believes most people are like him. They understand that "gay people do good things," and that sex constitutes "only about 3 percent of who anybody is."

And he says he thinks most people, like him, don't care what a person's private sexual activities are as long as they don't try to compel him to join them or approve of them.

"I don't think I've ever hated anybody," he said. "People are people."


©Copyright 2002, The Roanoke Times

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