(This sermon was delivered by Rev. Gabriele Parks, along with two members of the Welcoming Congregation Task Force, Phil Manos and Bill Weber.)
Last year, this congregation went through the process of becoming a “Welcoming Congregation.” Technically, that means being accredited by the UUA after having followed a certain curriculum. Practically, it means that the members of this congregation actually live the first principle of Unitarian Universalism: “We affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”
We know that there are other churches that have a similar programs; the UCC for example calls it “Open and Affirming.” Many Reform Judaism synagogues, and Episcopalian churches also are intentional about inviting and welcoming glbt folks.
But what about other religions?
In most cases the decision to condemn, tolerate, or even embrace glbt individuals is based on the interpretation of the Sacred Text of a religion. With our Judeo-Christian background, we are most familiar with the writings of the Bible.
We are exploring today how other world religions approach the subject, and how that influences the society in which they predominate. Since we only have 20 minutes for ten religions, it is a very condensed overview, focusing on the Sacred Texts of each religion and the various interpretation of those texts throughout history; and how much influence these interpretations have on the people living today.
Btw, in order to be un-biased, Phil, Bill, and I are presenting them to you in alphabetical order.
We’ll start with the Baha’i Faith
Introduction: This is a religion founded by Bahá’u'lláh in nineteenth-century Persia. There are an estimated five to six million Bahá’ís around the world in more than 200 countries and territories. Bahá’í teachings emphasize the spiritual oneness of humanity and the underlying unity of the major world religions. Religious history is seen to have unfolded through the influence of a series of divinely-sent messengers, each of whom established a religion that was suited to the needs of the time. These messengers have included Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, the Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad and, most recently, the Báb and Bahá’u'lláh. Humanity is understood to be involved in a process of collective evolution, and the need of the present time is for the gradual establishment of peace, justice and unity on a global scale.
PHIL: The Bahá’í Faith teaches that the only acceptable form of sexual expression is within marriage, and Bahá’í marriage is defined in the religion’s texts as exclusively between one man and one woman. Bahá’ís stress the importance of absolute chastity for any unmarried person, and focus on personal restraint. While in authoritative teachings homosexuality is described as a condition that an individual should control and overcome, Bahá’ís are left to apply the teachings at their own discretion, and are discouraged from singling out homosexuality over other transgressions, such as the consumption of alcohol, or heterosexual promiscuity. Individuals who are openly homosexual are not prevented from entering the religion and joining in community life. This acceptance is not an endorsement of their personal conduct, rather it is a recognition that becoming a Bahá’í is not conditional on their complete and strict compliance with all Bahá’í standards and laws. Lesbian and gay adherents are to be “advised and sympathized with”. Bahá’ís are taught not to treat homosexuals as condemned outcasts, and are taught not to expect others to follow Bahá’í laws. The Bahá’í writings teach people to treat everyone with respect and dignity. An attitude of discrimination and social intolerance toward homosexuals is not supported by the Bahá’í teachings. The issue of secular same-sex marriage is not mentioned. Spiritual Assemblies are told to act patiently, and gradually persuade members to accept principles inwardly and “out of pure conviction and desire.” As a general rule, the Spiritual Assemblies do not get involved in the private lives of believers, unless their actions are considered to be causing some harm to the community. The Bahá’í administration has reminded followers of the religion not to single out homosexuality over other transgressions of the religious code and to be very tolerant of what is perceived to be immoral behaviour.
Our next religion is BUDDHISM. Introduction: With about 365 million followers — 6% of the world’s population — Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world. It is exceeded in numbers only by Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Buddhism was founded in Northern India by the first known Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. In the sixth century BCE, he attained enlightenment and assumed the title “Buddha” which means “one who has awakened.” Buddhism later died out in India, but expanded across all of Asia within a few centuries.
Bill: Asian societies shaped by Buddhist traditions take a strong ethical stand in human affairs and sexual behavior in particular. However, unlike most other world religions, most variations of Buddhism do not go into details what is right and what is wrong in what it regards as mundane activities of life. Details of accepted or unaccepted human sexual conduct is not specifically mentioned in any of the religious scriptures in Pali language. The most common formulation of Buddhist ethics are the Five Precepts and the Eightfold Path, one should neither be attached to nor crave sensual pleasure. These precepts take the form of voluntary, personal undertakings, not divine mandate or instruction. The third of the Five Precepts is “To refrain from committing sexual misconduct. However, the “sexual misconduct” is such a broad term, and is subjected to interpretation relative to the social norms of the followers. In fact, Buddhism in its fundamental form does not define what is right and what is wrong in absolute terms for lay followers. Therefore the interpretation of whether homosexuality is acceptable for a layperson or not, is not a religious matter as far as fundamental Buddhism is concerned. Among Buddhists there is a wide diversity of opinion about homosexuality. Buddhism teaches that sensual enjoyment and desire in general, and sexuality in particular, are hindrances to enlightenment. Buddhist monks and nuns of most traditions are expected to refrain from all sexual activity and take vows of celibacy. Contemporary Buddhist orders may specifically prohibit transgender, homosexually-active and/or homosexually-oriented people from ordination, but may accept homosexuality among laypersons.
Introduction: Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as presented in the New Testament. As of the early 21st century, it has between 1.5 billion and 2.1 billion adherents, representing about a quarter to a third of the world’s population. It is the state religion of at least fifteen countries. Christians, believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah which was prophesied in the Old Testament, the part of their scriptures they have in common with Judaism. To Christians, Jesus Christ is a teacher, the model of a pious life, the revealer of God, the mediator of salvation and the saviour who suffered, died and was resurrected in order to bring about salvation from sin for all.
Phil: Christian leaders have written about sex between men since the first decades of Christianity; sex between women has been discussed less prominently. Throughout the majority of Christian history most theologians and Christian denominations have viewed homosexual behavior as immoral or sinful, and most interpretations of the Bible condemn certain sexual acts performed between men. This is mostly based on two sentences in the book of Leviticus: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” in 18:22; and the consequence of the act in 20:13 “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.” However, in the past century some theologians and Christian religious groups have espoused a wide variety of beliefs and practices towards homosexuality, including the establishment of some ‘open and accepting’ congregations that actively support and approve of those in same sex relationships. Historically, most Christian churches have regarded homosexual acts as sinful. A number of denominations, however, have taken the position that homosexual behavior is not inherently sinful. A new denomination, the Metropolitan Community Church, has also come into existence specifically to serve the Christian GLBT community.
Other Christian denominations are actively debating the issue and have not reached a consensus either way; some of the most significant of these include the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Methodist Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Episcopal Church in the USA became the first major Christian denomination to ordain an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, which is controversial in the world wide Anglican Communion.
Introduction: Hinduism differs from Christianity and other Western religions in that it does not have a single founder, a specific theological system, a single system of morality, or a central religious organization. It consists of “thousands of different religious groups that have evolved in India since 1500 BCE.” Hinduism has grown to become the world’s third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam. It claims about 837 million followers – 13% of the world’s population. It is the dominant religion in India, Nepal, and among the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Hinduism is generally regarded as the world’s oldest organized religion Most forms of Hinduism are henotheistic religions. They recognize a single deity, and view other Gods and Goddesses as manifestations or aspects of that supreme God. Henotheistic and polytheistic religions have traditionally been among the world’s most religiously tolerant faiths.
Bill: Hindu views of homosexuality and, in general, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues, are diverse. Same-sex relations and gender variance have been represented within Hinduism from Vedic times through to the present day, in rituals, law books, mythical narratives, commentaries, paintings, and sculpture. Sexuality is rarely discussed openly in contemporary Hindu society. Hindu doctrines such as rebirth and the genderlessness of the soul are often interpreted to legitimize socially disapproved relationships, including same-sex ones. Several Hindu priests have performed same-sex marriages, arguing that love is the result of attachments from previous births and that marriage, as a union of spirit, is transcendental to gender. Many Indian and Hindu intellectuals now publicly support LGBT civil rights. Some liberal Hindu reform movements, especially those in the West, also support social acceptance of gays, lesbians and other gender minorities. In modern India, sex between men is illegal; however, the Indian government has confirmed it does not support the prosecution of homosexuals. It considers the old penal code outdated.
Any discussion of homosexuality and Hinduism would not be complete without mentioning the Hindu concept of a third sex or third gender (tritiya-prakriti – literally, “third nature”). This category, unique among the world’s major religions, refers to a wide range of people with mixed male and female natures such as transgendered people, homosexuals, transsexuals, bisexuals, the intersexed, and so on. Such individuals were not considered fully male or female in traditional Hinduism, being a combination of both. They are mentioned as third sex by nature (birth), and were not expected to behave like ordinary men and women. They often kept their own societies or town quarters, performed specific occupations (such as masseurs, hairdressers, flower-sellers, domestic servants, etc.) and were generally attributed a semi-divine status. Their participation in religious ceremonies, especially as crossdressing dancers and devotees of certain temple gods/goddesses, is considered inauspicious in traditional Hinduism. Some Hindus believe that third-sex people have special powers allowing them to bless or curse others. However, these beliefs are not upheld in all divisions of Hinduism. In Hinduism, the universal creation is honored as unlimitedly diverse and the recognition of a third sex is simply one more aspect of this understanding.
Introduction: Islam is a monotheistic Abrahamic religion originating with the teachings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, a seventh century Arab religious and political figure. The word Islam means “submission”, or the total surrender of oneself to God. An adherent of Islam is known as a Muslim, meaning “one who submits to God”. There are approximately 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, making Islam the second-largest religion in the world after Christianity. Muslims believe that God revealed the Qur’an to Muhammad, God’s final prophet, and regard the Qur’an and the Sunnah (words and deeds of Muhammad) as the fundamental sources of Islam. They do not regard Muhammad as the founder of a new religion, but as the restorer of the original monotheistic faith of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. Islamic tradition holds that Jews and Christians distorted the revelations God gave to these prophets by either altering the text, introducing a false interpretation, or both.
Phil: Islamic views on homosexuality are as varied as those of most other major religions and have changed throughout history. Traditionally, Qur’anic verses and hadith have been seen as condemning sexual acts between members of the same sex. The Qur’an cites the story of “people of Lot” (also known as the Sodomites) who were destroyed because they engaged in homosexual acts. Despite this, homoerotic themes were present in Muslim poetry and other literature which celebrated male love, and were more common than expressions of attraction to women (!). Homosexuality is a crime and forbidden in most Islamic countries. In some relatively secular or multi-religious Islamic countries, this is not the case, Algeria, Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey being examples. The legal punishment for sodomy has varied among juristic schools: some prescribe capital punishment; while other prescribe a milder discretionary punishment. Some liberal Muslims, such as the members of the Al-Fatiha Foundation, accept and consider homosexuality as natural, either regarding these verses as obsolete in the context of modern society, or pointing out that the Qu’ran speaks out against homosexual lust, and is silent on homosexual love. Within Shi’a Islam, thinkers such as Ayatollah Khomeini have argued for the legality of sex-change operations if a man is homosexual, and feels effeminate.
Same-sex intercourse officially carries the death penalty in several Muslim nations. On the other hand, homosexuality, while not legal, is tolerated to some extent in Lebanon, which has a significantly large Christian minority, and has been legal in Turkey for decades.(!)
Introduction: Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people, based on principles and ethics embodied in the Hebrew Bibleas further explored and explained in the Talmud. In 2007, the world Jewish population was estimated at 13.2 million people-41% of whom live in Israel and 59% in the diaspora. According to Jewish tradition, the history of Judaism begins with the Covenant between God and Abraham (ca. 2000 BCE), the patriarch and progenitor of the Jewish people. Judaism is among the oldest religious traditions still in practice today. Jewish history and doctrines have influenced other religions such as Christianity, Islam and the Bahá’í Faith. The most important belief is the belief in a single, omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent, transcendent God, who created the universe and continues to govern it. According to traditional Jewish belief, the God who created the world established a covenant with the Israelites, and revealed his laws and commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in the form of both the Written and Oral Torah. The Jewish people are the descendants of the Israelites.
Bill: The subject of homosexuality in Judaism dates back to the Biblical book of Leviticus just as Christianity. The issue has been a subject of contention within modern Jewish denominations and has led to debate and division. The prevalent view in Orthodox Judaism is that homsexual intercourse is sinful, arguing that it is categrically forbidden by the Torah. Conservative Judaism has recently issued multiple options with one opinion continuing to follow the Orthodox position and another opinion substantially liberalizing its view of homosexuals and homosexual relationships while continuing to regard certain sexual acts as prohibited. Jews who accept the teachings of the Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, view homosexuality as a grave sin as normative. Kabbalah sees heterosexual intercourse as a holy act evoking creative spiritual energies. A homosexual act is considered wrong because the holy spiritual forces are used in an unnatural way. The Reform Judaism movement, the largest branch of Judaism in North America, has rejected the traditional view of Jewish Law on this issue. As such, they do not prohibit ordination of gays and lesbians as rabbis and cantors. Reform authorities consider that, in light of what is seen as current scientific evidence about the nature of homosexuality as a biological sexual orientation, a new interpretation of the law is required.
The Reconstructionist movement sees homosexuality as a normative expression of sexuality and welcomes gays and lesbians into Reconstructionist communities to participate fully in every aspect of community life. Since 1985, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College has admitted gay and lesbian candidates for their rabbinical and cantorial programs.
Introduction: Sikhism was founded on the teachings of Nanak and nine successive gurus in fifteenth century Northern India, and is the fifth-largest organized religion in the world. This system of religious philosophy and expression has been traditionally known as the Gurmat (literally the counsel of the gurus) or the Sikh Dharma. Sikhism originated from the word Sikh, which in turn comes from the Sanskrit root śiṣya meaning “disciple” or “learner”, or śikṣa meaning “instruction.” The principal belief of Sikhism is faith in Vāhigurū-represented using the sacred symbol of ēk ōaṅkār, the Universal God. Sikhism advocates the pursuit of salvation through disciplined, personal meditation on the name and message of God. A key distinctive feature of Sikhism is a non-anthropomorphic concept of God, to the extent that one can interpret God as the Universe itself. Adherents of Sikhism number over 23 million across the world. Most Sikhs live in the state of Punjab in India and, prior to the country’s partition, millions of Sikhs lived in what is now known as the Punjab province of Pakistan.
Phil: Sikhism has no specific teachings about homosexuality. The Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, does not explicitly mention homosexuality. The Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, which is the highest authority in the Sikhism, is seemingly silent on the subject of homosexuality. However, married life is encouraged time and time again. Whenever marriage is mentioned, it is always in reference to a man and a woman. Some Sikhs believe that Guru Granth Sahib is the complete guide to life, and if a marriage between two of the same sexes is not mentioned, it is therefore not right. The counterargument to this is that man and woman are only mentioned in this way to give light to the relationship of the soul and the soul force as being one. This denies gender and sex as an issue. Thus, Sikhism is more concerned with ones attainment of enlightenment rather than habitual desires such as sexuality. There are five vices (habitual desires) outlined in the Guru Granth Sahib that one should try to control. One of these vices is lust, and some Sikhs believe that homosexual thoughts and behavior are just manifestations of lust. However, Sikhs that are more accepting of homosexuality claim that this is equally applicable to heterosexuals. These same Sikhs believe that Guru Nanak’s emphasis on universal equality and brotherhood is fundamentally in support of the human rights of homosexuals. Views on homosexuality tend not to be a primary concern in Sikh teachings, as the universal goal of a Sikh is to have no hate or animosity to any person, regardless of race, caste, color, creed, gender, or sexuality. Many Sikhs who have homosexual desires will try to overcome what they believe to be lust by marrying a member of the opposite sex and having children. This has led to a belief among many Sikhs that there are no homosexual Sikhs. This belief can, in turn, cause distress to those Sikhs who do find themselves attracted to members of the same sex.
Introduction: Taoism refers to a variety of related philosophical and religious traditions and concepts. These traditions have influenced East Asia for over two thousand years and some have spread internationally. The Chinese character Tao means “path” or “way”, although in Chinese religion and philosophy it has taken on more abstract meanings. Taoist propriety and ethics emphasize the Three Jewels of the Tao: compassion, moderation, and humility. Taoist thought focuses on wu wei (non-action), spontaneity, transformation and emptiness/ omnipotence. An emphasis is placed on the link between people and nature, and that this link lessens the need for rules and order, leading one to a better understanding of the world and one’s surroundings.
Bill: It is difficult to determine a single position on homosexuality in Taoism, as the term Taoism is used to describe a number of disparate religious traditions, from organized religious movements such as Quanzhen to Chinese folk religion and even a school of philosophy. The vast majority of adherents live in China and among Chinese Diaspora communities elsewhere, and so attitudes to homosexuality within Taoism often reflect the values and sexual norms of broader Chinese society (see Homosexuality in China). The Taoist tradition holds that males need the energies of females, and vice versa, in order to bring about balance, completion and transformation. These energies thought to be best obtained through heterosexual relations. Passionate homosexual expression is usually discouraged because it is believed to not lead to human fulfillment. Taoism stresses the relationship between yin and yang: two opposing forces which maintain harmony through balance. Heterosexuality is seen as the physical and emotional embodiment of the harmonious balance between yin and yang. However, Taoist nuns are said to have exchanged love poems during the Tang dynasty.
Introduction: Wicca is a nature-based religion popularized in 1954 by Gerald Gardner in Greta Britain. Various Wiccan traditions have since evolved from it These other traditions have distinctive beliefs, rituals, and practices, and some remain secretive and require that members be initiated. Other traditions have also formed independently of Gardnerian lineage, including a growing movement of Eclectic Wiccans who do not believe that any doctrine or traditional initiation is necessary in order to practice Wicca. The term ‘Wicca’ has somewhat different usage in Britain and in North America. In Britain ‘Wicca’ has traditionally referred only to initiatory witchcraft in the lineage of Gerald Gardner and the New Forest coven. In North America the term ‘Wicca’ has become more inclusive and encompasses a number of traditions inspired by – but independent of – that lineage.
Phil: Throughout most branches of Wicca, all sexual orientations including homosexuality are considered healthy and positive, provided that individual sexual relationships are healthy and loving. Sexual orientation is therefore not considered an issue. Although Gerald Gardner, was reportedly homophobic, this historical aversion is not now commonly held. LGBT people are almost always welcomed in individual communities, covens, study groups, and circles. Many LGBT Neo-pagans were initially attracted to Neo-pagan religions because of this inclusion, in which their relationships are seen on an equal footing. In support of this philosophy, many Wiccans cite the Charge of the Goddess, which says “All acts of Love and Pleasure are My rituals”. Therefore all forms and expressions of sexuality, as long as they are otherwise healthy and consensual, are accepted. Indeed, no form of Wicca has ever made claims that sexuality should only be in the pursuit of reproduction. Therefore there is no conflict between someone venerating the generative aspects of sex, even if that does not relate directly to their own sexual experience. There are several predominantly gay groups, some of them quite radical, which emphasize queer spirituality. Certain branches are exclusively focused on gay male spirituality; others are open to all genders and orientations.
Introduction: Zoroastrianism is the religion and philosophy based on the teachings ascribed to the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra, Zartosht). While Zoroastrianism was once the dominant religion of much of Greater Iran, the number of adherents has dwindled to not more than 200,000 Zoroastrians worldwide, with the highest concentrations in India and Iran.
Bill: Homosexuality in Zoroastrianism is, as in many other religions, a controversial topic. Orthodox Zoroastrians tend to favor the suppression of homosexuality in their community while more socially progressive Zoroastrians accept homosexuality. Generally, though, homosexuality is discouraged by a majority of Zoroastrians. The sacred scripture of Zoroastrianism is called the Avesta. It is made up of many parts written over many centuries. The oldest portion believed to be the writings of Zarathustra himself, are the Gathas. Within the Gathas, Zarathustra does not mention homosexuality at all, nor sexuality in general. Zoroastrians who reject the later writings in the Avesta as being corruptions of Zarathustra’s original teachings believe this is proof that homosexuality is not sinful. However, many Zoroastrians accept the entire Avesta as their religious guide, including the Vendidad, a collection of 22 Fargards or precepts concerned with religious purity (only very conservative Zoroastrians continue to abide by all of these laws). The Vendidad states: “The man that lies with mankind as man lies with womankind, or as woman lies with mankind, is a man that is a Daeva [demon]; this man is a worshipper of the Daevas, a male paramour of the Daevas” This passage has been interpreted to mean that homosexuality is a form of demon worship and thus sinful. Ancient commentary on this passage suggests that those engaging in sodomy could be killed without permission from the Dastur.
Currently it is not possible to convert to Zoroastrianism, therefore procreation becomes more important, which in turn makes it harder to tolerate same sex relationships.
Wow, what a journey through the religions! You can see that there is great diversity in attitudes. It has also become quite clear that nobody is as consistently welcoming as Unitarian Universalists. I am glad that we have our first principle, affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every person. And I am proud that in our 6th principle we are promoting a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all!
I challenge you to not only affirm and promote the rights of gbt individuals, but to go one step further and embrace and celebrate the diversity with which we are blessed!