Take two hotly debated and, for many, controversial topics and put them together into one discussion, and Rev. John Maxwell Kerr’s comment is both humbling and logical.
“If we had a meeting like this in some other countries, not many of you would go home unbruised,” Kerr said. “The nice thing about being at a university, though, is that we can think.”
In an unimposing room in Morton Hall Thursday, students and religious leaders at the third annual “Rainbow and Religion” panel discussion wrestled with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in the context of religion. Kerr, Margaret Sequeira, Max Blaloc and Pastor Vernon Hurte were panelists, representing a diverse range of Christian denominations that held equally diverse views on the subject of homosexuality.
The overarching theme of the discussion, however, transcended both the topics of religion and homosexuality and served as a message to everyone.
“Young people, you are going to struggle with religious beliefs and identity throughout your life,” audience member Joel Schiff said. “I believe the paramount thing, though, is to be true to who you are. I strongly urge that you live the life you want for yourself. You will have the most happiness in being true to who you are.”
It didn’t take long for the discussion to delve into controversial territory. The panelists had in common — despite the consensus of some of their denominations — a firm belief that, even in conjunction with the Bible, homosexuality is not incompatible with Christian doctrine. Posing the question, “How do you confront people in a Christian congregation who view being LGBT as wrong?” the panelists defended their stances on religious doctrine.
Blaloc pointed out that when the Bible does talk about homosexuality, it does so in a negative context. He argued, however, that one has to ask what is most important about what the Bible teaches, and that one can use the Bible to critique itself.
“Jesus did not specifically address the issue of homosexuality,” Blaloc said. “So, you have to look at what he did. He got called a drunk and a glutton because he hung out with the wrong people: tax collectors [and] prostitutes. We are called to follow this example. As Christians, it is clear how we are supposed to treat each other.”
Hurte added that the ultimate model for Christians is Jesus, who never turned anyone away.
“We don’t serve Paul, we serve Jesus,” Hurte said. “There is no time that Jesus took a stance of anti-people. Everything he did was rooted in love. The idea supersedes everything else.”
Blaloc agreed that one must look at the issue holistically.
“If you pick and choose scriptures, you can really prove that the Bible teaches anything,” Blaloc said.
Kerr cited scripture’s use against anesthesia and medical injections as evidence. He also noted that scripture was once used in defense of slavery.
Kerr expressed hope for the possibility of both religions and people becoming more accepting of homosexuality.
“Strange things have happened,” he said. “Lots of things have changed. Look at Apartheid. Where is the Berlin Wall?”
Kerr added that heterosexual allies are an important force in bringing about a change in culture.
Agreeing to disagree on religious doctrine, the discussion moved away from religion. Panelists discussed the movement in a more general sense, placing an emphasis on dispelling stereotypes about LGBT individuals.
“If I say I’ve been in a relationship with a woman for 17 years, you’re going to label me as ‘lesbian’, and that will be that,” Sequeria said. “I want to complexify that.”
In reference to the debate over homosexuality, Blaloc stressed the need to humanize the topic.
“It’s very easy to make it a debate about an issue,” he said. “It’s time to debate about the people.”
Blaloc said that different perceptions on marriage are a frustrating part of his job.
“For me the real hypocrisy is that a heterosexual couple could ask me to marry them, and even if later it is found out that there is abuse in the marriage, no one may question me for marrying them in the first place,” he said. “But if a wonderful gay or lesbian couple asks me to marry them, I could be kicked out of my denomination for doing that.”
The panelists shifted the emphasis of the discussion from ideology to the difficult personal struggles of LGBT individuals. Kerr brought up the difficulties people face in either pretending to be who they are not with their families and friends, or choosing to come out. Sequeria also emphasized the complexity a family’s role in an individual’s decision to come out.
“You cannot underrate the importance of family,” Sequeira said. “I have seen parents change over time as parent’s love overrides their initial homophobia.”