Last week, my organization Truth Wins Out caused an international uproar by criticizing a new Catholic iPhone confession app that asks users, “Have I been guilty of any homosexual activity?” The real question the app should have asked was, “Have I been guilty of spiritually abusing a homosexual?”
No one should be surprised by this uproar. The “sin” question is significantly more important and emotional than traditional battles over gay rights. This charged discussion cuts to the core of the prejudice and directly challenges the ugly myth that being gay – or acting on it — is inherently sinful.
The fact is, homosexuality has been with us since the beginning of time and is not sinful. It is the natural and beautiful manner in which tens of millions of human beings experience sexual intimacy and express love. To deny or debase these individuals for their sexual orientation or naturally pursuing it is to place them outside the circle of humanity.
In a humane world that truly “loves thy neighbor”, sin would be defined as an activity that causes harm. Any rational person would reasonably conclude that the religious fundamentalists are the true sinners because they are the ones damaging and injuring innocent LGBT people.
Currently, I am on an 11-state tour of the most conservative regions of America. Each stop brings me into contact with new – mostly college age — victims of spiritual abuse. Allowing the religious hierarchies to mindlessly humiliate LGBT people as sinners without pushback is no longer acceptable. Too many lives have been shattered, families destroyed, psyches cracked, and hearts broken to allow the dangerous status quo to continue.
The stale reaction to the iPhone controversy by Catholic reactionaries was predictable and predicated on a series of false premises.
First, the faithful defenders were upset because they did not like losing control of the storyline. For centuries they wore the white hats in the Saints vs. Sinner drama. They elevated themselves by perching on a pedestal of privilege where they get to reject and we must respect. The idea of reversing these “set” roles has them apoplectic.
Second, the apologists falsely tried to portray our attempt at accountability as “anti-Catholic”. They conveniently ignored that Truth Wins Out has objected to all forms of fundamentalist abuse at the hands of evangelicals, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews. Our position is not anti-religious, but pro-life. The “sin” label is toxic and sending too many LGBT youth to an early grave. How many people will religious institutions allow to perish as collateral damage in support of a cruel and failed idea?
Third, our detractors operate under the false premise that they represent unchanging religious truths. Indeed, change is the one constant in religion and once “time-tested” absolutes have been altered time and again. It may have taken the Catholic Church 400 years to apologize for persecuting Copernicus, but they did. Can we afford 400 years of harm against LGBT families until the Church’s inevitable admission to the error of its anti-gay ways?
Fourth, there is the absurd notion that religious ideas shouldn’t be challenged. But, this illusion is belied by the major religions themselves that send missionaries worldwide for the sole purpose of seeking converts. If churches are sincere about not questioning the beliefs of others, let them bring home their missionaries. Until they do, they have no right to whine about having to compete in the robust marketplace of ideas.
Fifth, church warriors have falsely portrayed this as a battle of free speech. We did not question the right to preach anti-gay dogma and never asked Apple to nix the Catholic app. We only inquired whether the app was socially responsible, given the indisputable consequences – from hate crimes to suicide that occur as the result of marginalizing LGBT people.
Sixth, a false refrain we heard was that God treated all sex outside marriage as sin – so gay people were not treated differently. Until there is marriage equality such arguments are mere sophistry made by smug individuals who perpetuate an unfair system where they receive pleasure and others get the pain.
The most intelligent opposition I received was from a gay individual who made the point that he had good friends who thought homosexuality was a sin. However, a bad idea in benevolent hands is still a bad idea, just waiting to fall into the wrong hands where it can be exploited and mutate into something dangerous. And, if the friendship can survive with the gay person labeled a sinner, shouldn’t the Christian friend be just as thick skinned when challenged on this idea?
Gay Catholics don’t need to confess, they need to come out of the closet and challenge anti-gay dogma. Rationality-based churches need to stand up and fiercely confront the damaging belief that homosexuality is wrong.
Fundamentalists like to say that the wages of sin is death. In reality, the emotional, spiritual and sometimes physical death is caused by unfairly labeling a group of good people sinners. The iPhone brouhaha won’t go away because it forces people of faith to uncomfortably examine an area where their beliefs have unquestionably done more harm than good.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”