Argues that the “God vs. gay” divide is a pernicious myth and that religious people favor gay people because of religion, not despite it.
The myth that the Bible forbids homosexuality--the myth of “God versus Gay”--is behind some of the most divisive and painful conflicts of our day. In this provocative, passionately argued, and game-changing book, scholar and activist Jay Michaelson shows that not only does the Bible not prohibit same-sex intimacy, but the vast majority of its teachings support the full equality and dignity of gay and lesbian people, from the first flaw it finds in creation (“It is not good for a person to be alone”) to the way religious communities grow through reflection and conscience. In short, Michaelson observes, religious people should support equality for gays and lesbians--not despite their religion, but because of it.
With close readings of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, the latest data on the science of sexual orientation, and a sympathetic, accessible, and ecumenical approach to religious faith, Michaelson makes the case that sexual diversity is part of the beauty of nature and that the recognition of same-sex families will strengthen, not threaten, the values religious people hold dear. This is an important book for anyone who has wrestled with questions of religion and homosexuality: parents and pastors, believers and skeptics, advocates of “gay rights” and opponents of them. Whatever your views on religion and sexual diversity, God vs. Gay is a plea for a more compassionate, informed conversation--and a first step toward creating one.
“Jay Michaelson looks at the Hebrew and Christian bibles with keen intellect, wit, and often surprising insights. He roots his arguments not in dry exegesis but in hard-won self-acceptance and passionate concern for others. I highly recommend God vs. Gay? for anyone seeking to understand how being homosexual and religious are not antithetical.”—Joe Perez, author of Soulfully Gay
“‘The irony of God versus Gay is that actually Gay and God go together. Opening to one leads to the other.’ So writes Jay Michaelson in the postscript to this beautiful, soulful book. Michaelson charts a journey from rejection to full acceptance, from religious alienation to spiritual wholeness that will brings the reader closer to the Divine. It did for me and it will for anyone who has felt abandoned by their faith and rejected for who they are. This is a healing book that yearns to be read.”—Sharon Groves, Director, Religion and Faith Program, Human Rights Campaign Foundation
“God vs. Gay? is essential reading for people of all faiths who want to be allies of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. This book articulates what many of us have felt in our hearts for a long time: that our religious conscience compels us to support equality, not oppose it.”—Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, co-author of Jewish with Feeling and From Age-ing to Sage-ing, Blessings for Health, Peace of Mind, and Prosperity
“Michaelson shows that ‘God versus gay’ is a myth and that the overwhelming majority of our shared religious values favor equality for LGBT people.” —Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun
“God vs. Gay? is a timely and important book in this religious and political moment. Michaelson’s book prepares us, regardless of religious or sexual identity, to delve deeper into our souls, our traditions, and into the truth that religion is in fact a source of liberation.”—Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the largest gay and lesbian synagogue in the world
“Through careful discussions of Jewish and Christian teachings on homosexuality Michaelson masterfully reveals that both religions allow for the full embrace of LGBT persons. This religious-ethical work is illuminating and a must read for anyone who wants to understand the current debate over religion and homosexuality.”—Rabbi David Ellenson, President Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
“A salvo in the case for equality.”—Publishers Weekly
“God versus Gay” is a myth. It is untrue, unsupported by Scripture, and contradicted every day by the lives of religious gay people. Yet it is also among the most pervasive and hurtful untruths in America today, and people all across the ideological spectrum believe it. Religious conservatives, secular liberals, and millions of people across the gamut of American political and religious opinion talk past one another, in heated agreement that it’s either “gay rights” or traditional religion, the Constitution or the Bible. Pro-gay folks can’t see how anyone could be opposed to equality, while opponents can’t see how anyone could change thousands of years of tradition. The conversation goes nowhere.
Worse, this conflict is an internal one as well--inside each of us who has ever wrestled with sexuality and religion. I’ve worked in gay religious communities for over a decade, and in that time, I’ve met thousands of people wounded by what they see as the conflict between religion and homosexuality. I have counseled families who have been torn apart, people whose parents see them in the grocery store but won’t acknowledge their existence. And before I came to reconcile my own sexuality and spirituality, I felt the conflict myself and wondered why God had cursed me. So long as the false choice between God and gay persists, our brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends will continue to struggle, continue to torment themselves, and continue to be excluded from their families and communities.
All of this is unnecessary. Religious people should support equality, inclusion, and dignity for sexual minorities because of our religious traditions, not despite them. Not only does the Bible not say what some people claim, but the Bible and centuries of religious teaching in Christian and Jewish traditions argue strongly for what sometimes gets called “gay rights.” You read that right: for gay rights. While there are half a dozen verses that may say something about some forms of same-sex behavior, what they have to say is ambiguous, limited, and widely misunderstood. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of other verses that teach us about the importance of love, justice, and sacred relationships. I know it may sound unusual or even heretical to say so, but after substantial research (both within my Jewish tradition and, as a scholar of religion and an interfaith religious activist, in multiple Christian ones as well), years of soul-searching, and years of working with religious gay people, I sincerely believe that our shared religious values call upon us to support the equality, dignity, and full inclusion of sexual and gender minorities--that is, of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
So, if you are someone who struggles with the question of religion and homosexuality; if you are questioning your sexuality; if you are trying to reconcile your faith with the sexuality of a friend or family member; if you are a pastor trying to remain true to your ideals but compassionate to your parishioners; or, whatever your own religious or nonreligious views, if you are concerned about the hurtful, polarizing tone of political conversations about homosexuality, I hear you.
I was like you. And this book is for you.
Admittedly, this book is for me, too. Before I came out, I was certain that being openly gay would spell the end of my religious life. I was an Orthodox-practicing Jew, and my religion gave meaning and shape to my life. But I repressed my sexuality, acting out occasionally but regretting it afterwards, and I tried, for years, to change. Eventually, after ten years in the closet--an all-too-cozy metaphor for lying to yourself and others, and hating yourself for doing so--I had had enough. The pain, isolation, loneliness, and shame had grown so great--the futile relationships with women, the arguments with God, the hatred of myself for being unable to change--that I was ready to forsake my religion for the sake of my happiness.
But what I found was a shock: coming out was the doorway to true love, faith, and joy. My relationship to God and to my religious community grew stronger than ever before. My spiritual path began to unfold, my prayer life began to awaken, and my love for other human beings slowly unfurled itself and expanded. “God versus Gay” had very personal consequences for me, and I have written this book both to save other people from the hell I lived through, and to clarify and crystallize what I have learned over the years. “God versus Gay” isn’t just a false dichotomy. It’s a rebellion against the image of God itself.
But this is not only a personal story; it is a political one as well. After all, the “equality” in this book’s subtitle means not only that all of us are equal before God, or that same-sex love can be of equal holiness as opposite-sex love--although it does mean that--but also that this religious value has political consequences. Today, in most states, I can be fired from my job simply for having written this book and stating that I am gay. I can’t visit my life-partner in the hospital. In many countries, I could be jailed for even telling the truth about myself. And there are many churches and synagogues where I have to lie in order to fit in. Yes, the gay rights movement has made remarkable advances, and studies suggest that within a generation, struggles for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender--the acronym is strange at first, but one gets used to it) equality will look like ancient history. But as far as American politics may have come on these issues, parts of American society are being left behind. And whether you’re for gay rights or against them, you have to be concerned about the way our conversation has been taking place. It’s been bitter and contentious, with little understanding or generosity on either side.
This is a shame, and a risk. Consider, for example, the contrasting cases of two national conversations--on civil rights and on abortion. In the long and continuing struggle for civil rights, Dr. King and other leaders successfully and authentically framed the case for equality in religious as well as political terms. Remember, only a century ago, the Bible was used to enforce segregation as much as to oppose it. God placed the races on different continents, segregationists said. God sanctioned slavery in the Bible. And Africans were doomed to serve Caucasians as punishment for Ham’s sin (“Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers,” says Noah in Genesis 9:25). Dr. King and many others so succeeded in their reframing of civil rights that these arguments may strike us today as musty, even bizarre. But just fifty years ago, they were preached from pulpits around the country.
What Dr. King and his allies knew was that religion must become an ally of social change if that change is going to take root in people’s hearts. And so he preached as well as picketed. He didn’t just make onstitutional arguments but appealed to conscience, and spoke in the language of Scripture. He didn’t spend much time explaining why racist readings of the Bible were false--he focused on why liberating readings were true. As a result, while we still have a long way to go in terms of civil rights for everyone, few people today would argue that equality is an affront to God’s will--even though many would have a century ago.
Contrast that with our national “conversation,” if that’s what it is, about abortion. Here, the left makes secular, constitutional arguments, and the right makes religious ones. Not surprisingly, they talk past one another, and get angrier and angrier as time goes on. It’s a battlefield, not a conversation. Whatever one’s views on this contentious issue, surely we can all agree that sloganeering, political scheming, and lots of angry shouting are not the best ways to engage with an issue with so much religious and political significance.
Now, gay rights are not the same as African American civil rights. The struggles of LGBT people and African Americans are similar in some respects, but different in others. But the lesson I take from Dr. King and other heroes of the civil rights movement is that if we are to be responsible citizens of American democracy, we must engage with religious values, because these political questions are ultimately religious ones as well. We must have the religious conversation--not to win arguments, but to speak heart to heart with the millions of Americans who are not bigots or homophobes, but who are sincerely troubled by equality for gay people.
We have only barely begun this conversation today. So far, except for a few outliers, religion has been used on only one side of the argument. The Bible forbids homosexuality, we are told. Heterosexual marriage is at the core of God’s design for the universe. Most liberals, in response, simply deflect these points, talking instead about separation of church and state. This has been a tragic mistake. Dr. King did not succeed in changing hearts because he invoked the Fourteenth Amendment; he opened hearts, and changed minds, because he invoked God.
As with “God versus Gay” itself, the consequences of this failure to speak religiously about gay rights are personal as well as political. It perpetuates a kind of spiritual schizophrenia, one that is deeply wounding and painful. Now, it’s unsurprising that many gay people have given up on religion--religion gave up on them first. But to perpetuate this despair alienates family members from one another, forfeits the opportunity for religious growth and conversation, and ignores the millions of gay people who have not given up on religion. By perpetuating “God versus Gay,” secular rhetoric alienates gay people from themselves.
Yet as John 8:32 says, the truth will set you free. The Bible does not forbid homosexuality, a concept invented in nineteenth-century Europe. But it does preach the centrality of love and relationship in God’s design of the universe. It teaches how God loves us, and wants us to be happy, ethical, just, and fulfilled human beings. It demands that we create a just and compassionate world. And in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, it demands that we sanctify physical intimacy, and open our hearts to love. (Incidentally, because I am writing for people of all faiths, I use each tradition’s name for its sacred text. What Christians call the Old Testament, Jews call the Hebrew Bible.)
This is the conversation I want to have, because it connects me to my values, and to the values I share with other religious communities. Christian and Jew, progressive and conservative, Protestant and Catholic--we differ on many important details, but our shared fundamental values lead us to a different kind of conversation than the noisy shouting of TV talk shows and radio call-ins. If, like me, you have wrestled with the conundrum of how a loving God could possibly ask gay people to repress and distort themselves, then this book is about the good news that the God of Christianity and Judaism wants no such thing. If, like me, you despair of dialogue between religious and secular people on this divisive issue, then this book offers a way forward into meaningful, heartfelt, and sincere conversation. And if, like me, you are searching not only for tolerance but for authentic, spiritual, and respectful affirmation, then read on, because once the closet doors are opened, light comes streaming in.
I want to be clear about what this book is, and what it is not. It is a religious case, not a political one. It is affirmative, not negative. It is neither biblical apologetics nor an apology for acceptability of sexual diversity. And it embraces hard truths, not easy answers.
A Note from the Series Editor
Part One Why our fundamental values support, rather than oppose, equality for sexual minorities
Chapter 1 ìIt is not good for a person to be aloneî
Intimate relationship heals the primary flaw in creation
Chapter 2 ìI am asleep but my heart is awake: the voice of my beloved knocksî
A loving God could never want the ìclosetî
Chapter 3 ìLove your neighbor as yourselfî
Love demands authentic compassion for others
Chapter 4 ìBy the word of God were the heavens madeî
Sexual diversity is natural and part of Godís creation
Chapter 5 ìThou shalt not bear false witnessî
Honesty and integrity are sacred; ìcoming outî is a religious act
Chapter 6 ìJustice--justice shall you pursueî
Inequality is an affront to religious values
Part Two What the ìbad versesî really say about homosexuality
Chapter 7 Leviticus
One form of male intimacy is related to worship of foreign gods
Chapter 8 Sodom
Cruelty and inhospitality are the ìsins of Sodomî
Chapter 9 The Gospels
What Jesus didnít say about homosexuality
Chapter 10 Romans
Men not being dominant is a consequence of turning from God
Chapter 11 Corinthians and Timothy
Christians should not mingle with a pagan, idolatrous, lascivious society
Chapter 12 David and Jonathan
Love between men in the Bible
Chapter 13 Sexual diversity in Christian theology
How did we get here from there?
Part Three Why inclusion of sexual minorities is good, not bad, for religious values
Chapter 14 ìYou shall be holy, for I am holyî
Equality for LGBT people is good for families, marriage, and sexual ethics
Chapter 15 ìWhen I became a man, I put childish ways behind meî
The growth of religious values is good for individuals and religious communities
Chapter 16 ìEveryone whose spirit moved him brought an offering to Godî
Sexual diversity, like other forms of diversity, enriches religious lives and communities
Chapter 17 ìAnd I have filled him with the spirit of God . . . to devise subtle works in gold, silver, and brassî
What is homosexuality for?
Chapter 18 ìFor nothing in creation can separate you from the love of Godî
Table of Scriptural Authorities
For Further Reading
LGBT Religious Organizations
- Click here to read a Q&A with Jay Michaelson available in all EDGE publications
- Click here to read a review of God vs. Gay? featured in Heeb Magazine
- Click here to see God vs. Gay? featured in the Windy City Time's holiday gift guide
- Click here to read an interview with Jay Michaelson in The Miami Herald
- Click here to read a write-up of God vs. Gay? on GLAAD's website
- Click here to read an article by Jay Michaelson in Religion Dispatches
- Click here to read an interview with Jay Michaelson in Washington Jewish Week
- Click here to read an interview with Jay Michaelson in Brightest Young Things
- Click here to read a Q&A with Jay Michaelson in the Metro Weekly
- Click here to listen to an interview with Jay Michaelson on Interfaith Voices
- Click here to read Jay Michaelson's latest piece on the religion page of theHuffington Post
- Click here to read a write-up of Jay Michaelson's work in Lambda Literary
- Click here to read an essay by Jay Michaelson posted on In The Moment
- Click here to read a feature on Jay Michaelson's work on La Daily Musto
- Click here to read a feature on Jay Michaelson's work in Lambda Literary
- Click here to listen to Jay Michaelson speak on State of Belief about his piece on Troy Davis
- Click here to read a write-up of Jay Michaelson's work in The San Diego Jewish Journal
- Click here to read a review of Jay Michaelson's work on Human Rights Campaign’s Backstory Blog
- Click here to read a write-up of God vs. Gay? on PrideSource
- Click here to read a feature of Jay Michaelson's work on Blogher
- Click here to read an interview with Jay Michaelson in the St. Petersburg Times
- Click here to read Jay Michaelson's most recent piece, "The Polyamory Trap", now posted on Salon.com
- Click here to read a write-up of God vs. Gay? in the Philadelphia Weekly
- Click here to read Jay Michaelson's recent piece for The Jewish Daily Forward
- Click here to read a New York Times article which mentions the book
- Huffington Post photo essay of Most Inspiring LGBT Religious Leaders includes Jay Michaelson, 10/29/14
- Click here to watch a recent Youtube video featuring Jay Michaelson
- Click here to watch Jay Michaelson speak about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
- Book trailer for God vs. Gay?
About the Book
The myth that the Bible forbids homosexualitythe myth of God
versus Gayis behind some of the most divisive and painful conflicts
of our day. In this provocative, passionately argued, and game-changing book,
scholar and activist Jay Michaelson shows that not only does the Bible not prohibit
same-sex intimacy, but the vast majority of its teachings support the full equality
and dignity of gay and lesbian people, from the first flaw it finds in creation
(It is not good for a person to be alone) to the way religious communities
grow through reflection and conscience. In short, Michaelson observes, religious
people should support equality for gays and lesbiansnot despite their
religion, but because of it.
With close readings of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, the latest data
on the science of sexual orientation, and a sympathetic, accessible, and ecumenical
approach to religious faith, Michaelson makes the case that sexual diversity
is part of the beauty of nature and that the recognition of same-sex families
will strengthen, not threaten, the values religious people hold dear. This is
an important book for anyone who has wrestled with questions of religion and
homosexuality: parents and pastors, believers and skeptics, advocates of gay
rights and opponents of them. Whatever your views on religion and sexual
diversity, God vs. Gay is a plea for a more compassionate, informed conversationand
a first step toward creating one.
back to contents
Bible-thumpers turning into pillars of opened tea bags."
God vs. Gay is a game-changer and highly recommended in the debate.
has packed so much into his slim volume. A pleasurable and intelligent read,
this is a book for our times and a book for the ages. Edge
"A salvo in the case for equality." Publishers Weekly
This title is very much worth reading and particularly useful for those
interested in religion, civil rights, and social progress. Library
Mixing memoir and academic analysis in this well-researched and concisely
written treatise, Michaelson embarks on a mission to reconcile sexuality with
Judeo-Christian religious traditions
Inclusive and modern theology that
will give both Jewish and Christian readers a reason to celebrate sexual diversity.
"Michaelson looks at the Hebrew and Christian Bible with keen intellect,
wit, and often surprising insights. He roots his arguments not in dry exegesis
but in hard-won self-acceptance and passionate concern for others. I highly
recommended God vs. Gay? for anyone seeking to understand how being homosexual
and religious are not antithetical." Joe Perez, author of Soulfully
"'The irony of God versus Gay is that actually Gay and God go together.
Opening to one leads to the other.' So writes Jay Michaelson in the postscript
to this beautiful, soulful book. Michaelson charts a journey from rejection
to full acceptance, from religious alienation to spiritual wholeness that will
brings the reader closer to the Divine. It did for me and it will for anyone
who has felt abandoned by their faith and rejected for who they are. This is
a healing book that yearns to be read."Sharon Groves, Director, Religion
and Faith Program, Human Rights Campaign Foundation
"God vs. Gay? is essential reading for people of all faiths who
want to be allies of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. This book articulates
what many of us have felt in our hearts for a long time: that our religious
conscience compels us to support equality, not oppose it."Rabbi Zalman
Schachter-Shalomi, co-author of Jewish with Feeling and From Age-ing
to Sage-ing, Blessings for Health, Peace of Mind, and Prosperity
Michaelson shows that God versus gay is a myth and that the
overwhelming majority of our shared religious values favor equality for LGBT
people. Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun
God vs. Gay? is a timely and important book in this religious
and political moment. Michaelsons book prepares us, regardless of religious
or sexual identity, to delve deeper into our souls, our traditions, and into
the truth that religion is in fact a source of liberation.Rabbi
Sharon Kleinbaum, Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the largest
gay and lesbian synagogue in the world
Through careful discussions of Jewish and Christian teachings on homosexuality
Michaelson masterfully reveals that both religions allow for the full embrace
of LGBT persons. This religious-ethical work is illuminating and a must read
for anyone who wants to understand the current debate over religion and homosexuality.Rabbi
David Ellenson, President Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
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About the Author
Jay Michaelson is the author of three books and numerous articles about the
intersections of religion, sexuality, and law. A leading activist on behalf
of LGBT people in faith communities, Michaelson and his work have been featured
in the New York Times and on NPR and CNN. He is the founder of Nehirim,
the leading national provider of community programming for LGBT Jews and their
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Questions for Discussion
The first lines of Jay Michaelson's book dispel the myth that religion and
homosexuality are fundamentally incompatible. What were are your assumptions
heading into the book? Did you believe that some biblical texts condemn homosexuality?
Michaelson notes that these issues are important whether you're gay or straight,
religious or not. How does the issue of homosexuality in religion impact all
of us, in some way or another? Reflect on the many people who, as Michaelson
suggests (p. 8), might have a lot at stake in this false dichotomy.
Do you agree with Michaelson, that "pro-gay readings don't need to 'win.'
They just need to 'tie.' Because in the case of a tie between competing interpretations,
we are compelled to take the reading that aligns with our fundamental values"
(p.15)? What does this reveal about Michaelson's conception of the role of
religion in one's life? What do we do with interpretations of text that don't
necessarily align with our fundamental values, and yet are a part of our religious
traditions or communities?
Do you agree with Michaelson that we live in a culture "of vulgarization,
tawdry sex, and the fraying of personal bonds" (p. 19)? Anti-gay religious
activists might use the same language when justifying their discrimination
against homosexuals. How might they be used to justify equality instead?
What damage is done to individuals who feel shut out by religious communities?
How are communities impacted by the populations they exclude? Do you agree
with Michaelson, that "so long as people believe their sexuality to be
dirty and sinful, they will act out accordingly" (p. 36)?
Were you familiar with Genesis 2:18, which states that "it is not good
to be alone"? Do you agree with Michaelson that this is a "fundamental
religious value" that colors how we interpret other texts?
In Chapter 2, Michaelson discusses the fundamental importance of love, which
is "the consummate human activity and a gateway to holiness" (p.
39). Sexuality, by extension, is not merely lust, but rather "an expression
of that which makes us most human" (p. 40). In what ways do you think
sexual expression promotes spiritual wholeness?
Throughout the book, Michaelson draws on the challenges he endured as a gay
man grappling with his faith in religious tradition. His struggle, and its
resolution, comes to symbolize the central conflict at the heart of God vs.
Gay. In what ways do your own personal stories or experiences influence how
you approach religion?
In Chapter 3, Michaelson suggests that "religious teachings demand
an imaginary exercise in being someone else" (p. 52). What are some examples
from your own life when "sympathetic reasoning" helped you to better
understand somebody, or to overcome some fundamental difference?
Throughout Chapter 4, Michaelson examines the occurrence of homosexuality
in the natural world. How does evidence of the "naturalness" of
homosexuality refute the perspective of certain anti-gay religious figures?
And why does Michaelson claim that, to some extent, scientific justifications
should be irrelevant in this debate? Discuss the ways in which religion incorporates
(or ignores) new scientific and social realities in their teachings.
What were your preconceptions of sexuality in the biblical era? What does
Michaelson's account illuminate about the dynamics of family and sex that
compose the context of the Bible?
Michaelson says that "the 'coming out' narrative may be familiar not
just to many other gay people, but also to anyone who has been 'born again.'"
In what ways do you think the two experiences might compare?
At one point, Michaelson recalls congressman Barney Frank as saying, "I've
fought all my life to be boring." What do you think of the media's characterization
of gay culture? Discuss how the media's representation might influence the
ongoing discussion of religious tolerance and inclusion, and what media outlets
might do to encourage reconciliation.
Michaelson is unequivocal about the open dialogue around human sexuality
that should always be maintained: "Give sexuality a place of honor in
the community, and it will be sanctified. Relegate it to the gutter, and that
is where it will stay" (p. 76). What do you think is revealed about ethical
norms in populations that choose to ostracize and demean homosexuals? What
does the effort to include all sexual orientations in our communities say
about our own sexuality individually?
Michaelson cites a passage that he says is "exquisitely clear"
on how to treat minorities: "'You shall not mistreat a stranger, nor
oppress him: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt' (Exodus: 22:21)"
(p. 82). Can you think of other instances when the "stranger" might
have meant someone else, when other minority populations were dehumanized
and ostracized? What is similar, and different, between those situations and
contemporary debates about gays nad lesbians?
Throughout the book, Michaelson adamantly shows that the intention behind
interpreting biblical texts is of profound importance. "If our intention
is to seek the truth, as best as we can understand it," he says, "then
the conscience is at ease" (p. 92). The more partisan the approach, the
more convoluted the eventual conclusion. To what extent do you think biblical
texts can be manipulated? Can you think of any examples where religious opinions
mold the texts they cite, instead of originating and being molded from the
With Leviticus 18:22, Michaelson makes an important distinction that the
word toevah does not translate as "abomination," but rather, more
accurately, as "taboo" (p. 97). What difference is implied between
these two words? What are some of our cultural taboos today? How have other
taboos in the past transitioned into relative safety and acceptance in our
The story of Sodom is one of the passages most cited by anti-gay religious
figures. How does Michaelson's reading differ from others, including your
preconceptions of the story? Discuss how the idea of Sodom, and its associated
sins, has changed over time.
In the New Testament, Jesus is silent on homosexuality, a resounding omission
if, in fact, the practice were somehow abhorrent. Where he recognizes sexual
and gender diversity, Jesus sends "a clear, radical message of inclusion"
(p. 118). What do you think can be understood by Jesus' silence on such a
seemingly "taboo" subject in the Old Testament?
In Chapter 10, Michaelson says that, "For Paul, as for two millenia
of Christian history, part of the 'natural law' is that men should always
dominate women" (p. 123). This framework of power had far-reaching consequences
for Christians, on both the level of the family and on the macro scale of
society. Michaelson shows that that the "unnatural" designation
of homosexuality is inextricably linked to this outmoded structure. In what
ways do the prejudices of this old system of power still exist today? In what
ways are gender roles still influenced by it?
In Chapter 11, Michaelson examines passages from Corinthians and Timothy
that list homosexuality in a litany of other lusts, depictions that hold no
resemblance to loving same-sex relationships. Do you agree with this distinction?
Or are same-sex relationships lustful by definition, like adultery?
The story of Jonathan and David "expands our horizons regarding the
emotional capacity of human beings" (p. 151). Compare what your understandings
of this story were with Michaelson's interpretation. How does this story depict
masculinity and male friendship?
Michaelson explains briefly in Chapter 13 the history of Christian sexual
morality and its successive stances on homosexuality. How do you think the
changing classifications and punishments for homosexuality by the church might
have reflected the sexual practices of its constituents?
In Chapter 14, Michaelson explains how "the line between heterosexual
and homosexual is not an appropriate divider between amoral and moral"
(p. 172). This simple fact is often confused when homosexuality is overly
sexualized, as though same-sex relationships are merely erotic. What do you
think makes a relationship moral? How can sex influence the ethical dynamics
of a relationship?
Discuss why Michaelson argues that conservative family values should actually
champion and not disparage same-sex relationships. In your opinion, do you
think religious conservatives are capable of making this compassionate change?
In what ways is Michaelson an advocate for values often associated with religious
Michaelson suggests that "the sense that [homosexuality] is radically
new causes many people to feel uneasy about equality" (p. 191). What
are some other examples of "new" customs or ideas that were first
alienated or condemned before achieving a bearing of equality? Who do you
think is responsible in our society for dispelling the illusion that homosexuality
is somehow new?
"The process of educating the moral conscience," Michaelson writes
in Chapter 15, "...is, in large part, the process of applying love and
reason to what we think we already knew" (p. 199). Discuss the importance
of moral growth in the heavily politicized climate of sexuality today. To
whom applies the maxim that "discomfort is a sign of growth" (p.
In Chapter 16, what contributions does Michaelson think queer theology
can make to the Judeo-Christian religious tradition? What inspires or resonates
with you most in the work of queer theologians?
Once LGBT individuals achieve greater equality and are compassionately
welcomed into our religious insitutions, a profound question becomes how those
traditions can grow as a result. Michaelson suggests many of these possibilities
in Chapter 17. What unique spiritual experiences do you think LGBT individuals
can provide or share with our religious traditions?
Michaelson concludes the book by noting that "at this moment"
someone in your own community may be confronting the challenges of "God
vs. Gay"? Are there people you know who might fit this claim? Can you
recall stories of friends or relatives that illustrate it?
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