Since at least 1978 I have been engaged in a wide-ranging conversation with many people about what the Bible says about homosexuality. (Here's an essay with my conclusions.) That was the year I joined Second Presbyterian Church in Kansas City. At the time -- and until quite recently -- our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), taught that homosexuality was sinful.
Thank goodness that has changed. We've finally come to understand that we'd been misreading the Bible in many ways, to say nothing of ignoring our faith's call to show love to the oppressed and marginalized.
In all that time, I've not delved deeply into the question of what Islam teaches about homosexuality. The recent Orlando massacre at a gay night club, however, has raised that very question. One simplistic answer is that Islam teaches that homosexuality is sinful. But, in fact, it's more complicated than that. So today I want to give you a few resources to use to begin to answer this question for yourself.
This Christian Science Monitor piece outlines some of the difficulties with a simple answer. It focuses on the views of followers who can accurately be identified as radical Islamists, but it also identifies some sources within traditional Islam.
The Islamic State, the piece notes, "has killed homosexuals with particularly brutal zeal, and in some Middle East countries homosexual relations are considered crimes punishable by death. While IS cites the Qur'an as its authority, Muslim clerics are far from agreement on how homosexuals should be treated."
That's an important point. Just as there are deep divisions within Christianity (and, in fact, other faith traditions, too) over homosexuality, so are there divides within Islam. And one imam's interpretation of this or that Qur'anic verse or saying from the Hadith may not be another's view. Islam, after all, is insistently monotheistic but it is far from monolithic.
And yet as this Wikipedia entry notes, "Extreme prejudice remains, both socially and legally, in much of the Islamic world against people who engage in homosexual acts." And that prejudice seems difficult to overcome.
One of the stories Muslims have relied on to justify their anti-gay stance is the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. But as Christian scholars have finally come to figure out, the sin in that story is not any possible homosexual acts but, rather, the failure to provide hospitality.
This site, operated by Muslims, offers additional information about how Islam views homosexuality. And this site from About.com does the same, though from a non-Muslim point of view. In case you missed this Atlanta Journal-Constitution story that ran in The Kansas City Star on Saturday, it describes hopes and dreams of gay Muslims. Finally, here is a Washington Post story about a gay Muslim activist group.
What we really don't know yet -- and maybe we never will -- is how much, if any, the Orlando shooter was influenced by Islam's opposition to homosexuality. But it's worth understanding that even though much Islamic opinion falls in line as opposing homosexuality, there is a continuum of opinion within the faith.
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WHAT A GAY IMAM HAS TO SAY
And just to stay on the subject of Islam and homosexuality, here's a Religion News Service story that delves into the issue in some detail. It quotes an openly gay imam as saying that traditional Islamic teaching on gays must change: “It has to or it will die from its harshness or rigidity. The way it is presently understood, it rots the heart and decays the brain.”
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THE BOOK CORNER
Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making It Stick, by Marc Cardaronella. The author is director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute for Faith Formation of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. From age 13 to 33, he was a Catholic dropout. Now he wants to make sure his children don't follow his path and he wants to help teach other parents how to give their children the spiritual foundation necessary to avoid the failure of faith that he himself experienced. His concern is well-founded. As he notes, "Until the middle of the twentieth century, faith development occurred within the family. Devout parents passed down their religious beliefs, practices, and devotions within the context of a family life centered in the home. Today, that parental privilege and responsibility has largely been handed over to the parish or school. . .We have to take that back, and the family is still the place to do it." Although written for Catholics, there are faith-formation ideas here that can be adapted to nearly any faith.
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P.S.: I hope you'll be able to tune in to the KCPT-TV "Beyond Belief" special report on religion in Kansas City at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Necessary details are at the link I've given you here.