Canada
3 min

Turning the tide on religion’s war against queers

Do recent positive developments suggest a bigger trend?

Maybe the tide is starting to turn in religion’s war against queers.

Maybe society is starting to side with queers against religious homophobia and maybe even religious types are starting to see the virtues of acceptance over condemnation. Could it be?

Well, there have been a couple of very positive developments recently that should bring hope to the hearts of queers everywhere — or at least in North America.

The first development was the sound defeat of the Conservatives in the Ontario election in October, a defeat largely rooted in the overwhelming opposition to the party’s promise to fund private religious schools.

The defeat itself is good news because it removes the potential for those schools to become a taxpayer-funded source of homophobic teachings, and even opens up the possibility of a debate over removing funding from Ontario’s Catholic school system.

But the real good news comes in the way the issue galvanized the populace. The voters sided with the secular over the religious and did it emphatically. People decided they wanted children to attend public schools with other children from all ethnic, religious and, yes, sexual backgrounds.

Now, I’m not claiming that voters were suddenly overcome with concern about gays and lesbians or decided to send a message against religious homophobia. And certainly some Ontario voters were indulging a racist fear about Muslim schools teaching jihad to their students.

But the fact is that voters did decisively turn against religious fundamentalism of all stripes. And some of the most vehement opposition came from the religious communities themselves. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs all decided that they wanted their children to learn secular values — even if that includes equality for homosexuals — alongside children of other faiths and backgrounds. And this came despite the fact that major lobby groups in all of those religions — most of them pushing a deeply conservative version of the faith in question — were mounting a major push for the funding.

The victory shouldn’t obscure the fact that public schools in Ontario have not done a good job of protecting queer students or of revising the curriculum to truly reflect queer lives. And we have to remember that the Liberal government has made no promises to change that. But that public school system is still better than what the alternative could have been.

And the election results might, just maybe, provide some cause for modest optimism about what might happen in a federal election if religion and homosexuality becomes a major issue again.

That sense of cautious optimism should also be somewhat buoyed by the results of a survey released last month by an evangelical market research company.

The survey, conducted by the Barna Group in the US, asked Americans aged 16 to 29 about, among other things, how Christianity approaches homosexuality. And the results, surprisingly enough, are highly encouraging.

The poll showed that 91 percent of non-Christians and an astounding 80 percent of young Christians said Christianity was “anti-homosexual.”

Indeed the study said that young people — religious and non-religious alike — thought that Christians “show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians.”

The report put out by the Barna Group quoted young Christians as saying that Christian churches have made homosexuality the biggest sin of all, and had not helped them to apply biblical teachings on love and acceptance to their own friendships with gays and lesbians.

The study reported that: “Three percent of 16 to 29-year-old non-Christians express favourable views of evangelicals. This means that today’s young non-Christians are eight times less likely to experience positive associations toward evangelicals than were non-Christians of the Boomer generation (25 percent).”

The study also reported that 75 percent of young non-Christians thought that Christians today spend far too much time involved in politics — and half of young Christians agreed.

Nor were the non-Christians in the study radical atheists or jaded cynics like, perhaps, journalists. Indeed, 80 percent of the non-Christians surveyed for the study had spent at least six months attending church before deciding that religion did not meet their needs.

It’s encouraging that so many young people — even those who identify as Christian — are beginning to question whether their church’s views on homosexuality are compatible with the teachings of the bible and Jesus. Especially when one considers that this survey was conducted in the United States, a country much more religious and with a stronger evangelical bent than Canada.

The study suggests that there’s a growing age gap among believers on the issue of homosexuality, with young people becoming more and more liberal on the subject. That’s not to suggest that they’re ready to move away from the idea of homosexuality being a sin, just that they may not share the obsessive and visceral hatred of queers that has characterized so many of the older leaders of Christianity.

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While thinking about the Barna survey, I ended up watching an episode of South Park, a satire on The Da Vinci Code in which it emerged that St Peter was really a rabbit, and that Jesus had wanted him to be the first head of the Catholic church. Eventually, Jesus — who in South Park is still alive and hosting a local cable access show — is able to install a descendant of the original rabbit as the new Pope. When Pope Snowball is asked what the Catholic Church should say to people about how to live their lives, the rabbit just sits there in silence.

“He’s not saying anything,” laments one cardinal.

“Just as Jesus intended,” says another.

Wouldn’t it be nice.