I reached a pivotal point in my life my senior year of high school, when I decided to figure out once and for all whether I was living my life in sin. That’s the kind of thinking you face when you’re a queer Christian woman. I decided to spend a month on a research paper on queer theology. Specifically, I studied John J. McNeill, a Jesuit Catholic priest who wrote the book “The Church and the Homosexual.” Despite the dated name, McNeill’s book was revolutionary for the queer theology movement.
For queer Christians at Yale and across the world, mainstream Christianity tries to ingrain in us the belief that our sexuality and faith are two opposing identities that cannot be reconciled. However, that is an incorrect assumption. When we engage with our biblical tradition in a critical manner, we realize that these two identities can enrich one another.
Studying this topic was a revelatory experience for me. Because I grew up in the Evangelical world, the idea that someone could even identify as both queer and Christian was a new concept. Like most Evangelical Christians, I was raised on the idea that sex should be within the confines of a marriage between a man and a woman. This limited view of sex, I was told, had biblical backing that couldn’t be contested. However, according to “The Church and the Homosexual,” this biblical argument was iffy at best — and probably incorrect altogether.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah describes the sin of pride and rape, not homosexuality. The mentions of homosexuality in Corinthians and Timothy are about men raping other men to exert power over them. In Leviticus, homosexuality refers to pagan acts of prostitution during the worship of idols. These descriptions of homosexuality are not how it exists today. Homosexuality as a loving relationship between two consenting adults was not understood during the time that the Bible was written and was therefore never addressed there.
While these arguments are an oversimplification of the vast etymological and theological studies that are behind these specific analyses of scripture, I have given you a brief overview of the general theological opinions that many modern scholars hold on such passages.
Perhaps you don’t find these arguments convincing. That’s okay. In fact, many Christian theologians — even some of whom do not buy the arguments above — agree that the Bible’s opinions on homosexuality are still too vague to draw clear conclusions, whether that be condemnation or affirmation.
Nevertheless, institutions of Christianity often prevent queer people from ever finding affirmation in queer or progressive theology, despite that theology being deemed reputable by many theologians.
This disagreement on the biblical view of homosexuality between academic theologians and mainstream Christians represents the vast and dangerous disparity between academics and the general public. This disparity is more alarming in light of the fact that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are five times more likely to have attempted suicide than their straight peers. If the knowledge that academics and theologians hold were made accessible to the general public, society would make more room for many of these queer youth.
Who, then, is responsible for bridging this gap between the academics and the public?
This past summer, I worked for a nonprofit called Q Christian Fellowship that strives to “[cultivate] radical belonging among LGBTQ+ people and allies” and believes “that every person is a beloved child of God.” However, the burden cannot fall on nonprofits that often do not have ample funding or resources.
As Christians in an academic institution like Yale, we have learned to use critical thinking skills that we can apply to our faith. In addition, unlike most, we have the resources to do something about it. If we, as the privileged members of society who have access to these resources, don’t take advantage of them, who will?
We have a choice. We can think critically and analyze the way that homosexuality is treated in the Bible, or we can passively listen to what our pastors tell us without doing our own research. As someone who has access to this knowledge, I have the choice to remain silent, or I can use my privilege and platforms to share what I learned.
To my fellow Yalies, I beg of you to not remain ambivalent: educate yourself on this topic because you can. Use your privilege to bridge the gap between academia and the general public, as very few of us actually can.
JESSICA WANG is a first year in Morse College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .