God or Gay, No Need to Choose Sides

What inspired you to write God vs. Gay?

I think we’re at a unique moment of opportunity right now. Because of the increased visibility of LGBT people in the media, the changes in law in some places, and the continued effort by some on the political right to use gay rights as a scare tactic, this is a defining civil rights struggle of our times. It’s clear to most people that the stereotypes about gay people are no more true than racist stereotypes or sexist stereotypes. At the same time, we have to have a deeper conversation about these issues than the simplistic ones often going on in our public sphere.

The book for me is personal as well as political. A lot of people, myself included, were raised to believe that religion and sexual minorities were incompatible—that it really is God versus Gay. Personally, I chose the ‘God’ side for ten years, repressing my sexuality and cutting myself off from other people. Even when I finally gave up, I still thought that coming out would be the end of my religious life. In fact, it was the beginning of it.

What’s the essential takeaway for readers?

Religious people should support LGBT equality, not despite religion but because of it.

Anything you had to leave out?

I would’ve liked to delve more into queer theology and the distinctive contributions queer people are making to religious communities.

There are huge misconceptions about the Bible and homosexuality. I’ll pick three:

1. That the Bible prohibits homosexuality. It doesn’t. Three verses (out of 30,000) limit a few sexual acts, mostly between men, in the context of idolatry or lewdness—and only in those contexts.

2. That whatever the prohibition is, it’s central to religion. It isn’t. The “sin” in Leviticus is the same as eating a shrimp cocktail. Jesus never mentions homosexuality at all. It’s not in the ten commandments. It’s marginal, and of marginal concern.

3. That the “sin of Sodom” is homosexuality. It isn’t. It’s greed, cruelty, and inhospitality (Ezekiel 16:49-50, Jeremiah 23:14, Amos 4:1-2).

Who is your audience?

What I would say is, 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 non-religious 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.

Did you write to educate, entertain, or to piss people off? 

I definitely have a polemical case to make. The subtitle of the book gives that away: I want to make an affirmative case for the religious and political equality of LGBT people. By “affirmative” I mean something more than simply saying that Leviticus, Romans, and Corinthians don’t prohibit homosexuality. I mean that our shared religious values support full inclusion of gay people. To repeat: religious people should not be for equality despite their religions’ teachings; they should be for equality because of them. Doubtless that will piss some people off, but from what I’ve seen on tour so far, it inspires many more.

What alternate title would you give the book?

Originally the book was just called “The Religious Case for Gay Rights.” The new title is catchier, plus the phrase ‘gay rights’ is a bit old hat by now.

How do you feel about the cover?

I really like the cover—and I say this as someone who fought with two previous publishers, bitterly, over my book covers. The different feathers are meant to convey the beauty and diversity of our world. If God created that world, then surely God loves diversity.

What book do you wish you had written?

I’d still like to write the queer version of a poetic spiritual classic, like the best of Heschel or Hafiz. Something that reflects some of the beauty of its topic in the language of the text itself.

What’s your next book?

That is up to my agent! I’m looking at several projects right now: a biography of a well-known queer poet, a discussion of risk and fear in the context of airport security, and a couple of follow-ups to God vs. Gay. Then again, I might just try to sell my novel.

JayMichaelson&ltjay@nehirim.orggt'

Dr. Jay Michaelson [@jaymichaelson] is Associate Editor of Religion Dispatches and the author of five books, most recently "Evolving Dharma: Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of Enlightenment" (North Atlantic, 2013). He holds a J.D. from Yale and a Ph.D. in Jewish Thought from Hebrew University of Jerusalem.