Aug 28, 2016

Converting the Fundamentalist Boy

Upstate, September 2010

The Freshman came into Sociology of Religion class ready for a fight.  I knew all the signs.

He was Hispanic, tall, broad-shouldered, with short dark hair, dark skin, and a round open face.  A muscular physique, but not a football player.

Intense, one of those front-of-the-room hand-raisers.  The first to get to class, pull out his notebook, and sit with his pen ready to take notes. And frown with disgust at everything I said.

He rarely interacted with the girls in the class, always sitting next to boys and choosing boys for partnered work.  Probably gay.  Maybe he didn't know it yet.

There was a King James Bible atop all of his other books, even though the Bible was not one of the required texts for the class.

I knew where he was coming from.  I grew up fundamentalist, with three sermons per week that were mostly quoted Bible passages, Sunday school and NYPS classes that were mostly Bible studies, plus extra points for reading your Bible daily and extra extra points for carrying it around so you could witness to the world.

We were told that the Bible was literally dictated by God, word for word, to the human authors. We didn't even call it the Bible, usually.  We said God's Word.

Obviously if God wrote it, it had to be perfect, flawless, with no errors, no mistakes, no lies.

If the Bible said the world was created in six days, obviously that's what happened.  God would know, wouldn't he?

Methuselah lived for 969 years.  Check.
There were 2 or 7 of each animal on Noah's Ark.  Check.
Joshua caused the sun to stand still.  Check.

It took me years to acknowledge that Mark 13 didn't exist in the earliest manuscripts, that the book of Daniel contains words that didn't exist at the time of Daniel, that some of the Pauline Epistles were written in a polished, erudite Greek totally unlike that of the Apostle Paul.  That none of the writers of the Bible expected it to be taken literally.

This Freshman was just starting his journey.  He had stormed into the classroom ready to defend God's Word against attacks, probably planning to win the souls of the Professor and the entire class.

 I had to work carefully.  I didn't want the Freshman storming out of the class in anger and dropping.  If he was gay, he needed this class.  Most internalized homophobia is due to a mistaken belief that the Bible promotes anti-gay hatred.

My tactic: don't dispute the literal meaning of the Bible.  Turn it against him.

I started slowly, with an easy one: the story of Sodom.

"None of the Biblical writers thought that the sin of Sodom was same-sex activity,"  I said.  "It was a lack of hospitality to strangers."

The Freshman's hand shot up.  "What about Jude 7, which says that the Sodomites were punished with eternal damnation for going after 'strange flesh.'"

"Strange flesh, sarkos heteros in Greek, wouldn't mean same-sex acts -- hetero means 'different.'  It probably means an attempt to have sex with strangers."

On like that.  Leviticus.  Thou shalt not lie with man as with woman.  Abomination refers to ritual impurity in ancient Judaism, like eating pork or mixing cotton and linen fibers.

Romans: Men burned with lust toward one another.  The Apostle Paul was referring to a specific case in which heterosexual men engaged in same-sex acts.  He was not aware of the existence of gay men.

Colossians:  arsenokoitai and malakoi shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.  "Homosexuals" is a mistranslation.   Arsenokoitai is a vulgar slang term, similar to our assholes, meaning basically jerks.  Malakoi means "soft."

The Freshman looked like his head would explode.  He frowned, sighed, thumbed furiously through his King James Bible.

"But it says 'effeminate!'  That must mean gay!"

"We need to look at the original Greek manuscripts, not a translation."

"But God guides the hand of the translators, so it means exactly the same thing in English as in Greek!"

And on and on.  Sometimes it felt like the class was taking place between me and the Freshman, with the other students merely onlookers.

The breakthrough came when I mentioned the MCC, a gay Christian denomination.

"It must be weird going to church when God hates you," the Freshman said, "Singing praises the God who is going to send you to Hell.  How can they deal with it?"

I was getting annoyed by his pig-headedness.  "They don't think God is a bigot," I said.  "Their reasoning is, why would God be homophobic?  Or prejudiced against any minority group?  Actually, a large number of Protestant denominations agree: Episcopalians, Lutherans, Baptists..."

A few days later, the Freshman showed up during my office hours.

"Do you happen to have the address of that gay Christian church?" he asked.  "I want to go there to them."

"There are several hundred in the United States.  The closest is in Albany.  But be careful -- you'll be outnumbered.  The congregation numbers around five hundred."

"Five hundred!  Come on -- you're exaggerating.  There aren't that many gays in the world!"

We moved on to other topics for the rest of the semester, so I didn't know if the class helped the Freshman overcome his homophobia or not (the quiz questions were all neutral).  He got a B+, and vanished, like students usually do.

Late in the spring semester, the Freshman came into my office again.  "Thanks for telling me about the MCC," he said.

"Did you find your visit enlightening?"

He grinned.  "You could say that.  I'm dating the pastor."

Hey, these stories can't all be about me hooking up.  I do have other interests, you know.

The uncensored post is on Tales of West Hollywood

See also: The Bible, Christianity, and Homosexuality at