Like Tillotson wrote, many religious conservatives try to justify condemning homosexuality as a sin with equivocating statements about how “we’re all sinners,” but this does little to soften the blow.
First, the comparison to other actions treats a person’s sexual orientation like it’s a choice, a hypothesis that science has roundly rejected. The attempt to compare homosexuality to more common sins like lying, laziness, and gossip may be an attempt to downplay the severity of homosexuality, but it actually disproves its own point. LGB people are singled out for condemnation and ostracization from society, while liars, sloths, and gossips — i.e. just about everybody — are not. Likewise, comparing homosexuality to sins that actually hurt people, like theft and murder, communicates that LGB people deserve as much scorn as criminals — and in many countries, they are treated as such.
In reality, U.S. religious conservatives do single out homosexuality for condemnation. Stephen Kim, an evangelical pastor in New York, took this approach in his response to the Orlando shooting. “As Christians, we grieve today,” he wrote, “not so much because people died (for we will all one day die) — but because fifty souls went straight to Hell without any further opportunity for repentance.” They died in the midst of committing a sin, and thus “they did not die as heroes. Instead, they died as depraved sinners. Maranatha!”
Dr. Ilan Meyer, who has long studied the impact of minority stress on the LGBT community at the Williams Institute at UCLA's School of Law, told ThinkProgress that "the message that homosexuality is a sin is not really simple. It is at the core of homophobia." Because it's an explicit tenet instead of just a prejudice, it creates the sense that nobody is really to blame for the harm that belief causes.
"Religious condemnation is internalized by religious LGB people and their families, leading to a sense that the LGB person cannot be accepted and respected — not simply because of personal rejection of a family member — but because it is the Word of God," Meyer said. "That is a high authority that is difficult to argue against." The church community sees the LGB person as a sinner, and thus feels it has permission to disdain the person and ostracize them, including excommunicating them in some traditions.
Dr. Lynn Bufka, a psychologist with an expertise in stress and anxiety who has helped work on the Stress report, pointed out to ThinkProgress that one of the simple reasons that the LGBT community has a unique experience even compared to other marginalized groups is entirely due to the sin messaging. "They're often being told that who they are, or that acting on their particular sexual orientation, is sinful." Women, Muslims, or other groups for whom there are negative attitudes are less likely to be told that who they are is objectively wrong.
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