When forbidden sexuality meets immutable religious tradition

(RNS) Multiple reports reveal that the profile of Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen was found on gay dating apps, that he had tried dating men, and had previously dated the Orlando club where he had massacred so many on Sunday (June 12).

If this is true, it matters a lot.

It could shift the motivation for Mateen’s horrific act to a very different and psychologically more complex place where a man’s inability to come to terms with his sexuality claimed the lives of 49 other people – and then cost him his life. his.

This could end up making the motivation for the horrific Orlando massacre look like: I want you. God says I can’t want you. So I have to kill you.

And that opens up the broader question of the serious mental health issues facing young people who discover, against the harsh teachings of their religious traditions, that they are attracted to members of the same sex.

This intersection of religious authority and forbidden sexuality is very dangerous and must be navigated by all those raised in religions which reject same-sex attraction and relationships. It is a problem in several religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and leaders of all religious traditions face the urgent responsibility to resolve it.

As a privileged married heterosexual and evangelical Christian ethicist, I finally realized a few years ago how terrible this problem is for LGBT Christians and engaged in a process of reconsideration. This led me to a posture of solidarity and prompted me to open up my traditionalist sexual ethics of married life to include same-sex and lesbian unions. This was viewed as a big mistake by some of my fellow believers. But many LGBT people and their families were desperately grateful. It offered at least a way out of the deadlock between traditional religion and sexuality.

Look at it this way. When a young person with a strict religious education discovers the powerful force of his own sexuality, it is quite scary. But if that sexual interest is directed at people of the approved sex, the religious authorities have at least one slightly heartwarming answer: You and your sexuality are normal, but you have to wait until you are married to have sex. It is difficult, but it is doable. Pat on the back and off you go.

But for young lesbians, gays and bisexuals, the answer is very different: you are not normal. Your sexuality is only a sin, a rejection of God himself. You must repent and change. You can never act on these sexual attractions. How long do you have to wait to have sex or romance with someone you really want? Forever. You can never, ever do it, or you will incur the wrath of God.

These responses come from all recognized and trusted authorities in the youth world – first parents, then also teachers and religious leaders, and finally most friends of the church, synagogue or mosque. . Often the responses are accompanied by the most severe, sometimes the most cruel, verbal, emotional and even physical violence. Even the very shy statement that a young person can feel same-sex attractions can blow up religious parents and pastors. At best, relationships survive, but a person’s sexuality is rejected by those whose approval matters most.

So when the overwhelming force of a forbidden sexual orientation collides with the unchanging object of an ancient religious tradition, what is the affected person supposed to do?

A large number of young adults end up abandoning their religious traditions as dangerous to their health. Some are in gay nightclubs early on Sunday mornings because they’re welcome there – and wouldn’t be welcome at church eight hours later.

Others spend years trying to conform their desires and behaviors to options prescribed by religion, such as celibacy or heterosexual marriage, remaining in their religion at the cost of the cauterization of their gender identity.

Some ping pongs go back and forth between these options, both of which they find scary and neither of them can sustain.

Others end up finding peace by creating or discovering a version of their faith that can accommodate the sexuality they have, rather than the sexuality that tradition requires them to have. They find a place where they no longer have to choose. This is usually a very long and difficult process.

And it may be that a particularly troubled young man “solved” his problem over the weekend with a mass murder.

So, to American Orthodox religious leaders, I ask again:

Is the constant, acute, and completely predictable psychological distress caused to these young adults by your understanding of God’s moral rules a relevant consideration for your teaching and pastoral care?

In light of this suffering and what is now known about human sexuality, do you still believe that this is what the God you are trying to serve really demands?

Could it be that some aspect of your understanding of sexual ethics is revisable rather than God’s eternal will?

Which of you will take the risks to engage in a serious conversation about these issues in your faith community on behalf of your own most vulnerable young people?

(David Gushee is Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. He is a columnist at RNS)