Classroom Controversy: Christianity and Gay Rights
Levesque, Paul J., Academic Exchange Quarterly
In developing a lecture on the controversial issue of Christian responses to same-sex sexual behavior, the author employs strategies to minimize tensions and foster learning. Pedagogy includes a step by step unfolding of the issue. One step acknowledges that the official positions of Christian churches on the issue of homosexuality vary greatly. Some consider gay men and lesbians a threat to faith and family; others are tolerant and even accepting. These divergent conclusions are reached largely due to different methods of interpreting the Bible. In addition, a variety of responses can be made to an ethical position which runs counter to one's religious views. Even if one personally holds to the incompatibility of same-sex behavior with one's faith, there remains the wider issue of how one might implement this view in a multicultural and multireligious world.
At the state university where I teach, one of the primary learning goals for the undergraduate course in world religious is to foster greater sensitivity and empathy toward religions beliefs and customs that differ from the students' own. As the students grow in their understanding of various traditions, they instinctively compare this new knowledge with their own convictions and heritages. The course objective is not to change their own beliefs, but to expand their appreciation of the worldviews held by others. For the most part, this process presents a challenge to their own way of thinking without causing undue personal anxiety or controversy in the classroom.
However, recently I have experimented with adding a new component to my courses in world religions which often pushes classroom harmony to its limits. It is one thing to respect another's belief system; it is something else entirely to approve of another's moral lifestyle. The objective of this paper is to present the methodology I employed in developing a new lecture and class discussion on Christian views of the morality of same-sex sexual acts. The learning goals were to: (1) acknowledge the importance of the issue; (2a) understand that there is no single "Christian" response to the issue; (2b) describe the different responses; (3) identify the reasons behind these responses; (4) recognize that one's specific moral values may not be shared by society at large, or even by other adherents to one's religious tradition. While it is not one of my defined learning goals, it is my hope that classroom reflections such as these can serve as a small step for students to learn how to respect their peers and their future coworkers, regardless of their sexual orientation.
The first challenge I faced was how to integrate this topic into the existing course on religions of the world. The course includes five segments, each covering one religion. It seemed logical enough to discuss the different responses of the Christian churches to same-sex relations at the end of the section on Christianity. However, placing a controversial issue at the end of one segment detracted from the coherence of the course. It also appeared risky to choose such a heated issue as the only moral dilemma investigated in the course. Thus, for consistency, as well as for students' own merit, I decided to add a discussion of a moral issue at the end of each segment of a specific religious tradition: Hindu views of ecology, Buddhist responses to economic justice, the Holocaust and current anti-Semitism, and Islamic interpretations of the role of women.
I incorporated sections of Young's (1995) presentation of these ethical issues. I wanted to ensure that these other topics were not as impassioned in order to provide opportunities for the individual students to learn how to discuss moral issues without being overtaken by one's emotions. This also provided a method for the class as a group to grow in its ability to respect differences expressed in class discussions. …