[OPINION] To achieve gender equality, we need more religion

They hijacked it — again.

Last week, the SOGIE Equality Bill was placed on the legislative table yet again. In 2019, it finally passed the third reading in the Lower House, but it languished in the Senate. Now, under the 18th Congress, the bill is back to square one, beginning with deliberations at the committee level.

But as expected, conservatives threw ridiculous assumptions on what gender equality might mean for our society. 

No less than lawyer Lyndon Cana took the slippery slope. He argued that since the bill “does not define a boundary or limitation” to SOGIE, its passage may potentially permit pedophilia and necrophilia.

But the most vocal perhaps was Jesus Is Lord Church founder and Deputy Speaker Eddie Villanueva. He denounced the bill for discriminating against straights.

What happened?

Arguments warning of widespread moral degeneracy to attack the measure are nothing new. 

As early as 2006, religious lawmakers like Benny Abante already argued that the bill promoted a “morally reprehensible” sexuality. Abante is a Baptist pastor who was Minority leader in Congress until last month. 

These religious lawmakers are not alone. 

Evangelicals — many of them youth — turned to social media to declare that the “SOGIE Bill is anti-Christ and anti-Christian in every form.” Another user ended his heated exchange with a pro-SOGIE individual by saying “Let's hear God when He comes back.”

No wonder these Christians are all in agreement that passing the bill will lead to their persecution. In a piece we wrote last year, we showed how conservative Christians have successfully weaponized religious freedom against the LGBTQ+ community. (READ: Sodom, Gomorrah, and the fate of gender equality)

During the hearing last week, Brother Eddie Villanueva took to Cana’s defense when the latter was castigated by Representative Geraldine Roman for being “plastic.” Brother Eddie asserted that Cana, a resource person during the hearing, was simply defending “truth, justice, and righteousness.”

Religious voices

The reality is that conservative Christians, being vocal, give the impression that they carry the only and unyielding version of the truth. That they invoke the Bible to validate their persecution is telling.

A day after the hearing, Brother Eddie quoted Billy Graham on Twitter: “The most prominent place in Hell is reserved for those who are neutral on great issues of life.” 

Within an hour of posting it, he tweeted Luke 11:23: “‘He who is not with ME is against ME!’- JESUS CHRIST. HE also said ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life and NO ONE CAN COME TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THRU ME!’”

To these statements we offer a counterintuitive response. We need more religion. 

By that we mean a more nuanced take on the theological claims made by these influential religious figures. In our view, conservative Christians cannot claim theological monopoly over gender issues.

Time and again, religious scholars and social scientists have turned to a more nuanced take on gender equality. Matthew Vines makes a strong case, for example, for the biblical basis of same-sex relationships.

Also, religious voices in the Philippines are as diverse as the rainbow. 

During the same congressional hearing, Catholic nun Sister Mary John Mananzan expressed support for the bill, saying that “religion should not be used to justify discrimination.” Years ago, mainline Protestant churches had already issued statements supporting the SOGIE Equality Bill. Even the Philippine Independent Church has argued that lawmakers need to confront gender-based discrimination: “Only through this can we truly protect our brothers and sisters in the community.”

Also worth mentioning is the Metropolitan Community Church, a religious group that affirms the LGBTQ+ for organizing the first Pride March in the Philippines (and in Asia). 

But as a whole they constitute only the minority within Christianity.

Thus, queer people of faith should not shy away from challenging theologies that perpetuate their discrimination. 

How can they build trust and enter dialogue with someone who believes they are “objectively disordered” or that they need “rehabilitation?” Thankfully, several religious groups have already made significant progress to encourage open and honest dialogue on doctrinal and pastoral matters. 

There is no reason for other churches not to follow suit.

'Whoever has ears ought to hear'

We understand conservative Christians are not ready to let go of their conviction. At stake is not just their religious freedom but what they believe is the moral fiber of society.

But truth be told, isn’t compassion a far more convincing form of witnessing? 

This is why Pope Francis might be a wise model to emulate. The Pope may not be a compelling figure for evangelicals and other conservative Christians. But he has been consistent in urging the faithful to be more open and compassionate towards LGBTQ+ people.

As a good pastor, he has recognized the need to see them as persons, and to listen and understand their experiences. That is where his support for same-sex civil union comes from.

From the evangelical side, Christian apologist Dr Amy Orr-Ewing minces no words: “The truth is that some individuals who call themselves Christians have acted hatefully towards homosexuals, and we need to begin by rejecting that reaction and expressing our sorrow that this has happened.”

More religion

Christians ought to take the cue from these religious figures. 

We need more religion, but not to add to the noise.

We need more religion because religion has so much more to offer. In Christianity, nothing can be more persuasive than the hope it promises to the least among us: acceptance.

In this light, Christians can thus listen to the stories of LGBTQ+ teenagers living in fear, of same-sex parents raising their kids, and of queer members in church struggling with unnecessary guilt.

The whole point of the SOGIE Bill is to uphold the dignity of queer individuals who have been discriminated against in every possible way. 

And to uphold the dignity of a human being is to honor the image of God. 

Isn’t that, after all, the very calling of every follower of Christ? – Rappler.com

Jayeel Cornelio and Robbin Dagle are based in the Development Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University. They are co-investigators in the Queer Christianity Project, a major study on religion and gender among young adult Christians in the Philippines. With Anjo Lorenzana, they are currently writing a monograph based on this project. Follow them on Twitter: @jayeel_cornelio and @RCDagle.

Jayeel Cornelio

Jayeel Cornelio, PhD is Associate Professor and the Director of the Development Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University. A sociologist of religion, he is a recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Young Scientist Award from the National Academy of Science and Technology. He i...

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