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Context, Context, Context

michelle.lee's picture

At my high school, similar to perhaps many other high schools,  making gay jokes was always a popular thing to do.   I feel ashamed to have participated in this crude and horrible form of "humor" and teasing when I first entered high school.  I loved my high school and I had a great high school experience but I did think my school needed to revise it's policy on tolerance.  Not just on anti-gay rhetoric issue but on an overall issue of tolerance and respect.  It wasn't until the end of high school that one of my very good friends who had been constantly made fun of for "acting gay" that I realized this was not right and that this had to stop.  I couldn't articulate why I felt it was wrong.  I don't think I was the only one who thought this was a problem but I do think it was an easy pitfall to trap yourself into when you were with a group of people and you just wanted to tease someone.  And I saw no way of changing it.  I just knew it was unfair but I didn't know for what reason and I couldn't understand why this kind of homophobic subculture was so deeply ingrained in the way my high school interacted with each other.  

After reading Michael Kimmel's “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity."  I felt as thought many of my questions from high school were answered.  In a post-reading gusto, I was so sure that if I just read this to everyone at my school, there would at least be an understanding of or awareness of the detrimental effects of our actions.  However, after talking out this sentiment with Anne, I realized that it would probably not be very well received.  A little crestfallen, I continued to think about how I could present this idea to my high school in a conducive manner.    This tied in with our class's conversation on being agents of change and how that is achieved depending on the context of the situation.  This is my context.  My high school is an international Christian school in Seoul, Korea.  At my school, homosexuality wasn't an issue.  I personally think it wasn't a matter of intolerance but ignorance.  It wasn't an issue that was even thought of at my school; It was a non-issue.  It wasn't until my senior year that someone brought attention to the issue and petitioned for a Gay-Straight Alliance to be formed at my school.  The school board ultimately decided that it could not be formed under the pretense that it was a Christian school.  The issue was swept under the carpet and not thought of much.  But I had always wondered what was the Christian stance on homosexuality?  And how did being in Korea possibly effect that?  From this context, I wanted to look into how homosexuality was seen from a Christian and Korean view point.  


Christianity and Homosexuality

Within Christianity there is much debate over homosexuality that ranges from condemnation to acceptance.  For the most part, same sex attraction is accepted but homosexual acts of sex and relationships are seen as sinful.1   Those who are critical of homosexuality believe that marriage should be practiced by a man and a woman and that all sexual acts outside of this are considered sin.    Masculinity is also a contributing factor of anti-gay rhetoric in Christianity.  Engaging in anal sex is seen as acting like a woman in the case of the receiving partner.  

The Bible is also often used as support for the side of Christianity that is critical of homosexuality.  However, the interpretation of the Bible differs greatly among people.  Two passages from A Question of Truth and What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, respectively, express one opinion as to how the Bible is used in the context of homosexually and how the authors believe it should really be used.


 "The texts most often cited in this connection are Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:26-7, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10…The social, political, cultural and religious context within which these texts were written are not ours and are often very foreign to us.  It is often the context of a text which makes it readily intelligible to its original audience, and lack of that context that makes its original meaning difficult for us to grasp.  " (A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality 57).    


"Supposedly, the bible condemns homosexuality and some people take that to mean that the Bible justifies hatred and cruelty against gays and lesbians…people who choose to follow the 'literal reading' of the bible need to understand…[that]…the bible supplies no real basis for the condemnation of homosexuality.  Therefore, people must stop opposing homosexuality merely by quoting the Bible, because, taken on its own terms, the Bible simply does not support their case." - (What the bible really says about homosexuality 18-19)

Both these passage emphasize the importance of context of the Bible.  The Bible simply cannot be used as a reason to condemn homosexuality.  Furthermore, even if it did condemn homosexuality, no where in the bible does it give Christians the right to be cruel, disrespectful or violent towards homosexuals.  There are also numerous Bible passages that emphasizes the importance of loving everyone (Matthew 5:43-4 and Matthew 22:35-9) and seen as the main goal of Christianity.  So above all other things written in the Bible, "love thy neighbor" is first.  I think more often than not, the Bible is misquoted and used out of context in order to support any cause.  It is a piece of spiritual literature and therefore can be interpreted in many ways.  There are those who interpret the Bible literally (those who are usually critical of homosexuality) and those who interpret the Bible based on context (those who are usually less critical or in support of homosexuality).  


Korea and Homosexuality 

I found it very hard to find information on homosexuality in Korea.  Homosexuality is seldom mentioned in Korean history and only recently in the past twenty years have LGBT rights been advocated.  "The combination of the country's Confucianism (which holds marriage and childbirth as an obligation) and the power of its conservative Protestant lobby have long made South Korea a hard place to be gay."2  So in the context of Korea, conservative Christianity is a strong factor.  While there have been some movement towards acceptance of homosexuals in Korea through mass media and noted celebrities have publicly come out, there is still a very present homophobic culture.  Homosexuality is also not talked about in regular conversation in contrast to the US, where, I feel, there is more open conversation about homosexuality.  Korea is also a very homogenous country as well as a collectivist society which, in my opinion, makes it harder for change to be accepted.     

Back to My School

I honestly feel even more confused (as I always do with this class) as to how I would introduce an open discussion on homophobic language and actions at my school.  In the context of my high school, there are three "barriers."  1. Many have limited knowledge of the Bible and take Bible quotes out of context and/or interpret them literally (both Christians and non-Christians).  2. Since my school is in Korea, Korean culture plays a huge factor in my school's community.  3. Many do not have cultural capital on the topic of homosexuality and do not have an exposure to the topic.  It would just be a matter of presenting it through non-condescending means and by people/students who have a high social standing and lots of social capital in my high school.  From a Christian standpoint, I feel like it could be presented in a way that promote's respect and tolerance for all since Christians are encouraged to see all people as God's people.  Perhaps I'm too naive and think that this can all be solved by simple means.  Perhaps there is still so much more I haven't looked into that keeps me from coming up with an optimal solution.  But I do believe even little steps are steps towards something.  And even if only a portion of student's actions were changed, I think that is still considered a worthwhile action.  



Where does this place me?

(I think I might be adding this section for myself but I felt it was somewhat relevant)

To be frank, I have always been afraid to research homosexuality from a Christian perspective.  I felt I've been avoiding it until now because I was afraid I wouldn't be happy with what I would find and that all the negative stereotypes of Christians would just be true.  So, researching all of this has been incredibly interesting on my part.  Perhaps I wasn't too afraid to learn about what Korea said about homosexuality since I had my American heritage to fall back on if I didn't like what Korea's stance was.  Obviously just because Korea's stance or Christianity's stance says one thing, it doesn't necessarily mean I can no longer identify as either because of my invididual viewpoint.  But, I would have personally felt very uncomfortable identifying with either.  


Anne Dalke's picture



What I'm liking here, first, is your thinking about being "an agent of change" and second, your realizing that any action needs to be context-specific. Your research into alternative readings of the Bible, your conclusion that it "supplies no real basis for the condemnation of homosexuality," and is misquoted when it is used to that end, is (as you comment later) an interesting and important step for you. Also quite interesting to me here is your perception that literal interpretations of the text are used to critique homosexuality, while contextual ones are less critical --do you understand why that might be?

You are less satisfied (as am I) with what you have found, so far, about the ways in which homosexuality is understood in Korea. For next steps, read Ask a Korean! --as a source of more up-to-date information about attitudes toward gayness, both historical and contemporary (do you know the recent stories, for instance, about Harisu and Hong Seok-Cheon?). And then let's talk...I'd still be interested to hear, given what you are learning, about what sort of interventions you might imagine eing done @ your high school....