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Influence of religion on LGBT+ rights in Belgium

Influence of religion on LGBT+ rights

In my last post I covered the historical development and current status of LGBT+ rights in Belgium. I mentioned that religion still has a strong negative influence on equality and acceptance for LGBT+ individuals in society – in Belgium and elsewhere. The post will focus on the religion I am most familiar with: Christianity.

The Catholic church in Belgium

Catholicism remains the largest religious community in Belgium, although its influence has waned significantly since the 1950s. Currently, 44% of Belgians identify as Catholics. Historically, the Catholic church has not been in favour of promoting LGBT+ rights. In 2021 Pope Francis stated that the Catholic church could not bless same-sex couples as God “does not bless sin.” However, in December 2023 Pope Francis approved a ruling allowing priests to bless unmarried and same-sex couples, marking a significant change of position for the Catholic church. It did offer some qualifications, namely that “the doctrine regarding marriage does not change, and the blessing does not signify approval of the union”.

The Anglican church in Belgium

Other Christian denominations make up a combined 4% of the population of Belgium. One of these is the Anglican Church in Belgium, which runs about 30 congregations across Belgium. It holds diverse views on LGBT+ rights. Some churches within the Anglican Communion consider homosexuality a sin, while others accept same-sex marriage and welcome LGBT+ members, including bishops. In 2023, after a lengthy debate, the General Synod voted in favor of blessings for same-sex unions. This decision aimed to bridge divisions and disagreements over sexuality within the Church, although it has also created strong disagreement and dissent. The Anglican Holy Trinity Pro-Cathedral in Brussels is becoming increasingly inclusive and LGBT-friendly.

Other Protestant churches in Belgium

Belgium hosts a number of other Protestant churches that lie outside Anglicanism. Some of these are small house-churches and larger Baptist and Pentecostal churches, which are generally more evangelical (based on a literal reading of the Bible). In general, evangelical churches have a negative influence on LGBT+ rights, varying from mild aversion to strong homophobia. However, other Protestant churches in Beligum are more progressive and inclusive, such as those belonging to the United Protestant Church in Belgium. In 2015 the United Protestant Church of Belgium voted to ordain openly gay and lesbian pastors, and it allows blessings of same-sex marriages.

It’s interesting to look into the roots of these differing views in more detail.

Biblical literalism

This is the crux of the issue. Evangelical churches interpret the Bible literally – it’s largely what makes them evangelical. They read verses such as Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which on a superficial glance seem to condemn homosexuality, and use these as the basis for their anti-LGBT stance.

Progressive churches often argue that the Bible should not be interpreted literally, but rather in the context of the time and culture in which it was written. They point out that the Bible’s teachings have evolved over time and that many of its rules are no longer considered applicable. They are more likely to focus on God’s inclusive love than his judgmental exclusionism.

If you are interested in getting behind the superficial and literal reading of the verses I mentioned above, and thinking more deeply and sensitively about them, Believe Out Loud has a number of useful resources, including this extensive and interesting article by Rev Mark Sandlin, in which he goes through these verses and puts them into context. His concludes that homosexuality is not biblically a sin.

Traditional views on marriage and sexuality

Let’s firstly look at what progressive churches think on this subject. They argue that the concept of marriage has evolved over time and that the Bible’s teachings on marriage should not be applied rigidly. They also point out that the Bible contains many different models of family and marriage. Progressive churches usually support same-sex marriage.

Fundamental evangelical churches on the other hand usually uphold traditional Biblical views on marriage and sexuality. They consider as a union between (and only between) one man and one woman, and sexual activity as appropriate only within such a marriage.

I think the interesting thing to consider here is that the concept of a “biblical definition of marriage” is questionable. There are many different marital arrangements described in the Bible, some of which today are considered illegal or condemned. Polygamy. Husbands taking concubines. Marriage contracts in which the woman is treated as property. Today we understand that these examples of Biblical marriage reflect the cultural practices of the time rather than a spiritual model for today.

For further reading on this topic, Rev. John Elliott Lein is a former evangelical who researched the concept of Biblical marriage and came to the conclusion that there is nothing in the Bible that prevents same-sex marriage as we know it today – as a loving and consensual partnership between two adults. He has written a book called Gay Marriage and the Bible. A useful link is this to the conclusions of his book. Or check out his helpful summary of Biblical Marriage.

Belief in changing one’s orientation

Evangelicals generally believe that being LGBT+ is a choice, and therefore a person can choose to change from being gay to being straight. This belief often underpins support for “conversion therapy,” which can involve prayer or even exorcism in order to “cure” someone of being gay. It’s still practiced, although in some countries like Belgium it is illegal.

Progressive churches reject this idea. They argue that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, such as conversion therapy, are ineffective and can be harmful. Moreover, such churches will consider that “the science is clear – homosexuality is natural and normal”. In fact this phrase heads a letter that was co-signed by a number of scientists and mailed to the President of Uganda during discussion of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

“I hope that the science can be used to educate people a little bit more about how natural and normal same-sex behaviour is”

Dr Caitlin Ryan, Clinical social worker and researcher

An interesting take on this topic is Bible scholar Dan McClellan on the Weaponization of the Bible against LGBTQ+ Folks (5-minute video).

Influence of Church leadership

Progressive church leaders are keen to promote love and acceptance, rather than exclusion and discrimination. They believe that church leaders have a responsibility to challenge harmful interpretations of the Bible.

The views of evangelical church leaders – predominantly men, as many of these churches don’t promote women’s rights – can significantly influence the attitudes of their congregations. If a church leader interprets the Bible in a way that is anti-LGBT, their congregation may adopt similar views.

Thankfully the list of Christian denominations affirming LGBT people is continually getting longer. If you are in Belgium and looking for an LGBT-friendly church, you can check my own list of LGBT-friendly churches in Belgium.

Fear of cultural change

Some evangelicals may resist affirming LGBT+ rights due to a fear of societal change and a desire to preserve what they see as Christian values.

Progressive churches argue that fear of cultural change should not be used as a justification for discrimination. They believe that the church should be a place of love and acceptance, rather than fear and exclusion.

The undeniable fact is that Christianity, like any major religion, has evolved over the centuries to accommodate societal shifts. Take, for example, the Biblical view of slavery. In the Old Testament it’s considered common practice. It’s not condemned in the New Testament – not by Jesus, nor by the apostle Paul. Early Christian leaders such as St. Augustine accepted slavery as a social reality. Later, many Christian churches and organizations were directly involved in the slave trade, ran slaving ships – and made a lot of money. Yet eventually many Christians, after re-interpreting the Bible, actively opposed slavery and worked towards its abolition. Today, Christian denominations unequivocally condemn slavery as a violation of human rights and dignity.

If the Bible’s teachings on slavery can be re-interpreted within their historical context and emphasize broader principles of love, justice, and compassion, why can’t LGBT issues?

Change is happening: the statistics prove it

The good news is that there is a growing movement among evangelicals towards greater acceptance and inclusion of the LGBT+ community. More and more evangelical (and other) denominations are becoming openly inclusive, leading to acceptance of LGBT+ Christians in their congregations and giving them key leadership positions.

I don’t have any statistics from Belgium, but according to Pew Research Center, a majority of U.S. Christians (54%) now say that homosexuality should be accepted by society, rather than discouraged. This figure has increased by 10 percentage points since 2007. As many as 73% of members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America now say it should be accepted by society, up from 56% in 2007.

Globally, acceptance levels vary across different Christian traditions. For example:

  • Catholics: 70% say homosexuality should be accepted by society.
  • Orthodox Christians: 62% express acceptance.
  • Mormons: 36% now support acceptance, showing a 12-point increase since 2007.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses: Remain the most opposed of any religious tradition toward homosexuality, with only 16% saying it should be accepted.

In other words, the overall trend indicates a growing acceptance of LGBT+ rights and same-sex marriage, globally in Christian denominations.

Islam and LGBT+ rights in Belgium

I am no expert in this area so if anyone has any specific information to share, please do so. The position of Islam in Belgium regarding LGBT+ rights seems to vary among different segments of the Muslim community. There seems to be no overall stance, although contemporary views tend to be negative. Some conservative Muslims have expressed concern about what they perceive as growing LGBTQ+ “indoctrination” in schools and society. While the Qur’an and hadith (oral traditions of Muhammad’s teachings) treat homosexuality differently, some scholars argue that Muhammad never outrightly forbade homosexual relationships but disapproved of them in line with prevailing norms.

It’s all about people

In all these discussions, it’s worth remembering that we are dealing with people, not simply doctrines, dogmas and ideologies. And it’s about affording all people their basic human rights. A fundamental human right is the freedom to be who we are and to love who we choose to love. Talking to the Human Rights Council in 2023, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, said:

“Violence, discrimination and exclusion can have severe and negative consequences for the personhood, dignity, and spirituality of LGBT persons. They are often marginalised, stigmatised and excluded from religious communities simply because of who they are.”

Victor Madrigal-Borloz

Moreover, he raised concerns about religious or belief leaders fueling disinformation, hate speech, and/or intolerance against LGBT persons, such as:

  • Scapegoating them for controversies
  • Positing them as a threat to the traditional family
  • Interpreting religious doctrines to exclude and promote discrimination against homosexuality and gender nonconformity.

Research shows that lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults have three to six times greater risk for suicide than heterosexual adults across all age groups and racial/ethnic categories. Another study of LGBTQ young adults aged 18-24 found that parents’ religious beliefs about homosexuality were associated with double the risk of attempting suicide in the past year. This increased risk is not because they are inherently prone to suicide risk. It is related to how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society.

Even for those who do not live with a daily immediate risk to their life, discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity can have a devastating effect on physical, mental and emotional well-being for those forced to endure it. If you want reminding of this fact, check out this 9-minute video from Rev Steve Chalke on how a literal interpretation of the Bible is partly to blame for heightened mental illness and physical harm among LGBT+ people.

I hope you found this article on the influence of religion on LGBT+ rights in Belgium interesting. I would value your comments, either below or via email.

17 thoughts on “Influence of religion on LGBT+ rights in Belgium”

  1. Thank you Denzil for addressing this so clearly & in a measured way. For me marriage equality is also helping modernise a patriarchal institution & personally made me much happier to get married (as a heterosexual woman, so in the traditional one woman to one man model).

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting Julia, and for pinpointing how outdated patriarchy needs to be addressed in religious institutions. You also raise another important point that I had not considered before: that marriage equality is also a source of encouragement to those participating in a traditional marriage.

        1. Hi Lana, thanks for reading and commenting. That’s a big question, and the topic of much discussion among theologians. I wouldn’t want to say whether God changes his mind or not, but I am thankful that people have changed their minds on what God has apparently written, otherwise we would still be keeping slaves, or be in slavery.

  2. Excellent again, and a picture that I think would be reflected here. There are so many rules in the Bible on so many topics that are not adhered to because they are ridiculously out of date, yet we are to believe that those on sexuality are still relevant? Illogical!

      1. The biblical civil laws no longer hold as Christians are under the new covenant thanks to Jesus’s death and resurrection. However, the biblical moral laws remain the same and always will. The Holy Bible like any other book needs to be read in context for it to be fully understood, not just picked at as that will only cause confusion.

        1. Thanks for the comment Lana. I see you are from central England; that’s my origins too (Nuneaton, north Warwickshire). I agree with you: context is everything.

    1. Now that’s something to get your imagination around! Even if it happened in one country, or region, or town council, it would be fascinating to witness.

      1. It would, indeed. The nano-plastics we’re consuming are affecting, among other things, the human reproductive system. I recommend that you read Count Down by Shanna H. Swan (USA, 2020).

  3. They have the right to live and earn a living. I just don’t want them promoting their sexual orientation as if it is a kind of the “new normal”, especially to children.
    Greetings from Indonesia.

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