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Camera Obscura 15.3 (2000) 150-193

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Holiness Codes and Holy Homosexuals:
Interpreting Gay and Lesbian Christian Subculture

Heather Hendershot



As gay and lesbian Christians, we are kind of in this catch-22 situation in terms of the way the religious Right responds to us but also the ways in which non-Christian folks from our own community respond to us.

--Rev. Dr. Mona West

The queer Left and the Christian Right often appear diametrically opposed to one another. Queer activists and theorists tend to preach against assimilation and against the normative. Normalcy is seen as a lure to get queers back into the closet. For such believers, the rights-based discourse of liberal (politically "moderate") gays, while sometimes strategically necessary, nonetheless constitutes a procrustean bed because of the way it codifies "homosexual" and "heterosexual" as stable legal categories. 1 A place at the table? Throw out the table! Conservative Christian Pat Robertson, conversely, believes in an absolute standard of "normality." He preaches for the family, conservative values, heterosexual monogamy, and for the "right" of heterosexuals to deny gays and lesbians the "special rights" (civil rights) they [End Page 151] demand. Yet in spite of all their differences, queer leftists and right-wing fundamentalists do seem to share at least one belief: gayness and Christianity do not go together. For fundamentalists, gay Christians are sinners, "an abomination before the lord." For many secular queers, gay and lesbian Christians are seen as hopelessly conservative and accommodationist.

The existence of the Cathedral of Hope, the world's largest gay and lesbian church, demonstrates empirically that "gay Christian" is not oxymoronic. Moreover, the Cathedral offers a compelling case study in how a community finds cohesion in its common readings of the Bible, common reliance on the self-narration of the coming-out story, and common opposition to the Christian Right. Situated in Dallas, Texas, "the buckle of the Bible Belt," the Cathedral's congregation is composed largely of former conservative evangelical Protestants (so-called "fundamentalists") and offers a unique opportunity to examine discursive strategies not only for fighting the right but also, more precisely, for fighting the Right with its favorite weapon: the Bible. 2 In effect, fundamentalists and queer Christians are engaged in an interpretive battle over what the Bible "really" has to say about sexuality. The Cathedral is not a radical activist group, and it does not offer practical models for fighting the Christian Right's dangerous policy initiatives, but the Cathedral does offer an intricate picture of how the Bible can be interpreted to support political and spiritual beliefs at odds with the Right. The Cathedral also offers an example of how religious media can be used to fight fire with fire.

If conservative evangelicals have used media to spread an antigay message, the Cathedral counters by using media to send the opposite message. Via its weekly cable-access broadcasts and its Holy Homosexuals infomercial, the Cathedral offers images that challenge the assumptions of both the secular Left and the Christian Right. Of course, low-budget public access and well-funded televangelism cannot compete on equal footing. Fundamentalists have made exceptional use of print, radio, television, and video to spread their anti-gay and lesbian messages. In effect, they have orchestrated what Julia Lesage describes as "a synergy [End Page 152] of ideological agreement, effective use of the mass media and of 'narrowcasting' (targeting media to a specific audience), and political organizing. This synergy characterizes the relation between political and intellectual elites, the megacommunicators, and local, religious right political activism, often conducted through churches." 3 Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates, an organization that monitors various factions of the religious Right, further explains that in the eighties and nineties the Right made increasing use of desktop-publishing software to design newsletters and zines. They also used mail-order video and audiotape distribution, fax networks, home-satellite-dish reception, networks of small AM radio stations, and, like the Cathedral, e-mail communication and cable-access television. 4

While a comparatively minor media player, the Cathedral has found effective ways...


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