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Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights Paperback – August 24, 2015
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Opens up questions too long overlooked by historians of both sexuality and religion. . . . and rightly points to the rise in the 1970s of the predominantly gay Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) movement as evidence that we can no longer assume that the histories of gay people and religion diverged when the former began to come out of the closet.--Journal of Church and State
An eminently accessible book and should be required reading for historians of sexuality.--Journal of the History of Sexuality
[An] original, well-written volume. . . . Fearlessly joins the conversation about the intersection of religion and sexuality.--Choice
White's book offers tremendous potential for reimagining the relationship between religion and sexuality in modern-day America. Perhaps that too can help us confront the challenges that face us still.--Reviews in American History
Describes how liberal Protestantism in mid-twentieth century American tried to contribute to a therapeutic perspective on same sex-behavior and identity.--Journal of American History
Provide[s] rigorous historical scholarship that illuminate[s] why the image of gays against religion has persisted, but also, and importantly, what that image overlooks about the role of religion within twentieth century gay politics.--Religious Studies Review
Members of mainline churches owe White a debt of gratitude for showing that 'a liberal Protestant legacy has shaped all sides of the oppositional policy over gay rights.'--Lauren Winner, The Christian Century
Original and important scholarship that should be required reading for anyone interested in the intersections between sexuality and religion.--American Historical Review
Well researched and well crafted....A must read for understanding how a lot of change happened in a relatively short time.-- Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual
Explores the complicated interaction between American Protestantism and the homophile movement.--Sociology of Religion
Heather White argues persuasively that scholars in LGBT history underplay the importance of religion to their subject. She shines a light on how crucial it is to recognize that the Christian response to LGBT issues was complex, internally divided, and by no means entirely hostile to gay agendas.--Mark Hulsether, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Rigorous, bold, and wholly original. Heather White shows no fear about entering into the most difficult terrain in the conjoined histories of sexuality and religion. This book moves me with its bravery, its specificity, and its complexity.--Kathryn Lofton, Yale University
Important, gracefully written, and interpretively original, Reforming Sodom brings together two historical subjects--religion and gay/lesbian activism--that are often seen as not intersecting. Heather White makes notable new arguments about the collaboration between religion and medicine in the post-World War II generation and the ways religious organizing and activism intersected so thoroughly with the expanding gay liberation movement of the 1970s.--John D'Emilio, University of Illinois at Chicago
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Those with an educated understanding of gay rights history would know already that in 1964, five years before Stonewall, there was mini riot and arrests in San Francisco when a costume party at California Hall was in progress. Most likely those people would also know that this was a fundraising event for a newly established organisation, the Council on Religion and the Homosexual. Yes, Christian ministers founded the organisation and were supporting homophiles seeking a change in the law and an end to discrimination. This though is only the tip of the iceberg as the author reveals.
There was a well-established movement amongst progressive protestant ministers in the 50’s and 60’s who were passionate about homosexual reform as they were about the civil rights movement. Whilst they were not always totally affirming and some came from a therapeutic model, compassionate and non-judgemental they were none-the-less. Many provided support and spaces for the small, newly evolving homophile movement. It was confined to progressive Protestantism however.
The authors exploration of these facts is well researched and refreshing. I’m extremely grateful for the enormous amount of background work that’s gone into creating Reforming Sodom. Some academics works are not easily accessible to the average reader but once again the author has done an excellent job communicating her research. It’s very readable.
What is missing is an expose of the anti-gay Christian developments that rose so visibly through the evangelical stream of Christianity from the 70’s. As a reader I was fine with this as an abundance of material already exists on that topic and certainly not the purpose of the work. White tells us what we don’t know.
The ‘always anti-gay/Christianity’ myth will take a lot to dislodge. It’s well entrenched. White’s book is a good start at rattling the cage. There are lessons to learn for LGBT Christian advocates here as well. It will be confidence building.
By the way we are currently coming full circle and the growth of LGBT-affirming churches and denominations growing exponentially. Whites work demonstrates these ministers were before their time and their message and work obviously high-jacked later by evangelical and mainstream Christianity.
Sadly, I think that, because of the content, few will take the time to read Reforming Sodom. But if you are a student of gay rights history then taking the time to explore White’s work will give you a less one-sided view and you’ll definitely by more well-informed. I am…….now.
Author of A Life of Unlearning
There is very little material available on them so this book fills a gap with much needed information. Judging by the extensive footnotes, the author has cleanly one her homework.
The author dispels two myths:
1) that Christianity since its inception condemned homosexuality. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1940s that the word ‘homosexual’ was used in the RSV to translate words that never meant that in the past. Evangelicals regarded even this translation ops ‘liberal’ and their New International Version (not so much an accurate translation as a document to back up fundamentalism) quickly replaced even the King James Bible.
2) many clergy and other religious leaders worked tirelessly, long before Stonewall, to further the rights of gay and lesbian people.
An early pioneer of pastoral counselling was Henry Fosdick. He introduced it as something similar to the Roman Catholic confessional and was stumped when his first client was a gay young man. He consulted with others and eventually came to the conclusion that what was needed was unconditional acceptance. This was in contrast to psychologists who worked in the military with the aim of weeding out homosexuals.
Although English, Derrick Sherwin-Bailey’s work crossed the Atlantic. His work on biblical texts was the beginning of the dismantling of the power of the ‘clobber texts.’ It’s a supreme irony that a judge used this text to justify his sentencing of someone – he seemed unaware that Bailey was arguing in the other direction. And what happened to the First Amendment about separating he state and judiciary?) from religion?
Many clergy supported ‘homophile’ organisations, some even going as far as attempting to get arrested by police in order to show up their underhanded tactics and bullying.
The book is specifically about protestants so there is no mentioning of the pioneering work of Jesuit Fr. John McNeile.
It’s also mainly about the second half of the Twentieth Century so it passed by the effect of the Church of England’s anglo-catholic movement, which was a haven for gay men. They found that the only safe space to disclose their feelings was the confessional. All Saints Margaret Street, in London’s west end, was one such haven and there is a record of a Victorian sermon from its pulpit urging tolerance if not outright acceptance.
I’m not sure that she’s right when she suggests that fundamentalists started to call themselves evangelicals because the former turn sounded negative. But she is right when she points out that they turned to psychiatry rather than to the Bible to condemn homosexually as abnormal, albeit a sickness rather than outright rebellion against God. As a liberal, I assume that personal testimonies by people who have been unable to change their sexuality would serve to soften the stance of the evangelicals. It doesn’t, however. It reinforces their notion that these people are so sick that they cannot help themselves.