Japan Showed Me That Christianity Doesn’t Have to Be Homophobic

Tom Matsuda

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Growing up in a predominantly Christian country, I’ve always looked to religion as the mechanism behind the way things are. However, my childhood was also a time where I experienced discrimination for my sexuality, witnessed the surge of right-wing Christian extremism and learnt about other religions through the multicultural environment of London.

It always seemed to me that Christianity held an unsurmountable amount of power over our lives. Looking for something to blame for the shame I had surrounding my sexuality, the Christian religion became a target. I couldn’t help but see how interpretations of the bible had been utilised to create a case for the persecution of LGBT people in the UK. This thus became enshrined in laws such as 1553 Buggery Act which referenced the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah as reasons to punish men who had sex with men. Such a law arguably laid the basis for the permitting of generations of homophobia up until the present day. This is something that I have experienced personally and truthfully only in western Christian countries.

What angered me most was how such homophobia, informed by a bigoted vision of the biblical verses, was exported globally through the empire. I remember flicking through Wikipedia pages on LGBT rights in countries and noticing a common theme. Although I was looking for a place to escape that was more progressive than the early 2000s UK, I stumbled upon a key LGBT history lesson. Many of the most homophobic countries have laws left over from the colonial era. An estimated 49 former British colonies continue to criminalise homosexuality.

Many of these countries were permissive of homosexuality before the UK intervened. In pre-colonial Uganda, the King of the Buganda kingdom King Mwanga II openly slept with men. However, as the colonies subsumed such sodomy laws they became increasingly homophobic. This has led to previously colonised countries today proclaiming LGBT rights as Western and in the case of Uganda “un-African”. It could be argued that this idea is based on the western import of Christianity.

Many London citizens have roots in ex-colonial countries due to its history as a metropolitan core. After tracing this history for myself as a teenager, I found it hard to actively blame my black and brown classmates for their homophobia. Most likely informed by not only the homophobia of the UK, but also of their families’ country of origin, they were only acting out learned behaviours.

Instead, my anger was directed to a Christianity that seemed historically and contemporarily unrelenting in its homophobia. My childhood was compounded by images of Christian extremism in America such as the Westboro Baptist Church’s advocation of the slogan of “God hates fags”.

For this myriad of reasons, my prejudice towards Christian remained until fairly recently. Moving to Japan, however, busted my stereotypes.

Knowing that I was due to move into a Christian-run dormitory for my year abroad, I certainly had my apprehensions. Would I have to hide my sexuality? What kind of people lived in a Christian-run dorm? Moreover, what would the combination of being situated in Japan and Christian mean for me?

The knowledge that Japan was a place where people were relatively courtesy to each other calmed me. And what I have found in my more than a half year here so far, is that Christianity is very different here.

For example, a mention that I had a boyfriend to the front desk of my dorm did not promote any strange looks or words. Moreover, the Christian Japanese members of the dorm seem to be very friendly and open.

A party held in the nearby church for Christmas made it clear to me that this was a world away from the Christianity that I had known that seemed very opposed to difference and imbued with hate.

The party featured performances and a raucous play about a Santa Claus that wasn’t very good at his job. Jokes involving alcohol and even clubbing were included. It felt like a far cry from the uptight and conservative Christianity that I knew to be true in the west.

Modern Day Views are Different

Modern-day Christianity in Japan seems to be associated with progressive views and thoughts especially in regards to the LGBT community. This is most exemplified in how Japan’s International Christian University appears to be at the forefront of queer issues in Japan. Set up based on Christian values, the university’s outlook is global and open differing from my preconceived notions of Christianity.

Not only is it the only Japanese university to offer a major in Gender and Sexuality studies but it has also been an early adopter in progressive LGBT-targeted policies. As early as 2003, the university allowed transgender students to change their name and sex on student records. Unisex restrooms and individual changing rooms are also part of the campus without inviting outrage as it does in the west.

To me that this was entirely incongruent with my idea of Christianity.Christian universities in the west are hardly known for their championing of progressive LGBT rights. Although I assume, exceptions do exist.

Living in Japan has meant that I’ve had to re-assess and confront aspects of myself. Issues to do with my identity as a person of mixed Japanese descent were a given. But I never thought that my notions of what religion meant would change. Through my experience here, I’ve learnt that Christianity can be many things.

Whilst extremist versions and colonialist tendencies of Christian do exist and should be critically looked at, alongside this is a truer and more open version of the religion. Unfortunately, perhaps more than other aspects of life are, religion has been victim to extremism. However, this should not be taken to be as definitive of the entire religion as I had allowed it to be. Somehow, in the non-Christian country of Japan of all places, I’ve finally changed my tune.

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British-Japanese writer from London. Words in OneZero, Human Parts.

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