By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
HOLLAND – He’s straight. He’s a conservative Christian. And he supports full civil rights, including marriage, for gays and lesbians.
In an era when Christians are generally linked with oppression of LGBTs, Dr. Miguel De La Torre is one of the new faces of gay-allied activism.
As reported in the June 9 issue of Between The Lines, De La Torre felt forced to resign his position as a theology professor at Hope College after publishing an editorial in the Holland Sentinel that was critical of Dr. James Dobson, founder of the anti-gay group Focus on the Family. The editorial made fun of a speech Dobson made in January in Washington in which he seemed to accuse the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants of being gay.
“We’re living in a world where we’re at war, people are dying, there’s hunger, people are dying of poverty and malnutrition, and the Christian evangelical voice’s major comment was that SpongeBob might be gay? It just seemed like he needs to be held accountable to deal with Christian issues,” said De La Torre, a Southern Baptist minister and member of the Southern Baptist Convention.
De La Torre, a Cuban-American, said he “got saved” from fundamentalism when he left a successful business in Miami, where he was also active in supporting the political campaigns of social conservatives, to pursue a Divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Though he went to the university “with the idea of merging my far-right ideology with my religious faith,” he encountered something he hadn’t been expecting. “When I left Miami and went to Louisville the only job I could get was that of a janitor. So the racism radicalized me to begin to seriously study and consider studies of oppression, which led me to what I am now, a liberation theologian.”
Asked his position on civil rights for gays and lesbians, De La Torre said, “I’m in total agreement in civil rights for all individuals…to deny civil rights based on biblical texts is a travesty.”
However, De La Torre supports equal rights because of his reading of the Bible, not despite it.
“I find [anti-gay Christian theology] something that is imposed on the text by the culture, which I find offensive as a biblical scholar,” he said.
De La Torre explained why those who use the Bible to condemn gays and lesbians are in error. During a detailed explanation of the Old Testament verses usually cited by Christian conservatives to condemn gays, De La Torre said, “The first thing that I notice is that in the whole Hebrew bible it never mentions women having sex with each other. Which therefore, if I want to be literal, that means that lesbianism is okay….A few verses before that it says that if teenagers are disobedient you are to put them to death. As a father of two teenagers, that’s very tempting, but I’m not actually going to do that.”
“So I mean if I want to be literal, my response is to kill the homosexual, to kill disobedient children, to kill anybody who works on the Sabbath, and to kill anybody who uses the name of the Lord in vain. That’s what those passages in Leviticus say,” he added.
As for the New Testament, “Jesus never mentions homosexuality,” and, according to De La Torre, the New Testament passages that are used to condemn homosexuality actually refer to temple prostitution and pedophilia.
De La Torre said that his conversion to pro-gay activist began with a close friend he knew in the mid to late 80s who came out to him as gay. After praying together and attempting to cast demons from his friend, “lo and behold, he was still gay,” De La Torre said. “And if anyone ever prayed hard to be heterosexual, it was him….And that led me to the conclusion that if he’s gay, it’s because God made him gay.”
De La Torre plans to continue his public support for gay and lesbian rights. In addition to contributing columns to Ethics Daily, an online Baptist ethics journal, De La Torre will be speaking at the Holland PFLAG Pride event on June 24. In October, he will be at a conference dealing with the Bible and gays and lesbians. And in his new job at Ilus School of Theology in Denver, De La Torre will be the director of the Justice and Peace Institute.
“There’s no question about it that whatever class I teach, [gay rights] will be a component in it,” he said.
See Dr. De La Torre
De La Torre will be speaking at the Holland/Lakeshore PFLAG Pride event on June 24. The event will take place at 7 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church, 555 Michigan Ave. Light refreshments will be served. For more information call Nelson or Peg at 616-395-2582.