Wednesday, September 1, 2010 | By: Zachary Bartels


Two days ago, I overheard two Christians arguing about the concept of homophobia. I felt like I was watching one of those cable “crossfire”-type shows, in that they were both committed to opposite extreme views and were clearly both committed to talking, but not hearing.

It went something like this:

Righty: Homophobia is a made-up word, used to steal our right to free speech and silence people who disagree. Just because I disagree with someone’s lifestyle choices doesn’t mean I’m afraid of them. Nothing irks me more than hearing someone play the “homophobia” card! It doesn’t scare me that people are gay. It sickens me! Just like it sickens God!

Lefty: The fact that you are so angry about this tells me that you yourself are homophobic. You are afraid that the lives and views of other people will threaten your own narrow view of the world and so you just condemn them. You’re “othering” when you do that, creating a group of outsiders just like the Nazis did to the Jews and Southern sheriffs did to people of color during the ’50s.

Okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but not much. Seriously.

I have to say that both of those views seem like cartoonish nonsense to me. I do believe that homophobia is real, and that there is plenty of it out there. And I do believe it’s a bad thing for our society at large when one group of people is singled out and demonized by another group. And I do believe that it’s a bad thing for the church when one group of sinners is demonized by all the rest of the sinners. If you think like Lefty (above), you may be angrily preparing your own counter-post after reading that last sentence. Slow down and read it again. I said that we’re all sinners.

Righty was right in calling homophobia a made-up word. Granted, all words are made-up words, but this one is of recent enough invention that everyone seems to kind of detrmine for themselves what does and doesn’t constitute homophobia. So let me do that now...

Homophobia is not:

  • Believing that homosexual behavior is sinful, or that it is not the best way to live.
  • Believing that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
  • Voting against a plank of the homosexual lobby’s platform.
  • A church or denomination barring non-celebate homosexuals from spiritual leadership positions on biblical grounds.
  • Christians calling people to repent of homosexuality based on biblical texts.
  • Asking someone you just met, “Are you married?”

Homophobia is:

  • Treating a homosexual like he or she has less value as a person than heterosexual people.
  • Pushing legislation that would make life almost impossible for homosexuals (i.e. no gay marriage or civil unions of any kind, no medical benefits, etc.)
  • Being unkind or rude to someone simply because they are a homosexual.
  • Refusing to acknowledge the existence of a co-worker’s partner because you don’t approve of their lifestyle.
  • Any business (including a church) refusing to hire homosexuals for jobs that do not directly by their nature involve adherance to a particular theological and ethical system.
  • Refusing to rent a room to a couple of men or women because of their sexual orientation. (The last two are also illegal, by the way.)
  • Disowning a child because they are gay. (How, how could anyone do this?)
  • Calling a gay person by a derogatory term.
  • Believing that you are somehow less sinful in the flesh than homosexuals.
  • Calling homosexuals to repent in a condescending way that implies that their sin is filthier than your own.
I will undoubtedly get angry comments from both sides on this one. Feel free to insult me and say all sorts of false things aganist me, since great is my reward in heaven when you do. (Matt 5:11)

But here’s the thing: I do believe that homosexual behavior is a sin. This means that I actually do believe that my ethical and religious view is right and someone else’s is wrong. But wait; that person believes that my view (being narrow and exclusive,) is wrong and theirs is right! In this, they are being narrow and exclusive. We both think the other one is wrong, so why am I the only one being called names here? (There was a time when I would unrepentantly call a homosexual by a rotten slur, but no longer. And yet, “homophobe” is still thrown at me by default.)

The issue as I see it is not, “Can we get to a place where we completely agree and accept each other’s views?” Of course we can’t—our views are incompatible. No, the question is, can we accept each other? Can we love each other, help each other, comfort each other, and live together in harmony even though we disagree on this issue. Even though we both think the other’s theological and ethical view is, in some sense, wrong.

If you think about it, this is the same question faced by the Jew and the Muslim. Or the Christian and the atheist. Or the Democrat and the Republican. Most people don’t feel a pressing need to convince someone else of all their beliefs before they can be civil, before they can be friends, before they can live and let live. So why is this one issue the exception?

The Orthodox Jewish woman may believe that eating pig meat is an affront to God, while the Christian Reformed guy next door likely believes that mowing your lawn on a Sunday is the cardinal sin. And yet, nine times out of ten, if she’s mowing on Sunday, while he’s sitting on his front porch chowing down a ham sandwich, nothing is going to stop the exchange of pleasantries and general sense of good will from prevailing. They aren’t both thinking, “I’m so horribly offended by the fact that my neighbor disapproves of my ethical and theological beliefs that I must now invent a term to describe their intolerance.” We just accept the differences and move on. Welcome to America, the melting pot.

So, what makes this issue different? Homophobia. The real thing, not the blanket accusation that the media throws at anyone who resembles a conservative Christian. What makes this issue different is that, in certain areas, gay couples do still have a hard time finding a landlord who will rent them a place to live. They still do find it hard to walk down the street without someone shouting a slur (or threat) at them. They often are disowned by family and condemned by former friends. And the church, despite Scripture’s repeated insistence to the contrary, often acts like the sin of homosexuals is filthier than the sin of heterosexuals.

So, yeah, it’s a made-up word. But it describes a real thing. It describes a phenomenon wherein I can point at someone else, call them queer, and feel like I’ve got it all together morally, spiritually, family-wise, etc. because hey—at least I’m not like them.

And shame on us if we ever give in to that temptation.

Just love the sinner. You don’t need to worry about hating their sin for them. You’ve got enough of your own sin to hate.

Soli Deo Gloria,
      Pastor Zach

6 reader comments:

Erin said...

Very thoughtful. I will be sending the link to this post to some friends.

Oh, and I'm not making this up. My word verification is "peepoluv." Say it fast. :)

Steph said...

You're amazing. And, I hope you don't mind if I share this, because I'm gunna. ;)

Terry said...

I just finish Chuck Colson's book "The Good Life (an excellent book btw for belivers and non-believers). He talks about the gay lifestyle in one of his chapters and pretty much says the same thing. Chuck (& I) agree with your very biblical view!

terriergal said...

"We just accept the differences and move on. Welcome to America, the melting pot.

So, what makes this issue different? Homophobia."

What universe are you in? I don't see any Christians in my neighborhood calling for whatever hateful behavior toward homosexuals. We accept the differences and move on, and when the subject comes up, we talk about it frankly.

Again with the strawmen. For someone who is worried about people representing arguments correctly, you might want to try it for a change.

Cyrano said...

You've said several things with which I'd agree completely; one of the foremost is the need to have clear definitions of terms in a discussion.

Unfortunately, your definition, well... isn't. It is a list of example situations, and while a list can be very helpful in illustrating the scope and bounds of a definition, it is not one. It does not provide the succinct bounds that a real definition would, which means your article lacks the clarity that we both claim is needed in this discussion.

Frankly, at times, it seemed to me your list of what homophobia is felt less about defining (or even illuminating) the term, and more about enumerating "things I believe are wrong and that have some connection with homosexuals."

If that was your intent, then I'd reject your definition, because it's so broad as to be useless. It's very possible for someone to agree with your conclusion (re: the ubiquity of sinfulness and the error of hypocrisy) and seek to live accordingly yet still be "homophobic" by your list's standards.

That's not illuminating, it's sloppy. And preemptively claiming the moral high ground of Mt 5:11 does nothing to improve your argument.

I know the article is a couple weeks old, but I'd encourage you to make your definition more... definitive.

ZSB said...

Earlier you went completely shrill/ballistic because (even though we both reject evolution and both believe that God created the world and created humans as humans) I happen to think the world is a little older than you do. Forgive, then, me if I'm a tad skeptical that you are so open, honest, and accepting of people whose entire worldview and lifestyle run counter to yours. (And based on the fact that, the moment we locked horns, I got an e-mail from a buddy warning me that you are ruthless and relentless, I'm guessing I didn't just catch you on a bad day...)

Two things: 1.) You wrote, "And preemptively claiming the moral high ground of Mt 5:11 does nothing to improve your argument." I'm not making an argument here; I'm just laying out my own view of this issue. And the Matt 5:11 nod is a ref to a particular person in a former comment thread.
2.) You have caused me to see that I definitely misspoke here. I intended to say that everyone defines homophobia for themselves, since it's such a new term, which makes it very nebulous and hard to define. I don't think I could do so concisely. I was not trying to make a definition with this post (despite how the post does tend to read that way), except maybe in the way that the Chalcedonian Definition draws a big square around who Christ is without giving any exhaustive or definitive description. I'm just trying to pound in enough stakes where people can see where I'm coming from.

I'm curious about your claim that "It's very possible for someone to agree with [my]conclusion (re: the ubiquity of sinfulness and the error of hypocrisy) and seek to live accordingly yet still be "homophobic" by [my] list's standards."

What would be an example of this? My views of these nonessentials are a work in progress and I'm all ears...