Homophobia

Colin Coward had a letter published in last Friday’s Church of England Newspaper in response to an earlier letter from Andrew Symes, the new Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream. Andrew provided the opportunity for Changing Attitude to state clearly that any doctrine or teaching of the Church which allows or encourages prejudiced (let alone abusive, violent or murderous attitudes to people because of their gender or sexuality as happens in some Provinces of the Anglican Communion) is homophobic.

Sir, Andrew Symes offered definitions of homophobia in his letter last week. His first was the nasty, vindictive bullying people who bully those with “same-sex attraction” or “practising homosexuals”. Andrew had already stepped beyond acceptable language for those of us who are lesbian or gay. I do not accept the label “same-sex attraction’ or “practicing homosexual”. Both phrases come from someone who is homophobic.

Andrew offers a second possible definition of homophobia: a sense of being uncomfortable with difference that is not fully understood. Emotional discomfort is certainly an element of what can make people homophobic. Christians who exhibit this tendency may nevertheless do their best to display love and lack of discrimination towards gay people. Indeed some do, and I often feel patronized by them.

Andrew offers a third possibility. What about those who through settled, rational, thought-out decision, after reflection on Scripture and after listening without prejudice to the experiences of gay people, decide that the traditional interpretation of the church is correct: God’s intention for human flourishing as sexual beings is either celibate singleness in community of friendship, or monogamous heterosexual marriage?

Does holding this opinion constitute homophobia, asks Andrew? Yes, it does, and yes, it is what we in Changing Attitude would like the Church to apologise for. We recognize the integrity of the Biblical faith held by those who hold to their own traditional interpretation of scripture but the result is a prejudiced attitude to those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. It is homophobic.

Their attitude is alienating the majority of Christians in the West who do not share their prejudice or their reading of scripture, one that has never been a universal interpretation. The homophobic prejudice of the vast majority of Christians worldwide are against LGB&T people (if they are the majority), is to be deplored. It is one of the major causes of hatred and violence against gay people and has to be confronted. It is a shocking distortion of the Gospel of love, truth and justice proclaimed by Jesus the Christ. The majority has been wrong about other major issues and it is wrong about God’s attitude to LGB&T people. It is a tragedy that the vast majority of Christians are homophobic and a shocking scar on the face of Christ’s Church.

Prejudice, bullying and harassment throughout society of LGB&T people will only stop when all teaching that reinforces homophobic attitudes is overcome.

The Rev Colin Coward,

Director of Changing Attitude
England

Andrew Symes letter, headed ‘Apologies’, was published on 13 September 2013.

Sir, I notice that it is becoming quite a trend for Bishops to apologise for past and present “homophobia” by “the church”. We need a definition of “homophobia”. Does this mean the nasty, vindictive bullying of people with same-sex attraction or practising homosexuals, because they are different, a minority, an easy target or perceived as a threat? Surely all Christians would agree that such bullying of any person or group for any reason is not compatible with discipleship of Jesus Christ – ie the problem is not restricted to “homophobia” but is a general lack of the Spirit’s fruit of love and gentleness.

Or perhaps “homophobia” means a sense of being uncomfortable with difference that is not fully understood, as when encountering another culture, religion or philosophy? While there are some Christians whose first reaction is like this, many nevertheless do their best to display love and lack of discrimination towards gay people.

But what about the settled, rational, thought-out decision, after reflection on Scripture and after listening without prejudice to the experiences of gay people, that the traditional interpretation of the church is correct: God’s intention for human flourishing as sexual beings is either celibate singleness in community of friendship, or monogamous heterosexual marriage? Does holding this opinion constitute homophobia? Is this what the Bishops would like “the church” to apologise for?

If so, it would be curious if these Bishops were unaware that such an apology effectively involves a redefinition of a number of core doctrines of the Christian faith, which they themselves affirmed at their consecration. By so doing they are alienating a large number of congregations in the Church of England including the largest and most vibrant, and also separating themselves from the vast majority of Christians worldwide.

Bishops who speak disparagingly about those who need to “catch up” with the latest thinking (as if it is really new anyway) have forgotten that the true church is not a political party that markets itself according to public opinion in order to gain votes, but humbly declares unchangeable truth afresh in each generation.

By all means lets unite in encouraging civility and reducing prejudice, bullying and harassment throughout society. But please can our leaders stand firm on freedom to believe and promote what the Bible teaches about God, salvation and how to live life to the full, instead of apologising for it.

Andrew Symes,

Anglican Mainstream, Eynsham

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