I’ve been wondering why the word homophobia touches such a raw nerve. Conservative traditionalists say they are not phobic or prejudiced about homosexuality. Their defence of ‘orthodox’, ‘traditional’ Christian teaching about homosexuality is reasonable, rational, justified by the Bible and 2,000 years of tradition.
The word homophobia isn’t ideal, but it’s the word we’ve been given that is used to describe prejudice about homosexuality, prejudice legitimated by the Bible and tradition. The Wikipedia definition, reproduced at the end of this blog, says homophobia encompasses a range of negative attitudes and feelings.
The experience of LGBTI people says that when used to legitimate prejudice against us, the Bible is homophobic. The Bible is also misogynistic and heterosexist if the same criteria are applied to its attitude to women. The Bible has been used to support many evil prejudices in the course of history, evils which humankind has often been slow to identify and overturn. Homophobia is a present evil. Many people base their homophobic prejudice on their interpretation of the Christian faith, justified as being orthodox and traditional.
Those who label themselves conservative, orthodox Christians and oppose the full inclusion of LGBTI people in the Church and the Kingdom of God really, really don’t like to be called homophobic. In recent months I’ve encountered extremely strong reactions when using the word.
My instinctive reaction as a well-trained ‘nice’ Christian is to be understanding and sympathetic and to back-track. “Well, of course you’re not homophobic – not in that way. I know you don’t viscerally hate me, I know you don’t have a phobia about me.” In respect to their feelings, I’ve tried to avoid using the word.
But as I’m trying to be understanding, part of me feels I’m betraying myself and the cause for which I campaign passionately – the freedom for LGBTI people to live in faith and love free from prejudice.
When pressed on their attitude to homosexuality, some conservatives (Andrea Minichiello Williams of Christian Concern, for example), play the victim card. This can have the effect of making me feel (complex and sometimes vulnerable person that I am) guilty for putting such people’s faith under pressure, challenging their belief system which is of core importance for them. At the same time I know that those who protest most strongly are often most insecure and/or are defending their own unconscious, ambivalent sexuality.
It’s not just those who are obsessive about homosexuality such as the advocates of reparative therapy and ex-gay ministries who vigorously defend themselves against the charge of being prejudiced or homophobic. So do some bishops who believe they are upholding core Christian truth and values by opposing the full inclusion of LGBTI people in the Church including equality in ministry, marriage and blessing.
Conservatives are inconsistent in their reading of the Bible and their use of scripture and are ignorant of Christian history, resistant to the continuous work of the Spirit in making progress towards justice and truth through social change.
Christian teaching which resists the full inclusion of LGBTI people and refuses to welcome and value us as we are is rooted in prejudice, prejudice which at its most extreme is deeply homophobic.
It’s a good sign when conservatives so dislike being called prejudiced or homophobic. It reveals a degree of self-awareness, knowing that their attitude has unfortunate and unpleasant consequences and is now unacceptable to the majority in British society.
Those Christians whose faith is fundamentally rooted in God’s infinite, unconditional, unadulterated love, love which calls us subtly, tenderly and irresistibly to confront prejudice wherever it is manifest, are called to face others with their use and abuse of the Bible to justify and reinforce prejudice. That they are clearly uneasy with the homophobia label is a sign of the Spirit at work, disturbing the unthinking rigidity and complacency of our inner worlds, too often unexamined and untouched by God’s unconditional love.
When the Bible is used to provide proof texts to restrict the dignity and equality of LGBTI people in Church and society then the Bible becomes a homophobic text, just as it has been in the past and at times still is a racist and a misogynistic text.
The Bible is rightly malleable to social change and development. Our reading of the text changes as our attitude towards the status of men and women, slavery, war, tribalism, race, ethnicity, social status and marriage has changed. Another radical social change is taking place in human history and Biblical texts which have been used to justify prejudice against LGBTI people are being interrogated and challenged.
Canons of the Church of England which are based on prejudiced readings of the Bible are found wanting, imposing a heterosexist, binary model of human gender and sexuality. Lesbian and gay couples are rightly prioritising their commitment to each other in God’s infinite love and claiming God’s blessing by marrying.
Andrew Goddard says in his recent article for Fulcrum, obey the rules, work within the system you have signed up to, and consider the consequences (of getting married) – the consequences for bishops and the Church, which override consequences for your relationship and your partner, your family and friends.
Does this sound like the teaching of Jesus? Well, of course, we profoundly disagree about the teachings of Jesus, but the various discourses I read don’t often admit that we disagree about such fundamentals as to the core of Jesus’ teaching.
Obey the rules? I don’t think so. Work within the system? I don’t think so. Consider the consequences of your actions? Yes, but with the opposite implications to those advocated by orthodox, traditionalist, conservative Christians. Their stance is, be obedient to the plain truth of scripture, even though there is no such thing as the ‘plain truth of scripture’.
LGBTI people and all who support us should consider the consequences of not entering the path towards the Kingdom of God where infinite, unconditional love flows and where people are drawn to open their hearts and follow God’s gentle, subtle invitation to live into our sole core, to love God, neighbour and self – and soul friend or life partner.
Andrew asks us to consider the consequences of getting married as they impact on the institution of the Church, its system of rules, control and authority and its relationship with other parts of the Anglican Communion where Christians are murdered for their faith – but not reveal equal concern for LGBTI people who are abused, arrested, imprisoned and murdered – because of Christian, Anglican support for bills and attitudes which have demonised LGBTI people in the public mind. Jesus would prioritise the consequences for all vulnerable people above the consequences for the institution.
Predictably, Andrew relies on legalism to argue against what Jeremy Pemberton and Andrew Cain and, I hope, many, many others are and will choose to do by ignoring the Canons and marrying. Legally, he may be in the right. But Jesus rejected legalism for unconditional love. Conservatives miss the point of Jesus’ experience of God. Christianity has been corrupted for centuries, of course, and humans will always corrupt such a profoundly simple and difficult truth about God and creation.
Andrew offers three choices for action which the bishops face, of which the first is: Change canon B30 so that marriage is not defined, is re-defined to include same-sex marriage, or is defined without reference to “our Lord’s teaching”.
Comments on Changing Attitude’s Facebook page suggest Andrew leans too much on B30, which is breached (in his terms) by the way we treat divorced and remarried clergy, without apparently feeling the need to rewrite the Canon.
Another comment agrees with Andrew on the need to revisit Canon B30. Quite apart from not reflecting the context of what Jesus said, it appears to rule out even recognising second marriages as valid, if taken literally.
And a third comments that Canon B30 is very unbiblical – the NT writers do not privilege procreation as a ‘good’ of marriage and for St Paul marriage is not an outlet for desire, but a remedy against it. The NT view of marriage is not very positive. That doesn’t mean that marriage is a bad model, just that it’s not ‘biblical’, at least in the way in which B30 expresses it.
Many bishops already break the Canons themselves, in the strictly legalistic way Andrew thinks they should be enforced. One bishop last week asked a priest to uncross his fingers when assenting to the Canons and Articles because, said the bishop, they are not intended to be enforced in a legalistic way. Bishops already ordain and license partnered lesbian and gay clergy and lay ministers – without asking whether the relationship is non-sexual.
Changing Attitude fully supports lay and ordained Anglicans who enter civil partnerships or marry. They are considering the implications for themselves, their partners, their families and friends, as I know very well from the many conversations I have with the supporters and trustees of Changing Attitude. They do so prayerfully, lovingly, sometimes anxiously, fully aware of the consequences for themselves, their ministry and for the Church – and fully aware of the secrecy and hypocrisy and abuse that infects the Church.
Wikipedia definition of Homophobia
Homophobia encompasses a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). It can be expressed as antipathy, contempt, prejudice, aversion, or hatred, may be based on irrational fear, and is sometimes related to religious beliefs.
Homophobia is observable in critical and hostile behavior such as discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientations that are non-heterosexual.
Recognized types of homophobia include institutionalized homophobia, e.g. religious homophobia and state-sponsored homophobia, and internalized homophobia, experienced by people who have same-sex attractions, regardless of how they identify.
Two words originate from homophobia: homophobic (adj.) and homophobe (n.), the latter word describing a person who displays homophobia or is thought to do so.