An edited version of a talk delivered on campus at the University of Canterbury in August 2014
I thought I’d begin this article with a worship song – not a worship song about God, the kind that some of us are used to singing at church on Sundays. This is a worship song about something different: sex.
If you pay attention to the content of a lot of music today, it becomes obvious: we are taught to worship sex. And it’s not just music; it’s also TV, movies, and other forms of pop culture. Sex is depicted as an ultimate goal, something to chase after and live for. Not having sex makes you a loser, but having (great) sex makes you a winner. Pursuing sex, at the expense of other things, is a worthy goal.
In particular, much of our society today idolizes the idea of sexual freedom – pursuing pleasure and fulfillment in whatever way seems best to you, without restrictions, and without anyone else telling you what to do.
In that environment, who we are sexually is who we are! Our sexuality is seen as absolutely core to our identity, and therefore to say anything negative about a person’s sexual activities is seen as not just backward and outdated, but as an attack on the core of a person’s being. Critiquing someone’s sexual practices or preferences is seen as the height of ‘intolerance’.
When it comes to homosexuality, then, any deviation from the popular point of view is often (wrongly) labeled as being ‘homophobic’. Hence, the question I’m addressing here: Is God homophobic?
In a situation like that, it’s hard to read (and write!) an article like this one. But it’s not just a hard topic because of confusion or mistakes on one side of the discussion. It’s not just ‘the world out there’ that has gotten things wrong.
As a Christian, I have to admit – and I think all Christians should be willing to admit – that Christians have indeed made mistakes over the years by mistreating gay people. Sometimes that has happened through people’s words, and sometimes it’s happened in other kinds of action. The sad fact is, some Christians ARE homophobic. It makes absolutely no sense, and the Bible gives no reason to be genuinely homophobic (as I hope to explain below), but it’s the reality. These mistakes have caused a lot of unnecessary pain and confusion for many people – and I, for one, am sorry that has happened.
Moreover, sometimes Christians have done a poor job of understanding where our gay friends, or those lobbying on their behalf, are coming from. We can easily fall into the trap of thinking that the ‘gay lobby’ is out to destroy the world, or that supporters of gay marriage can’t wait to see our society go to hell in a hand basket. “I’ll ruin this country if it’s the last thing I do!” (followed by a maniacal laugh) is how we can imagine things.
But the truth is – although there is a very different worldview underlying the approach taken by the ‘gay lobby’ – people who take a contrary view to mine are still fighting for good things like equality and freedom. Sure, we may disagree on how to best achieve those aims, and we may even disagree on what exactly ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’ are. But we share some important common ground.
What’s more, there are those who call themselves Christians and have pushed for churches and ministries to change their teaching on this subject in recent years. And even though I’d see it quite differently and I think that’s a serious mistake, as I’ll explain, it’s helpful to acknowledge that people who take that view aren’t doing it to be evil. They’re doing it because, in their view, this is an issue that goes to the heart of the Christian message (as they see it) – because just as God freely accepts all people in Jesus, so should we freely accept all people just as they are today (they would say).
All in all, no matter what our viewpoint, there is way too much painting ‘the other side’ as the enemy, rather than listening and actually trying to understand where people are coming from.
However, just because this topic is hard doesn’t mean we should stop talking about it. It doesn’t mean we should water down our sincere beliefs, or refuse to explain what we really believe. We should continue arguing our point of view, and seeking to persuade others. That’s what people do in a civilized society. All it means is that we need to talk very carefully and patiently.
So if you’re reading this post and you’re gay, or you’re not gay but you have very deep, personal feelings on this topic, or you’re not a Christian and you’re trying to work out what Christians believe and why – I assume the fact that you’re reading this article means you’re willing to engage on this vital issue. So let me say thank you very much for being willing to read and think about this topic. It means a lot.
What I want to do in the rest of this article is outline a Christian view of sex and homosexuality. For some of you, this will mean taking a walk inside a very different way of seeing the world. This isn’t just a situation where ‘we basically see the world the same way, just with different sexual ethics’. This is a situation where people see the most fundamental levels of reality in extremely different ways – with very different sexual ethics flowing out of those worldviews.
If you’re not a Christian, my aim is not to convince you of the truth of Christianity within this article. But hopefully, I can help you to see that maybe the Christian way of thinking about life is more logical, more profound, and more loving than you may think. I hope to help you see how the Christian view of sexuality makes sense, and how we can have a framework for understanding and talking about these issues. This might mean you’ll be able to continue the conversation with others – or maybe join the conversation and think seriously about what you believe for the first time ever. Perhaps most of all, I want you to see that the Christian way of seeing the world is not fundamentally about sex. The Christian worldview is about Jesus.
For now, come with me as we look at one of the earliest Christian writings. This is a short part of this letter written by Paul, one of the very first Christian leaders, to a Christian church in a city called Corinth in the first century. Corinth was a port city, and (like many port cities) had a high level of sexual promiscuity and openness. That’s the backdrop to some of what Paul tells them.
Let’s look at what Paul says to the Corinthians, and then think about it under four headings.
Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
Homosexual behaviour: prohibited for Christians
This first point is the hardest one, so I might as well be direct! (But make sure you stick with me until we get to the other points.) Homosexual behaviour is clearly prohibited for Christians. In fact, it is listed as something that stops a person from inheriting the kingdom of God (which means sharing in the full blessings, both now and for eternity, that God offers to his people).
Why is this the case? Is it just a random prohibition on something that Paul didn’t like? Is it just a random prohibition on something GOD doesn’t like? Is God, in fact, homophobic?
Let me begin to approach this by stepping back to look at the big picture of Christianity.
Christians believe in one God. We believe this world is not all there is – we believe in angels, and the possibility of miracles, and a God who made the world and is intimately involved with his world.
What’s more, we believe that God hasn’t kept himself hidden from the world, but that he has shown what he is like. God has done that in two specific ways: one, by sending his own Son into the world – the man Jesus Christ; and two, by speaking to us in the words of the Bible, which he inspired human authors to write. When we read the Bible, we’re not just reading the words of people – we are reading the very words of God. (For more on why Christians believe that, click here.)
What does the Bible tell us about God? Christians believe that one God made the whole world, and that he made it very good. Human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation – not just another creature like the animals, but God’s image bearers. Part of being God’s image bearers in his world is that we’re designed to relate to God not just as though he’s a silent, passive observer who lets us make up our own rules, but as a loving, active, good God who made us, knows what is best for us, and tells us how to live in the world he’s made.
When it comes to sex, Christians believe that sex is really, really good. God made sex, and he approves of it. In fact, he approves of it so much that he made the human race depend on sex for its survival. But God also made sex to unite people together at a very deep level, and to just be plain fun. Why is sex enjoyable? Because God designed it that way! Like all God’s good gifts, it can be misused and abused – but that doesn’t stop it being a good thing.
God made sex to serve a particular purpose within a particular relationship, and that relationship is marriage. And the Bible is clear that marriage is between one man and one woman. I don’t have time to lay out all the reasons for that now – but the first two chapters of the Bible (Genesis 1-2) make that clear, and Jesus himself endorsed that view of marriage (for example, in Matthew 19).
But if marriage is designed by God to be between a man and a woman, and if sex is for marriage, then it follows that any other sexual activity is outside God’s good created purposes for sex. That includes homosexual activity.
That, in a nutshell, is what we’re talking about.
We’re not talking about Christians just being backward or old-fashioned, or about Christians being fearful of people with different sexual practices (which is what homophobia actually means). It’s not that Christians just don’t understand homosexuality, or they’ve worked it out for themselves, or they’re just prejudiced, or they’re on a power trip, or they’re just sexually repressed prudes. The Christian attitude to homosexual practice comes from somewhere very different. It’s based on who we think God is, how and why we understand that he has made us, and how and why he has made the world. And even though the Bible says some things that go against our instincts or against our culture, God is God. It’s only right that the Creator of the world be in charge of his own world, and of the people that he’s made.
God is not cruel or oppressive, and he is certainly not homophobic. He is loving and good, and (even when we don’t fully understand why or how) what he tells us is ultimately for our good. (More on how we know that in a moment.)
And here, in 1 Corinthians 6 – and in a number of other passages too – the Bible says that people who practice homosexuality are conducting themselves in a way that is contrary to God’s design for his world and for us, his image bearers. So that’s the first point, and it’s the one that in some ways I’d love to sidestep. But I have to state it clearly, because the Bible does.
Thankfully, the rest of the points are slightly easier for us to get our minds around, and hopefully they will help to put the first point in its proper context. In their own way, each of these points is just as important as the first.
Homosexual practice: no worse than any other sin
Did you notice the long list of vices mentioned in the passage? No sexually immoral people will inherit God’s kingdom. No idolaters will inherit God’s kingdom. No adulterers, no one practicing homosexuality, no thieves, no greedy people, no drunkards, no verbally abusive people, and no swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
God is not homophobic. God is against anything that means we are not living in line with the way he made us to live. For example, verbal abuse (‘slander’) can hurt others deeply, and God cares about that. To take another example, greed distorts the way God wants his world to operate, because the greedy person is living as his own little god and worshiping created things, rather than worshiping his Creator and using what he has to bless and care for others. God cares about that. And we could go on and on.
The temptation for Christians today is in one of two directions. One temptation is to say that homosexual practice is not an issue – that each person is free to determine their own sexual practices, and that God doesn’t care about that or have a say in how we act sexually. That attitude is very tempting, because it’s where most of our culture’s arguments and emotional energy are pulling us, and it’s an attitude that will make it easier for us to fit in.
In the end, however, it’s an unloving attitude. If we conclude that God does care about how we use our sexuality and God does know what’s best for us, and if we conclude that homosexual practice is therefore not the best for people and is not in line with God’s designed purposes for sex, then the loving thing to do is to patiently, carefully, and honestly share this with people.
But there’s another temptation. For all kinds of reasons, we can react against homosexual practice by starting to believe that it’s worse than other sins. That is just as unloving and just as wrong as the alternative. There is no simply way you can read the Bible and think homosexual practice is worse than any other sin.
The truth is, you are sexually broken (no matter who ‘you’ are). I am sexually broken. The question is not whether or not you are sexually broken. The question is what kind of sexual brokenness you face, and – as we’ll see in a minute – what you choose to do with that brokenness.
This means that none of the Bible’s teaching is an excuse for any form of homophobia or mistreatment of gay people by an individual or a church. Remember, disagreements or concerns (as long as they are loving expressed) are quite different to phobias. But as I said earlier, if you’ve been hurt by genuine homophobia masquerading as Christianity, or if you know people who have been hurt, or if mistreatment by people claiming to be Christians has added to your confusion on this issue, I am really sorry that’s happened.
If you’re a Christian and you mistreat or look down on gay people, shame on you. If you think you’re better than someone because they’re gay and you’re not, you really haven’t understood the message of the Bible at all.
The challenge for those of us who are Christians is to find the sweet spot between those two temptations: to hold onto the Bible’s teaching that homosexual practice is outside God’s good design for us and our sexuality – but to do it humbly, respectfully, and lovingly. We need to remember that many, many people will find it nearly impossible to understand our views on sexuality. We have a choice: we can blame them for misunderstanding and shout ever louder; or we can show love and patience to people by working extra hard to express ourselves clearly, given the emotion and confusion surrounding this topic.
Again, it is possible to disagree with the choices that a person makes or the way a person lives their life in some way, but to still love and respect that person very deeply. We need to find ways of talking and listening that show each other that kind of love and respect. We’ll have a fighting chance of doing that if we remember that homosexual practice is no worse than any other sin.
Homosexual practice, not homosexual inclination
The wording used in 1 Corinthians 6 is clear – anyone practicing homosexuality – not just anyone who experiences same-sex attraction.
We all struggle with different temptations, but it’s possible for us to make choices. Depending on the temptation we face, some of those choices may be very hard to make. But when we work hard to overcome our temptations because we want to please and honour God, it does please and honour God.
So if you’re struggling with same-sex attraction, or you have friends who are struggling, remember – that temptation is similar to the temptations that we all face. It’s not easy to resist homosexual temptation, just like it’s not easy to resist any temptation we face – whether it’s greed, slander, or whatever. It’s not easy for a straight single person to remain sexually pure. Heck, it’s not easy for a straight married person to remain sexually pure! But with God’s help, we can do it, and it honours him when we resist temptation.
There are some excellent books written by Christians who have faced this temptation and, with God’s help, are dealing with it in a godly way. Five books that I’d recommend are:
– The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Covert
– Battles Christians Face (plus a very important interview with the author)
– Is God Anti-Gay?
– Walking With Gay Friends
– What Some Of You Were
All of this brings me to the last point – which is, in many ways, the most important point, and the one that really sets Christianity apart.
God’s offer of free forgiveness: Needed by all, and available to all
Look back at our passage from 1 Corinthians one more time. Paul reels off a long list of behaviours that place people outside the kingdom of God, but then he injects these life-giving words: “And some of you used to be like this. BUT you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Do you see what Paul is saying to the people in Corinth? This long list of vices and struggles – that’s what you guys used to be like! You’ve lived in ways that, on their own, express just how much you’ve rebelled against God and which would leave you outside God’s kingdom, outside of his love and forgiveness.
BUT that is not the end of your story. That is not God’s final word on you. God has done something to enable you to be washed clean. God has done something to give you a fresh start.
Those words ‘sanctified’ and ‘justified’ are kind of Christian jargon words – but they essentially mean that you have been forgiven for all the ways you’ve rejected God and his rule (whatever they may be) and you have been changed from the heart, from the inside, so now that God has forgiven you, you can begin to live a new life.
And what is it that God has done to make all this possible? It’s all about Jesus – that’s why he says ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ’.
Remember I said back near the beginning of this post that the Christian worldview is not about sex, but about Jesus? Here’s what I meant: The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. None of us treats God properly, and none of us treats each other properly. That’s expressed in all kinds of ways, including, at times, the misuse of our sexuality.
But God is kind and loving. He doesn’t just leave us in our brokenness and in the consequences of our actions. What did God do? He sent his son, Jesus, into the world – a real man, living a real life in real history. Unlike us, Jesus lived a perfect life, always living in line with God’s word and God’s plans. So when Jesus died, he was dying for us – in our place, if you like. He was willingly taking on himself the judgment of God that every single one of us rightly deserves for how we’ve treated him and for the wrong that we’ve done.
Being washed and forgiven is not about washing ourselves, and it’s not about earning God’s forgiveness by changing our sexual practices or becoming more moral. It’s about humbly coming to Jesus, and trusting him to wash us clean. It’s about knowing that Jesus offers us the forgiveness and the fresh start we all need. It’s about simply trusting in what he’s done for us.
A Christian is not someone who has managed to avoid sin and brokenness. The difference is that Christians recognize and confess that brokenness, and they see that it matters. They admit they can’t overcome that brokenness by their own efforts to be good. They refuse to believe there is no way back to God.
To be a Christian is to bring your brokenness to God, and to trust that he is loving and that he will forgive you, because of what Jesus has done for you. And yes, it means living a transformed life from that point onwards, following God’s will and God’s ways out of a renewed desire to honour him and live for him. But our obedience is not the thing that saves us; it’s what flows out of the salvation that Jesus freely wins for us. The penalty for every sin – homosexual practice, or anything else – has been completely paid by Jesus when he died for us, if we turn back to him and trust in him. There is absolutely nothing that you have done which excludes you from receiving God’s incredible gift of love and forgiveness through Jesus.
In the end, this is how we know that God’s instructions to us in the Bible are not harsh or oppressive. Even if we don’t understand them all straight away – even if they sound strange or even harsh to our ears when we first encounter them – we can have total confidence that God’s instructions to us are for our good because God has shown us that he is loving and good. He has shown us that he can be trusted. He has shown his love and care for us in the most spectacular way possible: by giving his beloved Son, who came into the world and was willing to die for us.
That means Christians can obey God joyfully and happily (though not always easily) because we know that listening to a loving God is ultimately the best thing for us.
No matter what brought you to read this post today, or what you believe, please don’t leave thinking, ‘wow, I really need to change my sexual activities so God will accept me!’ Merely changing your sexual behaviour won’t remove your brokenness, and it won’t deal with the real problem. I would love you to finish this article and be left thinking about one word: Jesus. ‘Maybe I ought to look into Jesus. Maybe there is something to this guy that could make a difference…’ That’s my hope and prayer for us all.
God is not homophobic. God loves every gay person, and he loves every straight person. He loves the gay person and the straight person so much that he gave Jesus for us, to give us the fresh start that every single one of us needs.
* A brief note on the title of this article: A letter to Canta magazine complained about the title of the original talk (when advertised on campus), which triggered a term’s worth of letters back and forth. For the record, I came up with the the title, so it’s my responsibility. The original title was simply, ‘Is God Homophobic?’ I had hoped a title like this would get some attention – and it did! Less successfully, I had hoped / assumed the implied answer would be ‘no’, and that the title was gently mocking anyone who thought the answer was yes. Turns out not everyone saw it that way! So, my apologies to anyone offended by the title of the original talk, or by the title of this post. I trust that the content of the article helps to address some concerns.
One thought on “Is God Homophobic? (Spoiler Alert: No, he’s not)”
I am still slightly unsure why my gay flatmate was so offended at your ‘Is God a homophobe’ advertising such that he felt inspired to write that letter. However I myself was totally horrified and angered at the letter to Canta in reply to his, which advocated an anti-gay position on behalf of CU and linked to an anti-gay marriage blog post of yours. When I was on the CU exec ten or so years ago we had the privilege and pleasure of being able to welcome the Civil Unions bill. And although many of us were disappointed at the time that it didn’t give gay people the right to marry, it was still clearly a step forward in helping the oppressed. I recall unanimous support for that bill among my 20 or so close CU friends at that time, and everyone thought the Destiny Church’s march against it was a huge joke. So it came as a massively shocking and horrifying surprise to me to see a position aimed at denying rights to an oppressed minority being publicly advocated as CU’s present view. Needless to say, I in no way would ever want to be part of any so-called ‘Christian’ organisation with such a view.
I commend you for your conclusion that “changing your sexual behaviour won’t remove your brokenness, and it won’t deal with the real problem”, and also for your emphasis on homosexuality being a sin with a small s like any other rather than the ultimate SIN that Christians sometimes treat is as. I have often made the same observations myself and as a result am left baffled when some Christians get so upset about homosexuality. Obviously people’s theology of sin vary, but a very common teaching is that we are all sinners and that even after accepting Christ into our lives we are still not perfect. I have heard speakers emphasize how from the time they get up on a Sunday morning to the time they get to church they will have already sinned a dozen times, and they use this to hammer home to their audience just how important the blood of Christ is and continues to be for them. Given that, if a loving gay couple has sex a couple of times a week, and if that’s technically a sin, then what importance exactly attaches to those particular two sins compared to the hundreds of sins of other sins that they and everyone else commits in the course of their daily life? I’m sure that if I asked you to list all the different types of sin that there are and gave you time you could write out a list perhaps a hundred long. Yet of those hundred of so different types of sin, you seem to write quite a lot about homosexuality and relatively little about the other hundred, so it seems to me that you’re not actually really treating it on par with the rest.
It is also worth seriously considering whether something being considered a sin for Christians is sufficient motivation to try and enforce your own morality on the rest of society via law. It is one thing for a religious person to say “my religion forbids me to eat pork, therefore I will not”, but quite another to go out and campaign to legally prohibit atheists and members of every other religion from eating or selling pork. The former is quite reasonably following a religious practice, the second is trying to enforce your own ideas onto everyone else regardless of whether they like it or not.
With regard to what homophobia “actually means”, I would point out that you’re confusing the meaning of words with their origin. Words in any language or culture mean whatever the group of speakers are using them to mean. Their meanings can, and do, change over time. Dictionaries have to be regularly updated since the ways that people are using words slowly change. This is something that all the major dictionary publishers put quite a lot of effort into doing, and they tend to publish their changes on a yearly basis. As a result, what a word originally meant may have little or nothing in common with what a word currently means. Likewise words that are made from other words joined together may come to have meanings unrelated to what they are comprised of. One example of this in English is the word “understand”. It absolutely does not mean “to stand under”, and has nothing to do with standing anywhere or being under anything. Linguists call this type of mistake an “etymological fallacy” (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymological_fallacy ). Incidentally, this is a particularly well-known problem for biblical study, because as late as the 19th century there were relatively few known surviving koine Greek texts – so few in fact that one scholar (in)famously speculated that perhaps koine was a “heavenly dialect” that had come into existence solely for the purposes of biblical revelation. This lack of koine texts meant that biblical scholars who were trying to determine the meanings of words used in the NT could not follow the proper process of studying hundreds of examples of the word being used and conclude its meaning based on usage. Instead they were forced to take a guess at the meanings of numerous words based on presumed origin – eg by breaking down the word into parts like “under stand”, or try to make educated guesses at to what the word might have meant based on what words it was similar to. Linguists today do not give credence to such processes because they produce results that are extremely wrong. Fortunately for the interpretation of the NT, there have subsequently been thousands and thousands of koine Greek texts discovered, and as a result scholars have been able to actually determine the true meanings of many words in the NT that had been misinterpreted previously. (This work is actually ongoing because there was a truly enormous collection of koine discovered in the 1970s that hasn’t yet been fully integrated into the current dictionaries)
Ironically one of the NT words for which we still do not have enough examples of usage to properly determine its meaning, is the word getting translated as “homosexual” in the passage from 1 Cor 6:9 (and again in 1 Tim 1:10) that you cite in this post. That translation is historically based on breaking up the word into the fragments from which it is composed “man” + “bed”, and assuming a speculative meaning of “man who has sex with men”. There are no surviving pre-pauline occurances of the word in koine, and most of surviving post-Pauline ones are simply quotes of the verse. Of the very very few other surviving usages, a meaning of “rape”, or perhaps specifically “rape of males” seems to fit best, though there is not enough data to determine its range of meaning anything close to conclusively: It is an exceptionally rare word in koine greek. Now given that homosexual activities were a frequent occurrence in Roman and Greek societies, they get discussed extensively in Roman and Greek literature. (Hubbard’s compilation of surviving primary sources discussing the topic is more than 500 pages long: http://www.amazon.com/Homosexuality-Greece-Rome-Sourcebook-Documents/dp/0520234308 ) I take the view that if Paul had intended to refer to homosexual activities then he would have done so using one of the various Greek words that were available to him to use. He didn’t. And instead of using any of those, he used a word that was incredibly rare and obscure, and that wasn’t used by any other Greek or Roman writers who discussed homosexuality. For this reason, quite a lot of modern interpreters, myself included, do not believe that 1 Cor 6:9 / 1 Tim 1:10 contains any reference to homosexuality. So when you say “Homosexual behaviour is clearly prohibited for Christians” and cite 1 Cor 6, I completely disagree: Very little in fact could be less clear.
What is very clear, however, is what the word “homophobia” means in the present day, because we do have thousands of examples of people using the word to study and see what they are meaning. Breaking it down into “homo” + “phobia” is irrelevant, because at best that suggests a possibility as to what it might originally have meant, but it has no bearing on how people happen to currently be using the word – which is the thing that’s actually relevant to the meanings of words. The word homophobia may well have originally been coined to refer to a fear of gay people, but by the 1970s the common usage of the word had expanded to fill a vacancy in the English language. English uses the word “racism” to describe the whole spectrum of suspicion of, discrimination against, opposition to, bias against, dislike of, and hatred of, people of a different race. English had no parallel word to describe the same spectrum of attitudes targeted towards gay people, and people began to use “homophobia” to fill that void. Since the 70s, “homophobia” has become standardly used as a parallel for “racism” and, as such, covers the whole spectrum for negativity towards homosexual people. It’s common usage is absolutely not restricted to describing ‘fear’ of gay people, as any kind of opposition or negative attitude towards gay rights or gay people gets described as “homophobia”. It’s a synonym for “anti-gay”. You’ve apparently noticed this yourself, as you’ve seen a lot of Christians get called “homophobic”. It looks to me like you’ve simply misunderstood what those who were calling you/others “homophobic” meant because you misunderstood how they were using the word. Again, I emphasize that how the word “homophobia” is used by people generally today has nothing particularly to do with “fear” of gay people, and it simply refers to any form of negative attitude or inclination, just as racism isn’t necessary referring to “fear” of other races but can denote any kind of negative attitude or discriminatory intention. That’s simply what people use it to mean, and what they’ve been using it to mean for decades. The origin of the word is irrelevant, and to think origins of words are relevant to their current meaning, or to claim that people “should” be using words based on their original meanings, are linguistic errors (again see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymological_fallacy ). So I would describe your argument in your post as really arguing that certain kinds of homophobia are okay and others not okay – you are clearly against homosexuality to some degree and you clearly allege that God is (thus you are homophobic and are alleging God is) but you take issue with the extent to which some other Christians have been anti-gay and the ways they have expressed themselves.
At risk of getting into endless theological arguments I would point out that your claim that “And the Bible is clear that marriage is between one man and one woman” strikes me as very underwhelmingly evidenced. You point to Jesus’s ban on divorce (Mat 19) – a teaching all the main Christians denominations today have decided not to follow – and apparently think it definitely implies a ban on homosexual marriages because Jesus’s OT quotation in his argument about divorce happens to contain the words “man” and “woman”. Not only is that ridiculously tenuous, but I am left wondering why you think gay people should obey Jesus on a subject he isn’t talking about (same-sex marriage) when the vast majority of Christians agree that straight people don’t need to obey him on the subject he is talking about (banning divorce). Likewise your case doesn’t get any better when we look at Genesis 2 at “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”. The bible doesn’t state this is a universally binding and definitive definition of marriage. Nor can it be, because the depiction of a man moving out of his father and mother’s house and into a new house with his wife is a culturally dependent depiction and is obviously contingent on the man’s parents being alive and based on various assumptions about where people live before and after marriage. Obviously the man’s parents might be dead, or his new wife might move in with his family so he never leaves his father and mother. Christianity has not, as a general rule, required a man’s parents be alive for him to marry, nor has it required that the man live in his parents’ house until his marriage, nor has it required him to then move out into a new house with his wife. All those things depend on circumstances and culture, and may or may not occur in any particular marriage. So the verse is absolutely and definitely not a definitive and universally binding description and definition of what must and must not occur in a marriage, nor are generally viewed by Christians as recommendations of where Christians ought to live before and after marriage. Rather the verse is simply a poetically stated depiction of what commonly occurred at the time of the writer – clearly in his culture the man would usually live with his parents until marriage and then move into a new home with his new wife and often the parents were still alive at that point. You can’t reasonably say “okay, every single other word in the sentence is conditional and contextual, and just a general description of what commonly happens, except for the two words ‘man’ and ‘wife’ in the sentence which are absolute and unchanging universals that absolutely have to apply to every single marriage from that time to the present and cannot ever be altered in any culture” without being totally arbitrary – at that point it’s clear that it’s not the bible saying that, it’s just you reading your own ideas into it.
More generally, my observation about what the bible says about marriage is that the bible seems to largely just record a history of people getting married at different times and in different ways generally without an overly large amount of reflection about what those marriages ‘meant’, and that insofar as there are certain conceptions of marriage implied at different points of the history, these significantly change over time. In much of the OT, polygamous marriage is exceptionally common. OT law forces marriage of rape victims to their rapists. The existence or allowability of divorce changes throughout the bible. The bible lacks any extensive and lengthy discussion of the meaning, definition, or unchanging norms of marriage, and instead contains only the occasional pithy comment or suggestion or rule on the subject. I have often noticed during wedding services that wedding preachers struggle with the sparsity of pro-marriage material the bible provides – there are a grand total of about half a dozen 1-sentence verses in the entire bible for them to draw on that directly reference the subject. Furthermore when Paul does give his longest discussion of marriage (1 Cor 7) he’s quite negative about it, regarding it only as a “concession” to those with lusts and not as good as Paul’s preferred option of celibacy. I would note that if marriage is a concession to human lust according to Paul, and if divorce is a concession to fallen human nature according to Jesus, then it would seem reasonable to make some sort of concession to gay people to allow them to act according to their ‘fallen’ nature, and rather hypocritical of straight people who were availing themselves of the concessions of marriage and divorce to not to grant such concessions to others. (I also note that some Christians seem to completely fail to apply Paul’s logic to gay people – they try to force gay people to stay celibate – even when the gay people make it clear they haven’t been given the gift of celibacy. I tend to think that if God had wanted to give the gift of celibacy to gay people then he should have actually given them that gift, and if he hasn’t, then the Christians trying to force people who don’t have that gift to follow that lifestyle is preempting God and potentially doing a lot of harm for the people concerned. According to Paul it is the people to whom the gift of celibacy has been given who are the ones who should stay celibate, and to those with lusts he gives the concession of marriage.) Regardless: Far from ever ‘defining’ marriage, the bible simply seems to take the social institution of marriage for granted, and that institution changes significantly over time in the period covered by the bible. So I completely disagree with your statement that “the Bible is clear that marriage is between one man and one woman.” The best that can be said is that all the marriages the bible happens to depict are opposite-sex marriages. But that is not surprising given that, as far as we know, most of the cultures in which it was written did not have any same sex marriages.
The biggest issue I have with your position, however, is that you don’t center your discussion around love, concern, and empathy, for gay people. And since Christianity is supposed to be about loving others, I find that a huge problem. To try to explain how love and concern for gay people is missing from your discussion and why it’s important, let us consider the question that was historically faced by the Americans when they considered whether they ought to abolish slavery. It would be possible to give an extensive rational analysis of slavery, looking at the pros of slavery as an economic practice, noting how the benefits of slave-labour were helping the country’s economy, noting how useful the practice was at dealing with unemployment, and finding all sorts of other incidental benefits that resulted from it. Likewise historically many Christians strongly defended the practice of slavery on biblical grounds, pointing to God allowing the keeping on slaves in the levitical law, and them being convinced that the curse on the descendants of Ham in the bible was rightly interpreted as a curse on black-skinned people. It would therefore be possible to write an extremely lengthy discussion about slavery without ever once mentioning or taking into account the main reason everyone else was wanting slavery to be abolished: The harm being done to the slaves. The harms being suffered by the slaves, and the love for one’s fellow man and concern for the oppressed that motivated people to want to prevent those harms, were the primary motivating factors of those who wanted to abolish slavery. So any analysis of the pros and cons of slavery that never once touched on the suffering of the slaves would be utterly deficient as it would miss the whole point. Unfortunately it is exactly this thing that is a common feature of almost every single argument written by anti-gay Christians that I have ever read: Somehow they manage to discuss almost every issue except the relevant one – the harm being done to gay people. The harms suffered by gay people are the entire motivation of the gay rights movement in the first place, just as the harms suffered by the slaves were the motivation for the anti-slavery movement, so arguments that avoid talking about the issue of the harms being suffered are pretty irrelevant. As a result, nearly all of the anti-gay rights arguments tend to almost entirely miss the point by completely failing to grapple at all with the whole point of the issue: The harms being done to gay people. That is where the discussion ought to start from, because that is what is driving these issues. Or, if you absolutely insist on starting the discussion with God and your questionable biblical interpretations, then the discussion has to get to the point of dealing head on and in detail with the harms being done to gay people. Otherwise your argument reads like “I see slavery in the bible. God is loving. Therefore slavery must be loving even if humans can’t understand how. So everyone ought to accept that slavery is the loving thing! We people who are pro-slavery are doing it out of love!” Because that’s EXACTLY how your argument reads to me on the subject of homosexuality, and it’s about as convincing.
In my experience, most Christians who are anti-gay are exceptionally ignorant as to the harms suffered by gay people, because they never bother to think about them and make no effort to ask gay people about them or research them. I strongly encourage you to read through these documents, which are official submissions made to the UK government or US supreme court by major professional scientific organisations in the UK and US, and which outline sufferings experienced by gay people as a result of anti-gay prejudices:
Click to access RCPSYCH%20submission%20to%20Equal%20Civil%20Marriage-a%20consultation.pdf
Click to access hollingsworth-perry.pdf
I think a lot of anti-gay people make the mistake of ignorantly assuming gay people are only hurt or harmed when they are physically assaulted. But nothing could be further from the truth, as the vast vast majority of suffering experienced by gay people is psychological, arising from either (1) being denied basic human rights such as sex, or marriage, or (2) being subject to psychologically stressful social stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and condemnation. With regard to the former, it astonishes me how some Christian preachers enthusiastically praise the amazingness of marriage and how thankful they feel about their own marriage and what a great blessing it has been to them, only to later attempt to deny the ability to marry to gay people, and yet with apparently little thought as to the level of harm being done to these gay people by denying them the right to marry that the preacher himself so enjoys and thinks is so amazing. Likewise with sex, I have heard many preachers mention the enjoyableness of sex, and yet when these same people are advocating that gay people stay celibate there is little thought at all given to the level of sacrifice that they are truly asking gay people to make – a level of sacrifice I suspect in many cases that the preacher himself would be utterly unwilling to make! But that is the smallest tip of the iceberg, and merely the obvious harm that even the blindest person can see is being inflicted. Far more insidious and harmful are the psychological harms that come from being stigmatized, discriminated against, and given less rights than other people. In a country where some people hold anti-gay attitudes, gay people face daily stress and anxiety about the possibility of a negative response from other people if those people learn they are gay. It is that daily psychological stress and anxiety which is by far the most serious issue. And when people are publicly campaigning to limit the rights of gay people, or spreading malicious lies about gay people being in some way deficient, it is very hard for gay people not to take that personally and it is a major source of stress and anxiety. Obviously those gay people whose parents respect them less when they come out as gay, suffer significantly from the damage inflicted on that relationship by the anti-gay parent. The stress and anxiety of never knowing if the next person you meet will be anti-gay, never knowing if they will want to discriminate against you and dislike you for loving the ‘wrong’ person, takes its toll on gay people. Chronic stress and anxiety are serious medical problems, which reduce the body’s ability to fight disease, and put a person at much higher risk of strokes and heart attacks and also are a causal factor in the development of other more serious mental illnesses. As a result, gay people suffer a large array of negative mental and physical health consequences as result of psychological stress caused by a fear of prejudice and discrimination. A lot of gay people are also driven to alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism for the stresses that they suffer from the anti-gay parts of our society. Needless to say, alcohol and drugs are harmful in their own ways. Tragically many gay people are driven to suicide as a result of the stress and anxiety they suffer from social prejudice. Gay people are about two to four times more likely than straight people to attempt suicide or have had thoughts of suicide, and when asked what the motivation for their suicidal thoughts are, gay people tend to be very clear that the root cause is anti-gay social prejudice. As a result, a LOT of gay people die by suicide as a result of anti-gay social prejudice. Running the approximate numbers suggests that in the US, the number of (additional) gay people that commit suicide per year (above and beyond the number who would have if they were straight) is approximately similar to the number of people killed in the September 11 attacks to within an order of magnitude. That’s rivers and rivers of blood that can be laid squarely at the feet of anti-gay discrimination in our societies! As upset as Americans get at Muslims for 9/11, they should be far far more upset at the anti-gay Christians in their society for killing at lot more of their own than the Muslims ever did. Let’s be very clear: Being anti-gay and expressing that opinion literally kills people – or worse, it makes their lives so miserable that they kill themselves. This is why all the major professional scientific organisations in the western world that deal with psychology, medicine, or public health, have been advocates for marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws on the obvious health grounds that gay people suffer huge amounts of harm from discrimination. That’s why organisations concerned about the well-being of gay people want hate-speech laws and anti-discrimination laws, because it’s not just about the obvious harms inflicted by denying gay people basic rights like sex and marriage, it’s about the insidious psychological terrorism that is inflicted on gay people when people loudly proclaim publicly how sinful it is to be gay or how gay people should be discriminated against – merely having people saying those things in public kills gay people. So if you think gay sex or gay marriage is sinful, then by all means you are welcome to personally never do it, but please please don’t publicly spread your view that it is “wrong”, because to do so is harmful in and of itself to any gay people that hear it, quite apart from any additional anti-gay responses it might inspire in the hearers of your words.
I know you think of your position and view as “loving” and being based on love, and yet you seem to be well aware that a lot of people seem to perceive your viewpoint as being based on hate. This is because you are advocating a view that causes obvious and quantifiable harms to gay people. Even in your own analysis, your stated concern for gay people is quite far down your list of priorities. Firstly you start off your analysis by focusing on God. Then you turn to your speculative interpretations of what God’s purposes and plans for humanity are based on your reading of the bible. Then you assert that God is loving and good, and assert that therefore anything and everything he ever wants or commands of humanity must be out of loving or good motives, even if we humans can’t understand why God commands the things he does. (I would point out that torturing humans in hell for eternity is rather hard to claim as something done out of purely loving motives. So I think your implicit premise that ‘if God does something, then it’s the loving thing to do’ requires some rethinking, since presumably God can act out of other motivations.) So you eventually reason your way to the conclusion that you believe that God doesn’t want humans to engage in homosexual behaviour, and you speculate that if God doesn’t want that then it might be for the reason that that is what is best for homosexual people even if we can’t work out why and even if all the scientific evidence tells us the exact opposite, and therefore you speculate that the most loving thing to do to homosexuals is encourage them to follow your interpretation of the bible, which appears to involve restricting and oppressing them quite a bit insofar as it prevents them doing a lot of things they want to do and that other people do. I hope you can see that love and concern for gay people entered your logical argument quite late in the piece, and was quite far down your process of logical steps that was getting you toward your conclusion. Furthermore, it’s your view that God is against homosexual behaviour, so your starting point is really an anti-gay starting point – you’re against gay behaviour prior to any compassionate thought you give to gay people or their well-being – you’re starting off by being anti-gay and then saying “well this is really the loving position to have”. Funnily enough a lot of people don’t tend to think that starting from a position of being anti-gay is in fact a particularly loving position towards gay people. More importantly, at no point in your discussion do you ever really touch on the harms done to gay people. You just handwave in the general direction of the idea that we can’t always understand God’s reasons and assert that whatever he does must be loving even if it looks like it isn’t. Your failure to consider the sufferings of gay people from discrimination and prejudice suggests in itself a lack of empathy, love, and compassion toward them.
Whew, that was a lot longer than I was intending…