Saturday, 20 April 2013

On homophobia

I am not a homophobe - at least I don't think so.

Nobody chooses to be gay - at least I don't think they do - so why should I hate them - or think any less of them - because of it?

Even if homosexuality was a choice, my faith teaches me I should love everyone, regardless of the choices they make or whether or not I agree with them. Lots of people - gay and straight - do all sorts of things I don't agree with (heck, I do things myself that I don't agree with!), and I quite easily manage to not hate them for it!

For the record, I do freely admit that the thought of gay sex makes me feel uncomfortable. I don't think there is any reason why I should feel bad about that. I am not happy about heterosexual sex outside of loving committed relationships either, but the thought of it doesn't affect me in quite the same way. This is because, as a red-blooded heterosexual male with certain, faith-informed perspectives, straight casual sex does feel very wrong to me, but is also potentially very tempting!  Gay sex just feels wrong - for me personally there is no temptation involved! This doesn't make gay sex a worse "sin" though, it is just to acknowledge that my own personal reactions to it are different.

I also most definitely do not support discrimination against gay people, but I may have different ideas from some - especially those campaigning for the legalisation of gay marriage - about what exactly discriminating against someone actually means.

Peter Tatchell has recently called on Archbishop Justin Welby to, "apologise on behalf of the Church of England for the centuries of homophobic persecution it inflicted on gay people", which Welby has said he will think about. Tatchell has also said that, "Large swathes of the Anglican global communion actively support the persecution of LGBT people, mostly without rebuke". My knowledge of Anglican collusion in the suppression or persecution of LGBT people is virtually null, but I don't find this difficult to believe, and I sincerely hope the Archbishop does issue an apology and takes a stand on this.

However, I disagree with Peter Tatchell on the issue of gay marriage.

Tatchell says that Welby is homophobic because, "Homophobia has come to mean more than an irrational fear for gay people. It includes support for anti-gay discrimination and the denial of equal rights to people who are LGBT".  In other words, Tatchell is saying that Welby is "homophobic" because he opposes gay marriage.

I do not agree with the way Tatchell uses the word "discrimination", but I particularly resent this definition of the word "homophobia". Homophobia is an ugly word that no caring, socially responsible person wants to be associated with and using it in this way seems to me to be a clever, deliberate, and also extremely unfair campaigning tactic. Fear of this word massively closes down the debate, because anyone who doesn't want to risk being branded with it is now forced - at the very least - to keep their opinions to themselves.

I am not comfortable with gay sexual relationships - for reasons I don't have room to explore here - but I don't think they should be legally prevented. It follows therefore that I am in some ways less comfortable (but also in some ways more - not room to explain here!) with gay civil partnerships, but again, I don't think they should be legally prevented.

I am however very uncomfortable with - and opposed to - the legal redefinition of the word "marriage". To my mind, this is not so much about giving gay people extra rights, as it is about changing a nation's understanding of a crucial and fundamental ideal.

"Discrimination" is not always a dirty word - we do it all the time. I "discriminate" between dogs and cats because they are different. What would we do if dogs started campaigning for example, for the "equal right" to be called "cats"? Dogs and cats are equal, but they are not the same. Equality does not equal uniformity.

"Marriage" has always been defined as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman. It has many benefits, which I obviously can't list all of here, but significantly these include the bringing together of 2 different sexes in a mystical union in which each complements the other for the benefit of the whole. This union does not just benefit the individuals concerned, it is also - at least potentially - the emotional and biological basis for a family. Apart from procreation - without which the human race would go extinct - it also creates an environment for the healthy nurture and development of new people. Both sexes play an important part in this as a child primarily bonds with first one and then the other during different stages of their psychological development.

Society's understanding of - and appreciation for - marriage, has eroded signficantly in the last few decades as individualism and the desire for self-fulfilment have become more prominent. High divorce rates and a significantly reduced level of faith in marriage have made this seem a much less attractive ideal, and therefore perhaps, one not so worth defending.

Personally though, I don't think society has ever needed marriage more than it does now, and redefining it in this way will only lead - harmfully I believe - to increased confusion as to its fundamental purpose and value.

I do not think this makes me a homophobe!


  1. I feel the need to add an addendum.

    I always struggle to write about this subject, and yet I do because it is a subject I feel strongly about and I don't feel that my perspective on it is otherwise well represented. That is not to say though, that I feel like I have it all figured out, and for me there is always a certain amount of tension involved.

    On the one hand, I stand by my conclusions above about marriage. I know I'm in the minority on this, from a western cultural perspective, but I really do believe sex is about 2 people of different genders becoming "one flesh", as it says in Genesis, and that sex should therefore not be divorced from love or commitment. I also don't believe that 2 men or 2 women can become one flesh in the same way, because we're talking about a "one flesh" that incorporates the best of both genders - and can hence produce new life - and isn't just more of the same.

    On the other hand, I do struggle with the logical implications of this for anyone who finds themself to be gay. If gay people can't get "married", and marriage and sex are (ideally, if not legally) inseparable, then where does that leave a gay person? For any gay person who accepts my point of view, there are only 2 possible options:

    1. Try to find some sort of "cure". This is extremely controversial and most of society now seems to think this is nothing more than a cruel trick being played by those who can't accept people being gay. I personally think there's more to it than this, but there are significant issues with this nonetheless and much debate about whether or not these programs ever really have any positive effect.

    2. Accept a life of celibacy. Not only that, but accept that the sexual desires that you have not only can't be fulfilled but were never meant to be, and are not in line with God's intentions for human sexuality. This is an incredibly tough call! If I wanted to defend it I could say that I, as a heterosexual person, have many desires of my own that I know don't line up with God's ideals and which I will likely never be rid of - my own pride and selfishness would be the best examples. These run incredibly deep - deeper even perhaps than my sexuality - and are very core parts of my identity. I have to contend with these (and often fail to do so) every day. I don't know whether that sounds convincing to you or not - for me it helps, but it still doesn't seem entirely fair!

    So there you are - I haven't entirely resolved this yet, one way or the other, and maybe I never will. I do however still feel the way I feel about marriage, and feel strongly that this needs to be defended. I would feel happier about it though, if I could find a way of doing this that didn't make life more difficult than it is already for those who find themselves to be gay!

  2. I can understand the marriage debate is a difficult one for many christians. I have many friends in same sex relationships and I see them as just as "married" as I am and as a christian and a human being I totally support gay marriage. Through being involved in LGBT Christian movements, I've seen the deep wounds the church can sometimes inflict on LGBT people. I am in the unfortunate position of not being able to be a member of a church anymore because I feel so strongly opposed to the Church's treatment of gay people. I attend church occasionally now, but am without the support of full or involved church membership because of my feelings about this issue and that is a great sadness to me. That decision not to be part of the church is however my choice! I also understand other people have strong convictions which are different from mine, and I don't think it is helpful to use words like "homophobe" or "bigot" in this matter (although someone once told me gay people should be stoned to death- have to say that I do think that did show an irrational hatred for gay people!)
    On the issue of feeling uncomfortable with gay sex- I feel uncomfortable thinking of a lot of (most of? all of?) the things other people do in bed whether they are married, heterosexual, gay whatever! So I don't think about it! Anyhow, what do gay people do in bed? I think they all do different things anyhow, and there are some straight people who have anal sex (if that was what you were alluding to?)
    I think it is sad this has become such an issue. I honestly don't think who we love should be an issue, more HOW we love. I don't mean how we love sexually either - but how we show a Christ like love for others that equals or exceeds our self love.

  3. Suem - am happy to accept that anyone who thinks gay people should be stoned to death is a homophobe and a bigot!

    I'm sorry you feel the way you do about the church, but I think I can understand why you do. I wonder if it's possible for you to imagine being in fellowship with other Christians who disagree with you on this but are able to do so without hating people who are gay? Or whether that seems impossible to you, or you simply can't stomach being in a church that believes differently about this issue? I don't know if it helps, but there are a lot of Christians out there that do agree with you, and depending on where you live I wouldn't be surprised if there are some somewhere near you?

    I agree that love is the most important thing, but for me sexual love is only a sub-set of this. Marriage is a particular type of relationship that is specifically centred on sexual love, not just love in the broader sense, and I believe there are meant to be boundaries to this, such as the fact that it is a life-long, exclusive commitment between 2 people. As I understand it, which is where we differ, it should be 2 people of different and complementing genders, otherwise what you have is a different kind of thing which isn't able to satisfy what I think is a full understanding of what a marriage should be.

  4. Hi Dan, no it's got nothing to do with the people in the church that I do sometimes attend, they are really nice and I've never heard anyone there say anything hateful. Nor do I have a problem with people holding strongly held convictions which are different from mine. It is the church of England as an institution and its inflexible "official" position on the issues and its hypocrisy that makes me feel uncomfortable. It is also the issue of my own church as was (Anglican) still not having managed to get agreement on women as bishops. The Church has to be as it is and make its decisions on these matters- I just don't feel it has a place for someone with my views (and my gender) to fully belong with integrity.

  5. Fair enough Suem, and I think it's good that you're standing by your conscience. These are difficult issues to deal with, especially when we disagree. I guess it must feel like a big wrench for you to have disassociated yourself from the Anglican church, but if you're following your heart then it sounds like you've done the right thing.

    For myself, I came to the conclusion a long time ago that the "church" in the sense the Bible describes it is actually more of a relational thing which transcends all of our man-made institutions in any case. (in fact the word "church" doesn't appear at all in the Greek, only in our modern translations. The original word "ecclesia" was a secular word which at the time didn't carry all of those religious and institutional connotations!)

  6. It is a wrench, I'd ideally like to be a full member and to be involved.I still go every few weeks and I attend at the Quakers about twice a month. So I sort of hang around the edges. That's my compromise because I do like my local church and don't want to give up going completely.I go in order to worship- my main source of fellowship (the relational thing) is through inclusive and LGBT groups , there's only one or two people at my church that I know well.
    But I think I can get a bit intense about these issues because of hearing the " church horror stories" of some friends in same sex relationships; I maybe need to step back and let things go a bit! Thanks anyhow:)


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