The recent killings in Orlando, which deliberately targeted gay and trans-gender folk, rightly sent shockwaves around the world. It was an evil act carried out by a murderous individual motivated by pure hatred, and many innocent and precious lives were lost as a result. The fact that the victims were primarily from the gay and trans-gender community doesn’t make what happened any the more evil (how could it?), but it does highlight the terrible nature of prejudice and bigotry, irrespective of who or what such prejudice is targeted against. And I think it the case that this horrific tragedy demands that we give pause, as the Lord’s people, and be honest that a great many Christians have yet to think the issue of homosexuality and trans-gender issues through as clearly and as biblically as they should. This is, perhaps, a wake up call from the Lord and the place to begin.
Christians who Compromise
There are, amongst those who claim to be Christians, many who believe that sexuality is a matter of mere personal preference and not biblical command, who are consequently lax and liberal concerning sexuality and family life. They see no contradiction between their claim to be thinking ‘christianly’ and what the Bible actually teaches; that is, that sex outside of marriage is a sin, and that marriage is, by definition, between one man and one woman. I am not, of course, to be numbered amongst their ranks, affirming rather what God’s Word clearly does teach, as just defined, such position constituting the authoritative statement of what the Lord God, as very creator and originator of sexuality, has both ordained and commanded for His creation.
Christians who are Prejudiced
But it is also the case that all too many Christians, both today and throughout history, with whom I would be in agreement regarding the proposition that homosexual practise is, by very definition, sinful, have been themselves sinfully discriminatory and prejudiced against those who embrace such a lifestyle. Indeed, until relatively recently it was actually illegal in Western nations (remaining so in many countries around the world) for consenting adults to indulge in such behaviour, being thus rendered prone to becoming victims of great cruelty and oppression. It is clear to me as well that this was made all the worse because occurring in a culture, whether in Great Britain, Europe as a whole or America, that is, at least in part, the result of a totally mis-guided political and social application of Christian principles which were never intended to govern the kingdoms of this world, but a kingdom that precisely isn’t. The completely unbiblical notion that the purpose of the Christian Church is to seek to bring in and establish the kingdom of God on earth though the use and application of political power is probably the most serious enduring false teaching Christians have ever come up with, and nowhere has it impacted our societies more than in the historical oppression of those who did not conform to the biblical sexual ethic. What consenting adults do privately behind closed doors regarding sexuality is not the business, or in the purview of national government. As long as no-one is being hurt, or having anything imposed on them against their will, such should be down purely to the freedom and conscience of the individual.
In the 45 years that I have followed the Lord, being placed squarely in the conservative evangelical Bible believing wing of things, I have neither believed, nor desired, that anyone should be teated badly, or in any way improperly discriminated against, on the basis of their sexuality. Every human being should be treated with respect and dignity irrespective of what their specific sins might be, and we Christians do well to remind ourselves daily that our salvation is precisely from our sinfulness against which we continue to battle daily. The Lord loves, and died for, people who are gay or trans-gender equally as He did for those who are not, and none should be loved, accepted or valued any the less for so being.
A New Thing
There is something new happening in our modern liberal Western society, and I am wondering more and more if it might actually be, in some divinely ironic way, a manifestation and outcome of what I think of as being the Lord’s ‘built-in-cause-and-effect’ judgement on the Christian Church for of its record of prejudice and bigotry. A sort of rebounding back on us of what it has traditionally done to the gay community, as well as to others. And this new thing is the increasing emergence of a completely new and re-defined understanding of what tolerance is understood to be, being no longer seen as the allowing of that of which one disapproves, but rather the absence of disapproval itself.
The traditional understanding has always been that a tolerant society allows things not universally approved of because of a recognition of the wider principle that things like freedom of speech and matters of conscience trump secondary matters such as nuances of preference regarding personal morality. Indeed, this is where the Christian Church has played a positive part historically, albeit in a somewhat inconsistent way. Many people disapprove, for example, of gambling, but would not want to see it made illegal, or for anyone to be teated badly for indulging in it. Likewise, the ever-present largely heterosexual sins of fornication and adultery. Like most Christians,, I believe them to be wrong and disapprove of them intensely, but would not for one moment wish to see anyone living in sin or committing adultery either criminalised, treated badly (except, perhaps, for the spouse they are cheating on) or discriminated against.
But of course the point we must tackle head on here is that the Christian Church has traditionally not afforded homosexually oriented sins the same ‘latitude’, either socially or ethnically, as it has heterosexual ones, hence the prejudice and wrongful discrimination against the gay and trans-gender community that I am here highlighting. And the result, as the teaching of the Bible becomes increasingly rejected by Western society, is that the accusation of being a prejudiced bigot is not, as it should be, directed at those who would want to see gay and trans-gender folk treated badly and discriminated against, and not accorded the same dignity as heterosexuals, but at those who merely disapprove of the gay lifestyle on moral grounds, even though they afford gay and trans-gender folk the same freedom, respect and dignity as they do anyone else. The Christian Church’s traditional prejudice against the homosexual lifestyle, which in the past led to even criminalisation and imprisonment, has resulted in Christians now being punished for such a shameful legacy by a back-lash whereby the same prejudice and discrimination traditionally levelled against the gay community by the Christian Church is now being levelled at Christians for merely believing the gay lifestyle to be sinful, and for upholding the concept of the traditional, biblical nuclear family. The maxim that those who live by the sword shall indeed die by the sword is well known; but now, it would appear, those who have been themselves prejudiced are increasingly becoming the discriminated against. Poetic justice indeed!
The Heart of the Matter
By way of both contrast and restitution I say without apology that I have find gay people to be amongst the friendliest and most interesting and engaging folk I have ever met, and although I would be thrilled should any come to the Lord and repent of all their sin (and not just gay sex), I do not in any way consider them to be lesser human beings than sinners who are, like myself, heterosexual. Indeed, I would, without the slightest hesitation, stand side by side in defense and protection of anyone being mocked, derided, disrespected, treated badly or oppressed in any way because they were gay or trans-gender. And should it be that any such oppressors were also professing Christians, I would not shrink from taking them to task for both their ungraciousness and hypocrisy. Had only such been the traditional Christian outlook, if only in recent times; but alas, it has not!
Everyone should realise that whenever a population is characterised by prejudice and bigotry, and oppress people because they are gay, or trans-gender, or black, or Marxist, or Muslim, or Jewish, or anything else, and we stand passively by and permit it, then how can we possibly know they won’t eventually come after us? Today it’s the gays and the Jews and the blacks and the Muslims…but tomorrow it may be equally Baptists, Republicans, Socialists, or maybe simply even those who are white!
I was raised in the milieu of a once well known, yet now rarely recalled dictum, and it was simply this: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Though obviously not a quote from the Bible, it is nonetheless absolutely biblical in what it communicates and is, in theory, an ideal that many people throughout history, Christians included, have died to both uphold and protect. Whether it be prejudice against the gay and trans-gender community from those claiming to hold to the Christian tradition, or the intolerance of modern liberals with their ever-increasing discrimination against Christians because of our moral absolutism, the issue is never the particular form that prejudice takes in any one instance, but rather prejudice and intolerance itself. There are today gay thinkers sounding exactly the same warning, who maintain that the very cause of gay rights, indeed, of civil liberty in general, has been systematically hi-jacked by those with a far broader and sinister agenda of trying to do away with freedom of speech, and the right to voice disagreement, completely. Hence the way in which mere disagreement with aspects of the the liberal agenda is being increasingly labelled, by both middle-ground politicians and respected media voices, as being in some way socially dangerous and undesirable.
The Middle Way
There are two ends of a log you can fall off, and Christians continue to launch themselves from both. On the one hand are those who completely sell out on the word of God and buy into the idea that the Lord doesn’t mind whether folk are heterosexual, homosexual, male, female or whatever, and that such things make no difference to Him. It is, of course, a ridiculous position to hold, and those who take it should be both honest and consistent enough to just throw their Bibles away and be done with it. If scripture is wrong about something as crucial as sexuality and gender, then on what possible basis can they decide what else it might or might not be right or wrong about? But on the other hand are Christians who are, and let’s just be frank about this, utterly prejudiced against the gay and trans-gender community, holding them in contempt in a way they don’t heterosexuals who transgress scripture’s teachings regarding sexual ethics. They have no desire whatever to reach out to such with God’s love and to serve them, but rather want to just condemn them out of hand and relegate them to being unworthy second-class citizens who don’t deserve to be treated with the same respect and dignity as other human beings created in the image of God. Both these positions are completely wrong. As believers we should be taking a different approach entirely; that is, simply considering those who comprise the gay and trans-gender community to be sinners who need the salvation of the Lord just like everybody else does. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul makes it clear that, as Christians, we are not to be judging those outside the church, but each other as those believers within it. To those outside the church we bring God’s love through good works and kindness and by sharing with them the gospel of grace and repentance and of what Jesus has done for them on the Cross. Being neither the way of compromise nor prejudice it is the middle way. It is how Christianity should have always been in this regard.
Our desire, should there be any way in which we can bring influence to bear in order to bring it about, should be for a society in which people are free to both disagree with other and to disapprove of each other, but whilst maintaining the utmost of mutual respect and honour. A society in which secular liberals have complete freedom, plus my personal permission, to tell me that I am wrong in my beliefs as a Christian; indeed, to positively lampoon me if they so want, just as I should have the same freedom to take issue with them over things, yet whilst actively, and quite deliberately, treasuring and safeguarding each others dignity and right so to do.
A quick word regarding so-called gay marriage, given the subject in hand. I have always, as I think every Christian should, fully supported the idea of Civil Partnerships whereby a same sex couple can enter into a formal committed relationship with the same legal rights, protections and responsibilities as does, broadly speaking, traditional marriage. (As an aside, I don’t believe marriage should have ever been a governmental matter enshrined in law in the first place. It certainly wasn’t in Jewish society and the belief that it should become so came from that same old ubiquitous Church/State error! However, because it is a matter of law as Christians we must honour the procedure. Ironically, if marriage wasn’t a matter of actual law in our societies then legal definitions of it would not be needed and the whole gay marriage issue would be a complete irrelevance!) With such an arrangement available in law it is therefore nonsensical to then proceed to legally redefine what marriage is merely so that same sex couples can be said to be married to each other as well as having the option of Civil Partnerships. By the same logic, are we to proceed to allow biological siblings to marry, or fathers and daughters or (indeed) mothers and daughters? If the only pre-requisite is mutual love plus the desire to be married then why not, by the same token, have marriages between threesomes or foursomes? Such would only be a variation on bigamy or polygamy. Are the Mormons right after all? Would it not be the case that to deny such freedoms to those who want them would be the same claimed discrimination that those who wanted gay marriage said was victimising them? What about people who want to marry their pets? (I kid you not!) Indeed, many gay people were themselves against the legal redefinition of marriage, citing exactly the same arguments as I have just outlined. They agree that, with Civil Partnerships available in law it is simply not needed, and are also acutely aware of the danger this presents to the concept of the traditional nuclear family, with which they have no quarrel, and the detrimental effect that further decline of it will have for civilised society in general.
One last point. You will have undoubtedly noticed that I have avoided using the word homophobia throughout, and I have done so simply because it is the completely wrong word to be using for the purposes for which it is employed. If arachnophobia is the fear of spiders, and agoraphobia is the fear of open spaces, then in what possible way can the word homophobia be said to describe the bigoted oppression of those who wish to see gay people oppressed and treated badly merely because of their sexual preferences? Such bigots may or may not fear gay people, but they undeniably hate them! There is a world of difference! If a gay person was trying to hurt or kill me, then I might well fear them; but I am not afraid of them, in contrast to, for example, my fear of spiders, because they are gay, but because they are trying to hurt or kill me. I fear spiders, however, just because they are spiders; but why on earth would I fear someone who means me no harm just because they are gay? (Islamophobia is another such word flying around all over the place now, and what I am arguing applies to it in exactly the same way.) I therefore find homophobia, along with its increasing number of semantic counterparts, to be the most curious of words, and as such it is utterly unhelpful to our discussion. I am, however, becoming increasingly, and quite unashamedly, phobophobic!
But what the word homophobia should definitely never be used for is to describe those who disapprove of the gay or trans-gender lifestyle, but who nevertheless totally respect and honour, as human beings made in the image of God, those who embrace it. I disapprove of adultery, but that hardly, of itself, makes me also a prejudiced and bigoted oppressor of adulterers. I am not, to invent a word of my own, adulterophobic! It is quite possible to treat with dignity and respect those with whom one takes issue regarding their personal morality. It is called tolerance, and is one of the highest aspirations for which human beings should be reaching; and no-one should be leading the vanguard in such regard, whether it be regarding those who are gay or turns-gender or anyone else, than those of us who claim to know and love the Lord.
I will be returning to these issues again in my next post!