I believe homophobia is natural.
There, I’ve said it. Shoot me down in flames. But let me explain…
Firstly, remember: a phobia is not hatred or victimisation; it’s fear of something.
Secondly, it’s natural to be afraid of anything different. Prejudices tend to be based on ignorance about a particular culture / race / sexuality etc. We naturally flock together with people who are like-minded or similar to ourselves, and tend to keep our distance from people who are different.
Thirdly, for us straight men (I can’t speak for women), homosexuality can feel like a threat to our masculinity. Homosexuality naturally repels many of us.
Fourthly, just because a reaction’s ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s right or appropriate in a developed society.
We all have to make choices about what we do with our instinctive reactions, whether we’re talking violence, lust, racism or homophobia. Jesus often called his followers to go against such natural impulses, giving us instructions, power, and the example, to forgive, to overcome hatred with loving action, to reach out, and to break down barriers between people groups.
Thank God, many countries and cultures across the world are overcoming these barriers. Sadly, as we know from recent news on Russia in particular, the war against prejudice is far from over.
Let me tell you about my own homophobia…
My prejudice, already shaped by society’s general attitude of the day, was aggravated by my experience of hitch-hiking alone as a young man in America (see My Life’s Soundtrack Parts 4 & 5). Sometimes men would stop and offer me a lift in return for certain ‘favours’ – and would drive off when I declined. Other times, after I’d been given a lift, unaware of any ‘ulterior motives’ of the driver, I was subjected to gay or bisexual men trying to touch me up.
This led me to the conclusion that this is what gay men are like – they’re only after one thing...
…because the other common reason for prejudice, apart from fear of difference as mentioned earlier, is limited experience. The bad experience of one person or a few persons means we (subconsciously or consciously) tar all people with that quality with the same brush.
In later years, I realised: this is what some men (gay or straight) are like, objectifying other people as objects for the release of their lusts. This had nothing to do with being gay, but all to do with being men. And it’s given me, I think, a little insight into the more common experience of women who are daily objectified, used, abused and/or assaulted by men.
From homophobia to solidarity
Soon after that, I came to faith in Jesus, and all my attitudes began to shift and adjust as he changed me from the inside out.
I have a treasured memory from just after that time, just after I’d returned to England. I was sitting in a café in Lewes with a friend (who we’ll call Andrew), when this young man in his late teens revealed to me that he was gay. I was the first person he’d told. I felt nothing but honoured. No prejudice or homophobia from me.
Skip forward about 2 years – I’m not long into my nurse training, and one of the people sharing the hospital residence where I’m living is a man in his 40s (we’ll call him Jim), who had been a keen Christian in his teens, doing ministry tours of Europe with a prominent Christian leader. During this time as a teenager he was beginning to realise he was gay. Seeking some advice, as he tried to come to terms with this self-realisation, he confided in a church leader. He was subsequently rejected from his role and forced to leave the church.
Jim and I spent long hours talking about Christianity and sexuality. I learned that he had never lost his faith but had not felt able to return to church. Astoundingly, he wasn’t even bitter. Jim was a very gentle and kind man working as a health care assistant, who showed dedicated Christ-like love to the elderly patients he worked with.
Maybe it was these encounters with Andrew and Jim that not only reversed my homophobia but instilled in me a deep longing to understand the division between church and gay / lesbian people.
I know that the public perception of sexuality as one of the main issues that divide the church from wider society (as I wrote about in A Sense of Perspective), and my longing to see all people come to believe in the Father’s all-welcoming arms, have motivated me to wrestle with these questions.
Coming down off the fence
For years I’ve sat on the fence when it comes to the church’s traditional position on sexuality. My first ever blog post, Redefining Marriage, written about a year ago, reflects my indecisive stance.
I’ve now come down off that fence, partly as a result of hearing some articulate biblical arguments, such as:
This one by Matt Vines
And this shorter video.
[Readers of this post who don’t identify themselves as ‘Christian’ or ‘religious’ may be saying: “What’s all the fuss about? This question is a no-brainer! Of course there’s nothing wrong with gay relationships!” If that’s the case, please bear with us Christians who see the Bible, rather than current society norms, as our starting-point and source of ultimate inspiration.]
To sum up some of the points from these videos, mashed up with some of my own:
There are only a few verses in the Bible about homosexual activity, and they all seem to be in the context of pagan, idolatrous practices. God is love and desires our love and adoration towards him, because this is how we’re made – we function best when we live in his love. His heart is saddened, spurned, when we give our hearts to other ‘lovers’, i.e. other ‘gods’.
Homosexual and bisexual activity was often carried out by straight people in those ancient cultures, against their own nature (Romans 1:27), as part of pagan rituals and orgies, and it was those idolatrous rituals, rather than a particular sexuality, that went against God’s heart.
The Bible seems to say nothing about homosexual orientation, nor about faithful, monogamous, homosexual partnerships.
It does say a lot about love and faithfulness. Jesus said the whole will of God can be summed up in the 2 commandments to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Paul takes this even further by declaring that the whole law is fulfilled by loving one another (Romans 13:8-10). Yes, he misses out God – can you believe it!
Our love and obedience to God is entirely evidenced by treating others with respect, kindness, understanding, empathy etc.
I’m left with the conclusion that the Bible has nothing against gay or lesbian monogamy.
(That’s a very brief summary)!
But I’m the sort of person that likes a balanced argument. So here are a couple of points from ‘the other side’:
Firstly, let’s be clear that holding a Biblical understanding that homosexual practice is wrong in God’s eyes does not constitute homophobia. There are plenty of Christians who hold such views who do not condemn or judge gay people for their sexuality or their actions.
A certain objective belief does not necessarily imply a certain subjective attitude.
Secondly, there’s another important, and growing, voice in this debate, represented intelligently and graciously by a group called Living Out, for example. These are Christians who, rather than define themselves as ‘gay’, describe themselves as ‘experiencing same-sex attraction’. Affirming the traditional Christian view on homosexuality and choosing celibacy, they claim to lead fulfilled lives rooted in God’s love and loving, platonic friendships.
I have great admiration for these people, and I welcome their voice and example for others who would aspire to that choice.
At the same time, I also believe that not all gay or lesbian people who have faith in Christ are able to make such a brave and committed step, just as celibacy would not be a welcome choice for many straight people.
My ideal world
In Roj-world: all churches would of course welcome gay and lesbian people with open arms.
But further than that….anyone coming to faith in Christ and trying to work out how their faith and sexuality intersect with each other would be graciously presented with each of the different Christian viewpoints instead of being told that only one view can be correct.
They would be allowed to make up their own minds and act according to their own conclusions and conscience.
Their decision, whatever that may be, would be fully accepted and welcomed by all in the church.
Now surely that would fulfil the law of love.
Roger (or ‘Roj’) and his wife Janine have 3 lively children ranging from teenager to toddler; he goes to work for a rest. A trained nurse, he’s in his ideal job, utilising his skills and passions by running a homeless healthcare service, and learns a lot from the people he works with, including the idea that God is more inclusive than people sometimes give him credit for. To let off steam, he runs reasonably fast around the hills of Hastings (England), where he lives. Now writing for We Occupy Jesus, he’s childishly enjoying being ‘Roj of WOJ’.