[The following is edited from an essay by Dr. Roy Clements. For 20 years, Dr. Clements was senior pastor of one of Cambridge, England’s leading evangelical churches. A much sought after conference speaker and widely read read author, he established a ministry that opened up the wonders of God’s Word to countless thousands in the UK, the USA and all around the world. His preaching has been called “Christian teaching at its best” and “powerful exposition of the gospel of God – spiritual nourishment for believers everywhere.” But that was before he was known to be gay.]
Christians who are opposed to homosexuality and homosexual relationships increasingly complain that they find it difficult to express their objections on this issue without being labeled a “homophobe”. To some extent, the complaint may be justified. But in many cases, the charge of prejudice is one these Christians bring upon themselves either by the content of their opinions or the way in which they are communicated. For those who would like to avoid the charge, following is some helpful advice.
Bear in mind that your words will be heard not just by those who support your opinions but also by gay Christians who are included in your remarks. Gay people have been victims of persecution and discrimination for a long time and in particular, from the Church — the one place on earth where grace, love and fairness ought to be the theme of life for them. You are therefore addressing a community that has become habituated to abuse and contempt. So it should not be surprising if they tend to assume that all those who speak hostile words against homosexuality share the homophobic prejudice they have become accustomed to.
Try putting yourself in the shoes of a gay Christian and reflect on how they are likely to understand your words. The words we choose and the stereotypes we endorse can reveal the presence of prejudice buried so deep in our vocabulary that we do not even recognize its offensive potential. A little pre-emptive tact in this area will go a long way.
Prejudice by definition is irrational. It feeds on superstitious taboos, distorted caricatures and plain old-fashioned ignorance. All these factors contribute to homophobia. Most gay Christians find it impossible to understand the reason for the Church’s traditional negativism towards their relationships. This is especially so with those under age 35 today, for whom homosexuality is no longer an issue. They put it in the same category of embarrassing church blunders such as anti-Semitism, racism and the crusades. To them the antigay stance among some Christians seems as ludicrously out-of-date as images of Governor George Wallace standing on the school steps of the University of Alabama, preventing James Hood from entering because he was black. To them it is so utterly irrational. Therefore, if you want to avoid this charge, make sure your opinions are rigorously argued.
For example, gay people are often told their behavior is “unbiblical” — to which they reply, “unbiblical according to whom?” It is undeniable that there are biblical texts that have traditionally been understood to mean that all expressions of homosexuality are wrong. But tradition has proven a notoriously dangerous guide throughout church history.
Moral imperatives are only convincing if they are perceived to make sense. Jesus himself countered the onerous legalistic interpretations of the Pharisees and others of his day with his assurance that the whole of our moral duty could be summed up in two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor. The experience of gay Christians, however, is that their committed relationships breach neither of these prime directives. They reason that the biblical texts that appear to condemn homosexuality reflect specific kinds of activity in the ancient world that did violate the two laws of love either because they were associated with idolatry (against the love of God) or exploitative and abusive (against the love of neighbor). Those who wish to insist that homosexuality is “unbiblical” must therefore demonstrate what it is about same-sex relationships that make them wrong. Posturing that does not get beyond “the Bible says so” smacks of the crudest form of fundamentalist obscurantism.
Most importantly, if you are determined to insist that homosexuality should be treated as a sin, you must provide some rational evidence of the harm it does. All we are often told in this connection is that it damages “the family”. But gay Christians do not understand the logic of this charge. Is the implication that millions of young people would choose homosexuality as an alternative to heterosexual marriage if the Church repealed its ban? Such an idea is utterly ridiculous. What then is it about homosexuality that is so dangerous that it must be eliminated from the Church at all costs? You must at least make an effort to explain this rationally.
Prejudice is invariably discriminatory. It selects a certain group of people as the object of its loathing and ignores others. It seems to the gay community that in targeting them, Christians are displaying precisely this kind of selectivity. They observe that a strong case can be made — both from tradition and scripture — against usury, abortion and divorce. But Christians do not seem to be mounting public campaigns to have bankers, gynecologists and divorcees excommunicated or excluded from public ministry. Why are gays singled out? If homosexuality is a particularly serious crime, once again, we must know why.
There is a long history of Christian minorities campaigning for their “rights”. Protestants and Catholics did so in the 16th century. Anabaptists and Quakers did so in the 17th century. Slaves did so in the 18th and 19th centuries. Women did so in the 20th century. In each case, the authority of the Bible was invoked in order to prevent change. Yet everybody now recognizes that these minorities had a just cause and should in no way have yielded to the institutionalized intimidation that sought to silence their protests. Is it not reasonable to believe that gay people may be the latest in this list of groups who have had to fight irrational prejudice?
Lastly, it is always easier to identify arrogance in others than in oneself. There is no doubt that some pro-gay activists lack humility, or even courtesy. However, there is a more dangerous form of arrogance than simple bigheadedness. Prejudice is particularly menacing when it is coupled with an arrogant assertion of absolute certainty.
Therefore, if you want to avoid being called a homophobe you must demonstrate: the SENSITIVITY that chooses tactful words; the RATIONALITY that offers arguments rather than assertions; the CONSISTENCY that expresses equal indignation about other social issues; and the HUMILITY to admit that you might be wrong.
You may complain that pro-gay speakers and writers do not show such consideration to you. This may be true. But however unfair their misrepresentation of your views may have been, the situation is not analogous. Christian gays are not trying to eject you from the Church or from ministry; you are trying to eject them. In law, a verdict of “Not Guilty” requires only the establishment of “reasonable doubt”. Even if you feel the case against gay people has been proved, there are other members of the jury who are less convinced. No one wishes to shut you up, but what you say and how you say it makes a huge difference.