How to Avoid Being Called a Homophobe

[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.

Be Sensitive

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.

Be Rational

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.

Be Consistent

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?

Be Humble

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.

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About Alex Haiken

Born to a Jewish family in New York City, I came to faith in Christ in 1982 after trying to disprove the Bible. I found so much evidence in support of the claims of Jesus and the Bible that it required more faith to reject it than to believe it. I hold a Master’s degree from Westminster Theological Seminary and among other things am a lecturer, teacher, blogger and conference speaker. I came out as gay at a young age but was taught when I came to faith that I could not be both Christian and gay. I served for a time as a leader of an ex-gay ministry but shifted my views after recognizing that when the few passages generally appealed to in this debate are examined more closely and in context, the traditional anti-gay interpretations do not hold up to scrutiny. I learned that the ex-gay route is a scripturally unsound mirage, a specious illusion that deceitfully draws people not to a life-giving oasis but to a deeper and deeper spiritual desert. Seeing the immense need for education in this area, I began to speak and write about my experience and new-found convictions. I am also passionate about helping the Church better understand her rich Jewish roots; helping other Jewish people understand Jesus as their Jewish Messiah; and helping other gay people integrate a theologically sound, committed Christian faith with their sexuality. It is my hope that the reflections in this blog will prompt you to explore the paths they suggest, leading to your own more eloquent thinking, exploration and action. If you want, visit the “Contact” page and let me know what you think.
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6 Responses to How to Avoid Being Called a Homophobe

  1. We are a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community. Your website offered us with valuable information to work on. You have done an impressive job and our whole community will be thankful to you.

  2. skeptigirl says:

    I am not gay but sometimes I feel terrified that God is the sexist, homophobic, pro slavery beast some people make Him out to be. Usually I feel the confidence in my heart and feel it when I pray but sometimes this fear creeps in and I wonder. I could not serve a God like that and I cannot become an atheist just because God might be evil. I guess what I am asking is: Do you ever feel like that? I know this is not really related to your post but I have been bothered by these thoughts today and figured you might be able to help me out with your perspective.

  3. Alex Haiken says:

    Many wrestle with similar struggles. In our wrestling, however, it’s helpful to bear in mind that God always works within the culture of the day and speaks to us in language that we can understand. Concerning the “sexist” charge, for example, the social status of women in the ancient world was not much higher than that of slaves. Like slaves, women had virtually no rights whatsoever. In connection with this, in patriarchal biblical culture marriage was about “ownership”. The groom’s father literally “purchased” the bride from her father and she became the husband’s “property”.

    If one considers this and then observes how respectfully and compassionately Jesus treats women in the New Testament, one can begin to get a sense of how counter-cultural this was to the norm of the day. It was downright revolutionary, in fact. In a world where men “owned” their women, men were now commanded to love their wives, not just in some general or abstract sense, but to “love their wives as Christ loved the church”. There is no higher love or demonstration of respect and devotion than this.

    As to the homophobic charge, I address this in much more detail in this blog. I submit that the only way to buy into the notion that God is “sexist, homophobic and/or pro slavery” is to buy into false notions of who God is that have been passed down to us but are contrary to what He has revealed about Himself in Scripture.

    But if one is “often skeptical but usually too lazy to do anything about it”, as your blog subtitle suggests, then one runs the risk of remaining saddled with false beliefs passed down to us or as the Apostle Paul refers to it, we’ll be “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine” without ever coming to a knowledge of the truth. We’ll have a God made in our own image. God promised in the Hebrew Scriptures, “You will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). This shows that God wants to be known for who He is, not merely our best guess at who He might be. The catch is the “all your heart” part. Like most things of value in life, this requires some time and work on our part. And it implies that to truly find God and know about his true character, we have to be willing to give up our own prejudices and preconceptions, should they turn out to be untrue. I hope this helps a bit.

  4. skeptigirl says:

    Thank you for responding. My blog title is a bit more of a joke than anything. I am lazy but not really when it comes to skepticism. It was just the first thing that came to mind when I first set up my blog, so very long ago. It has changed a lot since then. I am mostly skeptical of people’s theological interpretations. I grew up Assemblies of God Pentecostal and became sick of the lies everyone perpetuated and were unwilling to question. I mean, Assemblies of God are no worse or better than many denominations, I am just familiar with their lies and intentional misinterpretations.

    • Alex Haiken says:

      Skepticism can be a good thing. God through the prophet Isaish says, “Come and let us reason together” (Isa 1:18). He gives us credit for being the rational, thinking human beings He created us to be. So now you get to think things through for yourself, separate myth from reality — that is to say, separate from you’ve been taught what is actually true vs. what is not — and without throwing out the baby with the bath water, as so many others have done. The latter sadly conclude that if the Bible doesn’t say exactly what they were told it says, then any and all turning to Jesus isn’t worth anything at all.

  5. These are good guidelines. I’d love to see something on this subject directed for the LGBT community, too. We use the word “homophobia” because there really is a fear there. Some use the word only as an insult, and make no attempt to ease the fear.

    Those who do not support gay relationships get called names like “homophobe” and “fascist”. Absolutely, we could all use more tact. But being told you aren’t allowed to say what you believe–or even believe what you believe–incites fear. Some fear that gay people want to take away their right to believe and to speak freely. Trying to respond without anger and name calling, and really listening, can help to ease that fear. That’s easier said than done, when under attack, but it can make a difference.

    In the fight for equality, some gay people do things deliberately to shock, like wearing outrageous outfits and expressing overtly sexual behavior at inappropriate times. (I equate this to the bra burnings of the women’s rights movement.) That causes and encourages real fear. Since many still do not understand that sexual orientation is not linked to sexual violence, inappropriate sexual aggressiveness is interpreted as a physical threat, either to self or to the weaker members of our society. Saving the revealing clothes and shocking behavior and comments for organized protests can help prevent *some* homophobia. And some is better than none.

    Part of loving your neighbor as yourself is loving your enemies. Respect and love goes farther than insults and aggression on both sides.

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