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Oct 06 2011

Homophobia vs the Bible

I was raised in a nominally Christian home, became a “born again” believer in my mid teens, and remained a devout, conservative, evangelical Christian until my early 40′s. Some of you may come from similar backgrounds, but for those that don’t, I wanted to take a minute and present a Bible passage that colors my vocabulary somewhat. It’s a passage that, properly understood, can give us a way of (pardon the term) “framing” the case against homophobia. That’s important because expressing our case in these terms may be meaningful and powerful to the people who most desperately need to be persuaded.

The passage is Galatians 5: 19-23, and it goes like this:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Deeds of the flesh versus fruits of the Spirit. The first list is bad, the second list is good. And it’s a frequently-memorized passage, sometimes put to music to help believers remember it. Let’s compare these two lists to the kinds of behaviors we see in those who let homophobia dictate their treatment of gays, shall we?

TL;DR: it’s not going to be pretty for the homophobes…

Bear with me here; I know a lot of you are going to want to say you don’t believe the Bible, and don’t think its teachings are really relevant. That’s fine, go ahead and say that if you like, but remember that we’re dealing with a lot of people who do respect the Bible, and if they realize that their own Scriptures are inconsistent with anti-gay bigotry, it might “plant a seed” as they say. So I’m going to make this point in Biblical terms, devil’s advocate-style. Here’s the list again, with a few terms highlighted (in case you want to skim):

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

I could have highlighted immorality, if we include the concept that it’s immoral to oppress minorities just for being different. But that might be a bit too intangible to lean on (and the word is likely specific to sexual immorality anyway). Look at what I did highlight: enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, etc. Ever see a “marriage defender” spew out an angry outburst, full of enmity and strife against gays? (Ever see one that didn’t?) Or how about envying those “greedy” gays who want “special privileges” (like being allowed to practice their sexuality as freely as everyone else)? Or look at the homophobes breaking up into factions and dissensions even among themselves over trivial issues? And that’s above and beyond dividing society into liberal vs. conservative, into haves vs. have-nots, into good vs. evil, into saved vs. sinner, etc.

Paul, of course, is echoing earlier teachings by Jesus himself:

“[T]he things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughtsmurder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

This time I am going to highlight “theft,” because even though robbing someone of their human rights and dignity is an intangible theft, it is a greater crime, not a lesser one. As for slander and false testimony, look how hard it is to get a bigot to admit that homosexuality is not just an arbitrary choice. In Christian terms, anti-gay bigotry—and the homophobia that motivates it—has “works of the flesh” written all over it.

But there’s more. Look back at the “fruits of the Spirit.” These are the higher virtues, the things that good, moral, righteous Christians need to pursue. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—and every last one of them gets violated and trashed in the pursuit of anti-gay bigotry. Love? Yeah, as lip service only. Jesus also said, “you will know them by their fruits,” and their fruits may be a lot of things, but “loving” ain’t one of them. Joy? How can you be joyful about persecuting people? (Unless you’re really evil, but that’s still works of the flesh.)

Peace, patience, kindness? Let’s pass an amendment defining marriage as the union of two non-Christians, and see how they like being on the receiving end of their brand of “kindness” (sarcastic suggestion, of course). Faithfulness? Like when a family turns their back on their own child/sibling for coming out as gay? Gentleness? These people have gotten 30 of the 50 United States to pass constitutional amendments declaring that gays will never be allowed to experience the fulfillment of their sexuality—leaving fornication and frustration as gays’ only available options. If that’s the best you can do for “gentleness,” you should leave the fruits of the Spirit to someone who can make better use of them.

Self control is possible, but only if homophobes actively oppose the carnal impulses of their fleshly nature. As Paul says a couple verses earlier, “the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another.” Homophobia kills the fruits of the Spirit (as Paul lists them)—it’s a hostile, fleshly, anti-spiritual force. Self control means joining the Spirit in opposing homophobia, and not giving in to its angry, envious, factious impulses.

Of course, we need to tend to the elephant in the living room: what about immorality? Don’t gay rights show up as first on the list of the works of the flesh? I’m going to say no, because the difference between gays and straights is essentially a difference in how you fall in love. There are other differences too, of course, but they are all either consequences of how you fall in love, or else they’re irrelevant to the issue of sexual morality. It is immoral to deny an entire class of people the right to sexual fulfillment just because they happen to fall in love differently than someone else does, and this immorality is compounded when you further deny them the right to get married. Marital sex is not immoral, and by denying marriage to gays, you are leaving fornication as the only available option for sexual fulfillment. In other words, anti-gay bigotry does not prevent sexual immorality, it effectively mandates it.

So there you have it, translated into concepts familiar to conservative Christians. I’ve gone a bit long, but I wanted you all to understand a little better where I’m coming from here. When I call homophobia “natural,” I’m calling it the opposite of spiritual, virtuous, good, etc. I’m calling it the enemy of morality and righteousness. And I can back it up Scripturally.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    John Morales

    DD,

    [1] When I call homophobia “natural,” I’m calling it the opposite of spiritual, virtuous, good, etc. [2] I’m calling it the enemy of morality and righteousness. [3] And I can back it up Scripturally.

    1. The only way that makes sense is if ‘natural’ means the opposite of abstracta, i.e. concreta.

    2. Then you’re saying that the natural is the enemy of morality and righteousness; hence, morality and righteousness must be unnatural.

    3. I’m pretty sure pretty much any claim can be backed up Scripturally, so that’s no huge achievement.

    (I’m pretty sure the Babble calls homosexuality an “abomination”; hardly something to be tolerated, one would think)

    (Theologic has a weird jargon, I grant)

  2. 2
    raymoscow

    Wait — are you suggesting that parts of the Bible teach that one shouldn’t treat other people like shit just because they are different?

    That’s contrary to everything Jesus never taught!

    You’ve got to remember that most US Christians have no problem bombing people who never threatened us in any way, and yet they claim to live by the words of a guy who supposedly taught “turn the other cheek”.

  3. 3
    Randomfactor

    (I’m pretty sure the Babble calls homosexuality an “abomination”; hardly something to be tolerated, one would think)

    Alongside, of course, dozens of other “abominations” now enjoyed by modern-day Christians, from shrimp cocktail to women’s pantsuits.

    To me, the big point being missed by modern-day Christianity is the fact that it’s not meant to be applied externally. It’s a mirror to help remove your own flaws, not a telescope to spot others’.

    I recall something about a mote and a plank…

  4. 4
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    This is really messed up. Are you suggesting that this division between flesh and spirit actually has some merit? Even in use as metaphor it’s seriously warped.


    No matter what passage you bring out to demonstrate that Christians are being immoral for not supporting equality for everyone, without regard to sexual preference* or gender identity, it means nothing. If “love thy neighbour as thyself” isn’t enough ‘framing’ this long exegesis isn’t going to succeed either.

    For every passage you bring forth, there’s a counter argument with a supporting passage for that opposing position. They’re used to picking and choosing what admonitions are valid and which aren’t and they can always find a justification for applying this rather than that.

    *i.e. sexual preferences and behaviours among consenting adults obviously in this context

    1. 4.1
      Deacon Duncan

      @Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto

      Are you suggesting that this division between flesh and spirit actually has some merit? Even in use as metaphor it’s seriously warped.

      No, I’m saying that it’s possible to phrase the case against homophobia in terms that will be familiar and meaningful to conservative, Bible-believing Christians. That’s not to say that you can call in to Focus on the Family and tell Dr. Dobson that homophobia promotes the works of the flesh and violates the works of the Spirit, and have Dobson say “Gee, you’re right, I should stop.” But if you ever did, there might be more than a few in the radio audience who would say, “Hmm, that is a valid point…”

      1. John Morales

        But they’d only take it seriously if you are taking it seriously, and to take it seriously would be hypocritical for such as I.

        The alternative to being disingenuous is to qualify your challenge, by saying something along the lines of ‘according to your own scriptures, such-and-such’, whenceupon you’re immediately an outsider and automatically fail; you’ll face the “Courtier’s Reply”.

        (I speak from experience)

      2. John Morales

        OK, not always the Courtier’s Reply; I’ve had The devil can quote Scripture for his own ends thrown at me.

  5. 5
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    @Ibis3:
    There really is no position whatsoever that cannot be justified by Ye Olde Holey Bible. It’s the great big book of multiple choice and situational ethics. Sometimes it’s okay to slaughter innocent children. Sometimes it’s okay to rip fetuses out of the womb and smash them on rocks. Sometimes it’s okay to commit genocide. Sometimes it’s okay to torture people, forever. What, at all, is ever completely forbidden?

    Oh, right. Disbelief.

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