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Bishop Tutu’s Homophobic God

I had the remarkably good fortune to get to meet Bishop Desmond Tutu a few years ago and be part of a small group of people to sit and talk with him for a few hours. Tutu recently stirred up some controversy by declaring that he would never worship a homophobic God and would rather go to hell than to heaven with such a God.

“I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place,” Archbishop Tutu said at the launch of the Free and Equal campaign in Cape Town.

“I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.”

Archbishop Tutu said the campaign against homophobia was similar to the campaign waged against racism in South Africa.

“I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level,” he added.

This is very admirable, of course, and I applaud him for his strong stand for justice and equality. I did the same in person when we spoke. And he said to me then that he fights for equality because he is absolutely certain that if Jesus were alive today, that is what he would be doing. And I told him that though we start from very different premises, we end up at the same place and working for the same goals. And I think that’s important. I will gladly work with those I disagree with on religion when it comes to freedom, equality and justice. And the person who made that experience possible for me is a very close and beloved friend and one who fights tirelessly for those things.

But the truth is that I still think there is a problem here theologically. Because if you really don’t believe that God is homophobic then I think you are forced into either very strained and incoherent interpretations of the Bible — the commandment to stone gay people to death is pretty unequivocal, and no I do not buy the many fanciful ways to make it mean something it clearly does not mean — or into believing that the Bible isn’t really the word of God, or both.

Even if you believe that Jesus came and did away with all that Old Testament barbarism, the fact still remains that, if the Bible is reliable and accurate, God did command the death penalty for gays. And for women who aren’t virgins on their wedding day (but not men, of course). And for women who don’t cry loudly enough when they’re raped. So either God really did command those things or he didn’t, in which case how do we know that anything else said in the Bible is true?

These are precisely the questions that I pondered when I was in the midst of leaving Christianity. I could never find a coherent and reasonable answer to them, either from conservative or liberal theology. Either the God of the Bible is a barbaric tyrant or the people who wrote the Bible lied when they claimed God had spoken to them and commanded such things. Neither option allowed me to be an intellectually consistent Christian, so I left that faith behind.

I have dear friends who remain liberal Christians and do wonderful work on the many causes I care about. I applaud them for it, as I applaud Bishop Tutu for doing the same. Ultimately, I care what you do far more than I care what you believe. But I still don’t think their beliefs are really consistent or compelling.

Comments

  1. says

    That’s the problem with being infinite. The sooner people discover you and start worshiping you, the sooner it gets recorded that you demanded they perform unspeakable acts of cruelty in your name, and then– assuming at least some of those worshipers stick around– that stuff will come back to bite you in your heavenly ass. John Kerry thought people called him a flip-flopper!

  2. Matt G says

    I met him once too, but just shook his hand. I was a senior in high school, and he was the commencement speaker at the University of Rochester. My father, a Unitarian Universalist minister, got a call from a minister friend to tell him that Tutu was flying into the private part of the Rochester airport. We all hopped into the car and were among the dozen people who greeted him. A very charismatic person, and one of the “good guys” of Christianity. If he’s going to publicly challenge some of the more odious aspects of the Bible, more power to him.

  3. says

    Same-sex attraction is one of the few times women get off easier than men. The death penalty is proscribed for a man who lays with a man, but it doesn’t say anything about a woman laying with a woman. The only clear reference to lesbians is Romans 1:26 – “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.”

    Of course, this is largely because it would go against the idea that women exist solely to serve men, so the concept of women not needing men would have been unthinkable.

  4. slc1 says

    Desmond Tutu is a two fisted Israel basher and racist anti-semite whose support of divestment campaigns and boycotts are nothing but an attempt to force Israel to commit suicide. He’s just like the Christian pastors in Germany in the 1930s who supported Frankenberger’s campaigns against the Jews.

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4107913,00.html

    Money quote:

    Tutu’s cassock masks a long, hateful history of ugly intolerance toward the Jewish people and Israel. Under a new guise, the Nazi appeal “Kauft nicht bei Juden…” (Don’t buy from Jews) is back.

  5. says

    @slc1 #5 – Because trying to hold Israel accountable for its actions — exactly the same as one might hold other secular nations for what they do — is the same as lighting the ovens all over again, right?

  6. slc1 says

    Re Gregory in Seattle

    Since Gregory is so bent out of shape about Israel’s alleged transgressions against the Palestinians, I would suggest that he visit Israel and the Gaza Strip. As an out of the closet gay man, he would not be bothered much in Israel but would be fortunate to be allowed to leave the Gaza Strip other then feet first. Homosexuality is a capital crime in the Gaza Strip and there are a number of gay men from there who have been outed and are hiding out illegally in Israel, protected by Israeli gay activist groups. They would be lynched if they returned to the Gaza Strip.

  7. exdrone says

    Meanwhile, the pope, though not personally homophobic we hear, is still willing to defer to a homophobic god. Club rules, after all.

  8. dugglebogey says

    I have always been confused by those who are discriminated against who turn and discriminate against others.

    I have always felt empathy for those who face some kind of discrimination because of the discrimination I have had to deal with for being an atheist. I definitely identify with people who are discriminated against.

    So this makes perfect sense to me.

  9. PatrickG says

    @ slc1:

    So Tutu is wrong, and we should therefore dismiss his laudatory statements condemning religious treatment of homosexuals? Surely a fair reading of your comment, since you didn’t actually, y’know, address the contents of the post.

  10. matty1 says

    Now, now SLC is under a lot of strain, hobby horses are expensive to keep stabled and need a lot of exercise. Say, for old times sake why don’t you tell use exactly what you would like to do to Tehran, bonus points if you work in the bit about how the children deserve it too.

  11. Sili says

    slc1 ,

    Desmond Tutu is a two fisted Israel basher and racist anti-semite whose support of divestment campaigns and boycotts are nothing but an attempt to force Israel to commit suicide.

    I like him better already.

  12. matty1 says

    Back to the point. I agree there is this inconsistency in Tutu’s type of Christianity but I can’t bring myself to care much. Everyone is inconsistent somewhere and I can only wish my flaws were as unimportant as having to make strained interpretations of a book.

  13. matty1 says

    Not to mention they are only strained if you assume the bible contains actual commands from God. Liberal Christians tend to see it more as a collection of people’s idea’s about God inspired only in the sense we might say an artwork is inspired by an event and something they can dismiss any part of since God didn’t actually compose it.

    Of course that does then raise the question of why they value it more than any other book, many of which are more readable and contain better morals but it does take away any requirement to harmonise every passage.

  14. slc1 says

    Re Patrick G @ #11

    It would certainly be nice if Tutu would condemn anti-homosexual bashing in the Gaza Strip and Iran as assiduously as he denounces Israel.

    Re Sili @ #13

    Shorter Sili: Frankenberger was right.

  15. matty1 says

    And we have a winner. Mister Godwin to the white courtesy phone please, the white courtesy phone Mister Godwin.

  16. bobcarroll says

    My concept of the bible -both testaments- is that the writers were trying to understand god’s actions /requirements, mostly without success. When I suggested this to my Rabbi, he said:
    yes, we all have been trying over and over, and getting it wrong every time. So much for inerrancy!.

  17. PatrickG says

    @ slc1, #16:

    I’m guessing you’d like your very own pony, too.

    Did someone ask him about this and you found his reply wanting? Did he elsewhere condone anti-homosexual bashing in those places? Are you honestly going to jump on him for focusing on South Africa in a speech in and about South Africa?

    Really, all I see is you immediately jumping in at a trigger word and spewing opinions about something that has no bearing on the topic at hand. Seriously, dude, if you want to raise these topics and get people to actually engage with you, you might not want to be so damn obsessive.

    Probably I just hate Israel, right?

    Back on topic: similar to Ed, I have liberal Christian friends. They tend to get around the biblical problems by throwing away inerrancy and basically regarding biblical tradition as interesting historically (and in a very negative historical light), but having no bearing on their personal faith. In short, they’re keeping their faith while ditching the Bible, and they’re perfectly comfortable with that. Seems a bit strange to me, but they’re good people and … whatever floats their boat, I guess.

    Regarding Tutu’s statements: it’s nice to have public figures — whatever their other viewpoints — espousing human rights, particularly against expectations.

  18. thomasmorris says

    One thing’s for sure: Bishop Tutu’s anti-Semitism problem certainly isn’t something that wouldn’t be solved by two Tsar Bomba hydrogen bombs. That’ll show ‘em! (And the tens of millions of other people that are unfortunate enough to live in the same country.)

  19. otrame says

    You’ve been hanging out with the evangelical nutbars too much, Ed. Most liberal Christians consider the Bible to be a book written by men. Some believe parts are inspired, some don’t. Sure, they get a little wobbly about how much any given part should be taken seriously, but they can conveniently pick and choose the fluffy bits and ignore the rock-throwing parts.

    Which is fine with me, honestly. Yes, I think they are wrong–and rather silly–but they don’t generally use their religion as an excuse to hurt other people. I’m okay with that.

    I am especially okay with someone like Tutu saying something like that so emphatically and publicly. Good for him.

  20. Olav says

    Ed:

    But I still don’t think their beliefs are really consistent or compelling.

    It’s a fool’s errand to go look for consistency in any sort of religious belief. There isn’t a requirement that “faith” needs to be consistent. Only fundamentalists make claims of consistency, and we already know they are wrong about everything. So they are at least consistent in that ;-)

  21. Michael Heath says

    Desmond Tutu:

    “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place,” Archbishop Tutu said at the launch of the Free and Equal campaign in Cape Town.

    This is as idiotic as Billy Joel’s idiotic lyrics in Only the Good Die Young. If we’re going to go with the description of Hell as its portrayed in the Bible, I’d bet everything I own on Tutu begging for Heaven in less than 10 seconds, where the Bible promises an eternity of horrific suffering.

    Desmond Tutu:

    “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.”

    This is an arguable position even for believers. Submit if you believe in a judging god; but to remain objectively moral, one would have to regret such an evil god exists as the one described in the Bible. To worship*, i.e., celebrate, such a god requires demonstrable evil on the behalf of the worshiper, that plus a massive amount of avoidance and denialism regarding the character of a god who promises to punish his creation for eternity.

    *”worship” – adoration, reverence, honor

  22. says

    Jeez Michael, he’s an older man trying to make a point dramatically. Give the guy a fucking break and try to see his point within the context of a personal world and a personal history and an audience very much unlike us.

  23. Michael Heath says

    Dr. X writes:

    Jeez Michael, he’s an older man trying to make a point dramatically. Give the guy a fucking break and try to see his point within the context of a personal world and a personal history and an audience very much unlike us.

    Desmond Tutu’s rhetoric becomes far more idiotic when we constrain it to his specific audience. Do you not understand the threat of Hell that audience regards as true? To introduce that threat actually encourages his audience to amp up their hatred of gays, the exact opposite of his intentions. Mr. Tutu’s putting a marker down on which side of the debate he’s on and signaling the strength with which he holds his position; but he’s also opening the door to justify rejection of that position.

    And why promote a double standard? Because he’s on our side? I see that as tribalism, which I never find enticing.

    I don’t think we should ever defend sloppy thinking and incoherent arguments; as demonstrated here by Mr. Tutu.

  24. dingojack says

    Michael – “To introduce that threat [of hell] actually encourages his audience to amp up their hatred of gays,”

    Really? How do you know this? Can this be proven? By what method could this be proven?

    If you are going to criticise sloppy thinking ….

    Dingo

  25. anubisprime says

    For every one comment that has a vague basis in reality…they make more then a dozen which patently are not.
    Even a broken clock is spot on at least twice a day, tis a law of statistics.

    Besides where this message should be disseminated is not at some circle jerk for the great and holy who might or might not, nod sagely pretending worldly wisdom and empathy, but distributed in amongst the acolytes and congregations that could make a difference in society.

    It never is though.

    Because where it matters such a statement will be regarded as not from a true Christian.
    It is easy to be a religiously based bigoted cretin when even the words of a clergyman can be ignored if it does not suit.

    And his words will be ignored…guaranteed!

  26. says

    ““I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place,” Archbishop Tutu said at the launch of the Free and Equal campaign in Cape Town.”

    He’s assuming, of course, that the same loving GOD who let apartheid exist is even going to let him into the SAME heaven with those bigots, many of whom are rich white folks from South Africa!

  27. says

    @ slc1:
    It is hard to escape the notion that Israel is one of the more unfortunate unintended consequences of the Holocaust.
    Whenever a god gives someone a ‘right’ to some thing or some place, nastiness almost always ensues!

  28. says

    Meanwhile, the pope, though not personally homophobic we hear, is still willing to defer to a homophobic god. Club rules, after all.

    Yeah, I noticed that too. His official stance is “Who am I to judge?” while letting his Church’s doctrine and establishment do all the judging. This is the fundamental fraud behind his “People’s Pope” act: he’s just an ordinary guy at heart, therefore we can never expect him to do anything extraordinary, like confront his Church’s entrenched bogosity. But he dresses less outlandishly and rides buses, so that makes it all okay.

  29. says

    But the truth is that I still think there is a problem here theologically. Because if you really don’t believe that God is homophobic then I think you are forced into either very strained and incoherent interpretations of the Bible…

    That’s only true if you let the bigoted extremists tell you how to interpret the Bible. (And why would you do that, when you know how fucking clueless they are?) There are plenty of Christians who are perfectly capable of ignoring all the anti-gay bits, merely by using common sense and common decency. Are you really going to say their interpretation is somehow “less valid” than the extremists’ twisted nonsense?

  30. says

    Teh GAY, btw, is the “New Black”, just not in the fashion sense.

    First, they got killed for being born the way they are born*, then it was ONLY illegal and not necessarily a capital offense. Then it was legal (although still dangerous as hell) for them to BE who they are. After a while it was okay for them to live together and now, it’s okay, in a number of places for them to be almost as good as straight people.

    Will the arc for this story be as long as the one from 1865 till the present. If so, it’s gonna be tough to be gay for a long, long time.

    Although I don’t share slc1’s antipathy for Bishop Tutu or his view of the middle eastern problem, I don’t much care for the bishop. The only bishop I’ve respected in many, many years is Salvadoran Bishop Oscar Romero. The Vatican is finally moving to canonize him, 33 years after he was gunned down by agents of the Salvadoran government or agents under their protection. Of course the same article from which I learned that Romero’s up for posthumous demi-urge status:

    http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/slain-archbishop-romero-of-el-salvador-moved-closer-to-beatification-1.1370775

    mentions that JP the Deuce is prolly gonna get canonized this year, as well.

    * And, unfortunately, still are in many places.

  31. says

    The only bishop I’ve respected in many, many years is Salvadoran Bishop Oscar Romero. The Vatican is finally moving to canonize him, 33 years after he was gunned down by agents of the Salvadoran government…

    Yeah, they’re canonizing Romero, Pope John XXIII, and Pope JP II — while repudiating and running away from the actions that made all three of those people so popular.

  32. says

    @35:

    I don’t know enough about Bishop Romero, aside from the fact that he was assassinated by a bunch of complete assholes, to say much about him.

    PJ XXIII seems to have been a decent man.

    JP the Deuce and Pope Benny–fuck ‘em.

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