by Pete Jermey, LGBTI Christian
Last month Justin Welby made some much publicised remarks at the Greenbelt festival about the Church of England’s attitude towards gay relationships. He stated that the church needed to love and embrace everyone, including those who see gay relationships as deeply wrong. This bold statement of inclusion was written up in the press as “hug a homophobe”, but this begs the question – is everyone who opposes same sex relationships homophobic?
This is an easy one. The answer is clearly “no”.
Homophobia can be defined as a fear/hatred of gay people. Whereas it is true that there are a great many Christians who *do* fear or hate gay people, there are also many more who, for example, oppose same sex marriage, but are not afraid or hateful towards gay people.
We all have irrational fears. I am afraid of spiders, snakes and colossal statues. I can remember going swimming as a child and seeing someone in the pool who had a limb missing. I felt fear – it was not something I had seen before and it made me feel uncomfortable. Homophobia is no different to these other fears. Although it may be harder to admit to than a fear of heights or clowns, it is still just a gut reaction to something that unnerves us. Acting out of fear can be a great survival mechanism – staying away from snakes could save my life – but it can also have a very negative impact on the object of our fear. If my mum had organised a petition to have the limbless person banned from the pool it may have made her son more comfortable, but at great cost to the other.
At the time of writing a Christian news website has the headlines “Christian Colleges dominate list of absolute worst for LGBTI students”, “Vicar likens homosexuality to child abuse” and “Leading conservative Anglican says Church of England must split to stop *contagious* gay marriage”. Additionally the site carries the story of the Bishop of Grantham who, although he has embraced the C of E’s requirement of celibacy for gay people, is under fire from some conservatives simply for admitting his orientation.
When this is our reputation amongst Christians, is it any wonder that the world sees the church as homophobic, even evil?
Of course, just because the headlines suggest prevalent aggression towards gay people does not mean there aren’t genuine and rational concerns here. What if you don’t believe LGBTI people can be genuine Christians? What if you do believe being gay to be as grave a sin as abusing children? What if you are worried that homosexuality seems to be spreading as if it is a disease?
Even if the church were able to end homophobia within itself, these concerns would still be there. Ending homophobia will not end the tensions, but there is an alternative. I think the church’s problem with gay people is not one of having irrational fears or genuine concerns, but one of withholding irrational love.
Scripture calls us time and time again to “love the enemy/alien in our midst” (Leviticus 19.33-34, Ruth 1.16-18, Ezekiel 47.21-23, Matt 5.38-48, Matt 25.35-40, Rom 12.9-21, etc), even if to do so is against our best interests – even when it costs us.
This is not the sort of “love” that comes in green ink, with the word “abomination” in CAPITALS, but the sort of love that has a positive impact on the welfare of the individual. This love is perhaps best seen in the parable of the Good Samaritan (which, given the bitter rivalry between Jews and Samaritans, seems perfectly analogous to Christian-LGBTI tension). The Samaritan’s love for the Jew cost him time, money and, almost certainly, reputation. Missing entirely from the tale is the part where the Samaritan berates the Jew for his “bigoted” religious views or the part where the Jew has to lie about his nationality as a prerequisite to receiving mercy. In contrast to that of the Samaritan, the faith of the religious leaders fails to result in mercy and is, therefore, useless. In God’s kingdom mercy is valued more highly than being right.
What if Christians took the call to irrational love seriously enough that Christian colleges were actually the best for LGBTI students, because they were the ones that loved and valued all students? What if theologians who oppose same sex marriage chose their words so as to value LGBTI people, rather than assassinate by connotation? What if the GAFCON chose to believe those who claim to be celibate and gave the benefit of the doubt to the rest of us?
Irrational love isn’t doing your best not to fear/hate someone. Irrational love is feeling those emotions, but helping the person anyway.