Christians and Gays Part Two Homophobia and Tolerance

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Since my previous post on Christians and Gays I have read Getting Away with Murder by Duncan McNab about gay bashings and murders in Sydney  and the attitude of the police during the 1970s t0 1990s. McNab  writes,

“In some instances the perpetrators are young men unsure of their own sexuality and rather than dealing with this, they direct their confusion at gay men.” (Duncan McNab, Getting Away with Murder, Vintage, Sydney, 2017, p 33)

While Fred Nile gets a mention, there is no suggestion that the perpetrators of gay violence  were motivated by the Bible. Furthermore, no one has ever accused the NSW police of being influenced by the teachings of the Bible.

As I argued in the previous post, Australia is not a particularly Christian place, so I do not believe homophobia in Australia in the past can be largely blamed on the handful of passages in the Bible which condemn homosexuality. There are other psychological and cultural factors, namely young men who are insecure about their masculinity. Mainstream society’s attitude to homosexuality has shifted and Christians are arguably being scapegoated for what the majority of non-Christians once believed, but the underlying cause of homophobic violence – male insecurity – has not really been addressed. I also noted that those, who are most likely to carry out homophobic violence, young males, tend to be under-represented in most churches. They have no time for Christianity.

It is often overlooked but many of the countries, which persecute homosexuals, also tend to persecute Christians. There are exceptions but if we compare the first map from the website Erasing 76 Crimes showing countries where homosexuality is illegal to the second map  from Open Doors showing countries where Christians are persecuted, there is a clear overlap.

Countries where homosexuality is illegal
Countries where homosexuality is illegal
Countries where Christians are persecuted
Countries where Christians are persecuted

Nevertheless many assume that Christians are homophobic because they believe homosexuality is wrong. A 2005 report Mapping Homophobia in Australia by the Australia Institute says, “Homophobia refers to the unreasoning fear or hared of homosexuals and to anti-homosexual beliefs and prejudices.”  However, it largely ignores its own definition  and seeks to identify who is homophobic if they agree with the statement “I believe that homosexuality is immoral”. This definition of homophobia, as believing that homosexuality is immoral, is widespread today.

In an article “The Homophobic Zone” on the Tasmanian Times website Rodney Croome wrote,

“Tasmania has the best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights laws in Australia. It has the best anti-homophobic policies in education, health, tourism and policing … But according to the Australia Institute, Tasmania remains Australia’s most homophobic state.”

Surely this paradox must mean there is something wrong with their definition.

This understanding of homophobia and intolerance has its roots in postmodernism. Postmodernists claim there is no such thing as absolute truth or moral absolutes (yet it is somehow true that there are no absolute truths). They believe that to believe any belief is wrong is intolerant. Of course, if a postmodernist believes that Person A is wrong and intolerant to believe that Person B is wrong about something, by their own standard that makes the postmodernist intolerant of Person A (Romans 2:1). Postmodernism is clearly self-contradictory and unviable.

Nevertheless, postmodernist thinking appears to be behind the assumption that Christians, who believe homosexuality is sinful or immoral, must be homophobic and intolerant.

Some of the time this is clearly true. I have met Christians who seem obsessed with homosexuality and could be described as homophobic. As I will explore in future posts, many Christians have double standards.  They believe homosexuals in the church should repent and change their behaviour while often ignoring the heterosexual fornication and adultery and pornography addiction in the church. They want to “save marriage” by opposing gay marriage while not addressing the divorce crisis in the churches. This double standard is based on prejudice against gays.

However, believing a person is wrong does not necessarily mean you are intolerant of that person. It just means you think they are wrong. As one of the comments to Rodney Croome’s article “The Homophobic Zone” put it, “I find shoplifting immoral, am I kleptophobic?”

Most of us understand this. We do not hate everyone we disagree with. Australian multiculturalism and pluralism is founded on the assumption that people can believe different things and still get along. Most of the time it works.

The Penguin Macquarie Dictionary defines “tolerate” as “to allow to be, be practised, or to be done without prohibition or hindrance; permit” and “to bear with without repugnance; put up with”. It does not say that to tolerate someone  means not believing they are wrong. It has to do with how you treat those you believe are wrong.

There is nothing virtuous about tolerating someone if you agree with what they believe or do and they are just like you. Real tolerance is when you accept and tolerate and allow opinions and behaviour which you disagree with.

It is often presented that Christians have two choices – they can believe homosexuals are sinners, a special class of exceptionally evil sinners, or they can believe that homosexuals are not sinners at all, which would mean that being gay will get you into Heaven.

For Christians to tolerate homosexuals does not mean Christians should not believe homosexuals are sinners and rewrite Romans 3:23 so it says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, except homosexuals”. It means Christians should still love and accept them in spite of their sinfulness.

In my previous post I mentioned how the Tasmanian Council of Churches  believed homosexuality was sinful but still called for the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1977 when the majority of the population was still opposed to decriminalization. Were they tolerant or intolerant?

I would think the Tasmanian Council of Churches were truly tolerant because they supported decriminalization and greater rights for homosexuals in spite of their belief that homosexuality was sinful. However, they would still meet the Australia Institute’s criteria for homophobia.

whats-so-amazing-about-grace

In his 1997 book What’s So Amazing About Grace Philip Yancey gives the example of Dr C. Everett Koop, a Christian and Surgeon General of the United States,

“Koop always expressed his personal abhorrence of sexual promiscuity – consistently he used the word “sodomy” when referring to homosexual acts – but as Surgeon General he lobbied on homosexuals’ behalf and cared for them. Koop could hardly believe it when he spoke to twelve thousand gay people in Boston and they chanted Koop! Koop! Koop! Koop! “They gave unbelievable support – in spite of what I say about their practices. I guess it’s because I’m the person who came out and said, I’m the Surgeon General of all the people and I’ll meet them where they are. In addition I’ve asked for compassion for them, and for volunteers to go and care for them.” Koop never compromised his beliefs – even now he persists in using the emotionally charged word “sodomy”  – but no evangelical Christian gets a warmer reception among homosexuals.” (Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Strand Publishing, Sydney, 2000, p 170)

But again, the Australia Institute would probably classify Everett Koop as homophobic and intolerant.

It appears to be easier to tolerate and accept those you disagree with if there is some relationship with them, you see them as people and do not dehumanize and demonize them as the enemy.

This does not always work. A 2014 article in Rolling Stone “The Forsaken: A Rising Number of Homeless Gay Teens Are Being Cast Out by Religious Families” describes several cases of conservative Christian families throwing out and cutting off their children for being gay.

This is not very logical. Their middle class teenagers were probably not having that much gay sex while they were living at home. So what do they do? They kick them out, force them to live on the streets where they often have to engage in high risk behaviour in order to survive.

On the other hand, if the same conservative Christian families had caught their teenagers in sinful heterosexual behaviour, I doubt they would have thrown them out. Being gay is not the only problem which arise between parents and teenagers. Other solutions or compromises are used rather than throwing them out.

If Christian wonder how to relate to any homosexuals they know, the answer is – the same way they relate to any other non-Christians they know. Anything different does not come from the Bible. As I have said in the previous post, the Bible says very little about homosexuality and does not discriminate or single them out. It says we are all equally sinners before God. Even if the homosexuals were straight, they would still be sinners. The difference between Christians and non-Christians is that Christians believe that Jesus paid the price for their sinfulness and made it possible for them to be reconciled with God.

Jesus spent much of his time around people who were marginalized and considered immoral. This presumably means that if Jesus were around today, he would spend this time with homosexuals. If any Christians find that offensive, they have not really understood the Christian message. The real problem with this argument is that homosexuals are becoming more mainstream and can no longer be considered immoral, despised and marginalized.

In a 2 December 2016 in The Australian “Push in schools to fight “modern” homophobia” the goalposts have been moved again. It says,

“Educators are being urged to look out for a new form of “modern homophobia” – characterized by disinterest, disingenuous support, or “sham tolerance” – as part of efforts to promote sexual diversity in schools.”

Disinterest? So now I’m not homophobic if I hate gays  and bash them or think they are immoral. I am homophobic if I  am not interested and I have got better things to do then be interested in homosexuality

Christians and Gays Part One The Tasmanian Experience

torn-justin-lee

In his book Torn Justin Lee, a gay celibate Christian, writes,

“A 2007 study by the Barna Group, a Christian study firm, asked 16- to 29-year-olds to choose words and phrases to describe present-day Christianity. … Out of all of it  good and bad – the most popular choice was “anti-homosexual”. Not only did 91 percent of non-Christians describe the church this way, but 80 percent of churchgoers did as well.” (Justin Lee, Torn, New York, 2012, p 2)

I assume the results would be much the same in Australia today. The church’s attitude to homosexuality is arguably the biggest stumbling for many non-Christians to the Gospel. They see nothing wrong with homosexuality and they perceive the attitude of Christians to homosexuality as simply prejudice and intolerance, no different than racism. Many Christians have no idea how they come across.

This is the first of a series of posts about Christianity and homosexuality, beginning with my experience in Tasmania.

Under Sections 122 and 123 of the Criminal Code homosexual acts used to be illegal in Tasmania which was the last state to decriminalise homosexuality, although it had been a long time since the law had actually been used to imprison homosexuals. A March 13 1976 article in The Examiner cited a case in 1958 where a gay man was given a 3 year jail sentence. Couldn’t they find any more recent examples?

In 1988 the Tasmanian Gay Law Reform Group held a stall in Salamanca Market in Hobart calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. They had a sign which said, “Steve slept with Mark on the night of his 21st. In Tasmanian he could be in gaol until he’s 42.”

I once walked past two women reading that sign and one of them said, “Gee, a guy can’t even any fun on his birthday.”

The Hobart City Council decided to ban this stall, resulting in an even bigger protest and arrests. I sometimes used to sell books at Salamanca Market and one morning during the protests a woman came up to me while I was setting up and quietly asked me if I was “one of those human rights people”. I learnt that some of the other stallholders were not happy because the crowd watching the protest and arrests were stopping customers from getting to their stalls. They were planning to “persuade” the protesters not to set up near them. In other words, she thought I was a gay activist and she was concerned for my safety.

Fortunately, that very day the TGLRG decided to move their protest further up to the end of the market out of the way, so an unpleasant incident in front of the television cameras was avoided.

These protests led to several years of sometimes nasty debate over gay law reform in Tasmania, including mainland boycotts of Tasmanian goods, the Federal Government, High Court and United Nations getting involved until the law was finally overturned in 1997.

I was a student at the University of Tasmania in the late 80s when the gay law reform debate began and was involved with two evangelical Christian groups, Christian Union, now called University Fellowship of Christians, and the Navigators. It is a bit embarrassing because even though there was this major event going on with some of our fellow University students getting arrested, I cannot recall the ongoing controversy ever being discussed in these groups. We were not that interested.

Gay law reform appeared to pose a dilemma for many Christians. Tasmania’s law was discriminatory and singled out homosexuals while ignoring all the sinful fornicating heterosexuals, but there was the concern that supporting gay law reform would appear to be condoning homosexuality. Actually back in 1977 the Tasmanian Council of Churches passed a resolution which called for the decriminalisation of homosexuality while still acknowledging it did not have “the same moral status as heterosexual relationships.” (Miranda Morris, Pink Triangle, UNSW Press, Sydney, 1995, p 55)

In an article “Green light being given to homophobia and every bigot with a bible” in The Mercury, gay activist Rodney Croome claimed that during the 1990s some Christian ministers in Tasmania “advocated gay bashing”. Seriously? Unfortunately, he does not name them.

In the last 30 years I have lived in all three regions of Tasmania, attended churches of several denominations and I can honestly say that I have never heard a minister preach an anti-gay sermon where they went on about the sin of homosexuality. (However, one Sunday night at a Presbyterian church the minister asked us not to watch the Gay Mardi Gras on television  that night.  I watched it anyhow, just to see if there was anything which would offend me.) Maybe I have been going to the wrong churches (or the right ones), but I have found that Christian ministers have more important things to talk about in the pulpit than homosexuality.

pink-traingle-miranda-morris

The 1995 book Pink Triangle  on the gay law reform debate discusses the role of the churches, but it does not give any examples of ministers advocating gay bashing. It does quote Rodney Croome back then  saying that some ministers felt that anti-gay proponents from outside the churches  were using the churches to promote their agenda,

“There was a sense that the people who are being bussed in aren’t members of the Church, or they haven’t been to Church for years. Their primary allegiance is being anti-gay and they use their nominal allegiance  to the Church to express this anti-gayness. There was … a resentment that people were using the Church for their political purposes.” (Pink Triangle, p 61)

In 1988 31% of Tasmanians supported gay law reform. As already mentioned, the Tasmanian Council of Churches called for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1977 so this 31% would have included some progressive Christians. However, if 20-25% of the population  were Christians in the sense that they attended church on a regular-ish basis, this must mean that the majority of those who did not support gay law reform in 1988 were non-Christians.

Christians and gays have something in common in that they are both on the fringe of mainstream society. In 1988 we were already talking about how Australia was a post-Christian society. 30 years ago the mainstream majority (neither Christian nor gay) were more likely to side with Christians and believe that homosexuality was wrong. Since then, there has been a cultural shift  and the mainstream majority now sides with the gays.

Until recently Western society has traditionally condemned homosexuality, but does this attitude really come from the Bible? Christians need to discern which of their beliefs actually come from the Bible and which come from the culture around them. In the United States the Religious Right thinks their support for capitalism and increased military spending is Christian. They have confused their political beliefs with Christianity. There are Christians on the Left who make the same mistake on different issues.

The Bible says very little about homosexuality. My favourite Bible is a 1763 page New King James Version with 2 columns a page. Everything the Bible directly says about homosexuality would fill less than one column, half a page. This works out that 0.028% of the Bible deals with homosexuality. It does not justify the obsession which some Christians seem to have on the subject. There are other factors going on.

The Bible does not discriminate against homosexuality. It says they are sinners (Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10), 1 Timothy 1:10), but so is everybody else (Romans 3:10-12, 23), including myself (1 Timothy 1:15). If I say homosexuals are sinners, I am basically saying they are just like me.

If any Christians feel differently, they should ask themselves where do their views come from? Are they really from the 0.028% of the Bible or are they psychological or cultural in origin?

In an article “Is Homophobia a Religious or a Psychological Issue?” Roger Covin writes,

“First, as with other forms of prejudice those who hold anti-gay beliefs are more likely to be older, lesser educated, live in a rural area and have less contact with homosexuals. If religious values were the sole determinant of homophobia, we would expect all religious individuals to hold the same view, regardless of these factors.

[When I moved from the capital Hobart to Launceston in northern regional Tasmania in the early 1990s, I noticed that Christians tended to more actively oppose gay law reform.]

Second, those who hold authoritarian beliefs are also more likely to be homophobic. People who are highly authoritarian hold a strict belief in the need for social order and conformity to rules. They also tend to be especially intolerant of people who violate their concept of social order, and having this personality trait – which is related to, but distinct from religiosity  – increases the likelihood of sexual prejudice.

Third, there is an interesting gender difference when it comes to homophobia. Heterosexual men are much more hostile and prejudiced toward gay and bisexual men than are women.

There is good reason to believe that this bias occurs because heterosexual men are often highly motivated to protect their masculine identity. In fact, experimental studies have shown that when you intentionally threaten men’s sense of their own masculinity, it causes them to act aggressively towards gay men.

This psychological tendency may help to explain the homophobic reactions of men who play football,. They very idea that  a gay man could out-play and even out-hit you must be very threatening to men who idealize masculinity.

Given that homophobic men tend to overcompensate in response to masculinity threats, I leave it to the reader to supply their own analysis of what motivates Vladimir Putin’s predilection for shirtless photos.”

I have not researched the subject extensively but other studies, such as Violence Against Lesbians and Gay Men and Homophobia, Hate and Violence against Lesbians and Gays in NSW and Homophobic Violence and Masculinities in Australia also attribute violence towards homosexuals to young men looking to prove their masculinity, rather than religious factors.

In an earlier post I cited David Marrow author of Why Men Hate Going to Church about how women usually outnumber men in a lot of churches. Young, blokey males, the sort who are likely to go out and bash gays, are often under-represented in churches.

I am not trying to completely exonerate the churches. I know Christians who are simply homophobic bigots but I believe their prejudice is more likely to be founded on psychological or social factors, rather than the 0.028% of the Bible which they use to justify their issues. It is misleading to lay the blame for all the past prejudice and violence towards gays in Tasmania (and elsewhere) on Christians when many non-Christians were also guilty.

To be continued.

Tim Keller vs Bill Hybels on Vision Part Two

center_church

This is the second of two posts comparing Bill Hybels and Tim Keller’s understanding of a vision of a church and its implementation. In Part One I looked at Bill Hybels’ version as outlined in his book Courageous Leadership and some of the problems which could arise from it. In this post I will discuss Tim Keller’s views from his book Center Church (Zondervan, Michigan, 2009).

There are some general similarities between their views. Both believe that the vision has to be implemented in the church. However, Tim Keller uses the term “theological vision” to describe the link between a church’s doctrinal foundation, what it believes, and its ministry expression, the practices and activities of the church.

He writes that “a theological vision is a vision of what you are going to do with your doctrine in a particular time and place.” (Center Church, p 18)

As mentioned in Part One, a church’s passion should not be based on what we plan to do, but on what Jesus has already done. Our knowledge of the Gospel, what Jesus has done, is our doctrinal foundation. If this does not motivate us, we do not understand it well enough. I am sure Bill Hybels and Willow Creek-inspired churches still have a doctrinal foundation …. somewhere, but Courageous Leadership does not emphasize how the Gospel is the foundation of our vision and passion and motivates what we plan to do.

The way you present the gospel in one cultural setting is not necessarily going to be received as well in another cultural setting. A church must understand the culture (or combination of cultures) around it and how to communicate the Gospel effectively to that culture, but contextualizing the Gospel message does not mean changing it.

Both Tim Keller and Bill Hybels agree on the need to understand the wider culture and community around the church and what is going on in their heads. However, Bill Hybels’ approach has been referred to as church marketing. Marketing is about giving consumers what they want. Church marketing can make the mistake of giving people what they want, but not necessarily telling them what they need to hear – about the solution to their problem of being under God’s judgment.

Tim Keller draws a distinction between successful churches and faithful churches. Church marketing inspired mega-churches may appear successful, with lots of people attending and hearing non-threatening messages, which do not challenge or offend them, but one wonders how many of them are really saved or show signs of spiritual growth. The messages tend to consist of good advice on how to improve their lives. The advice is not necessarily wrong, but it is not the good news that their sins are forgiven and they can have a new life, not an improved current life (Center Church, p 29). If they tell them they are sinners who need to repent, many will simply leave.

At the other end are churches which are faithful. They are smaller. Their preaching is more Biblical and deeper. The Gospel is presented, but virtually no one outside the church is coming along or can understand them.

There is not much difference between a church where lots of people come but do not hear the Gospel, and a church where they could hear the Gospel but nobody comes. Both are ineffective. I find it frustrating that so few churches seem interested in achieving the best of both and present the Gospel in a way that the people, who need it, can hear and understand it.

Tim Keller’s third model is churches which are fruitful. ( I suppose there is a fourth model – churches which aren’t even trying). Fruitful churches use their theological vision, which is based on their situation, to present the Gospel, good news, not just good advice, in a way that he people they are trying to reach can understand. The doctrinal foundation will remain the same, but the theological vision will vary and will result in different ministry expressions.

Center Church is not concerned with getting others to go along with the vision and dealing with “difficult” subordinates. Maybe Tim Keller still has these problems, but he does not mention them here. Nevertheless, I would find myself much more willing to follow Tim Keller and his theological vision  because it feels like he is about advancing the kingdom of God, rather than someone’s “God-ordained vision”.