There’s a lively discussion underway at Daniel Kirk’s blog in which he has called for a moratorium on the use of the word “homophobic” as a descriptor for folks whose theological and/or political positions on same-sex relationships is non-affirming. Now of course I’ll be the first to admit that I believe there are many who aren’t irrationally afraid of gay sex who have disagreements about the theological status of same-sex relationships. But the ensuing conversation around Daniel’s post brought some stuff back up for me that I think merits mention.
First, it seems incontrovertible to me that when the gay community calls certain positions or behavior from others “homophobic” they are stating something about the way in which they experience those ideas and behaviors. In other words, it is a relational term. What they experience from how these others relate to them is an experience of being reflexively feared and viewed as a source of revulsion. As such, I don’t see how it can be up to others to tell the gay community when and whether they can use the word to describe others. What they are describing is their experience of being treated a certain way by others. Now I suppose people could argue that they are wrong about all that, and they have, in fact, been being treated with love and dignity when they thought they were being treated with fear and revulsion, but it seems to me that that would have to be a pretty convincing argument. In my experience people tend to have pretty good sense of when others are afraid of them and find things about them repulsive.
Second, I’m really perplexed by why people are so desperate to avoid the term “homophobic” being applied to them. Now of course, no one wants to be accused of having an irrational fear, which is conjured up by the term “phobia.” But let us leave that aside, especially since it seems to me that the most common connotation of “homophobic” is not irrationality but simply revulsion. If same-sex activity and relationships are sins against God and nature, why would anyone shy away from despising those acts? If gay sex is just as wrong as pederasty or incest, why should we be so concerned to make sure we’re all polite about the one and not the other? Why all the fear of “homophobia” if that is, in fact, what taking sin seriously is supposed to mean?
I always find it interesting how the anti-gay sex position always wants to insist on a polite, measured, and properly ordered civil dialogue about the issue. They claim that to toss around terms like “homophobic” is to distract from the “real issues” and inhibit conversation. Honestly I’m pretty convinced that the real diversion from substantive dialogue is the insistence on keeping everything all tidy and polite. To try to sanitize everything in advance and make sure no one gets called any names sounds innocent enough, but it is hardly a neutral move. To insist that things never get heated and self-involving is to cast the argument, in advance, as one in which all participants are good, honest, basically forward thinking folk that just need to speak more clearly to each other. But its an open question whether that is in fact that case. The gay kid who got the shit kicked out of him all through high school, often by Christians, may not feel like he can extend that sort of open hand of politeness, and who are we to say that he has to?
Anyways, my main point is that the desire to sanitize this discussion is itself an ideological move. If we’re really talking about things as important as both sides think we are, there’s no reason to assume that this should be some sort of polite conversation. According to traditional Christian teaching, non-heterosexual sex is a sin against God and an nature, which, like all sins can send you to hell. That’s serious. According to the movement for same-sex rights today the traditional view of homosexuality is degrading, oppressive, and inhumane. That’s serious too. If we’re talking about things that really are that serious, lets let them be serious rather than trying to keep everything nice and contained for the sake of appearing polite and agreeable. To do that is simply to be dishonest about the nature and severity of the disagreement. And that serves no one, at least in terms of furthering discussion and understanding.