In just a few short years the noun Homophobia has become one of the most powerful words in the English language. It has an interesting, if brief, history. It was derived from the combination of two Greek loan words brought into English, -ὁμός (homos), which becomes homo signals “same” and -ϕόβος (phobos), which signals fear. Phobia is an abstraction of phobos. There is an ambiguity here since, in Latin, homo signals man or human as in Pilate’s exclamation, “Ecce homo!” (John 19:5, Vg). Indeed, the first use of the noun homophobia cited in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) appeared in, of all places, the DesMoines Daily News, in 1901: “Young women of America have homophobia, you know, just as children have measles.” In that instance it signaled the quite innocent sense of “fear of men.” It had that sense still in 1920 when a writer in the Chambers Journal wrote, “Her salient characteristic was a contempt for the male sex as represented in the human biped… The seeds of homophobia had been sown early.” It had that sense as late as 1960. On May 23 1969, in an underground homosexual magazine, the title of which may not be published in a family space, the noun homophobia was used to signify the fear of being thought to be homosexual. The sense in which it is universally used today, however, first appeared in the wake of the Stonewall Riots of June, 1969, on October 31, 1969, in Time magazine: “Such homophobia..involves innumerable misconceptions and oversimplifications.” The sense there is clearly “fear of homosexuals” or “fear of homosexuality,” which is the third sense attributed to it in the OED.
Homophobia and its relatives (e.g., homophobe, homophobic) are a culturally powerful family of words. In most companies and in virtually every university in the West, to be labelled a homophobe is, if you will pardon the expression, the kiss of death. To become known as a homophobe is to be doomed to be regarded as a bigot, intolerant, ignorant, and even socially dangerous. In corporate and academic circles, the pressure to avoid the label homophobe is intense. The shifting fortunes of the homophob– family of words correlates to the rise to cultural influence and power of the LGBTQ movement(s).
Christians and others should distinguish between a principled, Christian opposition to homosexuality as, one the one hand, a behavior, orientation, and lifestyle and on the other, homophobia. The historic Judeo-Christian rejection of homosexual behavior as as sin against God and nature is not born of the fear of those who commit that sin. It is born of a righteous fear of God.
Under Mosaic law, homosexual sex was a capital crime: “If a man goes to bed with a man as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they must be put to death; their blood is on them” (Lev 20:13; Complete Jewish Bible). According to the Christian understand of the history of redemption, whereby Christ is said to be at the center of God’s redemptive and revealing activity in the world, the Mosaic epoch of redemption was temporary and typological. The Reformed tradition says that the specifically Jewish judicial laws “expired” (WCF, 19.4) with the Jewish state, which was fulfilled in the death of Christ. In the New Testament, Jewish and Gentile Christians agreed that homosexual attraction and behavior are contrary to natural law. It was to natural law, rather than to the Mosaic legislation, that the Apostle Paul (a Jew) appealed to condemn homosexuality:
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error (Rom 1:26–27; ESV; see also Rom 2:14–15).
The Apostle Paul was not afraid of homosexuals or homosexuality. He feared God and his wrath. He also loved homosexual sinners enough to risk their disapproval by telling them the truth that a homosexual orientation and behavior is contrary to natural and Scriptural law. It is destructive of the image of God in humans.
Paul was not ignorant about homosexuality since it was widespread in the Greco-Roman world. Paul’s language about homosexuals and homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is technical, almost graphic. Apparently it is so much so that some English translations obscure it: “Do you not know that the unrighteousness will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Be not deceived, neither the sexually immoral, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor men who lie with other men.”1
It is true that the English word homosexual was coined in the nineteenth century. Before that we used the less clinical term Sodomite. The argument that homosexual is a recent word and thus fabrication when used in Bible translations is not only a non-sequitur it works to the disadvantage of the LGBTQ lobby. As I explained several years ago, the standard definition of the word (ἀρσενοκοῖται) I have translated as “men who lie with other men” is translated in the standard New Testament Greek lexicon (Bauer, Arnt, Gingrich, Danker) as “a male who practices homosexuality, pederast, sodomite.” This is the way the word was understood in early Christian, post-canonical usage though it occurs in the same sense in the Sibylline Oracles (6th century BC), ii.73. The word (μαλακοι) translated above as effeminate is rather more pointed. Effeminate is fair since the it is the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew/Aramaic Scriptures) term for the “soft parts” and is used elsewhere in the sense of “effeminate, of a catamite, a male who submits his body to unnatural lewdness, 1 Corinthians 6:9″ (BAGD, s.v.). In view of all that, we could fairly translate that clause of v. 9 thus, “nor those who allow themselves to be sexually penetrated by other men nor those who play the male role in sodomy.”
Indeed, the Apostle Paul taught that sexual sin is not like all other sins inasmuch as all other sins are outside one’s body but sexual sin is more intimate (1 Cor 6:18–20) and defiles the imagery intended by the union of a man and a woman, i.e., the union between Christ and his church (1 Cor 6:15–17; Eph 5:31–33). What is the image of homosexual union? It is not Christ and his church.
As a matter of principle and not bigotry Christians are morally opposed to homosexuality on the basis of the Scriptures and nature. Paul classes homosexuality with other gross sins including, but not limited to, idolatry, adultery, theft, greed, drunkenness, and reviling. Nevertheless, we Christians have not always always lived up to the high standards set by Scripture. We are called to love humans as our neighbors (Matt 22:37–40) and as bearers of the image of God. It is certain that there were former homosexuals in the Corinthian congregations since Paul says, “such were some of you” (1 Cor 6:11).
If principled rejection of homosexuality etc. is not fairly defined as homophobic, rude comments, jokes, and caricatures might fairly be characterized as homophobic in two senses. First, in the sense used in May of 1969, i.e., of the fear of being thought homosexual and second, in the prevalent contemporary sense of an unreasoning fear of homophobia, i.e., a fear of homosexuals as a class.
I grew up in the 1960s and 70s. Most of us were unfamiliar with and afraid of homosexuals and homosexuality. It was okay to watch Liberace perform because we were assured, however implausibly, that the over-the-top effeminate, fey pianist was really just a regular guy. Implicit was the message that when he was done performing, he put on his jeans and changed the oil in his Buick like the rest of us. Homosexuals were quite closeted. In my circles (mostly athletic) we made locker room jokes etc because we were felt threatened by the effeminate manner of some homosexuals and by the possibility that we might be propositioned or worse. Indeed, In high school and college, I was a lifeguard at the YMCA. I was propositioned (once). It was a little creepy but I said no and I survived. It was not the end of the world.
We misunderstood homosexuals the same way we misunderstood bullies. Both classes usually come from bad homes, are abused, the children of alcoholics/substance abusers, or otherwise neglected. In high school I made friends with one of the two gay guys, who both denied being homosexual but who both tried out for and made the cheer squad. He was nice guy. It seemed clear that he had a bad home life. Bullies typically behave the way they do because they too have been abused at home and because they are imitating what they have experienced. They are lash out violently because they have themselves been subject to unjust violence. What percentage of school shooters were bulled at home or school? I have met very few LGBTQ folk who were not sexually abused or otherwise the product of abuse or neglect. This is not an indictment of the parents of LGBTQ children but we must face facts. A teen-aged girl who is sexually assaulted at school might react by identifying as a Lesbian. Sexually and physically abused children or children whose parents abused substances (and thus neglected them) are subject being cultivated into the LGBTQ communities. Abuse at a young age, during sexual development, create confusion about one’s sexual identity and about how to find affection and affirmation.
Back in the 1960s and 70s we were given to think that every homosexual was a sexual predator. Like the more hysterical anti-marijuana propaganda of the pre- and post-WWII period, it had a kernel of truth but was exaggerated and thus misleading. It is ironic that when anti-weed propaganda films, e.g., Reefer Madness (1936) were influential the weed that was most widely available contained relatively low amounts of THC, the active, intoxicating ingredient. Now that we have legalized it, the weed teens are smoking weed is four times more potent. Lawmakers were sold a bill of goods by pro-weed advocacy groups. So it is regarding homosexuality. Certainly there have always been predatory pederasts but in the homosexual culture there is a practice of older homosexuals cultivating younger men, whom they regard as latent homosexuals, who, in that culture, are thought to need help “coming out.” This is no apology for the culture of cultivating young women and men into homosexuality etc. but it is an explanation of the way we thought. Every gay person we meet is probably not trying to lure us into homosexuality but it is also possible, perhaps likely, that someone cultivated that person’s tendency toward homosexuality by offering acceptance, community, and a perverse substitute for the parenting he or she never received. We have legalized and regularized homosexuality etc without actually addressing the root causes of it.
The world has rather changed since the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Back then most homosexuals were firmly closeted. Gay bars were raided and homosexual behavior was illegal. Now, of course, the entertainment and opinion-shaping media openly campaign to make homosexuality and transgenderism the norm and heterosexuality abnormal. They might be succeeding. Where the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) might once have had to campaign to get representation of LGBTQ folk on television today they might be wondering whether Hollywood is overdoing it? In 2019 GLAAD reported that 10% of all regular TV characters were gay. In 2020 that percentage dipped slightly to 9.1%. The LGBTQ population makes up about 4% of the population so the LGBTQ representation is disproportionate.
We are in the third sexual revolution since the nineteenth century. At this stage of the revolution the biological norms have been reversed in a way that reminds one of the sort of reversal in we see in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, where Yahweh is reprobated or the sort of reversal we see in the Gnostic Gospel of Judas, where Judas is the hero. The natural order has been turned on its head.
Observing this revolution and resisting it is not homophobic any more than trying to help the abused, the alcoholic, or the addict is phobic. By characterizing every criticism or principled rejection of homosexual orientation and behavior as homophobic, the LGBTQ lobby has made the word meaningless. It may well be that their strategy is to persuade the world that 3500 of years of religious conviction and natural law ethics are illegitimate but any such argument is vacuous.
Of course LGBTQ advocates will not like this characterization and account but they will not be satisfied with any orthodox Christian account of reality. That fact should not stop Christians from doing the right things, i.e., by recognizing LGBTQ folk as fellow-image bearers and as fellow sinners in need of God’s grace and mercy and by calling them join the rest of us sinners in repentance and faith in Jesus, who obeyed in the place of sinners of all sorts and who calls all those who are united to him by grace alone, through faith alone, to the ongoing Christian life of dying to sin and living to Christ.
1. NA28: Ἢ οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ἄδικοι θεοῦ βασιλείαν οὐ κληρονομήσουσιν; μὴ πλανᾶσθε· οὔτε πόρνοι οὔτε εἰδωλολάτραι οὔτε μοιχοὶ οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται.
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
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