HOMOPHOBE!: The Power of Shame.

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Anyone that has been a part of a peer group of young males in an unsupervised environment knows that there are few things that can manipulate another male into doing something like the word afraid. My memory probably can’t do justice to how many times I dared do something because someone said I was afraid to do it. Money was also a great motivator, but I HATED to have someone say that I was AFRAID to do something. I realize that this phenomenon is not exclusive to males, but males have a special place in their heart for feeling as if there is nothing that they are afraid of.

This psychological and sociological phenomenon speaks to the heart of the use of the word homophobia. You can find the evolution of the word as close as Wikipedia. The Wikipedia article on “homophobia” reports that the first written use of the word was by George Weinberg in a porn magazine. He used it as a way to describe heterosexual men who were afraid that others might think they were gay. Kenneth Smith then used the word in a journal article for Psychological Reports in 1971 to mean something closer to how it is used today, or as Wikipedia states his description of homophobia: “A psychological aversion to homosexuality.”

There is nothing new in my suggestion that social and moral norms are built on a matrix of religious and cultural traditions played out over decades and centuries in a given society. These norms then empower boundaries and convictions that the given people group holds to with increasing or decreasing conviction over time. The human condition is such that these boundaries are constantly being tested, questioned, and revisited. At some points they are protected with power, and at other times they are dismantled with power. Power is at the center of how we protect the social fabric that we call home. Power can come in the form of language, physical force, architecture, and other organizational constructs. The term homophobia quickly developed into, if not originated as, a means to provide power to perceived victims of discrimination. The terms victim and discrimination deserve their own blog post, but that will be for another time.

The power inherent to the word homophobia is its connection to shame. As we stated at the beginning of this article, no one likes to be labeled “afraid,” especially afraid of something that they deem inferior to them. Therefore a self-identified homosexual who feels threatened by a particular person in his social context can accuse that person of being homophobic, and therefore attempt to shame that person into changing their posture toward homosexuality. It is not necessarily surprising that a community so focused on decreasing the level of shame that they feel would use shame to reach that end. And it is working in many communities throughout our world. Men and women are increasingly feeling shamed concerning their positions on homosexuality to a degree that they are abandoning moral convictions that were based on long standing faith commitments. Some recent Twitter conversations that I have had concerning this issue support my point. The following were statements made by self-identified gays or their advocates:

“I hate that you have homophobic beliefs and I’d like to see them gone because they’re hurtful and dehumanizing.”

“If you think being gay or having gay sex is a sin, you’re homophobic. It’s that simple.”

“I cannot convey to you the hurt and pain that beliefs you hold inflict.”

“ppl don’t fear that you hate them, they fear, w/good cause, you’ll destroy them & call it love.”

“If you don’t think your beliefs abt queer people are dehumanizing, it implies not seeing queer people as human.” 

These are some of the more tame responses I have received to my position on the immoral nature of homosexual activity. Again, this is not surprising considering the nature of self-preservation that resides in all of us. No one wants to feel that his or her deepest desires are inappropriate or morally transgressive. We would rather surround ourselves with a community that validates our way of life, and worldview.

This gets us back to the word homophobia. The pejorative nature of this word in our current context is easily discerned, considering the illogical nature of its usage. The argument goes like this:

  1. You think my homosexual activity is unhealthy or sinful.
  2. You are afraid of homosexuality and therefore afraid of homosexuals.
  3. Love does not fear anyone because of who they naturally are.
  4. You don’t love homosexuals and therefore you hate homosexuals.
  5. You hate homosexuals and therefore think of them as less than human.
  6. You think that a loving segment of society is less than human and therefore you are a danger to society unless you change your mind. 

This thought process builds on false assumptions about love and fear. It believes that love equals agreement. It believes that love does not disagree over issues of identity. It believes that love wants everyone to be happy on his or her own terms. However, by nature, love confronts someone on what it views as unhealthy. Love seeks to awaken the other to a right understanding of how to flourish in life. Love keeps speaking truth into the life of another even when all others have given up or changed their mind. Most every parent knows that love requires that they inform their child that certain activities and attitudes in life are dangerous and will only result in eventual pain. That is the full-fledged love that Christians can offer homosexual friends and communities. In order for that love to be complete, it is necessary to be sensitive to message delivery and physical needs, but proclaiming truth must remain in the mix.

The inherent false assumption concerning the definition of fear, as implied in the current usage of “homophobia,” is that to disagree with a person’s self-identity or activity is equal with fearing them. Historically this could not be further from the true definition of the term phobia. I hate spiders. I don’t want them near me. I don’t want them in my house, and I sure don’t want them around my family. I have a propensity for killing them when I feel threatened by them. What I have just described corresponds pretty well with a right definition of arachnophobia, but the characteristics I just described do not align well with the way I think about homosexuality or self-identified homosexuals. I have frequently invited individuals with same sex attraction into my home. I have called, and still call, several self-identified homosexuals my friends. I have fed them. I have hugged them. I have prayed for them. I have laughed with them. I have cried with them. But, this is increasingly not enough for many who see themselves as homosexuals. The following quotes were responses I received from one of the individuals in those Twitter conversations I had recently:

“You can be nice and friendly to gay people and still be homophobic/hold homophobic points of view.”

“I don’t want you ‘serving’ me in any way if those are your beliefs.”

My question in response would be, “well what then must I do without violating my conscience?” Thing is, that is exactly what they want. It is not enough to treat them with respect or kindness. They want you to validate them; to agree with their lifestyle. They don’t want to live with the fact that there are others out there that don’t agree with their wants, desires, and self-identity. So, they use terms that they know will incite shame in the other: “If you only understood how hateful you are.” To be fair, there are certainly those among the gay community that seek to change the minds of those who disagree with them through respectful dialogue and friendship, but unfortunately they are not the loudest or most powerful voices on this issue.

Many that consider themselves homosexuals have been deeply hurt by others, and this hurt has caused a lot of bitterness and hatred toward those who have done the hurting, or who share similar values. I can certainly relate to the distrust that they might have toward those that want to be friendly to them, but who still dislike them for who they are. My brother and I experienced bullying as young men for “who we were” while in public schools, especially in Michigan. I experienced discrimination at all 6 different public schools in 5 different states while growing up. I eventually got tired of being bullied and harassed, and I developed the ability to hurt them back with my words. I observed their weaknesses and then found a way to hurt them with language rather than my fists. I can understand how a person who feels belittled or devalued because of their sexual orientation might want to strike back with words that they have learned are effective tools for inflicting shame. I can understand how they might want to use language that is just as hateful as the language used against them. But all the pain in the world does not make two wrongs right. Nor does pain justify making a god in one’s own image or a religion that makes you feel good above all other ends. I had to spend a good deal of time going back and asking those same people to forgive me. Why? Because revenge belongs to my Lord, and I have come to a strength in Him that does not require retaliation, nor even offense. It does, however, require that I stand firm on the foundation given me by my Lord.

Many homosexuals and their advocates will continue to hurl insults and hate speech against Christians that stick to their faith convictions. There will be plenty more uses of “homophobia” in order to try and shame Christians into changing what they believe. Thankfully, those who follow Christ have a foundation that is not built on pleasing men. Thankfully, we can have an inner peace even when the whole world hates us. Thankfully, my identity as a Christian is not built on the approval or validation of others, but rather on a personal relationship with my Creator, my Lord. Don’t let the manipulative misuse of language cause you to doubt your faith. Stand strong on the foundation of faith that was handed down to you through the prophets, apostles, and those who were brave enough to carry the message of faith, hope, and love throughout history.

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