In the course of a Facebook discussion recently, I was described as a ‘bigot’. This prompted me to work through the use of the term, as well as to address the underlying division on the gay issue that is energising this debate. Much of the problem with the debate is that the participants are often coming from radically different presuppositions, and then clash in a public forum with an exchange of emotionally charged diatribes based on those rather than understanding why their opponent is coming up with something that they find unacceptable. The gay debate is thus a dispute between those who accept the traditional moral formulations of Western Society based on something over 1000 years of Christian influence against those offering an alternative derived from a mixture of utilitarianism, a Romantic over valuation of the role of ‘being in love’ and hedonism. I would tend to argue that the mix is incoherent, resulting in a selfishness worthy of Ayn Rand in its willingness to accept children being sacrificed to the pleasures of adults in both abortion and legitimating divorce amongst other negative features.
However this is not the place to discuss this; my point is well highlighted by this quote from Thomas Aquinas: ‘the theologian considers sin mainly as an offence against God. The moral philosopher as contrary to reasonableness’. As a Christian, I am concerned with the former definition of sin; if it is ‘unreasonable’ to the present culture, that is as likely to be because present culture is wrong as it is because Christianity is wrong.
The gay issue’s resonances in the church have demonstrated the degree to which large chunks of the church are no longer capable of coherent discussion about what they believe. Dairmad MacCulloch’s conclusion that ‘despite much well-intentioned fancy footwork to the contrary, it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity’, reflects my understanding. However as a church historian my view was massively strengthened by the claim at the time of the pro-gay marriage discussions that ‘the Roman Empire had gay marriages’. This seems to be true; the passage in the Codex Theodosius – the codification of the laws of the Empire in the 5th century – seems to indicate that they were banned by a Christian Emperor in the late 4th century. However the implication of this is that gay relationships – as we understand them – WERE known about at the time of the writing of the New Testament, bringing crashing down the claim that they weren’t, and that the homosexual practice that is being condemned in it was only pederastic.
However such an argument is a minor detail compared with the traditional arguments of Christianity in opposing homosexual practice; a full discussion is offered in ‘The Plausibility Problem’ by Ed Shaw, himself a gay Christian seeking to live a celibate life. This identifies no less than nine ‘missteps’ that Christians must make to distort their theology to legitimate homosexual practice. The website Living out website offers the personal experience of Ed and a number of others who hold that position, including at least one who has explicitly rejected long term gay relationships as a result of becoming a Christian. Note of course the repeated emphasis on PRACTICE; the rejection by many ‘Christians’ of it being possible to be gay – i.e. attracted sexually to a person of the same gender – and Christian is an appalling scandal within the church.
After this preparation we can perhaps address the specifics that started this conversation! Of being a bigot, I feel an irregular verb coming on:
I express clear views
You are somewhat controversial in your beliefs
She is a bigot
Ultimately bigot is a boo word – indicating your emotional rejection of a view. It offers nothing useful to a serious debate, and its use should be as unacceptable as the use of racial and homophobic epithets, which ultimately are similar expressions of emotional rejection! (I spent a few moments trying to produce an appropriate, easy, riposte to ‘bigot’. ‘Libertine’ and ‘Hedonist’ are inadequate, and ‘spawn of Satan’ and ‘spiritually blind’, though both were used by Jesus, lack the necessary resonances in our society. I suspect that ‘fool’ is the right answer, as in ‘the fool has said in their heart “There is no god”‘. However I suspect it is as unhelpful to resort to such labelling, so will try and resist its use, as I do that of bigot.)
Homosexuality as disability.
The adoption of the ‘social model of disability’ is based on a relativistic engagement with the world that denies that there are any legitimate norms. This is, of course, a wholesale rejection of the Christian worldview that claims that the world was created good, and that people whose conditions make them less able to participate in the world as it is are the victims of the Fall’s release of illness into the world. Specifically, given that gay people are unable to have children without a medical intervention, they are ill in the same way that a person whose fertility has been destroyed by a physical disease. Defining such misfortunes as not being a ‘disability’ is coherent but is ideologically driven.
However demanding the adoption of this ideology constitutes an imposition of a particular worldview in a way that is wholly inconsistent with living in a liberal society. The increasing deprecation of other world views as unacceptable would appear to be the prelude to the end of freedom of speech as we know it. A Catholic bishop has said: ‘I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.’ That final sentence may sound arrogant – however if we are right in our beliefs then it is the inevitable cognate – or at least should be. Of course if we are wrong, then ‘we are of all people most to be pitied’.
The wider biblical context
As Christians we have a duty to ‘make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ To the extent we fail to resist a direct challenge to God’s view, to that extent we are failing short of true love for the individual who we have deprived of the truth. OTOH to gratuitously confront with the ‘truth’ when there is no real need to do so is throwing pearls to pigs, and. ‘If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces’, a warning we probably need to take more seriously. To the extent there is doubt about where I stand on the issue, it may be appropriate for me to say something. Given that people have heard that the church is divided about it, they know that there are some who are opposed. Identifying myself as one of those MAY put a human face on what is otherwise dismissed as homophobia, or may merely disrupt an otherwise healthy friendship. Ultimately God wants to people to find His grace and come to Him in repentance. In the interim we should be seeking to truly love our non-Christian friends; this may include challenging the lies they live by – or it may, on any particular occasion, not. As ever we need God’s wisdom at the time by His Spirit.