In "Why conservatism is riskier than you might think" I pointed out that those who maintain the status quo are sticking their necks out like everybody else given that the status quo is sometimes wrong. (When you think about it this is so blindingly obvious that it is a surprise we should need to be reminded of it. But it is another thing when it is our status quo which is coming up for inspection.)
In the post I offered safe examples where the conservative status quo was wrong. These are "safe" (read: non-controversial) because the vast majority of people now agree that they (conservative Nazi Christians and segregationists) were wrong. Other cases are more controversial because we remain very much in the middle of them. The whole challenge is to be able to discern when controversy is warranted and when opinions should be qualified, rethought or rejected.
So then along comes one of my readers, Beetle, who raises an issue which is a good deal more controversial. He writes: "It is with no small amount of glee that I anticipate history repeating itself as large swaths of xtian denominations eagerly entrench themselves on the obviously losing side of the same-sex marriage debate."
Now why am I not surprised that somebody would bring up this topic? But let me steer it a bit differently. The topic of homosexual marriage that Beetle raises is not the most important issue here since one could believe homosexual relations are immoral and still accept that the state should recognize same-sex unions. (By the same token, one could believe that homosexual relations are moral but that the state should not recognize homosexual marriage, an unlikely but still conceivable position.) So the real topic concerns the (im)morality of homosexual relations.
Here we must begin with this observation which is the topic of this post: many Christians hate homosexuality with a degree that is completely out of disproportion, even if one accepts that homosexuality is a sin. Moreover, many Christians hate homosexuals. Love the sinner, hate the sin may work great in theory, but the reality is often very different.
You may remember the late Kenneth Lay of Enron. Apparently he was a Baptist and yet he lied and cheated tens of thousands of people out of their life savings. Let's say that Kenneth's church discovered this the same week they discovered that another prominent heterosexual (or so we thought) member of the congregation — let's call him Dave — was engaged in an illicit homosexual affair. As a guess, do you think the congregation would have a deeper visceral reaction to Kenneth's sin or Dave's? I suspect the latter. And what is my evidence?
Visible hatred toward gays
Surely it would not be fair to point to the infamous Fred Phelps with his "God hates fags" church. That is hardly representative. A good deal more representative is the fundamentalist pamphleteer par excellence Jack Chick. He's had an enormous cultural impact among conservative fundamentalists and evangelicals over the last forty years with a steady stream of cartoon booklets. I suggest you read "Doom Town" to get a sense of the antipathy Chick, and many of his readers, hold toward homosexuality. (But keep in mind, Chick has the same antipathy toward Catholics, Darwinists, liberals of various stripes, et cetera.)
Okay, but Chick is still relatively fringe you might say. Fair enough. So let me move into the subtler waters of the Christian mainstream.
A couple more random examples. When Gene Robinson was ordained as the first practicing homosexual bishop in Christendom in 2004 (in the Episcopal Church USA) he wore a bullet-proof vest to his ordination due to the death threats he had received. Granted a vast minority of Christians would threaten the good bishop's life. But how many hated him without ever having met him?
Finally, a more mundane example. When one of the characters in cartoonist Lynn Johnston's strip "For Better or For Worse" came out of the closet she was barraged with hate mail from Christians. Johnston describes in one of her collections being reduced to tears by the letters enraged Christians wrote her.
Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink Comments
Consider this excerpt from Barbara Ehrenreich's book Bait and Switch. In the section Ehrenreich visits a church that is hosting a job fair for people who are out of work:
"In this, the final hour, a carnival mood sets in. The moderator is presiding over the dispensation of job tips, almost all of which deal with IT, and Laimon is embellishing them with sound effects–trumpet blasts, honking noises, canned laughter–to the apparent delight of the men who are running the meeting from the front of the room. At some point the word Massachusetts comes up, as a job location, and elicits a hearty laugh, I suppose because the Massachusetts state legislature has been discussing gay marriage this week. The moderator joins in the laughter, saying, 'I've done worse. I used to live on a farm.'"
"General laughter at this–what?–proud assertion of bestiality? I glance over at a somewhat effeminate man at a neighboring table who had caught my attention earlier with his flamboyant–given the setting–outfit of black leather jacked, high white turtleneck, and slim-cut black jeans. He has a thin, strained smile on his face." (Bait and Switch, 145)
Over the years I've heard many similar quips against homosexuals in Christian settings (though mercifully never ones that positively referenced bestiality!). With some pain I think back, trying to remember what strained smiles in the background I might have missed.
Such examples could, sadly enough, be multipled ad nauseum.
Embarassingly bad arguments against homosexuality
My final example turns to consider terrible anti-homosexual arguments. Christian apologetics organizations are repositories of truly horrendous arguments against homosexuals. Consider this sample excerpt from the Christian Research Institute's website which addresses the issue of promisciuty within the homosexual community:
"(1) Promiscuity. If one agrees with the assertion that being promiscuous is not healthy, from either an emotional or physical standpoint, then homosexuality as typically practiced must be termed extremely unhealthy. Homosexualities, an official publication of The Institute for Sex Research founded by Alfred Kinsey, Alan Bell, and Martin Weinberg, reported that only ten percent of male homosexuals could be termed as "relatively monogamous" or "relatively less promiscuous." Additional findings showed that 60 percent of male homosexuals had more than 250 lifetime sexual partners, and 28 percent of male homosexuals had more than 1,000 lifetime sexual partners. Another startling fact is that 79 percent admitted that more than half of their sexual partners were strangers.39
"Just a few years after the publication of this report, Dr. William Foege, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, stated: "The average AIDS victim has had 60 different sexual partners in the past twelve months."40 In contrast with this, "the average heterosexual male has — throughout his life — from five to nine sex partners."41″
This seems to be the reasoning: an additional reason to reject homosexuality is because homosexuals are generally more promiscuous than heterosexuals.
Here's the problem. The degree to which there is promiscuity in the homosexual community has absolutely NOTHING to do with homosexuality per se. And how do I know this? Because it is a male problem, not a "homosexual" one. Males have a very different libido than females. So it is hardly surprising that when males are attracted to males, promiscuity rates rise. Consider this experiment: do you suppose that the average number of sexual partners for your typical male sports hero or rock star is closer to the number of the average heterosexual male or homosexual male? Clearly the latter. And the reason is opportunity: they have women willing to meet their sexual desires on a regular basis. We definitely can't blame Tiger Woods' fall from grace on homosexual tendencies. So we shouldn't be blaming homosexuality per se for male homosexual promiscuity rates. Rather we should blame the male gender.
(Need it be said that Jesus doesn't see much difference between the male who sleeps with six hundred partners and the male who would have slept with six hundred partners if only he had the opportunity? I would have thought the Sermon on the Mount made that point clear enough.)
If homosexuality were linked meaningfully to promiscuity then we should see higher rates of promiscuity among lesbians. The CRI article grudgingly admits that this doesn't seem to be the case but then it attempts a rather bizarre attack at the end:
What about lesbian relationships? Are homosexual women less promiscuous than homosexual men? While less research has been done on lesbians, the data shows that they are much more monogamous than homosexual men. However, their relationships are still not very secure. Yvonne Zipter, a lesbian writing in Chicago's gay journal Windy City Times, in an article entitled "The Disposable Lesbian Relationship," notes that the "lasting lesbian relationship" is a "mythic entity."42 (For the full CRI article click here.)
And from there the author moves on to other topics. But we can't let this go. So let's pause here for a moment with the evidence provided that lesbian relationships are an unstable "mythic entity". The source for this isn't, as this author says, a "journal" (a term which suggests careful peer-review by experts). Rather it is a LGBT newspaper. Did you get that? The Christian RESEARCH Institute is making a sweeping claim about instability in lesbian relationships based on a single newspaper article. Moreover, it doesn't cite any statistics or other hard evidence from that article. All it provides is a two word excerpt.
(Incidentally I wanted to track down this article (with a minimum of effort) to get the context. So I googled "Yvonne Zipter" "The Disposable Lesbian Relationship" and got 65 hits. Every one of them, so far as I could see, was a Christian group referencing the CRI article, no doubt as a means to provide documentation showing that lesbian relationships are unstable.)
As careful research against gays and lesbians, this is laughable. But what is not so funny is the fact that people don't challenge this type of tripe. And why is that? When Ann Coulter suggests that all liberals are morons or idiots her fans don't challenge her. Why? Because they share her general antipathy toward those on the "left" end of the spectrum. The same phenomenon repeats itself in countless contexts. If we have antipathy toward a group then very bad, even shameful, arguments against that group are much more likely to be welcomed, or at least unchallenged. And that is, sadly enough, a common reality when it comes to how many Christians view the gay community. And that is why apologetics organizations like CRI can publish this garbage and get away with it.
A sorrowful conclusion
So before we say anything else about homosexuality or homosexuals we should admit openly that many Christians continue to hold a hatred toward these individuals and their community which is hydra-headed: sometimes it is visible in a "God hates fags" placard but other times it surfaces in an off-color joke or pseudo-research left unchallenged. In any and all of these cases it is indefensible and if those in the church want to be Christ's faithful witness in the world they really need to repent of it.