• Stephen M. Larson

Fighting Homophobia - part 9 (final part)

Dr. Jeffrey Chernin's "Q Health" column, "Pride '06: Fighting Homophobia in Your Midst" (Prairie Flame, June, 2006), offered its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered readers advice on how to respond to perceived homophobic comments and attitudes. The results were rather mixed. It had some very good suggestions and some valid points; however, these were liberally sprinkled with reverse prejudice and recommended responses that were potentially no less offensive than the attitudes they sought to confront. Ultimately, the column demonstrated that "fighting homophobia" requires much more from both sides than a self-righteous attitude and a few snappy comebacks.

The first thing that is necessary, after finding a mutually acceptable definition of "homophobia" - or perhaps dropping that word altogether (see my last entry) - is to stop seeing the "other side" as some kind of enemy. We are all just people trying to understand ourselves and our places in life. We are trying to reconcile what we feel and what we believe with what we see around us, with our society, and with the whole spiritual side of our existence. With certain exceptions, neither side is intent on evil.

Then, those on each side must look into their own hearts and search for the anger, the bitterness, and the desire to control others and eliminate these as best they can. And these things are there, even when we think they're not. It's especially essential that Christians examine their own hearts and minds and eradicate any baser motives, since they are supposed to know better. (Yes, I realize that there are plenty of people who disagree with or disapprove of homosexuality who do not consider themselves Christians, or at least not in the same category as fundamentalists or evangelicals, but it's the fundamentalist and evangelical Christians who tend to be the most outspoken against homosexuality. I will, therefore, be addressing most of my remarks to the Christian community. Others may adapt these remarks as they wish.)

I'm not saying that all disagreement must stop. Disagreement is not bad in and of itself. Nor is a desire to change someone else's mind bad. Neither is a desire to introduce another person to whatever it is that has given you joy and a fullness of life. The problem is that each side must respect the right of other to hold a different view. That view may be wrong. If the views are mutually exclusive, one of them likely is wrong. But no one has ever come to a lasting change of mind at the point of a sword. Both sides may have to put aside their personal offense in order to achieve any kind of communication.

Having said that, it must be recognized that certain forms of expression are, by their very nature, deeply offensive to others. At the very least, they make it difficult for the opposite party to hear what is actually being said. Men or women riding nude on floats in gay pride parades, engaging in simulated (or real) sex acts, may be trying to make a point about societal standards, but who's going to be willing to listen, aside from those who already agree with them? Christians who stand on street corners condemning homosexuals to hell with wild rhetoric and strident screams may be stating a biblical truth, but again, who's going to listen? Such tactics do nothing more than deepen the rift between the opposing camps.

Both sides must also understand that not everyone within their own camps are in agreement with one another. There are conservative homosexuals who are horrified at the thought of public expressions of flamboyance and who cringe at the mention of bathhouses and drag shows. Meanwhile, there are drag queens and kings who are hurt and angered by those who wish to quietly blend in with the rest of society, fully convinced that they have sold out the movement.

Christians, likewise, are divided. Some are convinced that, among sins, homosexuality ranks near the top. They need to be aware that there are other Christians, equally passionate in their love for God and Christ, who firmly believe that the injunctions against homosexuality in Scripture refer specifically to the use of homosexual sex in idol worship, and not to the expression of love in a committed relationship between two gay or lesbian Christians. Each side has to be prepared to defend their own beliefs with love and humility, being fully aware of the Scriptural and cultural contexts of the verses they're quoting, and each side must be prepared to rethink and refine their own positions if necessary.

There are no easy solutions to either the debate over homosexuality, or to true homophobia. Any attempt at any solution will require all parties to abandon their pride, not embrace it, and seek instead humility and an attitude of openness toward those with whom you disagree. It will mean going against everything that human nature and our society have built into our psyches. It will mean listening when we want to shout, being gentle and humble when we want to be sarcastic and cutting, treating each other with respect when we want to force our agendas on each other. It will mean having to recognize when we're wrong - and many on both sides are wrong - and be willing to admit it to ourselves and others and to change.

Are you up to it?

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