A featured link in this National Post weekend homepage story (May 25-27, 2012).
By Don Hutchinson
Homophobia. Do you think you know what it means? I bet your neighbour thinks it means something different (and odds are you’re afraid to ask).
As an evangelical Christian organization, after engaging in Ontario’s province-wide dialogue on anti-bullying legislation, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) has on several occasions been accused of being “homophobic.” By implication, all evangelicals – we – were so accused. We? I was accused of being homophobic?!
In 1998, Coretta Scott King, the widow of American Baptist (evangelical) minister and civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., stated:
Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood. This sets the stage for further repression and violence that spread all too easily to victimize the next minority group.
This is a fair statement. Mrs. King was calling on Christians and civil rights activists to engage in the “love thy neighbour” expression of standing up for those who had experienced and were experiencing a form of oppression; injustice. This challenge to the Church was little different from her husband’s challenge to segregation laws in the U.S.A.; or Jesus’ challenge to the religious leaders of His day, when He said:
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. (Matthew 23)
Jesus was heavily criticized for spending time with “sinners.” He responded by noting the imperfections of humanity, calling on us all to have grace for one another, and challenging the religious leaders to get real. Jesus accepted sinners for who they were. This does not mean He accepted or approved of their sin. Jesus did not confuse identity with behaviour. The woman caught in adultery was a recipient of Jesus’ acceptance. Her behaviour was not; as He cautioned her to “sin no more.” (John 8)
While I’m pretty sure I understand what Mrs. King was getting at, to the best of my knowledge the word “homophobia” is not defined in Canadian law, either by the courts or in legislation. And, unfortunately, what was intended as a call to defend has been twisted into a weapon of attack.
The word “homophobia” is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “an extreme and irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people.”
As sword rather than shield, the term is used to suggest a psychological disorder in the person or organization so labelled; and, to generate fear and to bully those it is directed against into silence. This label has become the contemporary slur of the 21st century, intended to silence the voices of those in our free and democratic society who might disagree with the public policy agenda of a select group of activists. This slur is intended as both insult and indictment directed at the very nature and character of the person or organization that dares to disagree.
A similar twist in use of a word took place in the United States in the 1950s when Senator Joseph McCarthy spun a defence of democracy and a fear of communism into unfounded allegations of being either a communist or communist sympathizer directed at thousands of Americans, who were ostracized and ridiculed in a manner intended to make them outcasts in a democratic nation. Jobs were lost, voices that held legitimate public policy positions were silenced and stated suspicion was accepted as conclusive evidence of a threat to society.
Accusations of “homophobia” have no place in public discourse, public dialogue or public debate and certainly no place in the legislatures, public squares or public schools of our nation. Reasonable people will disagree on matters of public debate. We might disagree with one another, but we are still called to accept and respect one another – as Canadians.
Evangelicals – certainly the vast majority of us – do not have a fear or irrational aversion toward gays and lesbians. We do however, at times, find ourselves in disagreement with the public policy positions expressed by activists from the gay community; as they at times disagree with ours.
The Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed on more than one occasion that the religiously informed are not to be placed at public disadvantage or disqualified from engaging in public policy debate. As Justice Gonthier noted in his decision in Chamberlain (2002), with this portion of his reasons supported by the full court (read the decision of the Chief Justice at paragraph 3 and that of Justice LeBel at paragraph 188):
The key is that people will disagree about important issues, and such disagreement, where it does not imperil community living, must be capable of being accommodated at the core of modern pluralism. (paragraph 137)
There is no doubt and much evidence that gays and lesbians have in the past suffered treatment similar in fashion to blacks in the segregated U.S. South of the 1950s. The solution of that day was not found in calling “racists” names, but in engaging an awareness of injustice and a pursuit of justice. There is mounting evidence that calling evangelical Christians “homophobic” (even when some are admittedly behaving badly) is not a defence for a powerless community but an attack from empowered activists. A new injustice, that serves to repeat a pattern rather than improve a democratic society.
The last word goes to Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.(Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963)