(This is the last post in a series that begins here.)
Q. Why does the issue of same-sex relationships raise such strong feelings? In my experience, people either respond with vehement hatred or else they passionately advocate for full acceptance.
Along those same lines, if this is something that has gained so much support from the masses, in some sense isn’t it part of what the Bible calls “the world”?
You can probably tell that I’ve been trying to be very cautious in my tone throughout this series of posts, precisely because I know what strong feelings this issue raises.
I believe there truly is such a thing as homophobia, an irrational hostility towards gay people that is caused by fear and ignorance. It’s a type of xenophobia, which is fear and hostility directed towards anyone who is different or unfamiliar. It used to be that many people didn’t know anyone who was gay, and so they responded with hostility based on false rumors and negative stereotypes.
This has now changed for a lot people, in large part because of television. It may be that some people actually don’t know any more real individuals than they did before who are gay. But we tend to regard our favorite television characters as people we know, and because so many gay characters have been featured on television in recent years, this has resulted in a much more general acceptance of same-sex relationships, and along with it the passionate advocacy you describe.
I think it’s a good thing that many of the false stereotypes have been dispelled. But unfortunately another stereotype has come into being: that anyone who offers anything less than full acceptance of same-sex relationships must be homophobic.
This isn’t true. While there is still actual homophobia out there, in other cases, what’s actually going on is a miscommunication across the widening divide between two world views. (This is where your question comes in about “the world.” I think we actually are dealing with two whole different systems of thought here, and that is why the difficulty in agreeing on the issue has been raising feelings to such a fever pitch.)
I suspect the essential difference is between what philosophy calls idealism and nominalism, that is, between the idea that things are rightly expressions of ideals and the idea that things are absolute in themselves. Western culture in particular has been shifting to nominalism; one place where we see this is in postmodernity’s fondness for individual narratives and suspicion of metanarratives.
I think a person can be loving and accepting, and not motivated by fear or ignorance, but still believe that God in creation had an ideal in mind for human life and that same-sex relationships do not reflect this ideal. (But I don’t doubt that some people would hear this statement itself as fearful, ignorant, and homophobic, precisely because of the difference in world views.)
By contrast, I think the view that is coming to prevail in secular society is that there is no ideal for human life and sexuality that we should try to live out. Rather, we should celebrate a multiplicity of paths to human fulfillment, with individual beings considered primary, rather than some ideal they might express or embody.
One practical expression of this view, particularly in the West, is the acceptance of personal approaches to religion that are assembled from the components of what would previously have been considered indissoluble systems. For example, an American might become very interested in Islam and even identify with it as their religion, but still choose not pray five times a day bowing towards Mecca. Even though this is one of the “pillars of Islam,” in the contemporary world view one could do without this as they built their own religion based on personal beliefs and choices.
Somewhat similarly, even though being a follower of Jesus is essentially informed by the biblical record of God’s covenant dealings with humanity that culminate in Jesus, and even though the Bible portrays male-female complementarity and interdependence as reflecting the image of God, in the contemporary view there is nothing intrinsically incompatible between a person following Jesus and that person maintaining a gay sexual identity and continuing in a same-sex relationship.
It’s possible that some of the “vehemence” you describe on the part of those who don’t believe that same-sex relationships are appropriate for followers of Jesus is not actual homophobia, but rather surprise and frustration over such an approach.
In any event, as I’ve said earlier in this series, I believe the issue deserves a wide-ranging and respectful conversation throughout the community of Jesus’ followers, and I’ve tried to make a contribution to that conversation in these posts. Thank you again for your question.