Labels and Homosexuality

One of the sad parts of the whole struggle surrounding homosexuality is the use of labels. People freely throw around words to put others in their place. They label others as “other” in order to minimize their part of the conversation. Disagreements are not worked out, instead people resort to the use of words to bully, shame and intimidate.

You may be nodding your head yes, but I am about to tick some people off. The label I continue to see thrown around, even and especially in the church – “homophobia” and “homophobic”. Are there other labels tossed around from the other side of the debate? Certainly and shame on them. But, while those words have been addressed in numerous times and places, I have yet to see anyone call this one out for its likewise divisive nature.

The homosexuality debate has fallen out on two sides, mostly. Those who believe homosexuality is God-given or at least God-allowed. One United Methodist Church in Ohio, I believe, even put up a billboard declaring the God-giftedness of homosexuality. On the other side are many who empathize with what they see as the struggle with same-sex attraction. however, they believe God calls us to live “biblically” and not engage in prohibited behavior just because we have a tendency toward it. (and yes, biblical interpretations like this can be debated as well, but it is the United Methodist Church stance right now).

Notice the debate is not about fear, it’s about our understanding of how we respond to our tendencies – even our innate tendencies. It’s an issue of how we understand God’s gifts and the human condition. The label of “homophobia” is being used as a weapon to gain victory in the public sector and persuade the fence-sitters in the church. If I label you as afraid then I undercut your argument about holiness and Scripture. If I label you as one who has anxiety about opening some sociological floodgate, then I make you appear unreasonable. Even if the argument for the acknowledgement of homosexuality as valid is the right argument to make, there are better ways to make it. There are more loving ways to make it.

Labels and weaponized terminology make it easier for one to dismiss the other by making them seem small, petty, or disingenuous. Everyone calls for unity and understanding, but our words created division and distrust. Everyone wants unity, but unity is often defined and argued as all persons agreeing with MY belief. Honestly, with those parameters, I don’t know if the Church will ever find unity on this issue. But, this I do know – labels and isolating words won’t get us there.

May we choose our words carefully and with love for our “enemy”.

Holy high-five to you,


10 responses to “Labels and Homosexuality

  1. My personal belief is God doesn’t recognize individuals as male or female. In that same regard, I think He’s telling us that our desire for pleasure needs to be controlled so that we do not harm. One of my foremost beliefs is we should not judge others because we don’t know how God has called them to serve.

    God is so far beyond our human desires that probably He doesn’t quite understand the very temporary satisfaction that so many reach for when the true joy of communion is laid out for us.

    I think He probably shakes His head as we ponder on in ignorance, just as a baby reaches for a rattle because He thinks its what He wants only to toss it aside because he becomes bored with it.

  2. Mike,

    I think the folks who use words such at “homophobic” and “bigot” would not describe it as fear but hatred that motivates those with whom they disagree.

    Of course, “hatred” is even more sharp-edged than fear.

    • You may be right. I am working from the assumption they are using the word as given – phobia referring to fear. I am hesitant to ascribe more meaning generally.

      You are right that to declare hatred by those who think differently is equally unfair – to some, but certainly not all.

  3. You are right, Mike in that demonizing is no more acceptable on one side of the aisle than it is on the other. It does not reflect Christ in that the only people Jesus saw as “other” were the ones who were self-righteous and rigidly legalistic. Even those, he would not have seen as being the enemy, but only the beloved, not yet redeemed. For those who really try to maintain love toward those otherwise inclined, it is difficult. It is near to impossible if one isn’t trying. May the Spirit infuse Conference with such massive amounts of love of neighbor that there may be disagreement but no demonizing.

  4. I agree in principle but the General Conference 2008 passed a resolution condemning homophobia and charging the General Board of Church and Society with developing teaching materials about the subject of homophobia. Is this a bit contradictory for our denomination? Probably but our Discipline is conflicted on the issue of same gender relationships and will remain so until we permit them by Discipline.

    • Jeff, the Discipline is not all that conflicted. It says people deserve love but certain sexual acts are not in keeping with historic Christian teaching.

      The way we interpret these two statements are in conflict, but the language of the Discipline itself is not.

      Neither is approving teaching materials about homophobia a contradiction. The church says, for instance, beating up people because they are gay is wrong. It also says same-sex sex is incompatible with pastoral leadership.

      I understand that lots of people see these two stands as in conflict, but there is a perfectly clear line between them.

    • Or, to some, get all parts of our Discipline in line with the Scriptural call to holy living and thereby resolve the conflict in or Book of Discipline. It’s not homophobia, It’s a perspective on sin, the human condition, and our need for God’s grace and power to live holy lives. It is fear, but not of homosexuality – it is a fear of ratifying sin as holiness. And that, to me, is a “reasonable” fear for people of such convictions and a desire to see the Church maintain a holy standard. On the other side is the argument that homosexual behavior is not sin and to validate it is to honor God and God’s creation. To me, for people of such convictions, there is a fear of dishonoring God by dismissing an obvious segment of God’s created order. To label such people as unChristian, ungodly, or unholy would be equally unfair.

      The argument is centered on the understanding of what is sinful in regard to how we respond to our desires and the grace of God. But, once we begin to label people we lose the ability to engage in the argument, which means we lose our opportunity to find any semblance of unity.

  5. Jeff,
    With all due respect, your very logic assumes that the only way one can express love and concern for a homosexual is to validate homosexuality itself. You’re a priori conclusion on that matter makes the language of the Discipline seem self-contradictory where, as John points out, this simply isn’t so.

    As Mike points out, this is about differing views on what conduct God views as holy, not about lableing one group as evil.

    When I say that homosexuality is a sin, I am not trying to be divisive or exclusive. I am being inclusive- for though I am straight, I too am a sinner. So to call a homosexual a sinner is to place that person in the same category I place myself. This is neither an act of fear or hate- for I neither hate myself nor fear myself. It is instead an act of holy love, recognizing that all human beings are sinful and need to experience the grace and mercy of God made manifest through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

  6. By contradictory, I’m thinking of our support for civl rights yet denying the right of gays to marry in the church. We say it’s wrong for the military to disallow gays yet we disallow gays to be pastors even though we know there are gay UM pastors. We say that our positions are determined by Scripture, tradition, reason and experience yet we ignore the best biblical scholarship, science and the life experience of gays and continue to call homosexuality sin when it appears to be a biological expression of sexuality that occurs in all human sociieties and many other species. Until the 2008 BOD, we said that we were seeking the best scientific understanding of sexuality, but that was removed in 2008. I think that is because the scientific consensus is that hmosexuality is neither illness nor disorder. Bible scholars tell us that those famous verses are either prohibitions of idolatry in the NT or prohibitions against non reproductive sex or possibly disrespectful of male superiority in the OT.
    In any case, we are clinging to a cultural prejudice and defending it by appealing to tradtional interpretations of scripture.
    Just as some did with respect to female ordination.

    • Let me see if I can take your points one at a time. I want to be certain we hear each other correctly and speak accurately.

      * WE DENY THE CIVIL RIGHTS OF GAYS BY REFUSING MARRIAGE IN THE CHURCH. Marriage in the church is not a civil right. Marriage in the church is a religious rite. If you want to argue that gay marriage should be permitted in civil government and that should be supported by the UMC, then you have an argument to make. The refusal, as I hope you know, comes from the historical theological position to not condone same sex “activity”(i.e., the church cannot bless of the marriage bed).

      * WE DEFEND THE RIGHTS OF GAYS TO SERVE IN MILITARY BUT DISALLOW GAY PASTORS. Again, the right of people to engage in the civil discourse is not the same as the right of people to serve in church leadership. People involved in extramarital affairs, people who are power-hungry, and people who are greedy to the point of oppressing others are also not discouraged from serving in civil discourse, but they would not be acceptable as leaders in the church (you could make the point that gluttons and unhealthy pastors are not acceptable for leadership, and that would be valid from this standpoint).

      * WE IGNORE BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP… BIBLICAL SCHOLARS TELL US THE SCRIPTURE MEANS SOMETHING DIFFERENT FROM WHAT WE READ. Let’s be clear – it is “some” Biblical scholars – many other scholars hold to a more traditional understanding of Scripture. Those who want to lift up homosexuality as good tend to dismiss these other scholars (as times calling them homophobic, which goes back to my original point). The reality is, there has been no scholarship of this kind until recent times. The work appears to many to be isogetical and not exegetical.

      * HOMOSEXUALITY IS A BIOLOGICAL EXPRESSION THAT OCCURS IN HUMAN SOCIETIES AND OTHER SPECIES. Everyone would agree with this, but that, in itself, doesn’t necessarily make it proper in God’s eyes. We live in a fallen world – “all creation groans for redemption.” Multiple partnership happens in all human societies and other species, is this proper and right for us to embrace? Once we begin to go down such a path we must be ready for all possibilities. If this is our standard, then we will face these issues and Scripture will become an afterthought.

      * WE ARE CLINGING TO CULTURAL PREJUDICE / TRADITIONAL INTERPRETATIONS… AS HAPPENED WITH FEMALE ORDINATION. Actually, scholars and theologians are appealing to 2,000 years of classical understandings of Scripture. Should they do the same with female ordination? Not necessarily. Over time many realized that there was obvious evidence in Scripture for the call of women into leadership (Mary and other women as first evangelists post–resurrection, Paul’s naming of women in the work of the gospel, “there is neither Jew nor Greek; male nor female”, etc.). As United Methodists we do wrestle with Scriptural understandings, but we remain in Scripture. For some it appears that pro-homosexuality scholars are using cultural norms to interpret Scripture, but ignoring the fact that there are NO passages which in any way condone such behavior as acceptable.

      I have responded in detail to make the point that there is not a fear of homosexuality or of people prone to same-sex attraction. It is a fundamental difference of how to understand Scripture and how to respond to our human desires and tendencies. It is a difference in theological perspectives and in the view of what God would declare as good and holy. Where some would declare it equal to gender and racial equality, others would disagree saying the issue is a choice in BEHAVIOR (not a choice in attraction or desire – which we all struggle with at some level). And, ultimately, this why, for many, our BoD is not contradictory in this matter. The contradiction only comes if you have a view of homosexual behavior as a valid expression of holiness. And this is why we are at odds in the church. It is also why there seems to be very little hope for finding common ground, in my humble opinion.

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