Friday, October 20, 2006

Homophobia: What I learned from Tyra Banks, and Shirley Phelps

When I sit down to watch television, my usual fare includes bulletts, buildings blowing up, car chases, and the like. Suffice it to say that while channel-surfing last night, putting down the remote to watch the Tyra Banks show felt a little weird, and this morning, I'm still seeking to shake off the excessive estrogen.

Nonetheless, the subject of "hate" permeated the show, and the contents were not only intriguing, but surprisingly educational. As I went to bed last night, I did so having come to the conclusion that everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE on that show was a homophobe!

The commercial teaser that caught my eye was of a funeral protest conducted by the infamous Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka Kansas. The Phelps family and their congregation are known worldwide for their "God hates fags" epithets, as well as their loud eccentric behavior, and their recent attempts to disturb the mourning families of fallen soldiers via their loud and arrogant protests.

But the show didn't begin with the Phelps'. Tyra's first guest was Kevin Aviance, the man referred to as "one of New York's most influential transvestite, drag, and transgendered performers." Aviance made headlines in June of this year after he became the victim of violence at the hands of between four and seven men, who beat him severely, robbed him, and broke his jaw simply because he was gay. Aviance is a charismatic stage presence, and a talented performer, even if in pumps while performing. His recent experience as a victim of violence prompted subsequent discussion on the show of how hate fuels such violence. And of course, his emotional words were followed by an even more emotionally charged conversation between Banks and members of the Phelps family.

Overall, the show was about as insightful as spending time in a chat room. But as it went off the air last night, I came to the realization that there really is such a thing as homophobia, and that homophobia has more than one side to it. Speaking to the persecuted church of the first century, Peter lays out instructions for how they were to proclaim their faith in the face of "other-than-Biblical" worldviews and lifestyles:

"But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." (1 Peter 3:15-16, NASB)

Two things are necessary in order for this Biblical command to be obeyed: A strong conviction of the truth (which Tyra Banks sorely lacks), and a strong sense of humility in speaking that truth (which the Phelps family sorely lacks).

The very etymology of the term "homophobia" indicates that it does not mean what many in the prevailing culture think it means. When referencing the homosexual community, the term simply means that we are "afraid" of them, that we avoid them . . . .and maybe even hate them. Such things can rightly be defined as homophobia.

When men like Aviance, created in the image and likeness of God, are beaten and abused, the church should be the first to condemn such sinful action, and press for prosecution of the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law.

Conversely, feigning "love" for homosexuals while being afraid to speak the truth to them regarding the destructive nature of their behavior demonstrates an ultimate lack of love, and is therefore another form of homophobia. When followers of Christ are called "homophobes" simply because they state that homosexual behavior is sinful, such action not only demonstrates a reticence by our culture to consider what God has to say on the subject, but also the colossal ignorance of a culture that doesn't even know what the word means. In short, Banks exhibits homophobia by her fear of the truth, and the Phelps family is a family of homophobes because while they speak the truth, they do not do so in reverence, and in the good conscience of Christlike behavior. As Charles Spurgeon said over a century ago, anyone who can talk of hell without tears in his or her eyes is not fit to proclaim the Gospel.

The Phelps are very sure of themselves when they state that God hates America, and that Katrina, September 11, and the casualties of the Iraq war are instruments of God's judgment on us because of our acceptance of things like the gay lifestyle. Such statements sound a lot like Amos, Isaiah, and others who correctly interpreted Old Testament historical events as God's judgment on the nation of Israel. But two very distinct differences are worthy of note here: Our nation is not Israel, and the Phelps are not Old Testament prophets!

Present-day believers living under the New Covenant have what Peter calls a "more sure word of prophecy" (2 Peter 1:19) than those before us who were compelled to wait on God to raise up a prophet. As a result, we can only know what God has clearly revealed in His Word. While part of that perspicuous revelation includes the sinfulness of homosexual behavior, we have no reason whatsoever to believe that recent tragic events are the result of God's judgment. We simply don't know why God sent Hurricane Katrina, why He allowed September 11 to happen, or why He allows continued violence in Iraq that results in the death of thousands of our brave soldiers. Statements of epistemological certainty concerning events like these are presumptuous at best, and blasphemous at worst.

Such statements are the result of a homophobic hatred of the homosexual community that is not conducive to our obedience to Scripture, or to their repentance and belief in Jesus Christ. But the other side of homophobia was also expressed last night. While Tyra Banks was rightfully confronting the Phelps, she was simultaneously affirming Aviance's destructive lifestyle.

Such an approach fails to see that there is a difference between "acceptance" of all people created in God's image, and "affirmation" of a lifestyle that will only serve to further marr that image. Contrary to the ignorant meanderings of secular culture, and many churches within mainline and emergent circles, God could not have been any more clear regarding His view of homosexual behavior. To be sure, the truth must be spoken with reverence and humility. But genuine reverence and humility are only present when they coincide with the truth. And the truth is that homosexuality, while sinful, isn't the real issue. It is a symptom of a sinful nature that can only be cured by the blood of Jesus.

Where should we go to find the kind of balance needed to avoid the above extremes? As always, Jesus. In John 4 we see the epitome of this kind of balanced approach. Had Jesus taken the approach of the Westboro Baptist Church, he would have likely greeted the woman at the well like this:

"Hello you harlot! I'm God and you are going to burn in hell if you don't repent!"

While these words would have been true, Jesus demonstrates in this encounter that He isn't merely interested in exposing people to the truth, He also wants to draw them to such truth. So, rather than speak without regard for reverence or humility, He begins the conversation by asking her for something to drink. He came to her where she was, struck up a conversation with her, and broke every Jewish social norm in the process, because He cares more about souls than perception.

Contrast this approach with a statement made last night by one of the Phelps daughters, who said she had no desire to make friends with unbelievers. Or why don't we make this a bit more personal: What would you think if you saw your pastor sitting at a bar talking with a homosexual couple? How would you perceive your pastor were you to encounter him on a street corner sitting on the sidewalk talking to crack-addicts? If we want to speak the truth (and we should) the first step in that process is to meet people where they are . . .to love them enough to be their friend, even if this new friend never comes to faith in Christ, and never repents.

Pehaps, in retrospect of last night's program, this is why so many believers don't make friends with unbelievers: Those unbelievers might never become believers. They might die without Christ and leave us with the horrifying realization that a good friend has gone to hell. That's hard stuff! Sure, its easier if we just keep our distance. But that isn't our calling.

But Jesus doesn't make friends just for the sake of making friends. Before this initial conversation is over, we hear this phrase:

"Go call your husband and come here."

She responds, likely with her eyes to the ground; ""I have no husband."

And Jesus then begins to speak the truth. We can't be afraid to love them, nor must we fear telling them the truth.

Kevin Aviance, and the thousands of men and women like him, are human beings created in the image and likeness of God. Like the rest of us, they were born dead in their trespasses and sins, and this sinful nature has manifest itself in their lives via homosexuality. The only answer to this dilemma is that which answers all other dilemmas; the message of the cross and resurrection spoken with conviction, humility, and love. Anything less is just plain homophobic!


mo said...

Great, Great post Joel.

My brother is Gay & finding the balance you're talking about with him has always been difficult. The really hard thing is that many homosexuals can't understand how you can accept them without accepting their lifestyle. One thing I've noticed with my brother is that I no longer have to "preach" to him about believing that his lifestyle is a sin...that's the easy part, he know's what I believe and what the Bible says. The hard part is proving to him through my actions that despite those differences I still love him and accept him as a person.

Tough, tough stuff.
Thanks for the post.

Ryan said...

Great post Joel. Thanks for this.

Bryan Riley said...

Wow. I found my way to your blog through the little blue alien and am glad I did. Great post on boxers and briefs and this is well done, too. All too often we are afraid to get out of our comfort zone, and we compartmentalize people, failing to realize that the "they"'s are just like "us," people, made in His image, desperately in need of a Savior.

Brother Bob said...

Interesting point about how people who are afraid to speak the truth in love to homosexuals are thus homophobes. I like the way you put that.