Why Do Homophobes Need Homophobia?
The future of the church is inclusive. Or at least, the church will need to learn to be inclusive of LGBTQ people if it’s going to have a future.
In many denominations, popular attitudes toward queer people are changing for the better, while changes in polity continue to lag behind. But homophobia and transphobia will not cease to exist just because churches are growing more diverse. A very real and very vocal backlash exists today in communities that are invested in maintaining homophobia and transphobia.
Ultimately, homophobia will not go away until straight people have a change of heart. And that will not be possible until we address the underlying issues that are being covered by homophobia and transphobia. Why do homophobes need homophobia?
The idea that God does not approve of same-gender relationships, or of gender-nonconformity, is one plausible way of reading the Bible, but far from the only one. There are many reasons why I think it’s a false interpretation, but that’s another discussion altogether.
But the handful of verses that are used to support homophobia and transphobia simply cannot account for the sheer moral panic surrounding them.
So I don’t doubt that those who want to exclude queer people from full participation in their churches do genuinely believe they’re following scripture. But the handful of verses that are used to support homophobia and transphobia simply cannot account for the sheer moral panic surrounding them. The fact that homophobes don’t share a similar zeal for prohibiting the consumption of shellfish, which has an equivalent level of biblical support, shows that their homophobia was never really about the Bible. And those few verses certainly don’t justify the hostility, exclusion, abandonment, condemnation, and violence that straight people have wielded to uphold them.
There is something fundamentally wrong with with the state of sexual morality today. The overwhelming prevalence of sexual assault, rape culture, intimate partner violence, and child sexual abuse indicates as much. I think this is something that both conservatives and liberals sense on an intuitive level.
People seek to control others only when they feel that something is out of control. Make no mistake, homophobia is a means of controlling other people. It’s a way of saying that I should be able to control your family, relationships, and sexual activity if I disapprove of it.
Why are homophobes so eager to involve themselves in the sex lives of others? They may genuinely believe that queer relationships and trans identities are sinful. But so what? It’s not like they’re directly impacted by the private actions of others.
But the truth is, homophobes and transphobes do genuinely feel as though they are impacted by the relationships and identities of others. Homophobes believe in a vision of gender, in which all human beings are neatly divided into profoundly distinct categories of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ In this system, everyone must identify with the gender they are assigned at birth. Their gender will govern their behavior, their appearance, and who they must love. When they do have sex, it must necessarily result in procreation.
To say that God intended human beings to fall into rigid gendered and sexual categories is to insult the imagination and wonder of God.
But the problem with this system is that it is neither biologically accurate nor biblically sound. If we look to nature or to the science of human anatomy, we see that God has clearly created a world in which gender comes in many diverse expressions, far beyond the rigid boundaries of ‘male’ and ‘female.’ And sexual activity exists with just as much vibrant diversity. Likewise, in the Bible, we see countless stories of individuals who resisted the gendered expectations placed on them by society and non-traditional families who embodied a love that was deeper than social conventions. To say that God intended human beings to fall into rigid gendered and sexual categories is to insult the imagination and wonder of God.
Homophobia is a band-aid that covers a deeper insecurity. Homophobes sense on an intuitive level the fragility of their gendered world view. They sense the brokenness of sexual morality in our society. But they think the problems can only be held at bay if they double down on their ‘traditional’ understanding of how people ought to exist and behave. That’s why transphobes talk about gender-neutral bathrooms through the distorted lens of protecting children, despite not having a single shred of evidence to suggest that trans people are a threat to children. Truly, cisgender adults are the world’s greatest threat to trans children.
By identifying same-gender relationships and gender nonconformity as the issue, homophobes turn the problem into a group of people. And they turn the solution into systemic persecution of those people.
In truth, most homophobes don’t think they’re being malicious. Some have, in a twisted way, convinced themselves that they’re actually being loving. But the fruit of their actions tell a different story. The gendered system they fight so hard to protect is actually at the root of so much sexual sin. Rape culture exists precisely because we teach our children from such a young age that they must act in a certain way – that boys must be dominating and girls must be accommodating.
Ultimately, when queer and trans people are no longer to blame for straight and cis- people’s problems, then they will have no choice but to look inward.
Today discussions in churches about sexual ethics almost always revolve around the ‘homosexuality issue’ and never rape culture or child sexual abuse. When straight people scapegoat ‘homosexuality,’ it’s a clever technique of changing the subject away from the sexual sins that really are devastating our communities. To be clear, not every homophobe or transphobe is covering up some secret sexual iniquity. But the sexual crises facing the church today will never fully be addressed as long as queer and trans people are scapegoated for them. Homophobes need homophobia because it disguises their own role in today’s crisis of sexual immorality.
Ultimately, when queer and trans people are no longer to blame for straight and cis- people’s problems, then they will have no choice but to look inward. I think homophobes are afraid of what they’ll find when they do. But if society or the church is ever to heal, it will require exactly that.