Archive for October 12, 2010
With both interest and sadness, I have been following the slew of recent student suicides by young men who were reportedly the targets of anti-homosexual bullying. The most widely reported of these was Tyler Clementi, a promising eighteen year old freshman at Rutgers University who jumped off the George Washington bridge after his roommate secretly streamed his sexual encounter with another male. Other recent suicides include those of Justin Aaberg and Billy Lucas, both fifteen. As these tragic stories have trickled through our news cycles, one word to describe the motive of the bullies who drove these young men to despair has been brandished about again and again: homophobia. Consider, for instance, the headline that ran in the Huffington Post yesterday: “Homophobia: The Plague That Is Killing Our Youth.”
It seems as though “homophobia” is a word that is used to describe just about every conceivable form of opposition toward homosexuality. When New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino spoke to a group of Jewish children about being “brainwashed into thinking homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option” and then followed his comment up by saying, “It isn’t,” his competitor, Andrew Cuomo, accused him of “stunning homophobia.” The PBS newsmagazine show “Frontline” has a special titled, “Assault On Gay America,” complete with a web-based “Homophobia Questionnaire” that includes such statements as “Homosexuality is immoral” and “Homosexuality is acceptable to me” and then asks you to rate whether you “strongly agree” or “strongly disagree” with these statements. Last week, the Christian Science Monitor ran an article titled, “Homophobia Hurts Straight Men, Too,” which equated homophobia with “intolerance.”
The stories of young men who have been driven to despair and suicide by anti-homosexual bullying are tragic. But I am not sure that we help their cause, nor adequately impugn their attackers, by simply decrying the problem of “homophobia.” I know how the argument goes: Anti-homosexual bullying is really the product of deep-seeded anxiety concerning a person’s own sexual desires. But in most cases, this connection is empirically indemonstrable. It is merely an ad hominem accusation. Moreover, taking a moral or ethical stance against homosexual activity cannot be mechanically dubbed as “homophobic.” For, in many of these instances, the driver of such a stance is not one of fear, but one of concern for the effects of homosexual activity on individuals and on society.
Perhaps it is time to trade the epithet “homophobia” for a more accurate, and really more damning, driver behind those who bully homosexuals: hatred. Bullying another person for whatever reason can be driven by nothing less than a ghastly arrogance that disdainfully looks down on others who it considers “different” or “lesser” in order to build itself up.
Blessedly, Christians are uniquely poised to address such hatred, for our Lord has told us: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Christians are called to love others. What does this mean? In the case of those engaged in homosexual lifestyles, it means loving them in a way that “does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). And the truth is that homosexual activity is immoral (cf. Leviticus 18:22) and unnatural (cf. Romans 1:26-27). This needs to be said! But it does not need to be said in a way that belittles, badgers, or bullies another person. Rather, it needs to be said out of a love that is simply honest enough to offer a biblical assessment of sin coupled with an affirmation of God’s love for sinners: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In the case of those who demonstrate hatred toward homosexuals by bullying them, showing love means, once more, addressing their sin in a way that “does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” And the truth is, those who hate are “in darkness” (1 John 2:9) and are murderers (cf. 1 John 3:15). And yet, this biblical assessment of sin must, once again, be coupled with an affirmation of God’s love for sinners.
As I have read these recent news stories concerning the suicides of these young, homosexual men, I have noticed that they sound a note of deep ethical concern – and appropriately so – concerning the plight of the victims of these hoary anti-homosexual attacks. Conspicuously absent, however, is any concern for the attackers. Do they not need our love too? For if we hate those who hate homosexuals, have we not fallen prey to their same sin of hatred? This is the point that the news stories which cover these tragedies seem to consistently miss.
As Christians, we are called to be concerned not only for the victims, but also for the attackers. This is our call by the gospel. The gospel calls us, as Christians, to confront sin – all sin – and to love people – all people. It calls us to confront even the sin that the world sanctions and to love even the people that the world hates. And it calls us to show people the way of eternal life. And in a world that has seen far too many suicides recently, I can’t imagine a more precious promise than life.