Let’s try that again!

Photo by Gioele Fazzeri on Pexels.com

I need to begin with an apology.  When I wrote my last blog, I rushed it.  Life happened and I ended up with too little time, and the deadline to publish just didn’t give me the time I would have normally wanted to make sure I dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s – and what was worse was that I didn’t really answer the key question I set myself, so I’m going to try to give myself a second bite at the cherry. So, “Take 2”!

The question I asked, but never really answered properly was: why is it that so many people, especially Christians, have such a negative view towards homosexuality? 

Looking back over my lifetime, I don’t remember hearing people speak with any strong feelings one way or the other when I was younger – I simply didn’t know what being gay or homosexual was!  It was largely irrelevant to me.  I/we heard that there were folk out there who were homosexual, but hadn’t much idea what that meant, and simply regarded it as a bit strange (or queer?).  In the mid ‘80’s, when I was working in an office in South London, I remember there being two guys who were gay.  Kevin, if I remember his name correctly, was extremely flamboyant, an exaggerated Mr. Humphries from “Are You Being Served?” – if that were possible!  Frank was a significantly older, a quiet and likeable man, and we had no idea he was gay, until he had time off work, after being attacked by his boyfriend. 

I don’t really remember hearing any negative remarks made towards either guy.  Kevin attracted some raised eyebrows, but definitely no malice. From a personal perspective, I got on very well with Frank, and we chatted very easily, but it was a work-based relationship.  However, I was not drawn to Kevin, and I think that was because, from my standpoint, we had nothing in common.  I’m sure much of that was because I am much more of an introvert and hate stepping into the spotlight – and Kevin loved the spotlight!  It had nothing to do with his identity and much more to do with personality.  I think that although I saw homosexuality as a lifestyle choice during this period, especially in the case of Kevin, rather than something genetically built-in, it really didn’t bother me. It was largely irrelevant and I never saw the need to question my thinking, or to fill in the gaps, in what I understood.

Zooming out and looking at things across the culture I was aware of, my gut feeling is that things started to change over the years when AIDS began to rear its head (probably around the time of the above story), and the Christian Right/Moral Majority started their awful rhetoric against the gay community.  Even so, as I say, I had no real personal relationship with anyone who was gay – well, that’s probably a lie, because I did, a relative, as I’ve written about elsewhere.  But my life was full of dealing with other issues, most of them immediate to me, or local church-related issues, so the issues of homosexuality were largely immaterial.  My relative came out to me – could it have been around 35 years ago?  I really can’t remember what year it was.  I never saw it as a Salvation-threatening issue, because I saw him as a Christian, and God forgives those who ask.  But I was quickly distracted with other issues, and the feeling of irrelevance remained till 2014/15 when I began to wake up to the issues.   Sometime during that intervening period, attitudes had slowly changed, and the church in particular had become much more antagonistic towards the LGBTQ+ community.  US Evangelicals had become much more inflammatory with their language, and it spawned churches like Westboro Baptist Church, who, it seems to me, behave much more like a sect, and became well-known for their abusive anti-gay language at protests.

In general terms, the American church is very influential on the church in the UK – perhaps more so than I believe is healthy.  Many of our songs and hymns originate there, as do the styles and content of many of our  UK “Christian” TV channels. I suspect that some of them are even funded with US money – but that is educated guesswork, rather than hard facts. However, I do know that GOD TV, are a worldwide broadcaster (with a contact address in Plymouth, Devon). On their website they accept donation in Pounds, but also in Euros and Dollars, and their international broadcasting licences are held by Angel Christian Television Trust Inc, a Florida not for profit.

Every year we have various influential US speakers and musicians doing tours of this country.  Some of them are very good, and they’ll be speaking at national Christian events, like Spring Harvest, Greenbelt (who are wholly affirming, so if you want to hear good music and great speakers, check them out) and similar events. (By the way, if you want to listen to some of their archived talks from previous years, you can listen here – in this instance I have created a link pointing to the LGBTQ+ section, but you can select from many themes). In 2020 Franklin Graham was due to tour, but the tour was cancelled when a number of venues cancelled, due to his views on marriage and the gay community.  This year he came back with couple of dates, although in the interim, he had won a number of court cases against the venues who had rebuffed him last time.  Sadly, he still rides the coat tails of his father, the far more respected Billy Graham, whose picture appears in the publicity images for Franklin Graham’s tour.

Furthermore whenever there is a new translation of the Bible, it is usually funded and printed in the States, with an Anglicised version printed sometime later, which was the problem when the Revised Standard Version was initially released (the New Testament, in 1946, and the complete Bible in 1952), and used the word “homosexual”, for the first time.

Another factor is that I think the world today is a much angrier place than it was a couple of decades ago with people quickly losing control in outbursts of anger – listen to any radio phone-in, think Brexit, think Scottish Independence, think road rage, trolley rage etc.  Think about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and other social media platforms where people think they can say what they like with no repercussions, mistakenly thinking they are anonymous behind their online avatar.

However, let’s not kid ourselves that the world was ever sanguine.  There were the various student protests of the ‘60’s which led to the Vietnam war protests in the USA (and elsewhere), or the Brixton riots of the 1980’s, and many other riots in London and across our nation, that have happened on a regular basis, since then.  As I said just now, I think societal anger has become more insidious, and widespread, in recent years, and in my mind, it has been fed by social media.  Social media and YouTube work by analysing the stories and links that you follow, and offering you more of the same, and as you follow those, it doubles down on your choices, thus becoming an echo-chamber or feedback-loop of those things that stimulate your passions. 

The social media platforms want people to be angry and upset, because then they spend longer online.  When someone connects with an issue, they frequently get into online arguments, and this means they’ll end up spending hours “flaming” each other.  The social media companies will then sell more advertising, and the more advertising, the more money the platforms will make.

Two thousand years ago the apostle Paul, recognised that this principle was important: that if you focused on negative things, it would affect you negatively, and if you focussed on positive things, it would have a positive effect.  He wrote in Philippians 4 v 8:- Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (NIV)  I believe that is the call to the church today, because we have really lost our way.  We desperately need to get back to being a positive element in our society, since Jesus called us to be salt and light, to purify and enlighten the areas around us.

In America, we have had the era of Donald Trump casting doubt on everything, and calling everything that is good, bad and everything that is bad, good.  He sneers, and snarls, and casts doubt and questions.  He echoes the words of the serpent in the Garden, “Did he really say…?”  And he now wants to return.  God help us!  Please!

In the UK we experienced Boris Johnson and Liz Truss who made up statistics and quoted them as facts and kept repeating them, even though fact-checkers proved they were wrong.  Boris Johnson would quote an incorrect “fact” in Parliament, fact-checkers would ask him to correct it, and he would repeat the same wrong “fact” without correcting it, a few days later.  This happened so many times it was difficult to know when he was telling the truth.  Boris Johnson was anti-Brexit till he realised he could benefit from it, and then milked it for all it was worth for personal advancement.  He ignored information and statistics that were inconvenient and created laws that he didn’t feel he and his crew needed to follow – indeed he didn’t seem to understand any of the requirements of the laws he was writing and signing into place and seemed surprised when people questioned his actions.  Our current government has been in power for twelve years and the damage they have done will take a lifetime to repair, and this has generated a lot of negativity in many, including me. 

In my case, one area that has generated ire in me, is the treatment of asylum seekers, and their handling by the Home Office – on the one hand actively removing all the legal and safe routes (except for Syrians, Afghans and Ukrainians) and then criminalising those who are  desperate and cross the channel in small boats.  There is a wonderful clip of the Home Secretary , Suella Braverman wriggling and squirming in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee earlier this week (late November 2022), when asked how someone can find a safe route into the UK.  The treatment of asylum seekers in small boats is particularly galling as a very high percentage of them would have been granted asylum anyway, if there had been legal processes they could have applied to, before crossing the channel in small boats

One person I chatted with didn’t choose to come to the UK.  They were so desperate to leave their country, that they paid someone to help them escape.  They had no idea or choice which country they would end up in (France, Spain, Azerbaijan, Germany…), and found themselves being trafficked to the UK.  They have now been granted indefinite leave to remain.  Whether you like it or not this happens all the time, and many of these folk are good, decent, honest and law-abiding folks, who because of terrible circumstances have had to leave their homes and flee.  It’s very much like when Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt, with Jesus, when he was a toddler.

So here in the UK we have grown distrustful, cynical and angry, and when what we read in our newsfeeds simply echoes that anger back to us, we feel justified in our attitudes, and I’m convinced there are times I am caught up in that as well, so I guess I need to come before God and ask for help in striking the right balance.

One of the major Christian sociological changes I’ve noticed in the last few years is that Christians in the West fear “persecution” (otherwise known as “inconvenience”!), and every policy change, or proposed policy change, is seen as an existential threat to faith.  Why did Trump win the 2016 Presidential Election?  He managed to get the support of many American Evangelicals, and Christians generally, because he said he was “pro-family” and “pro-life”.  By way of comment, Christians refused to read the bits in their Bibles that said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” and “good fruit doesn’t grow on bad trees”.  James also made a similar remark in his letter.  Trump was regarded as the protector of the Christian faith.  What a fine upstanding example of family values he is!

We’ve also seen something similar happen in Brazil, where Jair Bolsonaro won the Presidency in 2019 because of his links to Evangelicalism and upholding of family values, thus getting the support of many Christians.  He then trashed the Amazon.  Christians have a responsibility to steward God’s creation well, but so many think it doesn’t matter because God will make it anew.  That’s not what God expects us to do.  Fortunately, Bolsonaro has just been voted out again.

Add to this, in both the UK, and America, we have seen that while societies, through their governments, rightly give more and more rights to those identifying as LGBTQ+, the Christians who see this as wrong, feel their faith and values are being eroded and threatened at their core.  So, any politicians who say they will protect family values and faith, will do well with their Christian bases.

The Christian media fan these flames.  On the 28th of October Premier Christian Media, in their daily email roundup of Christian news, headlined one item with: “Even silent prayer is banned inside abortion clinic buffer zones.  There’s no place for them in a democracy”.  On 10th November they also headlined a piece, “Bishop of Oxford’s views on same-sex marriage put popular opinion above the Bible”.  On the 18th of November a further headline read: “Christian actor Candace Cameron Bure responds to backlash over ‘traditional marriage’ remark”.  Once again, today as I write this (23rd November) they cry out that “Crown Prosecution Service claims some of the Bible is ‘no longer appropriate to modern society’ in homophobia lawsuit”.  It’s all part of the narrative that the Christian faith is under attack – as if this were a Christian country.  It hasn’t been a Christian country for decades, if it were ever truly the case, but that depends on your definition.

I don’t have space or time to go into any details here, but I’d just like to comment on that headline relating to Steven Croft, the Bishop of Oxford.  It was an ignorantly written piece, making it sound like he was simply being blown by the cultural wind.  In fact, he wrote a very good, sound, and well-reasoned, essay to explain his thinking, including arguing from scripture.  He published his essay as a booklet  which was around 50 pages long (so a fair bit shorter than my own!  Lol!) Hence, I find it very lazy and poor journalism to make out he has changed his views for very shallow popularist reasons.  If you want to read his booklet, you can buy it on the Oxford Diocese web site for £2.50.

Non-affirming Christians see LGBTQ+ folk as threatening what they regard as traditional Biblical teaching.  That word “traditional” is doing some very heavy lifting!  It’s a tradition that arguably goes back only about fifty years – not to the time of Jesus, which they’d have you believe!

The fears Christians are expressing seem to echo a lot of similar emotions to those underlying conspiracy theories over the last 10-20 years.  A few days ago, I was listening to the BBC podcast version of “The Infinite Monkey Cage”, hosted by Professor Brian Cox and the comedian Robin Ince.  The episode was called “The Age of Conspiracy?” and was looking at why conspiracy theorists take the positions they do.  Part of the thinking was that it gave them comfort, in that they know and are convinced of something others don’t. Normally, that there really is a kind of superior force, that somehow evilly controls the world – in their worldview. The transcript of the conversation with David Baddiel went:

Robin Ince: I very rarely, if I’ve ever, ended up in an argument with a Flat Earther, with a Moon hoaxer [PJ: that the moon landings were filmed on a film set in Hollywood], with someone who doesn’t believe that Joe Biden won the election – I never see them appearing to be cock a hoop.  They always seem to be furious [ ]. So, what I find fascinating is this: it is both comforting and, it seems to make people utterly infuriated all the time.

David Baddiel: Yeah, because comfort – what I mean by [comfort] is, it’s more about identity and having a stable identity about yourself than it is about any idea of happiness.  And the reason why I think that it’s grown a lot over the last 15 years is, of course, social media is a marketplace of identity.  Social media is not a marketplace of ideas.  It’s a marketplace of identity, about broadcasting who you are, and what’s the best way of broadcasting who you are?  It’s “I believe this”.  And often, if you believe something extreme, then you’re turning up the volume on your identity.

As I hinted, I think there is some crossover into the mindset of Christians as well.  There is an existential threat to my faith, I must fight it with everything I have – Put on the full armour of God; fight the good fight, stand firm in your faith (I Corinthians 16: 13 but they forget verse 14!) etc, etc.

As every good Christian knows, being homosexual is against Biblical teaching (well, the teaching of recent years, even if Jesus wasn’t against it) so we have to prevent the Bible from being watered down.”  Isn’t God strong enough to protect himself?  Remember the words of Gamaliel 38For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” Acts 5:38-39.

So, thus far I’ve focussed on societal trends, but  in reading around, these are some of the other reasons given in answer to the original question we started with:

  • Lack of understanding – probably the most significant.  Many people don’t understand what it means to be LGBTQ.  In a sense I probably have to put up my hand and say, how can I know, as a straight, cisgendered male?  I can identify with the hurt and bullying because I’ve been there.  I can identify with wanting to be different because I despaired of life when I was young given my chronic asthma, and I wanted to die.  Living was so difficult and such a struggle – I was tired of life.  But I probably can’t truly understand what it is like to be gay, although I can walk some of the way down the path in my imagination.  Then, two minutes later I can be snapped back out of my reverie by a news item, or email, pinging on my phone, and I’m back in my straight cisgendered mindset.  But I suspect that the concept of “lack of understanding” is directed at those who make no attempt to walk with, or listen to, someone, or those, in the LGBTQ+ community.
  • As I’ve mentioned regularly, non-affirming Christians opine that homosexuality is a sin.  I’ve also written, just as regularly, that it isn’t.  In my original essay, I addressed this issue in greater detail, and if you want to see what I wrote, you may download the document here.
  • Some argue that there is a mental health issue, though I find that offensive, and wondered whether to include it, but as felt it needed to be mentioned, because it is still quoted by some.  For example, on the 8th of November (2 weeks ago), in the runup to the start of the World Cup, the 60-yr old former Qatar international, Khalid Salman, a Qatari World Cup Ambassador, called homosexuality “damage in the mind”.  Some news outlets translated his comments as a “disease of the brain”.  The idea of it being a mental health issue is so wrong-headed because we see so many examples of what we define as homosexuality, occurring in nature (along with fish that will change gender if the need arises).  I’ve also written about this in my essay.  I was originally going to have this paragraph at the end of the list but moved it up because of that very recent comment!
  • One writer argued that Gay pride parades can be hypersexualized, but I am uncomfortable with that descriptor because it is highly subjective.  That can probably be argued about certain carnivals too.  I think I will just leave it there, because many of you will have all sorts of views.  Undoubtedly borders have probably been crossed on occasions, but not all the time.
  • Another writer wanted to draw attention to those with pre-existing anti‑LGBTQ+ suspicion and prejudice.  This is a situation where people have a prejudice even before any perceived faith teaching drives the narrative.  My impression is that this is a generational thing, because I frequently read that – to make a sweeping generalisation – younger people tend to be more accepting.  I hope that is right.  However, it may come from life-experiences or abuse they have suffered in the past.
  • Frequently non-affirming Christians will also mention AIDS, and talk about it as the gay disease, ignorantly discounting the many folks who were not gay who also died of that disease.  Many AIDS patients died on their own, with no family, friends, and sometimes with no nursing staff.  Christians should have been the first to offer support to those affected, but many still won’t get involved.  A year or two back, Russell T Davies wrote the brilliant TV series “It’s a Sin”.  If you haven’t seen it, try and catch it, because it accurately depicts this period, but it is an uncomfortable watch at times.  I see it is still available on Channel Four (My Four): https://www.channel4.com/programmes/its-a-sin.  Yes, you’ll have to sign in to watch it, but it is worth the effort.
  • Homosexuals are bad examples.  This is usually used by naive people who are non-affirming and are scared that their teenaged child might learn about those who are lesbian or gay and want to become one too.  In my own reading and conversations, I have yet to come across someone who has “chosen” to be LGBTQ+.  Many have indeed wrestled with it, and with God, because they would do anything NOT to be LGBTQ+.  Life becomes so much more difficult and anxious, so why would you choose to be gay?
  • Sex is for procreation only.  This view was prevalent through much of history as I’ve written in previous blogs.  You might want to argue that this was a traditional view that reaches back into the days of Jesus and before.  But it’s a tradition that we have set aside in the days of contraception.  Nowadays this view is far more typically found within Roman Catholic cultures.  I also believe sex to be a gift of God, and not a purely functional pastime to propagate the species.  Therefore, to limit it to purely procreation, dilutes a good gift of God.

These sites helped supplement my own thinking:

Interestingly, that last link postulates that wealth, freedom of speech and the dominant religion of a country greatly shapes the acceptance of LGBTQ+ tolerance – read it and see what you think.

So, coming out of that I want to ask a question of all those who voice anti‑LGBTQ+ remarks.  It isn’t my question, but instead, listen to Jennifer Finney Boylan.  Jennifer is a trans woman and so was addressing the trans issue in her comments, but her question works just as well in whichever part of the spectrum you identify:

“… what these people who don’t understand trans lives never say is, what [are trans people] supposed to do instead of existing?  Are we supposed to simply disappear?  Are we supposed to all be hauled off to Bedlam?

There’s no understanding or recognition of the fact that to be trans is, among other things, a medical condition.  It is something that you were born with.  It is something that happens in the brain, and in your genes, and can happen to anyone.”  (Jennifer Finney Boylan is the co-writer with Jodi Picoult of the new novel “Mad Honey”) and was speaking with Simon Mayo and Matt Williams on their Podcast “Simon Mayo’s Books of the Year”.

So, what are gay people supposed to do?  They’re here – they can’t and won’t disappear.  If you hadn’t shone your spotlight on them and told them they were offensive, but instead, just embraced and affirmed them, they wouldn’t have needed to react and defend themselves.  The world might have been very different if you had shown the proper love of Jesus, but we’ll never really know – this side of heaven, anyway.