Saturday, January 03, 2004
Many Christians have rightly tackled the notion of ‘homophobia’. It is a clever linguistic ploy, which seeks to turn the tables and give those who engage in homosexual practices the moral high ground. However, this is a danger that, in attacking this misuse of language, we fail to identify a sin that can lurk in the area termed ‘homophobia’. Many people in our societies condemn such sins as paedophilia and homosexuality as vocally as possible. Such condemnation can often serve as the means by which a society that has shed all morality can still seek to assert it. By treating those who commit such things as moral lepers, they believe that they can think of themselves as morally clean. For such people a condemnation of homosexuality can serve as a declaration that they are not in need of forgiveness. Moral judgment presupposes self-righteousness. Christians have not always sufficiently spoken out against this approach. Homosexuals and paedophiles can be subjected to vitriolic language. Many Christians have fallen in with the practices of their societies in this respect. It is my concern that we think carefully before doing so. As Christians we must always remember that we confront sin as forgiven sinners. The nature of such an approach should cause us to question our rhetoric when addressing such sins as homosexuality and paedophilia. The rhetoric of hate employed by many in the world is hardly a form of rhetoric that should be adopted by the Christian. The rhetoric of hate loves to place such people beyond forgiveness. This can only occur in a society that denies the truth of divine forgiveness; it should not occur in the church. The fact that many churches merely preach a bare message of condemnation at homosexuals makes me wonder whether we have seriously failed in this area. We need to learn to preach a message that is far more powerful than a message of mere morality. We need to preach a message of gracious forgiveness. Tolerance vs. Forgiveness Far more common in relation to the sin of homosexuality in our societies is the language of tolerance. Tolerance is substituted for forgiveness because the latter is far too unsettling. Tolerance denies the need for moral judgments and the need to speak truthfully about sin. In opposition to these approaches the Church should exemplify a community whose moral judgments are formed by the fact of forgiveness. Many churches have confused the world’s message of tolerance with the biblical message of forgiveness. The biblical message of forgiveness is not a message to reassure people that God is happy with the way they are living. The biblical message of forgiveness is quite radical. It enables us to make truthful moral judgments and yet to still know reconciliation. There are few things more painful than accepting forgiveness. We often focus on how difficult it is to forgive and forget how difficult it is to be forgiven. In the very act of receiving forgiveness we accept the implicit judgment that is being cast upon our actions. As James Torrance observes, God word of forgiveness in the cross is at the very same time the message of judgment and condemnation. By accepting forgiveness we accept that we deserve condemnation. I believe that the strongest condemnation of homosexuality occurs at the cross of Christ. As Emil Brunner observed:—
Real forgiveness would be an event of such a nature that in the very act of removing the great boulder which blocks the path its weight would become still more evident.Only in the cross is the full depth of the guilt of sin unveiled for what it really is. Forgiveness is costly. Every sinner should learn to interpret his sin in the light of God’s word of condemnation and judgment at the cross. Many Christians believe that to bring the message of the Gospel to people is to fail to condemn their sin. They fail to see that no stronger condemnation of sin could be found than the condemnation we witness in the flesh of Jesus the Messiah at Calvary. If we are to attack the sin of homosexuality as Christians we must attack it with God’s message of forgiveness. If we are to proclaim this message faithfully we have to learn to be a community that speaks candidly about sin. A society of ‘tolerance’ lacks the language and will to speak truthfully about sin. A society of ‘tolerance’ can never truly know the healing of forgiveness. Forgiveness is only possible when we are willing to name our sins. Homophobia The correct response to a society that tolerates homosexuality is not to demonize homosexuals. The correct response is to preach the challenging message of the cross, to stop sinners in their tracks with a message of divine forgiveness. There are too many churches who breathe fire and brimstone whenever homosexuality is mentioned and fail to demonstrate the love for the lost exemplified by our Saviour. There are many homosexuals in our communities who have an unbearable, gnawing thirst for forgiveness, restoration and reconciliation and are confronted with nothing but condemnation, hatred and rejection from the church. We may find it hard to relate to those struggling with homosexuality. I cannot understand what it would be like to struggle with homosexual lust. Nor can I claim to know many people who struggle with these things. Our inability to understand their struggles alienates us from homosexuals. They are ‘other’. We will always be tempted to fear the other. If you have ever had a friend inform you that he is homosexual you will know what I mean — a distance is suddenly created. We can often react to our fears of the ‘other’ in irrational ways. A form of ‘homophobia’ can arise out of this. Our fear is a fear that our identity is being challenged. The idea that a person who struggles with homosexuality belongs to us as a friend challenges our identity. Many respond to this by denying the ‘otherness’ of homosexuality in a bare tolerance. Other people respond by denying any connection with the person struggling with homosexuality, unable to live at peace with the reality of any relationship between the person and themselves. The former friend is made wholly other. How do we overcome this response of fear? I believe that forgiveness is the key. Forgiveness enables us to live at peace with ourselves and with others. Forgiveness means that we do not need to live in denial. Forgiveness means that we need not be afraid to recognize the truth about sin, both within ourselves and within those we relate to. Homophobia often results from our inability to tell ourselves the truth about sin. We feel safe only to the degree that we deny the reality of sin in our lives and histories. People demonize the homosexual because they do not want to be able to relate to him. Relating to the homosexual might force us to start speaking the truth about ourselves. Homophobia might be an indicator of our inability to accept forgiveness. Forgiveness teaches us that security is found in the way of confession and not in the way of denial. Forgiveness challenges our claims to self-possession. Accepting forgiveness renders us powerless. It involves relinquishing our title to the moral high ground and giving control to the one who has forgiven us. There is nothing more threatening than this. The forgiven person has his life determined by God and not by the fact that he is in control. Consequently, he is able to accept the reality of his own sinfulness and no longer seeks to deny it. Living as forgiven people necessitates learning to speak the truth about ourselves. A Brief Answer to Some Objections It might be claimed that my approach leads to a denial of the seriousness of such sins as homosexuality. Surely the homosexual is not forgiven until he repents? Should we not delay the message of forgiveness until the point of repentance? In concluding I will briefly answer these objections. Forgiveness can never be a denial that our sins actually occurred. Nor can it constitute a denial of the seriousness of those sins. God’s forgiveness is not bare tolerance. God’s forgiveness is costly. God was so desirous to know reconciliation with fallen mankind that He sent His Son to the cross of Calvary to obtain it. Forgiveness cannot be received if we are unwilling to accept the justice of the sentence declared against sinful mankind in the death of Christ. For the homosexual, accepting forgiveness involves an acceptance of God’s verdict of condemnation on homosexuality. In effect the homosexual must say: ‘Yes, my sin was so evil that Christ had to die for it.’ Repentance is the ‘amen!’ that we give to the message of divine forgiveness given at the cross. Repentance can never condition God into being gracious. Repentance is the appropriate response to the fact of God’s graciousness. By God’s grace the forgiven person begins to live his life out of the reconciliation that he now knows. His appropriate response to grace is to abide in this renewed relationship by continual confession and cleansing. Were repentance to precede forgiveness, the message of the gospel would become a message of the meritorious nature of human penance — that is, no gospel at all. If we are to address the impenitent homosexual, therefore, we must address him first with the message of divine forgiveness. We must call him to repent and to submit to the sentence that God has passed upon the sin of homosexuality at the cross. We must call him to live a life determined by the forgiveness that confronts the homosexual at the cross of Christ. We must address him as people who have been delivered from denial, people who are at peace with their own histories through the forgiveness of God and can now speak truthfully about sin. We must address him as those who love him and are concerned for his spiritual well-being. We must address him as forgiven people — that is, individuals who have surrendered the moral high ground to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. I trust that, as we seek to do so, many men might be delivered from the grasp of this evil sin and know the liberation of forgiveness that we can only enjoy in Christ.