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Of human bondage

What motivates us as human beings?  Why do we do what we do?

I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 

Of human bondageThese words of Paul the apostle from the 7th chapter of his letter to the Romans serve as the epigraph to my novel and the source of the title, A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle.  As these verses from Paul suggest, we have long wrestled with the problem of the human will.  The wonderings of philosophers such as Schopenhauer & Nietzsche; psychoanalysts such as Freud & Jung; and literary figures such as Somerset Maugham & Thomas Mann suggest it’s complicated and self-awareness is difficult.

What about homophobia?  What is the source of this phenomenon?  Let’s start with a definition–this one is Merriam-Webster’s online version:

irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals

and Wikipedia’s description:

Homophobia is a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards homosexuality and people identified or perceived as being homosexual. Definitions refer variably to antipathy, contempt, prejudice, aversion, and irrational fear. Homophobia is observable in critical and hostile behavior such as discrimination and violence on the basis of a perceived non-heterosexual orientation. In a 1998 address, author, activist, and civil rights leader Coretta Scott King stated that “Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood.”

Let’s take it a step further; what is “internalized homophobia”?  Here’s the opening paragraph from a UC-Davis Psychology Department study:

Among lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals, internalized sexual stigma (also called internalized homophobia) refers to the personal acceptance and endorsement of sexual stigma as part of the individual’s value system and self-concept. It is the counterpart to sexual prejudice among heterosexuals.

In other words, it is gay folks accepting negative societal, cultural, or religious stigma and applying such negative values toward oneself.  Self-condemnation.  Self-doubt and low self esteem en extremis.  It doesn’t take deep psychological insight to recognize that internalized homophobia is not healthy.  High incidence of suicide.  Drug and alcohol abuse.  Inability to have meaningful relationships. 

And sometimes, the internalized homophobia results in outrageous behavior toward other gays.  An extreme example is Andrew Cunanan, the murderer of Gianni Versace; political examples include US Senator Larry Craig & California State Senator Ray Ashburn; and religious examples include Ted Haggard and now Minnesota pastor and outspoken opponent of the ELCA gay friendly policies, Pastor Tom Brock of Hope Lutheran Church of Minneapolis (Hope Church is not ELCA but AFLC—Association of Free Lutheran Churches–a small and conservative Lutheran denomination). 

The “outing” of Pastor Brock was a journalistic abomination for which there is no excuse, and the offending magazine has received appropriate condemnation.  Yet, the exposure of Pastor Brock raises the question of other outspoken anti-gay religious leaders.  Let me be perfectly clear, I make no suggestion that this is the sole or even the primary motivation for those religious leaders in various denominations that oppose gay inclusive policies.  Yet, one wonders whether Pastor Brock is merely an isolated and atypical example or merely the tip of the iceberg.  What is it about human sexuality that makes some squirm?  How often does sexual angst undergird homophobia?

Whatever the motivation, religious leaders who bash gay folks over the head with their Bibles need to seriously question themselves—are they really offering a solution to gay suicide, gay drug and alcohol abuse, and gay casual relationships or are they part of the problem?  Are they advancing the kingdom of God or stalling it?  Are they truly seeking God’s will or merely proof texting the Bible to justify their own biases, prejudices and even their own homophobia? 

Don’t, please don’t, respond with the horrific notion that you hate the sin but love the sinner, a self-justifying excuse for murky motivations behind hurtful behavior.

Cross posted at Spirit of a Liberal.

2 Responses

  1. Obie, a powerful statement. I like how you frame this discussion in Pauline terms. There is, deep within us all, the mystery of both sin and grace, and profound depths of heart and spirit that only God can fully fathom.

    Even so, I think you’re right: the continuing revelations that some of the most outrageously anti-gay Christian crusaders struggle with same-sex attraction deserves serious attention. After the revelations about Dr. Rekers, I heard a comic say something like this: If you spend most of your time hating and hunting gays, thinking about gays and their lives, you’re likely to be gay!

    Empirical studies in a number of places show that men who are most vocally homophobic are also more likely than non-homophobic men to experience erotic arousal when shown gay pornography.

    We often rail against what is most stigmatized and hidden inside ourselves.

  2. Obie,

    When you say don’t respond with hate the sin, but love the sinner, are you referring to the parable of the adulterous woman or did you have another part of the Bible in mind?

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