Stop Saying Homophobes Aren’t Real Christians

It’s common to be told that people who make religions look bad aren’t really part of them, and in particular that homophobes aren’t ‘real’ Christians—as well as that their views are a perversion of faith fuelled by denial of their own sexuality. At the moment, I’m working on a much longer piece than usual, so I’m going to do something unusual and post an extract from it about the problem I have with this.

Think about it for a second, and Christian homophobia being fuelled by queer shame is a shitty idea. It means believing not only that an inexplicable swell of queer people are born into Catholic, Baptist and Presbyterian churches, loathing themselves for no particular reason, but that Quakers and Unitarians are progressive because so many more of them are straight, and that our problems would be solved if straight people could just teach queer people not to be so homophobic. Historically and politically, it blames us for our own murder.

It also means thinking that by sheer coincidence, cultures in northern Europe, Africa and India where bisexuality was the norm developed a sudden angst about it, ex nihilo, at the exact moment Christian missionaries arrived. It means thinking that Rome’s upper classes became squicked out by their previously open sex lives the moment Constantine became emperor; that in the generation gap between the first Christians and their parents, condemning same sex acts went from being a wholly religious act to being nothing to do with religion.

Were the church fathers Christian in name only? Was Constantine less than a ‘real’ Christian? Were Paul, Peter and all popes since, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther and Martin Luther King? Were the missionaries whose schools and hospitals are points of pride? Or is ‘real’ Christianity a drawbridge that goes up and down, alternately admitting and excluding these people, raised and lowered for the comfort of people who denounce some homophobes then venerate others, only denying their membership of the faith when it’s expedient?

I don’t say this as an atheist with an agenda, or somebody opposed to progressive religious tendencies. I say it as a queer person to whom it doesn’t feel progressive to care about homophobia only when it makes being a Christian uncomfortable, or to be more concerned about the threat it poses to your faith’s PR than to my life and the lives of my friends. All Christians are real Christians; all Muslims are real Muslims; all atheists are real atheists. Deal with it.

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7 thoughts on “Stop Saying Homophobes Aren’t Real Christians

  1. 3

    Next thing you know, people will be claiming that the folks who want to re-establish slavery aren’t “real” Christians either. It should be obvious that the Bible is abundantly pro-slavery, but still, the abolitionists keep torturing the clear recommendations with their “interpretations.”

  2. AMM
    4

    The “homophobes aren’t real Christians/atheists/whatever” has always struck me as a classic case of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

    My mother was fond of the reverse fallacy. She would describe some people as “so Christian” who were clearly members of a non-Christian faith, e.g., Jews.

    The problem with all this is that it makes labels such as “Christian”, “Jewish”, “Muslim,” etc., meaningless. It turns a statement of verifiable fact about someone’s beliefs, practices, and cultural heritage into a value judgement on someone’s virtue. It’s as if someone would say that a cloudy day is really a night because “true days” are sunny.

    BTW, I get the impression that atheists get a skewed view of Christian attitudes towards the Bible from having too much contact with fundamentalists. Many, maybe even most Christian denominations do not believe that every word of the Bible is divine law. The Old Testament laws are regarded by most Christians as having been superseded by Jesus’ teachings. The Roman Catholic Church considers the Church to be the final authority on God’s law, not the Bible. Etc.

  3. 5

    I mean, the simplest reason that we can’t deny someone the use of the label is that we are literally unable to prevent them from doing so.

    thunderf00t could turn around and start calling himself a feminist (gigglesnort), and while he has no shortage of odious arguments to refute, there is no Feminist Authority that could revoke his newfound feminist label.

    This is the same reason I have no problems associating with a term like atheist, even though Dawkbros have tainted the label. Anyone who thinks I’m a Dawkbro because I’m an atheist is a lazy thinker, and not likely a person I want to be friends with anyway.

  4. 6

    There’s a lot going on in this discussion, and I’ll be interested in reading the entire essay once it’s finished. The “homophobic people are always closeted” argument is a really awful one, and I’m always glad to see it taken down.

    I’m not as sure about the argument that people are “only denying [homophobe’s] membership of the faith when it’s expedient.” “Real Christian” has very different implications than “real atheist” given the history of heresy hunters. For many sects of Christianity, policing the definition of Christianity is part of being Christian. To take the named figures, Paul may not have thought Peter was a real Christian (Galatians 2:11-21), and Pope Leo X certainly thought Martin Luther wasn’t a real Christian. So I don’t think it’s disingenuous or special pleading for a modern Christian to say “people who believe X don’t fall under my definition of ‘Christian” or that “my version of Christianity doesn’t entail the same beliefs as that person’s version of Christianity.”

    It would also seem pretty weird to condemn sects for the very acts that caused their own schism. Christians certainly supported slavery and segregation in the US, but it’s pretty safe to say that it was a very different Christianity from the A.M.E. Church. Denominations over the last couple decades have been schisming over gay rights, and the pro-gay rights churches who’ve separated from homophobes would therefore seem to have a pretty good argument that their condemnation of homophobia isn’t mere PR.

  5. 7

    “Real Christian” has very different implications than “real atheist” given the history of heresy hunters. For many sects of Christianity, policing the definition of Christianity is part of being Christian. -qwints

    Adding to this

    Many religions, unlike more general philosophical movements, do come with rules and expectations. It is absurd to use the title Catholic when you reject the authority of the Vatican. Likewise using Christian when you don’t accept the very basic tenent that Jesus is Christ seems ridiculous. I realize people may disagree on what specific portions of a religious text mean and with so many translations and such distance from original sources no one can definitively say one way or another in many cases. But there is a floor. All Christians may be Christians but that does not make every action taken by a Christian a Christian act. For example, usury is about as unChristian as you can get. It might as well have been written across the sky in the cheapest tackiest neon. And yet it’s near universally ignored or redefined to mean only “exploitative” money lending practices.

    You really can’t have it both ways. It’s either about the theology in which case how true to it they are is important or it’s about something else entirely and the theology is a meaningless distraction.

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