What Is Anti-Gay Speech? And How Protected Should it Be? (2 of 3)

What Is Anti-Gay Speech? And How Protected Should it Be? (2 of 3) October 11, 2019

Seyi Omooba is a British actress who shouted “Gay!” in a crowded theater.

Actually, it was more “Gay is wrong!” She made a social media comment saying that the Bible is clear that being gay is wrong and you can’t be born gay. (Let’s leave aside the question of whether those claims can even co-exist.) As a result, she lost a part in a play. She’s now suing the theater and her agent.

The first part of this series (1) summarized the incident; (2) argued that it’s Christians who say things about homosexuality, not the Bible; and (3) explored the free speech issue. Let’s continue with a thought experiment to see the case from another angle.

Justification

The Christian Legal Centre tried to minimize Omooba’s insult with this example:

The presence of a homosexuality theme in the play is a very poor excuse for discriminating against a Christian actress. If we were talking about a lesbian actress playing a Christian character, nobody would dare to suggest that her sexual lifestyle would make her unsuitable, and that you could fire her without breaking the law.

Are you kidding? Imagine a play with an out lesbian as Mary Magdalene or Mary the mother of Jesus. I can imagine the same thing happening in reverse: with the target audience largely Christian, a single tweet could ignite Christian outrage, and that actress would get replaced to avoid a theatrical flop.

But notice the difference: a lesbian playing Mary Magdalene wouldn’t be criticizing Christians, straight people, or the memory of Mary Magdalene. By contrast, Omooba stated in her post that homosexuals should deny who they are (or else!) while putting no equivalent constraint on herself or her fellow straight Christians. She also said that no one is “born gay.” (Does she think that all people who identify as homosexual are taking on a new persona as if living in some sort of perpetual Halloween?)

I’m sure that she felt that her post was a generous and constructive statement—that we’re all in the same imperfect boat and God loves you and has provided a route to salvation—but I think I share the offense felt by the actor who outed that five-year-old post. “Hate the sin; love the sinner” may be as distasteful for the homosexual as “I love you, but you’re going to hell” aimed at the atheist. In either situation, being told that you deserve an eternity of torture in hell for living your life in a way that is honest to who you are and that hurts no one else is simply offensive.

In one of the news articles I read on this incident, one commenter asked, would it be acceptable for someone with public antisemitic views to have a leading role in Fiddler on the Roof, a play with a Jewish theme? If the response is that this comparison is unfair because antisemitic views are fringe while Christian views that gays deserve to be in hell are not, why should “it’s a religious belief” cover for a hateful view? Does Christianity deserve a fig leaf just because it’s a venerable tradition?

What the Bible says about homosexuality

There are six Bible passages that are typically used to make God’s anti-gay case. Understand them, and you’ll see that they don’t make an anti-gay case, at least not one that is relevant today.

I’ll list them below and give a brief response. Links are given to posts that discuss them in more detail.

  • Genesis 19:4–25 is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. The lesson of the Sodom and Gomorrah story isn’t that homosexuality is bad, it’s that rape is bad. More here and here.
  • Leviticus 18:22 labels homosexual sex as an abomination. The problem is, this part of Leviticus lists lots of things as abominations—eating ham or shrimp, men wearing women’s clothes, sowing two kinds of seeds, tattooing, wearing cotton/polyester blends, and so on. These are ritual abominations, not actions that are objectively harmful to someone else. If Christians can dismiss the prohibition against pork because that’s an outdated custom, they can do the same for the rule against homosexuality. More here.
  • The same treatment applies to Leviticus 20:13. We need to see Old Testament prohibitions against homosexuality in the context of the time. One of the understood categories of male-male homosexual sex in that uncertain time was as a fertility rite—a fertility rite that was traditional within the other tribes. The Hebrew religion described in Leviticus defined rules that set their tribe apart—no ham, no tattooing, and no fertility rites to another god. These are “abominations” because they’re religious offenses. More here.
  • Romans 1:26–27 says, in part, “The men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts.” This passage imagines straight men who “abandon the natural function of the woman” and have sex with other men. Yes, that’s kinky, but it has nothing to do with homosexuals in loving relationships. More here.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 lists categories of bad people, including those who engage in homosexual sex, who won’t “inherit the kingdom of God.” But the same book says, “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says” (1 Cor. 14:34–5). If the latter is an outdated Old Testament custom, the same could be said for the former. More here.
  • 1 Timothy 1:9–10 gives a similar list. It mixes ritual abominations like homosexuality and idolatry with actual crimes like theft and murder. And it has its own misogyny: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet” (2:11–14). Like the 1 Corinthians 6 passage, this references back to Old Testament laws that we’ve seen are irrelevant. More here.

Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan? The Pharisee and the Levite walked past an injured man because they didn’t want to become ritually unclean. The Torah didn’t forbid touching blood or a dead person, it simply said that you would need to ritually cleanse yourself afterwards. The moral of the story isn’t just that you must help people in need. In addition, it’s that if there is a rule or tradition that gets in the way of your helping people, violate that rule. Outdated Old Testament laws belong in the same bin as Bible rules supporting slavery, and Christians have no problem seeing that slavery has no place in modern society.

Jesus himself showed how the priority works when he said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Concluded in part 3.

To make their faith right,
Christians first must make reality wrong.
— seen on the internet

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Image from christian buehner, CC license
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