Self-Righteous Secularism at Sheffield … with a Smile

Self-Righteous Secularism at Sheffield … with a Smile April 21, 2012

I consider Dr. James Crossley a friend and colleague. Together we co-authored I think a rather exciting book How Did Christianity Begin? which addresses critical questions about the emergence of Christianity from two very different perspectives. I have often enjoyed a drink with James, he is always brutally honest, quick with a joke, and occasionally writes some good stuff too.

I was all the more disappointed then to read Crossley’s most recent blog post at Sheffield Biblical Studies on  Homophobia with a Cuddle! Or, a Polemic against Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing. In this post, Crossley provides a sarcastic laden attack on the presence of Christian scholars in the academy and he wonders why their traditionalist or conservative views on human sexuality are found in the mainstream. He calls such views  “homophobic” and “bigoted.” Crossley provocatively asks: “There is a simple issue here: why are mainstream scholarly views, which might be deemed bigoted views, mainstream?.” The deplorable individuals he has in mind are Michael Bird, N.T. Wright, Richard Hays, Ben Withertington, and Robert Gagnon. At the end of his post, he concludes: “This isn’t about exegesis. The biblical texts may very well be what we’d call homophobic. The issue here is that homophobia is mainstream in academic biblical studies and the hate towards ‘practising’ behaviour … is patched over with fluffiness, love and academic credibility.” Dem dere be fightin words!

Deviant Labeling and Difference

My first query pertains to what is meant by “homophobic”? Now Crossley takes it as axiomatic, though without explaining precisely why, that these Christian scholars (myself included) are homophobic because they think that their “exegesis” of biblical texts “applies to contemporary life.” Now I had always thought that homophobic (= gay-hating) behaviour would be something like setting up a website called”” or else standing outside a gay bar with a cricket bat ready to bludgeon the first man in leather jeans who walks out of it. For Crossley, however, homophobia is exceedingly broad. It appears to be specified in terms of a refusal to accept the normalcy and goodness of homoerotic acts. In fact, I get the impression from Crossley that advocacy of a Christian sexual ethic of celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in heterosexual marriage is a de jure homophobic position.

Crossley uses the term “homophobic” in a circumstantial ad hominem argument by appealing to the specific circumstances that his readers would be horrified at homophobia in the corridors of university education. The center  of gravity in his argument (or rant) is to pin the label on certain people, not to prove that these persons have engaged in activities that are legally and recognizably homophobic – he just assumes that. If you can successfully label someone as belonging to a deviant ideology, then you can more easily persuade others to take punitive actions against the persons in question.

To sum up, I think Crossley is engaging in vitriolic name-calling against people who do not share his own views of human sexuality (however shared they might be) . Rhetoric might be persuasive to some, but it is not reason.

Equality and the Christian Ethic

Equity and diversity legislation in the UK is pretty simple, thankfully based on common law, and stands in a trajectory going all the way back to the Magna Carta. The 2010 Equality Act “sets out the different ways in which it is unlawful to treat someone, such as direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, victimisation and failing to make a reasonable adjustment for a disabled person.” The Equality Charter in my old UK institution, the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), was very simple follow.

Equity laws are no problem for a Christian. They are based on a very simple principle of Christian ethics: treat others the way you would like to be treated. I have in my times in the Australian Army and working for UHI signed on without any conflict of conscience to work place equity standards in the UK and Australia. It does not mean that I agree or affirm all of the behaviours and beliefs of my colleagues and students, it means that I will treat everyone fairly, equally, and with respect.

However, if we follow Crossley’s line, then Christian academics with traditional views on sexuality are clearly in violation of work place equity laws. I do not see how on his view you can teach (much less preach) Rom 1:26-27 without violating the Equality Act. So there are serious consequences riding on Crossley’s remarks for the legal position of Christians in UK universities.

Pluralism and Diversity for All … For All Those Who Agree with Me

Now many people proscribe and censure certain sexual behaviours. Many of us think that adultery is wrong, others think that polyamory and polygamy are not healthy for personal relationships or for families. Are such persons bigoted? Are opponents of adultery hateful because that they condemn something that consenting adults do in their own privacy? Surely there are many sexual ethics and codes in a pluralistic society, so why does a pro- or gay-affirming one have to be standard which, if not met, justifies deviant  labeling against dissenters? Despite all the virtues of diversity and inclusivity that we find lauded in an aggressive secularism, proponents are resolutely dogmatic and fiercely exclusive towards any sexual ethic other than their own. In other words, in his effort to expose the bigotry of one ideology of sex, Crossley surreptitiously legitimates and authorizes his own ideology of sex as authoritative for all. Alas Crossley just got swiped by Foucault’s boomerang!

Crossley is also strangely fixated on Christians here. Perhaps they constitute the homophobia that he has the most time for. But I have to wonder whether Crossley would have written the same remarks about, say, a Muslim lecturer in a Religious Studies Department, or a Jewish lecturer in a Psychology Department, who also believed that homosexuality was not God’s plan for humanity. The logic of his position is that he would seemingly be willing to, but to do so would lacerate the virtue of being genuinely pluralistic which is secular orthodoxy. Such is the paradox of secular fundamentalism: lambast the Christian homophobes, but give special consideration to Muslims and Jews.

Crossley’s Crux

Crossley’s post was not a descriptive and neutral account of the presence of one particular ideological view of sexuality in the academy. It was a value-laden critique., i.e., Crossley regards these scholars as hateful towards homosexuals. Crossley’s “outing” of scholars in the academy for having traditionalist or conservative views on sexuality is meant to elicit shock in his (implied) readers who would be mortified at the presence of such bigoted and homophobic individuals in accredited and government funded universities. To this end, he situates himself like a type of Julian Assange who has exposed the presence of so-called bigotry in the tertiary education sector. Yet Crossley, the brave and bold truth teller, might not be all that he appears. I fear that Crossley has discovered his “inner Dawkins” and has positioned himself more as a Chairman Mao in setting up the platform for a purge of such scholars from university departments. Now Crossley explicitly says that he is all for academic and public freedom (He writes, “I’m not saying anyone should have their voice, writing or anything banned.”). I wish I could believe him, but punitive action against such scholars is the logical and necessary consequence of his position, at least in legal terms. If bigotry and homophobia are inconsistent with British (and American) work-place equity laws, and they are, then it stands to reason that the forementioned scholars should be either sacked, forced to recant their views, or at least show cause as to why they should retain their positions in public employ. Crossley’s apparent whistle-blowing on the presence of conservative Christians in the academy, whether he himself believes it or not, makes way for and justifies their removal. I know that, you know that, I assume Crossley knows that. Despite his caveats to the contrary, I sadly fear that that is where he wishes to go.

I wish I could have had a drink with James before he wrote that one. Alas!

In my next post I shall give some “Pastoral Reflections on Homophobia”.


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