Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Homophobia and Racism

Gay rights advocates often claim that gay rights are simply one more type of civil right; or conversely, homophobia is the same kind of thing as racism. To think homosexuality is immoral is as illogical as saying that being a certain race or ethnicity is immoral.

But what exactly do some say is immoral? Homosexuality? Homosexuals? Or homosexual acts? Traditionally, the Judeo-Christian claim is that only the last of these is immoral. Homosexuality is the ongoing temptation to engage in homosexual acts, but temptation is not immoral even if what you're being tempted to do may be. Moreover, the Christian is commanded not to condemn the person (the homosexual) but only the act. This is the meaning of the proverb "Love the sinner, hate the sin." (Admittedly this proverb is not in the Bible, but it summarizes the biblical position well.) Both of these are in some sense dependent on the third category, homosexual acts or behavior. To say someone is homosexual but is not tempted to perform homosexual acts is a contradiction in terms. Similarly to refer to homosexuality without any concept of same-sex attraction simply doesn't make any sense. The temptation to perform homosexual acts is what "homosexuality" means.

Now the problem with claiming homophobia is the same sort of thing as racism is that these categories do not transfer to race or ethnicity. This is most obvious with the third category. We all know what homosexual acts are: they are sexual acts between members of the same gender. They are not merely acts performed by homosexuals; when a homosexual washes his car, he is not engaged in a homosexual act. A homosexual act is one which defines the act as homosexual inherently, that is, by its very nature.

If homophobia were the same sort of thing as racism, there should be corresponding acts or behavior that are particular to different races. Just as there are homosexual acts, so there should be Chinese acts, or Hispanic acts, or white or black acts. This is obviously absurd. Therefore, homosexuality is not the same sort of thing as race or ethnicity. As I argued in this post, homosexual behavior involves an element that is simply not present in race: namely, behavior.

The first and second categories are problematic as well, since they are dependent on the third. A homosexual is someone who is tempted to perform homosexual acts. But a white person is not someone who is tempted to perform "white" acts, since there are no such acts. To say someone is homosexual but is not tempted to engage in homosexual acts is to redefine the word "homosexual." A homosexual is a person who is tempted to perform homosexual acts by definition. Similarly for the first category: the equivalent of homosexuality would be "whiteness" or "blackness" or whatever. But "whiteness" is not the temptation to perform "white" acts because (again) there are no such acts. Thus to treat homosexuality as the same sort of thing as race or ethnicity -- and homophobia as the same sort of thing as racism -- is simply invalid.


Tyson said...

Thank you very much for this post. We need to refocus the debate on the actions, not the people. It's not about whether people are right or wrong, but about whether the actions are right or wrong. No Chrisitans should be homophobes (that is, hate the persons), but we should oppose the acts.

Bipin Sen said...

interesting. i'm not sure if this is in the scope of your thinking, but talk a little about redemption and sanctification of a homosexual person. for example, is it enough to say that the person asks the help of the holy spirit to merely *prevent* the practice of homosexual acts? or is there need for a *transformation* of homesexual to heterosexual attraction? take the case of "ordinary" sin like stealing. in that case, we can say that sanctification involves removal of the desire to steal because stealing is inherently wrong. if one was to say that the sanctification of a homosexual person necessitated the removal of that desire because it's also inherently evil, then isn't that condemnation in a different form? especially so since most modern homosexuals now believe it's not a (evil) choice but an orientation?

thanks for a great read!