National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Homophobia

The following was quipped on line by one pundit concerning the defection of the eight Virginia churches from the Episcopal Church to align with the anti-gay Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria last month:

“Ten times a week I get spam, from some rich guy in Nigeria who will give me a million bucks if I’ll just send my Social Security number, bank account number and PIN. People fall for this scam all the time, and it looks like these folks in Falls Church (one of the eight Virginia churches – ed.) are letting themselves be scammed out of their claim to American greatness. What a pity.”

Now more and more is coming to light about the virulent, anti-gay nature of this Bishop Akinola, and the fact he supports legislation now being considered in Nigeria that would impose 15-year jail sentences on someone for merely being a homosexual.

According to reports, leaders of this new wing of the Nigerian church in Virginia are now scrambling to explain Bishop Akinola’s relative compassion, as they characterize it, in the face of all this. They note that the bishop advocates only five year jail sentences, not 15 year ones, for all gay people. How comforting.

Some consider this whole fiasco the miserable outcome of a dizzying hissy-fit by a handful of homophobic leaders within the Episcopal denomination dating from the elevation of the openly-gay Rev. Gene Robinson to the rank of bishop in November 2003. Others see the hand of a quasi-covert targeting, infestation and takeover of key Northern Virginia congregations by the almost clandestine Arlington-based so-called Fellowship Foundation.

Perhaps it’s a combination of both. But one thing is for sure, without reference to any specific person or church that isn’t already in the news for this over the past year: this whole business of homophobia has become highly suspect.

How many high profile cases have there been in the last 12 months of right-wing, anti-gay religious and political demagogues suddenly being “outed” as closet, self-loathing homosexuals? Is there a more general message here about the real psychological roots of irrational hatred aimed against gays and lesbians?

Certainly by now, it is to be expected that the louder someone is in their denunciations, the more suspect they are becoming in the eyes of the general public. Even the followers of such demagogues can’t help but begin to scratch their heads. How many times are they supposed to be fooled?

After all, it wasn’t primarily God’s failure to heed Jerry Falwell’s promise that God would never allow the Democrats to win last November that deflated the evangelical movement over the holidays, muting its usual loud and irritating insistence that December is for Christians, and Christians, only.

No, it was the exposé of Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, by his gay escort, revealing the evangelical leaders’ repeated crystal meth-crazed gay trysts. This cut even deeper than the exposé of GOP Congressman Mark Foley months earlier. But it came on top of the case of a Virginia Beach congressman the year before, and a Spokane, Washington, mayor last year. More recently, a leader of a Colorado mega-church confessed in a similar vein.

All were virulently anti-gay in public. All were crusaders for legislation outlawing gay marriage and equal rights. All pronounced the gay lifestyle an express ticket to hell.

It’s now more public than ever what psychologists have known and written about for decades. Persons who discover things about themselves they hate, because they know their parents or society will hate them for it, lash out at the cause of their self-loathing as they see it expressed in society.

But it’s all because of their deep fear and insecurity that they will not be loved if they can’t purge their own feelings. It’s a sad, pathetic reality that psychologists and other caring shepherds of human souls have come to learn can be best treated and healed by generating a climate of acceptance and affirmation.

The terrible irony of the homophobic church is that it deepens fear and loathing, rather than liberates. It touts an angry, judgmental Old Testament deity instead of the spirit embodied in what I grew up learning was the essence of genuine faith, Paul’s I Corinthians 13, the chapter about love.

The church I grew up in was about nurturing love and guiding people toward relationships defined by integrity, compassion and fidelity. It did not lash out, drive fearful souls into the darkness, and condemn. It taught that the impulse to love is a universal good, and that what matters is learning how to love, not whom to love.