Duck Dynasty, Homophobia, and Conversation in Our Culture

In a recent post, I talked about same-sex relationships, and in that post I made clear that such relationships fall outside the norm defined by the Bible. Because the specifically biblical nature of marriage was not the focus of that post, I did not attempt to provide a rationale for holding the biblical worldview. Nor is that the focus of this post, so I will not be providing such a rationale here either.

Still, this is a follow-up post of sorts.

I understand that the subject of same-sex relationships and marriage is a controversial, emotional, and divisive one for many. It’s a topic that is both moral and political. Therefore, I understand that not only will many disagree with me vehemently; I also get the fact that there are people who will stop reading this blog because of the position I hold. So be it.

But because I hold to the position I do, there is a word that gets used to characterize my position on same-sex relationships: homophobe. As a term, it also characterizes the atmosphere of the discussion. It speaks to how we have the conversations we do about topics like same-sex relationships.

Before I explain this further, I want to unpack the term ‘homophobe.’ In a literal sense, it seems to suggest that people who fall into this category are afraid of homosexuals and same-sex couples. On its face, this definition is ridiculous for suggesting that people fear homosexuals in the same way people fear heights and spiders. Uncomfortable, yes; afraid, no.

What most people obviously mean by homophobia is that those who oppose same-sex marriage and think that homosexual activity is wrong are intolerant. In other words, homophobia is a criticism not of a position but a person. At its heart, it’s an ad hominem argument. It sidesteps the reasons someone would oppose same-sex relationships and instead attacks the character of the person who holds the position. Put differently, labelling someone a homophobe is, more or less, the same thing as calling them an intolerant, hateful jerk.

The primary problem with the label “homophobe” is that it treats the debate/conversation as over. Calling someone a homophobe is the go to maneuver when a more thoughtful response is not forthcoming. It’s the conversational equivalent of “Well, I don’t know about that but . . . You’re a homophobe!” Where can such conversation possibly go when it degenerates into name-calling?

Consider the relatively recent situation involving the program Duck Dynasty. In an interview with GQ magazine, Phil Robertson made comments on homosexuality that got him effectively fired. His comments, while probably crude and without nuance, reflect the biblical worldview. For this, he got a lot of backlash. PBS made a decision that violated the principle of free speech in suspending him from the program. Phil’s comments, however appropriately expressed, forced the hand of the political and cultural left: the value of agreeing with them is higher than being able to express your beliefs freely, especially if you’re talking like a homophobe.

All of this seems to suggest that conversation is simply untenable, so large is the gap between those who support same-sex relationships and those who do not. Certainly, if supporters of same-sex relationships resort to calling those who disagree homophobes, then it seems to me they have no actual interest in intelligent discussion. They have already decided, it seems to me, that we are not worthwhile conversation partners precisely because it is their conviction that we are unreasonable simply by holding the convictions we do.

The larger issue, beyond that of this specific topic, is that this divide is unlikely to change anytime soon. It’s hard to imagine common ground. The underlying world views and assumptions are so diametrically opposed that unity is only possible if and when someone from one side effectively converts to the other side.

Sadly, it is more difficult in some respects to speak your mind on certain topics, much less have a conversation. And perhaps when this is because a person resorts to labels like homophobe as a means of tilting the cultural mood in their direction, those of us on the receiving end of such labels can respond best and most effectively by appealing to the freedom to speak we each fundamentally assume we have even when we don’t like what we hear.

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