Shuck and Jive

Saturday, May 10, 2008

What Are the Roots of Homophobia?

John McNeese made the following comment in my previous post, Theology and Same-Gender Relationships. John wrote:

There has to be a better way to discuss sex. As you can probably tell, I’m hostile to these kinds of conversations. I would much prefer discussing the roots of homophobia.

At Shuck and Jive, we aim to please.

So what are the roots of homophobia? Why is it that in 2008, the church and our culture still do not grant equality of church membership and citizenship to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people?

In setting out to answer those questions, I came across a couple of resources that seemed to make sense. The first is a New York Times article from 1990: Studies Discover Clues to the Roots of Homophobia. It includes this paragraph:

In studying the virulence and tenacity of anti-gay feelings, psychologists are finding clues to the deeper sources of homophobia. The new findings confirm the theory that some men use hostility and violence to homosexuals to reassure themselves about their own sexuality. But the greatest portion of anti-homosexual bias, psychologists now say, arises from a combination of fear and self-righteousness in which homosexuals are perceived as contemptible threats to the moral universe.
I found this particularly revealing:

Bob Altemeyer, a psychologist at the University of Manitoba who has developed a scale measuring attitudes toward homosexuals, has found that those with the most intense hostility have an extreme fear that the world is an unsafe place and that society is at risk, and a self-righteousness that leads them to judge those who hold different values as morally inferior.

"They see homosexuality as a sign that society is disintegrating and as a threat to their sense of morality," said Dr. Altemeyer. "Their self-righteousness makes them feel they are acting morally when they attack homosexuals. It overcomes the normal inhibitions against aggression."

Dr. Altemeyer tells his students that he is gay. "For most, over the course of the year it makes their attitudes toward gays more positive, he says. But if their hostility toward gays is based on religion, their views are hardest to change." (italics and bold mine)

This is from PBS' Frontline special: Assault on Gay America: The Life and Death of Billy Jack Gaither. You will find good information regarding The Roots of Homophobia. In addition to fear and self-righteousness, we also find homophobia rooted in...

Enforcement of Gender Norms:

Thus, heterosexism is not just a personal value system, it is a tool in the maintenance of gender dichotomy. In other words, through heterosexism, any male who refuses to accept the dominant culture's assignment of appropriate masculine behavior is labeled early on as a "sissy" or "fag" and then subjected to bullying. Similarly, any woman who opposes male dominance and control can be labeled a lesbian and attacked. The potential of being ostracized as homosexual, regardless of actual sexual attractions and behaviors, puts pressure on all people to conform to a narrow standard of appropriate gender behavior, thereby maintaining and reinforcing our society's hierarchical gender structure.

The Frontline program also provided an overview of scientific studies in relation to homophobia.
These studies have found that persons with negative attitudes:

1. are less likely to have had personal contact with lesbians or gays;

2. are less likely to report having engaged in homosexual behaviors, or to identify themselves as lesbian or gay;

3. are more likely to perceive their peers as manifesting negative attitudes, especially if the respondents are males;

4. are more likely to have resided in areas where negative attitudes are the norm (e.g., the midwestern and southern United States, the Canadian prairies, and in rural areas or small towns), especially during adolescence;

5. are likely to be older and less well educated;

6. are more likely to be religious, to attend church frequently, and to subscribe to a conservative religious ideology;

7. are more likely to express traditional, restrictive attitudes about sex roles;

8. are less permissive sexually or manifest more guilt or negativity about sexuality, although some researchers have not observed this pattern and others have reported a substantially reduced correlation with the effects of sex-role attitudes partialled out;

9. are more likely to manifest high levels of authoritarianism and related personality characteristics.

Sex differences in the direction and intensity of attitudes have been observed fairly consistently. It appears that heterosexuals tend to have more negative attitudes toward homosexuals of their own sex than of the opposite sex. . . .

I also found this article quite interesting regarding the church and homophobia, The Roots of Homophobia, by Terry Boughner.

In addition to the poll on Theology and Same-Gender Relationships, let's get to the heart of the matter. I have two polls:

  1. What Are the Roots of Homophobia? and
  2. Why Do We Deny Equal Rights, Privileges and Protections to Sexual and Gender Minorities?

Before you take the polls on the sidebar, you might want to take this poll to see how homophobic you are.

And now, the polls. Vote for the one best answer and comment here!

What Are the Roots of Homophobia?

  1. By hating gays people can reassure themselves they are not gay.
  2. Hating lesbians and gay men is seen as a litmus test for being a moral person.
  3. Heterosexism enforces gender norms.

Why Do We Deny Sexual and Gender Minorities Equality of Church Membership and Citizenship?

  1. Not enough people care about rights for minorities unless it affects them.
  2. The church provides false information about God's will.
  3. The church rewards homophobia as a sign of righteousness.
  4. Too many people think this is about sex not citizenship.
  5. People who know better are unwilling to speak out.
  6. Homophobia is a money-maker for the right wing.
  7. Not enough people have gay and lesbian friends.
  8. Homophobia is a culturally acceptable prejudice.


  1. The options you gave for the poll were good, but neither of them had an answer that most closely reflects my opinions. Mine are pretty simple too, even thugh I'm prone to ramble.

    "The Bible told me so." I think that a lot of times, the Bible is contradictory, misinterpreted, mistranslated, and taken out of contect of its cultural roots. Instead, many people consider the KJV the inerrant word of God.

    Why deny?
    I think a lot of people are trying to "protect people" by making a homosexual lifestyle more difficult to live and thus try to discourage it while encouraging the "equal right to marry someone of the opposite gender." My "favorite homophobe," a person I otherwise like and admire, votes against gay rights in legislature because she believes that her opinion is correct and should be made into law because it is for the "better of the country." After all, when people vote, they do naturally vote in favor of the position they feel is right.

  2. Human nature.

    Everybody, deep down inside, needs (not wants) someone to hate.

    The Gay is just another target for that hate along with many others.

    The Hebrews of the old testament knew that it would be difficult to build an army in the desert without procreation. So homosexuality was forbidden.
    The Saints warned against it for the same reason. Gotta build the church, gotta make babies.

    Now, certain "Christians", as well as others, use that as an excuse to see yet another person as beneath them.

    Trouble is, the Hebrews of old and the Saints of the church are not Jesus. Jesus never condemned The Gay. He condemned sexual immorality in general without reference to gender.

    Then died to save us from all of it.

    So I ask the Whineskins and their like:
    Did Jesus' blood save us from all sins other than blasphemy or not?

  3. I guess I should have been more careful of what I ask for.

    Homophobia is usually associated with fear. But I think it is more than that. Homophobia is a deep revulsion or disgust to a sexual act between two persons of the same sex. Homophobia is intractable and pathological.

    On an exchange of letters on Presbyweb several years ago, I asked Robert Gagnon, that prolific, homophobic Pittsburgh seminary professor; whether his opinion of homosexuality came before or after his exhaustive study of scripture (even Ham seeing his father naked had homosexual overtones.). He never answered the question.

    Homophobia is murderous. Where did a fourteen year old boy get the idea that shooting another boy, who had asked him to be his valentine, was the appropriate response? His church? This is not an isolated incident.

    What is the church’s response? Fear!

    I must admit, it is a rare delight for me to be psychoanalyzing the other side, than listening to them converse about me.

  4. Most of the studies I've read seem to show that homophobia often stems from internal conflict about the person's own homosexual feelings or desires.

    Folks like Ted Haggard, Larry Craig, etc., aren't any surprise to the gay community. Many of us know from our own experiences that homophobia is a bastard born in the closet.

  5. The claim that the Scriptures reject homosexuality and homosexual marriage as sin is in my opinion a self centered and self-serving interpretation of the text. It requires the mistranslation and the out of context interpretation of no more than 7 or 8 bible verses, a flimsy leg to stand on even if they did define homosexuality as a sin. Such a reading of the bible tells us much more about the reader than it does about the bible.

    I think the roots of homophobia are in human instinct. We tend to flock together with birds of our feather, and kill any bird that looks or behaves differently. It is an instinct that served an evolutionary purpose aside from any moral value, but one that has outlived its purpose.

    The percentage of gays in the population is low enough to be a minority. We reject minorities who are similar but different on any number of issues, such as appearance, language, customs, dress, etc, gender preference included.

    Religion has the sociological function of policing social norms. So it is not surprising that Christian religion - as a religion - enforces the homophobic social norm. If the social norm were to change, religion would back away and enforce the new norm. There are indications that the social norm in America is changing. Conservatives always resist change, so therefore it is natural that Christian conservatives will give no thought at all to resisting this change as well.

    However there is the driving function of the worship of YHWH and that is that YHWH is a God who uniquely cares about how we treat our fellow human beings. He instructs us to love our neighbor as ourselves. There is no exception to this rule, it is not mistranslated, and it is not taken out of context. We are required by divine decree to love our homosexual neighbors as we love ourselves, and there is therefore no room for a homophobic lifestyle among those who worship YHWH or who call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ.

    Acting out our homophobic instincts is just as sinful as acting out our other xenophobic instincts (racism, murder, oppression, etc). God has given us the gift of love and forgiveness to repent from, and to overcome these instincts, and overcome them we must.

  6. Thanks to each of you for your comments. I do think it is beneficial to have some kind of analysis as to what causes this particular prejudice so we can find a way to deal with it.

    It is important if for no other reason than to label "the problem" correctly.

    The problem is homophobia. To give credit to William Stacy Johnson, he does address that in his book.

    We have some different answers to this. Perhaps, each is true as part of the answer.

    Fjorab says The Bible and its misuse is the root.

    Captain Kona says human nature, everybody needs somebody to hate.

    John McNeese says it is a pathology.

    Alan says it is "a bastard child born of the closet"--I do like that turn of phrase.

    Jodie says human instinct--similar to Captain Kona.

    I think the roots of homophobia are deeper than religion, but it has been fueled by Christianity's centuries long dualistic theology, and disgust with the body and sexuality in general. As John pointed out with his reference to the Pittsburgh guy, the Bible is merely a tool.

    It is also fueled by our human instinct to attack the "other" as unclean.

    When society and church buries people in closets then the pathologies kick in and fuel more hatred toward self and others.

    It seems to be that the way to disarm this prejudice is to be assertive about changing laws in church and in society at every opportunity. No more closets.

    This means no more closets for straight people either. I get my dander up at straight people who know better for letting this sickness of homophobia fester in the church.

    Straight preachers need to preach about the damage homophobia does to families, to our churches, and to our country.

    I am really pleased John McNeese made that comment on the other post. We so easily get sucked into the wrong argument and play into the game the homophobic want us to play, as if we need to study the Jewish problem or the black problem and now the gay problem. No the problem is prejudice. And it is time to deal with it. Long past time.

  7. The roots?

    I tend toward the first two answers with a soup├žon of the third. There are precious few places left where one can mask one's bigotry as piety. We got rid of slavery, then anti-Semitism became un-kosher, then overt racism was no longer socially acceptable, then overt sexism was no longer acceptable (in the mainline churches anyway). Basically, all you are allowed to hate in today's church (and claim your hatred as virtue) are the Gays and the Muslims.

    Why deny?

    All of the above. I can make a compelling argument for all those answers. Briefly:

    1. My pastor, whom I love with all my heart, had a more conservative outlook on the Gay before her own daughter came out (now she's a very outspoken advocate for inclusion). Ditto my own parents (who, working in the airline and music industries, knew a lot of gay people, but it still didn't touch them personally). It's human nature. The only person I know who underwent a complete change of heart on this issue WITHOUT having a family member come out is Jack Rogers.

    2. The Church has been doing this for centuries; why stop now?

    3. See my response to the first question. For people terrified of having their own behavior examined, it's useful to have a scapegoat handy to denounce with pious indignation.

    4. See those commenters on other threads who are shocked, SHOCKED when we suggest that this is a civil rights issue and not about sex. State that we're looking for the same treatment under the law that they enjoy, and we're accused of "radicalizing" the issue.

    5. Sadly, yes. It's meant that a lot of leaders in both church and culture remain silent on the issue because they want to avoid getting bloodied by the fight. It leaves folks like Janie Spahr and Jack Rogers on one end of the spectrum, and Jim Berkley and (until recently) Bill Crawford on the other. The latter are joined by very loud and politically powerful allies like James Dobson and his ilk.

    6. Did I mention James Dobson?

    7. See #1. When you can't put a face on the situation, it's natural to fall back on the caricatures.

    8. Increasingly less so in secular culture, but especially in Church, yes, gays are one of the last groups whom it is acceptable to hate.

  8. Good response Flycandler. There may be other reasons as well, but those eight were off the top of my head.

    I am thinking that we need to be more assertive in making a case from a theological perspective. Homophobia goes against biblical values.

  9. Here's an argument someone made very recently:


    "1) The resurrection is a well-attested historic event. Jesus of Nazareth rose form the dead and thousands of folks from the same generation testified to that with their own blood (I know sceptics [sic] challenge every morsel of historical detail but no one has yet put much of a dent in the resurrection).
    2) Since Jesus rose from the dead he is the unequivocal [sic] son of God.
    3) The son of God, in his own words, came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17, Luke 24:44). To further attest to his divinity, in that Luke passage he says, "Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms". The Old Testament is replete with veiled descriptions of Jesus and the events of his life.
    3) Being that He is the son of God and He came to fulfill the OT, then the OT is valid except where the new covenant is concerned.
    4) The OT clearly frowns on homosexuality, particularly the command to be fruitful and mulitply and the prohibition of adultery. Where the new covenant is concerned we don't judge others harshly nor do we stone anyone, but the denial of homosexuality is intact.
    Thus Divinity>>Jesus>>fulfilled OT>>OT thus validated>>homosexuality denied as divinely blessed.

    Last, I don't see how it really helps the gay community."

    This is how some people actually think.