Do Conservative Christians Blaspheme?
Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaking about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people writes, “We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt they too are children of God – and that must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy.”1 I can almost hear many very devout Christians screaming, “But wait! Christians do not blaspheme! Conservative Christians definitely do not blaspheme God! There has to be a mistake. Do not speak too soon. Think this one through carefully. Some conservative Christians are blasphemers.
Perhaps, you've never thought of Christian churches, lay Christian leaders, ordained Christian pastors, or church administrators committing blasphemy against God and against queer people. That is what they do whenever they mistreat gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered people. Desmond Tutu makes a very good point. Condemning gay, bisexual or transgendered people to hell or driving them out of church is an act of blasphemy.
In Greek, the word blasphemy means “to injure.”2 A general definition of blasphemy is “any action (e.g., a gesture) as well as any word that devalues another person . . .”3 There is a text where Paul uses the word blasphemy to describe insulting God's people. “When we are insulted, we answer back with kind words. We are no more than this world's garbage; we are the scum of the earth to this very moment!”4 The word translated insulted means blasphemed in Greek.5
The ruthless condemnation and insulting of queer people that goes on in some Christian churches is blasphemy against God and against queer people. There are several types of blasphemy outlined in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Insulting and condemning gay, bisexual and transgendered people to hell could be seen as being a form of each type of blasphemy described.
One kind is considered to be a statement that is against faith. An example given in the Catholic Encyclopedia is “God is cruel or unjust.”6 Sexual orientation is a state of being, not a choice. People do not consciously sit down one day and think, “Being a member of a sexual minority group, having people threaten to kill me, having my own parents beat me up for being different, being kicked out of my home, living on the streets, being condemned and thrown out of my church, and losing almost all of my friends would be really fun. I think I'll become gay.” When we damn people for being gay or bisexual, for being something over which they have no choice, we portray God as cruel and unjust. Only a cruel and an unjust God would damn people to hell for the way they were born.
Another type of blasphemy is to have contempt for God.7 One way of showing contempt is to openly disrespect God. Adam Clarke describes blaspheme against God as treating God's “attributes, doctrines, providence, or grace” contemptuously.8 There is probably no greater contempt and disrespect toward God than to minimize God's grace, to state by word or action that there are people who are completely beyond God's grace. Those who state gay, bisexual and trans people are beyond God's grace show contempt for God, for God's grace-filled attributes, and for God's grace.
The third form of blasphemy listed in the Catholic Encyclopedia is to have malediction against God. For example, a person may blaspheme by saying, “Away with God.'”9 Cursing God can be direct or more subtle. An act or words that in effect say, “Away with grace,” could be an act of blasphemy against God. “Away with grace” is what God, gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people hear when queer people are denied as members of the Kingdom of God.
There is no question that homophobic, biphobic and transphobic Christians blaspheme people when they insult queer people and show complete contempt for gay, bisexual and trans-identified people. Going as far as to declare people are outside of God's grace is the ultimate insult and one of the deepest injuries that can be done to people. While this might seem only like it is blasphemy against people, not God, mistreating gay, bisexual and trans people is blasphemy against God. This seems very clear in the Bible. “Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.'”10
In the gospel of Mark, Jesus is accused of blasphemy, because He forgave a person's sins. Forgiveness of sins was an act that only God could do. The idea that Jesus considered Himself to be equal to God and made Himself into God was the reason why Jesus was condemned by the Sanhedrin at His trial.11 When lay and ordained church leaders condemn gay people to hell, they are taking upon themselves power and authority that is only God's to exercise. Only God makes the decision as to who ends up in heaven or hell. The judgment is not made by humans. Condemning people to hell is a power-grab by humans. Power-grabs are not particularly godly, nor are they Christian.
So what is the purpose of this letter to the editor? The hope is that this letter will help people to understand the power of their words and actions. We have the power to bring healing or to maim and wound through what we say. Pastors, church administrators and ordinary church members have a responsibility to express the faith in such a way that they do not injure and devalue anybody, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people.
1Vanessa Baird. Sex, Love and Homophobia. London, United Kingdom: Amnesty International UK, 2004), 5.
2Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12 New York: Robert Appleton, 1907), 595.
3Walter A. Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984), 161.
41 Corinthians 4:13, Good News Bible.
5Adam Clarke. “The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: A Commentary and Critical Notes. Vol. II Nashville, n.d.), 210, and Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 12 595.
6Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 12 595.
7Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 12 595.
8Clarke, Vol. 12, 595.
9Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 12 595