The Politics of Homophobia

Exodus 1:6-10 (Moffatt Bible) Joseph died, so did all his brothers and all that generation. A new king rose over Egypt, who had not knowledge of Joseph; he said to his people, "Look, the Israelites are too many and too mighty for us! We must handle them carefully, lest they multiply and then, if we happen to be at war, join our enemies and fight against us, so as to escape from the country." So they put them under captains of the labour gangs to crush them with heavy loads . . . "

This text gives us some insights into our life as a spiritual community and into our personal lives.

This passage is relevant to the queer community and its straight allies.  Political and religious leaders of the religious right have used the politics of fear for personal gain.  They have used the fear of protecting sexual minorities from hate crimes, the fear of extending basic human rights to God's queer tribe, the fear of same-sex marriage to get elected to public office and to get donations.  These unscrupulous leaders have manipulated people's emotions for personal profit.

The arguments used by the political and religious right against queer rights sound very much like the fears of the king of Egypt.  "Lest they multiply" was the fear of the Egyptian leadership.  Gays and lesbians are accused of converting people.  You've heard the stupidity before - openly gay teachers will convert the students.  The conservative right has played on the fear that offering gay rights will open the flood gates and millions of people who are into kink sex will come out of the closet.  Again, you've heard the argument that if same-sex marriage is allowed, the next thing you know people can marry their pets.

The king of Egypt was afraid the children of Israel would join their enemies.  For many years, gays were not allowed to hold government or military jobs, because gay people were thought to be easy targets for enemy countries, who might blackmail gay governmental and military employees into working for the enemy.  America's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy is based on the erroneous idea that openly gay members of the armed forces would harm morale.  In other words, the rationale was that letting gay people serve openly would assist the enemy.

The King James translation says the new king of Egypt "knew not" Joseph.  The word translated knew has a wide variety of meanings.  The Hebrew word translated knew can mean understand and it can also mean sexual intercourse.[1] In some cases, the Hebrew has the meaning of "total negation."[2] One might be able to say the new king knew absolutely nothing about Joseph.[3]

The new king had no personal interactions with Joseph.  He did not know about Joseph's "contribution to Egypt."[4] He had no real understanding of the kind of person Joseph was.  Because he had no knowledge of Joseph, he feared Joseph's descendants.  The politics of fear, the roots of the oppression of the children of Israel, stemmed from lack of knowledge.  Where there is no relationship, there is no intimate knowledge, and where there is no ultimate knowledge, there is fear.

Lack of knowledge, lack of friendships with people who are different than we are behind anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of prejudice and discrimination.  Helping society know society know the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people is one way of reducing homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.  When straight people see that queer individuals have the same hearts they have, prejudice and discrimination slowly start to decrease.  One way queer churches can fight homophobia is for members of queer congregations to be out in their communities, to be out as queer people and straight allies of faith in the larger Christian community.  As we make friends and win hearts, we will find we are not alone in opposing the evils of homophobia and transphobia.  Straight churches and straight Christians will stand with us as allies against hate.  Straight Christians need to hear our love - our love for people and our love for God - not just our stinging theological rebukes.

To be an effective force against homophobia and transphobia, we need to conquer our personal and community fears.  One way we can try to work past our personal and community fears is to look deep into the hearts of our brothers and sisters in straight churches and to recognize the commonalities we share in life experiences, the common pains we face and to see that there is a potential for our hearts to be united by our shared faith in Jesus and our shared walk with Jesus.

The task is not always easy.  When I was in college, an experienced professor, university administrator and counsellor asked the students to describe a person they strongly disliked and who had made a very negative impact on their lives.  Each of us shared descriptions of people who sounded terrible and evil.  He listened to each story and encouraged us to get to know the people well enough to understand why each person acted that way.  There are times when we have to spend a lot of time with somebody to get to like and accept the person.  I recall working with a man who seemed judgmental, harsh, critical, and, at times, almost explosive.  I worked very hard to keep myself from hating him.  After working with him for over a year, I saw him take a big risk by reaching out to help a person in need.  I finally saw a heart under the tough exterior and that made all of the difference to me.  God is calling us to build into people's lives until we find the good and to encourage the goodness we find.

This Exodus story challenges to us help ensure many people in society will never find themselves in a situation where they do not know anybody who is part of God's queer tribe.  God is challenging us to be the unexpected person who carries hope and help for those who are in need, especially to people we find filled with fear and anger.



[1] Warren Baker, ed.  The Complete Word Study Old Testament.  (Iowa Falls, Iowa:  Word, 1994), 2321.

[2] Baker, 2328.

[3] Barker, 2329, gives examples when the word means "nothing."

[4] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. kohlenberger III, eds.  NIV Bible Commentary.  Vol. 1.  (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Pub., 1994), 65.