Due to the widespread usage of the words homophobe and bigot lately, I had to haul out my dictionary and look up these words. I was not sure what was being said, and I think that when I hear any word used repeatedly, I need to check it out.
I use the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary 11th edition as my guide for all things vocabulary-wise. It is the standard used in most general publishing, and it is easy a standard everybody can easily double-check, in case my readers doubt me.
When I searched for the word homophobe, I was not too surprised to discover that a homophobe is “a person characterized by homophobia.” That sort of answer makes sense in a dictionary. They don’t want to print the same definition over a wide spectrum of related words. I simply looked up homophobia. That answer was quite clear, and it is undoubtedly the reference point for any other words that include the roots homo- and phobia. The definition of homophobia is “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals.”
I felt quite satisfied with this definition. I understand it. It is not subtle or confusing. It is about irrational fear and aversion that leads to discrimination. Since I have no fear of homosexuals, ration or irrational, I don’t meet the definition of a homophobe. I was glad to know this. I have heard the word used repeatedly in public discourse, news, commentary, blog posts, speeches and even sermons. Wrongly assuming for a while that I understood the word, I worried that I might be guilty, but now that I have done the research, I find that the definition does not fit me. That makes me feel better. The rants and diatribes I read daily against homophobes do not apply to me.
One of the things I noticed right away was the Greek root phobia inside the word homophobe. That is actually what sent me to do this research. I already knew that a phobia is an irrational fear. Fear of ants or shadows or the grocery store—these fears have no rational basis, and people afflicted with such fears are mentally ill. They may or may not be incapacitated by such fears, but the fears definitely affect the way they live their lives. Phobias can suck the joy of life right out of a day that has not even started.
Irrational fears affect many people. For example, in 2014 when the president of the University of Iowa attributed sexual assaults on campus to sinful human nature, there was a terrible outcry about her attitude. She actually commented that she was dismayed by the number of sexual assaults. Then she said, “the goal would be to end that, to never have another sexual assault. That’s probably not a realistic goal just given human nature, and that’s unfortunate. …” A huge hue and cry arose to the effect that she had impugned human nature. That kind of reaction to such a statement sounds irrational to me.
When Barronnelle Stutzman was in court defending her Christian convictions that led to her turning down money because her principles forbade her participation in a ceremony that alleged to create a marriage between two men, a newspaper in Pasco, WA, sent out a call for people to attend the proceedings and express support for the two men who were the plaintiffs in the suit. On December 7, 2014, the paper published this notice, “Calling all secular people in the Southeastern Washington area who want to stand . . . against Christian privilege and bigotry.”
This notice sent me to the dictionary again. What is bigotry? That word has also become a staple of daily conversation and news reports. I want to know what they are talking about. As with homophobe, I discovered that bigotry is the state of mind of a bigot. A bigot is “one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.” Well, that helped me a lot. When I saw the words hatred and intolerance I understood what the freethinkers thought they were dealing with.
However, when I read the story of Barronnelle Stutzman, I found that the freethinkers had been sadly misinformed. Ms. Stutzman exhibited neither hatred nor intolerance. Barronnelle Stutzman operated a flower shop, and never at any time did she interview prospective customers in order to find someone to hate or refuse to tolerate. She never asked anyone about their moral ideas or their personal standards. She didn’t even ask such questions of prospective employees. Her employees included people who were homosexual, and it turns out that her customers included many who were homosexual, too. Barronelle Stutzman is the very image of tolerance, except that tolerance is not what she exhibited. She wasn’t tolerating anything. She simply loved people and did not choose to intrude into their lives to judge them.
She does, however, have some personal standards. Most people do. Some people don’t each chocolate. Others never wear red. Some refuse to enter a cathedral because of either a phobia or a well-founded fear rooted in some past experience. People develop both rational and irrational fears in their lives, and there does not seem to be any way to prevent it from happening.
A fear is not the same thing as a principle. I, for example, fear spiders. I know that some spiders can do a person terrible harm. I have an even greater fear of snakes. I have had bad dreams about snakes, and I don’t want to find one at my feet. My fear makes me scream and jump if I see one.
I have a principle about snakes, however. When I do see one, after I get over the screaming and jumping, I take a good look at it. If it is a harmless garden snake, then I can pick it up and set it outside in a garden or a lawn or wherever. My principle about snakes is that they should live where snakes belong, while I should live where people belong. I simply do not choose to live with a snake. It is my personal principle.
Barronelle Stutzman has principles, too. One of her principles is informed by her deeply held religious conviction that the Bible is God’s holy guide for faith and life. Because the Bible teaches that homosexuality is sin, Barronnelle has a principle that she will not participate in a ceremony intended to make it appear that a union of two men is a marriage. Her principle does not in any way prevent her from befriending one or both of the men. She doesn’t hate them or anyone. She certainly does not fear them. She simply draws a personal line at participating in a wedding of two men.
Furthermore, Barronnelle Stutzman did not ask for anything that people of faith have not asked and received in the USA since the founding of the nation: freedom to exercise her religion. This freedom has been integral to the way the country works for so long that it is the First Amendment to the Constitution. Barronnelle did not ask for a privilege; she asked for her right as a human being created by God, obedient to God to the best of her understanding. It has been a custom, guided by the application of the First Amendment, for people whose religious principles conflict now and then with government agendas to find protection from the burden of acting against conscience in the First Amendment. Baronnelle simply exercised her Constitutional right to exercise the principles of her faith.
Furthermore, she exercised those rights with grace and courtesy. Robert Ingersoll, the plaintiff in the case against Baronnelle Stutzman, was a customer for nine years before the issue of a wedding between two men came up. A story dating from 2013 says, “Robert Ingersoll asked Stutzman in March to provide floral arrangements for his wedding to Curt Freed, but Stutzman told him she could not do so “because of [her] relationship with Jesus Christ.” She also recommended other florists to Ingersoll, and she and Ingersoll hugged each other before he left her store.” Barronnelle did not demonstrate fear of Robert Ingersoll or his partner. She did not show hatred toward Robert Ingersoll or his partner. Barronnelle Stutzman was kind, polite and respectful. She simply stated her deeply held religious conviction, and acted on it. In the USA, the Constitution says that to live by one’s deeply held religious convictions is not a privilege; it is a right. Her behavior does not meet the definition of homophobia.
The outrageous language and behavior of people who are upset with Barronnelle Stutzman for her stand for her beliefs gives evidence of something that looks a lot like an irrational fear of Christians. The Tri-Cities Freethinkers were on the warpath against “Christian privilege and intolerance.” Given the facts of the case, it sounds as if the people who had an “irrational fear” were the freethinkers.
Similar situations arise daily. Irrational fear of Christians is expressed in a bigoted way, that is with hatred and intolerance, in reports that allege that Christians are exercising privilege, not a Constitutional right, when they choose not to participate in a wedding between two men or two women.
This truth leads me to believe that a new word may be on the horizon, but don’t expect Christians to be using it frequently. The new word is Christianophobe. The definition of Christianophobe is “a person with an irrational fear of Christians, especially Christians who act on the teaching of the Bible.” Christians won’t be bandying this word around much, however. Christians are much more comfortable with words such as “Love your neighbor,” or even “Love your enemy.”
Christians have a lot of enemies, but those enemies can live happily without fear that Christians will act on something like hatred or intolerance. The Christians the enemies fear the most are the ones who take the Bible seriously, and those who take the Bible seriously, take this teaching seriously, too. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Romans 12:14 ESV). If you are a Christianophobe, may God bless you.