Responding to prejudice against homosexuales – John S. Spong

Should a Competent Newspaper Publish Uninformed Prejudice?

An article on homosexuality, which appeared recently on the Op-Ed page of the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis, calls into question the decision on the part of that paper’s editors to publish this piece. The article, signed by Don Nye of Edina, revealed no competence to address this subject and revealed little more than uninformed prejudice.  I understand and appreciate the right of free speech, but where is the line between free speech and an ill-informed public attack on the dignity and humanity of a group of human beings?  What is the bar of knowledge that must be met before a vibrant newspaper will refuse to give one’s opinions wide distributions? Does a newspaper print an article that is deeply anti-Semitic with no regard for the offense it will create among its Jewish readers?  Does a newspaper in our day print a piece that defends the opinion that the earth is flat and the center of a three-tiered universe?  I challenge the editorial board of the Star Tribune to review its decision-making processes and to consider the fact that the primary result of their decision was a massive perpetuation of ignorance.


Mr. Nye posed six revealing questions in his piece.  They are now in the public domain. He argues against allowing any change in the public attitude toward homosexuality, since the present attitude represents the “societal norm.”  Anyone wishing to change that norm, he maintains, should answer the six questions that he poses. In this column I will attempt to do so.

1 “Were our ancestors all dumb and bigoted because they thought homosexuality was wrong?  Some may think that accepting homosexuality is innovative and progressive, but others say that abandoning our previous norm may be presumptuous on our part.  In other words, our ancestors may have been right, and we might be wrong.”

No, Mr. Nye, our ancestors were not dumb or bigoted, but they did have limited knowledge and an underdeveloped consciousness. Our ancestors also practiced slavery, allowed children to work long hours in factories, burned heretics at the stake, forbade women from getting an education or voting and treated various sicknesses by bleeding the patient.  Would you like to argue that those things were good and that abandoning these “societal norms” was wrong?

2. “Don’t our sexual organs exist for reproduction?  How does homosexuality square with that?”

What you do not understand, Mr. Nye is that we all have but one sexual organ and that is our brain.  All else is equipment.  It is our brains that tell us to whom we are attracted.  We now know that a small percentage of the human population, estimates are between 5 and 10%, have brains that orient their affections toward their own gender. The same thing is true in the world of nature.  There is no reason to think that because this is a “minority,” it is abnormal.

3. “It is no secret that the human sex drive is a lot stronger than is needed for reproduction.  Do we just give into those desires or do we try to control them?  The ancients told us that controlling our physical desires is one of the things that distinguish us from the beasts.  Sexual desires if, not controlled, easily lead us into trouble.”

Of course, Mr. Nye, sexual desire needs to be controlled.  When not controlled violent things occur like rape, prostitution and child abuse.  Each of these behaviors is, however, acted out overwhelmingly by heterosexual people.  Are you suggesting that homosexual people alone must control their sexual appetites?  Rape, as a matter of fact, appears quite unnatural among those you call beasts.  I think any sexual behavior that violates another person is wrong.  But a sexual act that expresses love and commitment is and can be quite beautiful.

4. “Most everyone still agrees that humans can take their sexuality to where it is morally wrong.  Almost all will agree that among other things, adultery, pedophilia and bestiality are wrong.  Why should homosexuality that was once included in this group, be moved to normal sexuality?  It is based on an argument that there is no moral choice involved in homosexuality, that it is a product of nature?  Couldn’t others in the group above use the same argument-they just couldn’t help themselves-they were born with those desires?  Why does the nature argument work for homosexuality but not the others?”

What you do not understand, Mr. Nye, is that what you call “The Moral Law” was not inspired from on high.  It grew out of the human experience.  If there is a victim in love making, it is wrong.  If, on the other hand, however, in a sexual encounter both partners find their humanity enhanced, their ability to love others increased and there is no victim, a different judgment is called for, regardless of one’s sexual orientation.  When you say that homosexuality was removed from “this list of immoral acts,” you are referring to the book of Leviticus.  We have removed a lot of things from the ancient writings of the Torah.  Deuteronomy, the last book of the Torah, calls for the execution of children who are willfully disobedient and who talk back to their parents. Leviticus calls for the execution of both partners in an adulterous act, as well as for anyone who worships a false god.  Leviticus mandated kosher dietary laws.  Those, like you, who want to affirm the condemnation of homosexuality in Leviticus, might want to read the whole Torah and see how much of it you want to take literally.

You might also be interested, as long as you are going to appeal to the authority of the Bible, to know that there is no reference to homosexuality in any of the gospels.  Jesus, however, is recorded as commanding us to love our neighbors and when asked who is our neighbor, responded by saying your neighbor is the one for whom you have the deepest prejudice.

5. “Prevalent homosexuality has made its appearance in human history before and has never lasted.  Why is it going to work this time when all other appearances failed?  Changes in norms require universal acceptance.  Why should we go down this road again when many, probably a majority, will always see homosexuality as going against nature, not normal?  Can’t we learn from the past that prevalent homosexuality will not work in society?”

Your statement here, Mr. Nye, is both patently wrong and intellectually absurd. Before you enter the public debate on any issue, you have a responsibility to read those who are experts in that field.  Prejudice does not constitute knowledge.  Scientists now believe that the percentage of persons in the human population that are homosexual has been both constant and stable throughout human history.  When homosexuality is culturally accepted, it flourishes in the open, but when homosexuality is oppressed, it goes underground.  The numbers, however, do not change because sexual orientation is fixed, an unchangeable given, no one can choose to be gay or lesbian any more than they can choose to be male or female, black or white, right handed or left handed.  Changes in norms have never required universal acceptance.  You clearly have no knowledge of history.  That is why those who can’t adjust to new patterns of life are eventually called “racist” or “sexist” or “homophobic.”  There are always some who will never change.  What happens to them is that they die and their children change.  That has been the human pattern forever.  People with your attitude are simply those who are uninformed and out of touch.

6. “Here’s one religious question, directed not toward those practicing homosexuality, but toward those who support others who do.  Should we be trying to encourage others to repent of a wrong or pat them on the back as they go down a road that could lead to perdition?  The supportive group may consider themselves full of justice and love, but if there is a God who is opposed to homosexuality, as many religions claim, they may be doing indescribable harm to those they are patting on the back and most likely to themselves.”

This final question, which you, Mr. Nye, say is a religious question,  reveals, rather, a profound lack of any religious knowledge, to say nothing of scientific knowledge.  You are still operating on the outdated theory that people choose to be homosexual.  There is not one shred of scientific or medical data to support that. Our task as Christians is to help people to be whole, to free people to be all that they can be no matter where they fit in the vast spectrum of human possibilities.  For anyone to oppress another on the basis of a given fact of their lives, whether it be skin color, gender or sexual orientation, is simply wrong.  It is an evil act for one person to seek to impose his or her prejudice on another.  Of course, bigoted behavior hurts the victim, but it also violates the humanity of the perpetrator.

You seem to think religion cannot be wrong especially if it validates your particular prejudice.  Well, Christianity has tortured heretics, killed Protestants and Catholics, supported the Divine Right of Kings, opposed democracy, and encouraged slavery and segregation.  The author of the hymn “Amazing Grace” was a former slave trader, who came to the realization that slavery was wrong.  Yet Popes have been owners of slaves and the “Bible Belt” is the part of America where slavery was an accepted institution and where it took defeat in war to force Christians to give it up.  Christians have tried to re-program left handed children and have carried out crusades to kill “infidels” in the Middle East.  Sometimes it is religion that needs to repent!  For you to use an appeal to religion to try to validate your deep hatred and dark prejudice is itself shameful.  Instead of revealing your lack of understanding in an article in the Star-Tribune, Mr. Nye, I suggest you hold up a mirror to yourself and see yourself for what you are, a deeply prejudiced, significantly uninformed man.

~John Shelby Spong


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  1. #1 by Liz Reid on February 10, 2012 - 11:15 am

    I hope many people read your reply, Mr. Spong, and used that same mirror to examine their own thoughts and actions. The differences that make us all individuals are just a fact of nature. Some differences, such as those which might hold a person back from becoming or doing what they want in life, such as a physical or mental handicap, we might try to find a way around or a “fix” for, or some way of assistance or adaptation. Other differences should have no bearing on what one can or cannot do with their life. We are all who and what we are and the only WRONG is when we use those differences to cause harm and HATE is very harmful.

  2. #2 by Cate Roundy on February 17, 2012 - 8:53 am

    I also just read your “Think different” – “Accept Uncertainty” and I very much appreciate the greater depth of understanding your crisp reasoning gives me. But I am woefully astonished at how little I know concerning our human history, and therefore how little I know of the forces molding my own experience here. My undergraduate work was in world history, so I know just enough to hear the wisdom of your reasoning, however. It’s like standing above the earth in the air and seeing the horizons disappear as it all rolls together making such gentle sense. I love the invitation you continually offer me to lay down my limited, boxed-in resistance in favor of open-handed, loving inclusion. Even though it scares my old ways into wildly threatening responses…”You’ll drop off the earth if you let go!!!”…it still just makes me smile because it feels so right (something Louise Hay calls her “inner ding!”). Thank you.

    • #3 by Phil Little on February 17, 2012 - 10:50 am

      please note that the author of the series on “Think Differently” is the Rev. John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopalian bishop who has a number of excellent books dealing with these wonderful themes. Even some of his older writings are still far ahead of mainstream Christianity as he asks the right questions and tries to point towards a different way of understanding some of these complex mysteries.

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