Holy Spirit and the spirit of fear

Homophobia literally means “anxiety, fear of people of homoerotic orientation and/or their behaviour.” It’s undoubtedly hard to believe when you see those “heroes”, shaking their fists at the LGBT persons and carrying signs that read something like “God Hates Fags” (which surely says more about themselves than about God). And if you asked them, they would probably vigorously deny that they fear anything and that their actions are ruled by that fear. And still… Homophobia is an example of fear of what is different, what for some reasons is difficult for us to accept (also in ourselves), which – as we believe – is dangerous for us in some way.

Interestingly, the Pentecostal event – the sending down of the Divine Spirit – which we commemorate during these days in the church (and celebrate as its birthday) also begins with the observation that the disciples were afraid. During the service in the Londonderry Cathedral, which was broadcast today by BBC Radio 4 (you can listen to it here), the Rt. Rev. Ken Good, the Bishop od Derry and Raphoe in the (Anglican) Church of Ireland, said:

In order to protect ourselves from those we fear, we are careful to close and maybe even lock the door on them to keep them out, literally and metaphorically. We then feel more secure, even if we ourselves have to become more isolated in the process.

“We have just heard in the gospel reading that when the disciples met together, just after the death of Jesus, they ensured the doors of the house were locked because they were afraid. The cruel death by crucifixion of their leader convinced them they really ought to fear for their own security. Caution about their own self-preservation made them cut themselves off from the world outside but then, the risen Jesus came and stood among them, inside that securely locked room.

He detected their fear and directly addressed it by reassuring them with the words: ‘Peace be with you’, ‘Do not be afraid’ and then he breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.

We learn that Jesus is not excluded by our human fears, nor is he powerless in the face of them. Locked doors designed to exclude others and to protect ourselves are not a barrier or an obstacle to his engagement with us. He can get right to the heart of our fears, despite our best efforts to keep him, or others, at arms’ length.

And when he comes to us at times of heightened fear, he comes to bring us peace. He urges us not to fear and tells us not to be afraid. Time and again in the gospels, Jesus bids his hearers not to fear, not to be afraid but we learn that the key remedy which he offers to deal with our human fears is that we ‘receive the Holy Spirit,’ the Comforter, who can equip and empower us to face the tough challenges and demands of daily life with a strength that is not merely our own.

In light of these words it is all the more striking and bewildering to realise that the churches did so much in the past, and still do, to fuel the anti-homosexual phobia instead of “unlocking their doors” and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, eliminating the fear of the LGBTQ persons and of the way their realise the human need of love, intimacy, warmth, support and friendship in their lives. Is it not, in essence, one more proof of how often they are unfaithful to the Spirit which they should be filled with?

One the church people who have been consistently fighting homophobia is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Below we reproduced another statement of his on the topic. We took it from this website. The text (as well as one of our recent posts, God Is Not a Christian) is a fragment of the Archbishop’s newest book, God Is Not A Christian: And Other Provocations.

A student once asked me, If I could have one wish granted to reverse an injustice, what would it be? I had to ask for two. One is for world leaders to forgive the debts of developing nations which hold them in such thrall. The other is for the world to end the persecution of people because of their sexual orientation, which is every bit as unjust as that crime against humanity, apartheid.

This is a matter of ordinary justice. We struggled against apartheid in South Africa, supported by people the world over, because black people were being blamed and made to suffer for something we could do nothing about — our very skin. It is the same with sexual orientation. It is a given. I could not have fought against the discrimination of apartheid and not also fight against the discrimination that homosexuals endure, even in our churches and faith groups.
I am proud that in South Africa, when we won the chance to build our own new constitution, the human rights of all have been explicitly enshrined in our laws. My hope is that one day this will be the case all over the world, and that all will have equal rights. For me this struggle is a seamless robe. Opposing apartheid was a matter of justice. Opposing discrimination against women is a matter of justice. Opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a matter of justice.

It is also a matter of love. Every human being is precious. We are all — all of us — part of God’s family. We all must be allowed to love each other with honor. Yet all over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are persecuted. We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God. This must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy. We blame them for what they are.

Churches say that the expression of love in a heterosexual monogamous relationship includes the physical — the touching, embracing, kissing, the genital act; the totality of our love makes each of us grow to become increasingly godlike and compassionate. If this is so for the heterosexual, what earthly reasons have we to say that it is not the case with the homosexual?
The Jesus I worship is not likely to collaborate with those who vilify and persecute an already oppressed minority. I myself could not have opposed the injustice of penalizing people for something about which they could do nothing — their race — and then have kept quiet as women were being penalized for something they could do nothing about — their gender; hence my support for the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate.

Equally, I cannot keep quiet while people are being penalized for something about which they can do nothing — their sexuality. To discriminate against our sisters and brothers who are lesbian or gay on grounds of their sexual orientation for me is as totally unacceptable and unjust as apartheid ever was.

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