Recent remarks by the retired Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu are not surprising for an Anglican prelate these days, but remain disturbing. Briefly put, the Archbishop says he would rather go to hell than go to a “homophobic heaven.” Here’s some more complete report page of his remarks, in yesterdays Washington Times.
South Africa’s iconic retired archbishop, Desmond Tutu, said on Friday that if he had his pick, he’d go to hell before heading to a heaven that condemned homosexuality as sin. “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this,” he said, by way of denouncing religions that discriminate against gays, in Agence France-Presse….He added, AFP reported: “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place.” 
In fairness to the good Archbishop, the full context of these remarks is not included in the report but includes (but is not limited to) concerns about violence directed against homosexuals. Further, his many works on behalf of racial justice remain intact and were part of a noble struggle.
That said, there are several disturbing aspects to the archbishops comments:
1. He describes his opponents over-generally in this matter by using the term “homophobic.” And while it may be true that somewhere on this planet there are individuals who are truly “fearful” (=phobia) of homosexual persons, or who hate them merely because they are homosexual, the use of the word “homophobic” is it best unhelpful, and at worse an uncharitable and inaccurate description. Most of us who oppose the approval or celebration of homosexual acts do so not in fear, but on principle, based on biblical and natural law reasons.
It is possible that the good archbishop is speaking only of the tiny minority who fear or hate homosexuals simply for their existence. And there are legitimate concerns, as expressed by the Archbishop, about countries where homosexual acts are criminalized (along with fornication and adultery). Perhaps this is not the best way to deal with these matters. Where there are acts of violence against homosexual persons, they are rightly condemned, as a are any acts of violence.
But I was not born yesterday, and it seems clear enough that Archbishop Tutu also means people like me when he uses the term “homophobic.” And he most likely includes the Catholic Church when he denounces religious bodies that “discriminate” against homosexual persons (a charge I certainly deny) because we do not condone homosexual activity. Yes, it would seem he surely includes us in his category of “homophobic.” For he has chosen to use a word that is widely bandied about to refer to all persons, even those of sincere conscience, who oppose the militant homosexual agenda. And if the archbishop does not mean me or the Catholic Church, at the very least I should hope for a clarification on his part.
It is a tired old tactic of many who support the approval and celebration of homosexual acts to use terms to describe their opponents that are both ridiculing, and paint us in the darkest possible terms (e.g. hateful, bigoted, discriminatory etc). Surely the Archbishop must know, even if he does not agree with many of us who oppose approval of homosexual activity and same-sex unions, that we think and speak out of an ancient biblical tradition which we believe to be the very word of God.
And while some today employ many dubious, or at least debatable interpretive theories of Scripture to avoid what the biblical texts clearly do say, it remains very evident to many of us that at every stage of biblical revelation, from the first pages of the Bible all the way to its concluding pages, that homosexual activity is condemned as sinful. I have written more on that here: Letter on Homosexuality
Disagree with me if you sadly must, but I am no more homophobic than I am forniphobic for opposing fornication.
A simple request, of the archbishop would be a clarification and to avoid name-calling and simplifying the positions of his opponents. Likewise, for all who use similar tactics. It isn’t becoming to serious conversation, and surely is unbecoming of a Christian archbishop.
2. Any version of the words “I’d rather go to hell” should not pass the lips of anyone, let alone a Christian, even more so a Christian leader. Statements like these tend to invite unwanted demonic activity, and open the door to the wrong sorts of forces and drives.
While one can certainly hold the good archbishop was engaged in rhetorical flourish and hyperbole, it remains true that words to wit: “I’d rather go to hell” should not be uttered for the reasons stated.
And even if it be so that it is merely hyperbole, why should such anger be engaged and deployed so widely? Does he really mean to speak this way, about a behavior that is reasonably rejected among Christians who read God’s word?
If the good archbishop considers me his enemy in this matter, did not the Lord say something about loving our enemies? If the archbishop considers me and others like me his persecutors, did not the Lord say that we should pray for our persecutors? Why would an archbishop theoretically familiar with God’s Word, say to me or others like me in effect, “I’d rather go to hell than live with you in heaven.” Whence this anger, and the great lack of charity? It is wrong even to speak this way about those who who do act violently or hatefully toward homosexuals. Enemies are to be loved, persecutors prayed for.
3. Archbishop Tutu in an excerpt not quoted above but available by clicking on the links above equates the struggle against “homophobia” with the struggle against apartheid. As the pastor of a largely African American Parish, I know many Blacks who are troubled by the equating of the demands of homosexual activists with those of the civil rights activists some years ago. The concerns about homosexual acts regard behavior, whereas the concern of the civil rights movement was about race and discrimination based solely on that, not on behavior.
In particular, the Catholic Church distinguishes between homosexual orientation (disordered, but not per se sinful) and homosexual acts (sinful, as are acts of fornication and adultery in accord with the clear teaching of Sacred Scripture).
It is unjust to excoriate others for their opposition of behavior with the logic that pertains to a non-behavioral trait such as race.
Some will argue that “God made them this way.” I am not so sure about that but will accept that most do not simply choose sexual orientation. That said, alcoholics, diabetics, and people who struggle with anger, do not choose these inclinations or struggles either. Nevertheless they must strive to act uprightly in spite of them. Heterosexuals are also summoned to act uprightly in spite of the often unruly sexual passions we possess. The God made me this way argument is does not set aside the question of behavior.
The opposition of the Church is about behavior, not how one is tempted or inclined. Chastity remains the rule for all. Those who have not received the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and the Scriptures set it forth must refrain form genital sexual contact. Those who have received Holy Matrimony must stay faithful to one to their husband or wife.
4. Some note should be given to the phrase “homophobic heaven” spoken by the Archbishop.
First of all the concept of a “homophobic heaven” is a null set. For if there is true homophobia, it is rooted in fear and possibly in hate and these do not pertain to heaven. But as for the opposition to homosexual acts (along with heterosexual acts such as fornication and adultery), that is not homophobia, it is the stated opposition of God to such acts as clearly recorded in scripture. God is not homophobic, but he does oppose homosexual acts. Calling God homophobic, or his Church or St. Paul or any other person does not make them homophobic. Opposition to the radical Gay agenda does not thereby make God or heaven “homophobic.” If it does not please Archbishop Tutu that homosexual acts are not approved or celebrated in heaven I suppose he does not have to go there. But he cannot simply expect heaven to be on his terms. Heaven is what it is, the fullness of the Kingdom of God and all it values, one of which is Chastity, and opposition to all acts contrary to it.
There is a lamentable tendency today for many Christians to define heaven on their own terms: “Heaven will be a place of pleasure, as I define pleasure. I will be among the company of those I choose, and everything will be on my terms.”
But of course, this is not what heaven is. Heaven is the fullness of the kingdom of God, the fullness of the values of the kingdom of God. Heaven is to be with God himself who is justice and truth, as he has set these forth. Heaven is about things like love of God, the liturgical worship of the Lord, love for the poor, love for my enemy, mercy, forgiveness, and yes, chastity!
Rather than to define what Heaven is for us, it is our work, to learn who God is and what heaven is as God has revealed it, and to begin by his grace to acclimate ourselves for the heaven that really is. Yes, we must be prepared to meet the real God, the biblical God, not some fake god. And we should be prepared to go to the real heaven, not some fake “designer heaven.”
Pillar of truth – We have no better indication of who God really is, what heaven is, and what God really expects of us than the revealed Word of God, in the Scriptures and the Sacred Tradition of the Church.
Sadly, the larger portion of the Anglican denomination departed from these pillars sometime ago. Scripture is radically reinterpreted so that it often does not mean what the text clearly says. Further, The ancient biblical wisdom, both in the Old Covenant and the New, along with the apostolic and sacred Tradition have been set aside in favor of modern teachings barely 20 to 30 years old. This sadly is the course that the Anglican denomination, along with many other mainline Protestant denominations have taken.
On the other hand, the sure and certain testimony of the Word of God, about who God really is, this is where I, and others like me must stand. I can do no other, for God has revealed no other certain and surer source to know who He is what I must do. If this makes me the Archbishop’s enemy such that he would rather live in Hell than with with me, so be it.
But here I stand, I can do no other, for the Word of the Lord has spoken through his Church and the Sacred Scripture entrusted once and for all to his Church.