Promoting gay rights in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu recently was outspoken on his prioritization of gay rights issues: “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…I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.”
Tutu brings attention to awful violence, in South Africa and other countries, toward gay and lesbian people, and for this he should be commended. Culture wars in these countries have resulted in tragic and unnecessary casualties. There are many ways peoples can disagree and engage such controversial issues without manifesting hatred through violence.
But Tutu’s emphasis underscores a pervasive theological problem that lurks deeply, yet often goes unnoticed. While his comments may have been hyperbolic, they seem to have been genuinely stated and non-exaggerative. His statements imply a greater commitment to a particular brand of morality, than to God Himself. In other words, Tutu is willing to accept God on the condition that He has a particular view on same-sex issues. However, if God does not share Tutu’s understanding, then Tutu “would not worship” Him, and would rather spend eternity in hell.
At first glance, Tutu’s lofty claims bear the brands of nobility. After all, while the Bible makes a decisive case that homosexuality is in conflict with God’s design and not at all pleasing to Him, God’s distaste for homosexuality cannot be described from Biblical data as irrational (the first necessary characteristic of homophobia, according to Merriam-Webster) – at least not from a Biblical perspective. So in that sense, Tutu may be partly correct in his sentiment that God should not be homophobic.
However, Tutu encounters a problem when he demands of God particular moral character. One might wonder what authority Tutu has to make such demands of the Creator. To what source of authority does Tutu appeal that renders God accountable in such a way?
If one reads the Bible, therein he or she will discover that God never allows for Christians to harm with violence their ideological opponents. Tutu could build a strong case for charitable treatment of gay and lesbian people based on that alone. But that same Bible inarguably communicates God’s displeasure with homosexuality. If one doesn’t regard the Bible as authoritative, then upon what source of authority does Tutu’s argument rely? If Tutu depends at all on Jesus and His teachings, then Tutu cannot ignore two of the men Jesus is recorded to have affirmed: Moses and Paul – both of whom spoke definitively about God’s perspective on homosexuality. Consequently, for Tutu to stipulate conditions upon which he will follow God places God in the odd position of being a secondary issue. God is not the main issue – sexuality issues are. What a strange juxtaposition.
Tutu’s stance invites us to question whether or not we may be justified in defining the terms of our surrender – or whether God must meet our approval before warranting our loyalties. Instead, perhaps we should consider that if He is indeed the Creator, then He has some insight into how things do and should work. Perhaps we should consider that He who invented love also modeled it. Jesus died on behalf of all humanity – including those whose views on sexuality contradict His own (1 Jn 2:2). For while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8).
Instead of engaging a dramatic theological maneuver that logically undermines his entire belief system (if Tutu determines, of his own authority or sentiment, what is moral or good, then he need not introduce a pesky deity into the mix), Tutu’s case for love and charity would be much stronger if it was simply grounded on the Biblical example of Jesus and His love, while not ignoring that Jesus will one day also hold all of us accountable (Jn 5:22).