The term “homophobia” could be used to describe sinful attitudes or actions towards homosexuals. Its typical use, though, is to describe opposition to homosexual practices and beliefs, which is assumed to be irrational. Used in this way, it is an unfair rhetorical ploy to discredit any opposition to homosexuality.
Debates are rarely won on the battlefield of terminology, but they are frequently lost there. This is certainly the case in today’s debates over sexuality. Virtually all of the key terms are so freighted with ideological ordnance that entire regiments of exegetical and philosophical argument can be wiped out at a moment’s notice by a careless choice of words.
One word that we must handle with care is “homophobia.” Of course, this term is frequently leveled at anyone who dissents from the mainstream view affirming homosexual practices. Frequently, though, the term is also used by Christians to describe sinful attitudes or attitudes toward homosexuals. The problem is that when Christians use this term, we are either using it in a highly restricted sense that our secular culture does not recognize, or we are buying into some unbiblical assumptions about homosexuality.
The second half of the term, “phobia,” signifies an irrational fear. For instance, “arachnophobia” is an irrational fear of spiders. You might have arachnophobia if you avoid opening cupboards because years ago you found a dead spider in one. On the other hand, running away from a tarantula is evidence of healthy fear, not arachnophobia.
But what exactly does a homophobe fear? What does the “homo” refer to? It could refer to homosexual people. In this case, “homophobia” would be a useful term to describe someone’s fear of speaking to a homosexual, of stepping on their lawn, or of eating one table over from them at a restaurant.