The word “shibboleth” comes from Judges 12:
4 Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, ‘You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.’ 5 The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, ‘Let me cross over,’ the men of Gilead asked him, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ If he replied, ‘No,’ 6 they said, ‘All right, say “Shibboleth”.’ If he said, ‘Sibboleth’, because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.
Why should homosexuality be so important to Evangelicals? One reason is that it is for them a sibboleth of the Faith. They believe that they live by the Bible, and may have beliefs about its inerrancy and inspiration. They believe that they show respect for the Bible, and some believe that liberal Christians such as myself, who do not regard the Bible in the same way, are not Saved.
As homosexuality moves from grudging tolerance to general acceptance within society, this becomes an open sore for them. More and more Christians welcome gay people. The Evangelicals know this is wrong, and that it dishonours the Bible. So they get louder and louder, until condemning homosexual lovemaking becomes the most important article of the Faith, even above “God is Love”.
The other reason I think it is so important for them is that they find homosexual lovemaking disgusting. Even those who are committed to diversity may feel the same: David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, said something like that. The answer is, “if you find it disgusting, then don’t think about it”. Mr Blunkett worked happily with Chris Smith, the first openly gay Cabinet minister. He knew diversity was an important value, and so kept his disgust within bounds. However the Evangelical knows that his disgust is Righteous, and so has no motivation to limit it.
I think they are bemused and discomfited when others do not feel the same way. One of the cosy certainties of their world is challenged. Can they really be right, if others feel differently? So they retreat into vociferous denial.
I sympathise with that, because I too find it difficult to validate my own views and feelings when others feel differently. Posts recently have been about living with the fact that other people think differently from me. Radfems, Rationalists and Reformed Christians all say I am Wrong! And yet I survive, more or less.