Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Christians versus The Homosexuals

from here
I've met many Christians recently who are quite vocally opposed to same-sex marriage. A few weeks ago, during our new Bible study, I had my first practice at sitting quietly, waiting out an impassioned rant about how a stack of homosexual people were out showing their support for the bills seeking to allow same-sex marriage, and how they would probably pass because “normal” people weren’t turning up to protest. I’m becoming rather good at picking at my fingernails and brushing at biscuit crumbs and avoiding making eye contact, because I’m not sure how I feel about homosexuality yet, but I believe that if it is a sin it’s no worse than pride or self-righteousness or any of the other imperfections we all grapple with daily.

More than this, though, in the whole The Christians versus The Homosexuals battle, I see what could be a beautiful opportunity for the spreading of God’s abundant love instead being used as a chance to further drive away those who are just as in need of grace and hope as we are. Too often in this war, the distinction between anti-homosexuality and anti-homosexuals is blurred, if not absent entirely. I remember seeing a documentary years ago on the Mardi Gras parades in the United States, which made me cry when it showed a guy holding a sign displaying the acrostic message God Abhors You.“ In the last month I’ve heard Christians scoffing over anti-homophobia campaigns and support groups for gay teenagers as if these were terrible things. What’s truly terrible is young gay people committing suicide as a result of constant bullying and a feeling of complete aloneness. As Paul Goodliff writes (on page 169 of Care in a Confused Climate), “The Church must beware when its voice seems closer to that of the Pharisees than to that of its Lord.”

Jesus seemed to really care about people. He hung out with and touched and ate with and treated with respect the people that made the religious and comfortable people feel dirty and uncomfortable: prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, women.  The apostle Paul seemed to love people too, making himself “a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” He goes on to say this (in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23):
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Both Jesus and Paul seemed to prioritise people over “theology,” showing compassion, humility and pure love, and meeting people exactly where they were at. Paul describes himself and his team as “Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” What’s God’s appeal to the homosexual people of the world today? Is it not exactly the same appeal to every person, regardless of their race, gender or sexuality: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20)? How many people will be attracted to the gospel of reconciliation as a result of the anti-same-sex-marriage lobbying Christians are doing? How many will be overwhelmed by the goodness and love of God? How many will think, “Wow, Jesus is so awesome!”? It’s a stab in the dark, but I’m going to say none. 

We can preach on and on about the theology of marriage, but who cares if we get our theology all figured out yet convince no one who needs to hear it that the gospel is breathtakingly wonderful? I don’t think God’s waiting for as many Christians as possible to get their thinking on homosexuality (or predestination or eschatology or anything else) straight so that we can then try to bring everyone else in the world to the same conclusions; “Instead he’s patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). 

As always, it’s far easier to see the greys in the issue when you know and love people who disagree with you. Its easy to think of and call homosexual people abnormal“ when you only know and hang out with straight people. I really appreciated having someone challenge me about my thoughts on homosexuality (and The Slap, although she was definitely wrong about that) in my previous Bible study. I also really appreciated this “interview” with Justin Lee and hope you will too. I’m not sure that I agree with everything Justin believes, but I love his gracious style and I think it’s important to think about what he says; particularly things like this:
You're absolutely right that a lot of gay people are incredibly wounded, having been theologically "battered" over and over by misguided Christians. I cannot possibly convey how much damage Christians have done to our own cause by approaching the gay community in hurtful ways.

This damage, then, makes it very difficult for churches to offer even appropriate and loving correction—the kind we all need. Have you ever seen a dog that's been abused its whole life? They run and cower in the corner if you even try to approach them to pet them. A lot of us feel like that when dealing with conservative Christians, frankly.

At this point, the best solution is for Christians to err on the side of being loving when dealing with people who have been abused by the church. Often, you'll have to bite your tongue on the theological error and focus on building relationships. That correction may be necessary, but it will have to come from people who have built the necessary trust first.
This breaks my heart. Goodliff makes another good point (from page 171 of the same book I mentioned earlier): “Too often the gay and lesbian community hears only condemnation from the Church, as if every other dimension of life is secondary to this one area of sexuality. It is time for the Church to be truer to the heart of Jesus and reach out to these communities and help them as people first, homosexuals second.” I’m not calling for Christians to be pro- gay-marriage, necessarily; I am, however, calling for Christians to be pro-compassion, pro-grace and pro-love, to name just a few. In my mind, all of these add up to – at the very least – not being so anti-gay-marriage. Non-Christians already know exactly what were going to say when we open our mouths to speak about same-sex marriage. I think sometimes it’s wiser just to be quiet. Sometimes silence says sweeter things.


  1. Hey Annelise! I agree with you that thumping someone else over the head with the Christian viewpoint isn't helpful or wise. I also agree that it's sad that many homosexual people feel condemned when they talk to Christians. However, I disagree about the need to stay silent; I think where possible we can in most loving and respectful terms put forward the Christian perspective on same-sex marriage.

    I like the way John Bell does it in this article:

    "I have been able to share the gospel with many men over the past two years, even though I am saying things highly offensive to the gay lifestyle—which is actually their identity. I base everything I say on the authority of the word; that is, I make it clear to them that that is what I am doing, that I believe the bible is authoritative for all peoples in all cultures and times because it is God’s authoritative revelation to human beings. I stress this emphatically. And I tell them that the Bible condemns me, it condemns everyone. It condemns me as an idolater, someone who is selfish and sinful, who has de-godded God and installed himself in the position of “The Ruler of John’s Life.” I have done things in my life that I am ashamed of and oftentimes what I am ashamed of the bible calls my “sin” (I have found that gay men can relate very well to shame). I do not zero in on their homosexuality (which is what they expect me to do) but rather the fact that they are sinners. Now, more often than not, they will push me and ask if practicing homosexuality is a particular expression of their sinful disposition and I will not hesitate to tell them “yes.” When asked, I tell gay men that, personally, I have a “live and let live” approach to everyone’s sex life, but my personal opinion doesn’t count for anything if God, our creator, has declared otherwise. I tell them I know that I am sounding very intolerant and bigoted when I tell them that they are sinners and that their lifestyle is not pleasing to God. Who am I to tell another human being such a thing on my own authority? But then I explain that it is not on my own authority that I am saying these things. Rightly or wrongly, I am utterly convinced that the bible is the revelation of God. I am banking my eternal soul on it being so. It condemns me, but I have found salvation in Christ. It condemns you. I am here to tell you about the salvation that I have found in Jesus, that I believe you need, that the bible says he needs."

    1. Thanks for the link, Karen, I really enjoyed this article!

      If you're a Christian who gives up your time to befriend LGBT people and listen to them before speaking yourself and show them that you love them despite the fact that you don't condone their beliefs, then ABSOLUTELY, go ahead and share what you think when they ask you!

      But, as Bell says, "How many drag queens can count a born again Christian amongst their friends? Very few, to our shame." Too many Christians judge from afar, and lecture people they have no relationship with. It's hard to make friends with anyone that way, and without friendship, it's all just head-thumping.

  2. I found your post and the comments really helpful in my thinking. Thank you!

  3. Yeah I'm in exactly the same place. I have gay friends, a gay uncle and I think have taught gay students and they feel utterly rejected by Christianity. I decided a few years back to love them and not say things like "I love you but hate the sin" but just challenge them on getting to know Jesus instead of speaking about what's wrong etc. I am inclined to stay quiet on this till I know that what I say is what I believe. I got an email from someone which said 'sign this petition against gay marriage because I know your someone who takes the bible seriously'. I was hugely upset by that.

    1. I was thinking about you and Matthew as I wrote this. And those "sign my petition" emails (and the "email the following paragraph to your local MP" ones) upset me too. I've never had the courage to write back and say something like, "Because I take the Bible seriously, I won't be signing your petition. I'm also praying that this kind of thing won't drive even more gay people away from Jesus."

  4. I get hugely upset by that sort of stuff too, because as part of a church that openly welcomes LGBT people, when other Christians talk about 'Christians who take the Bible seriously' the implication is that my church (and by extension all the people in it) doesn't. But our attitude is basically down the 'Jesus said love everyone regardless' end that Annelise described above and quite frankly I think that's pretty damn biblical. Anyway the whole thing seems to cause a lot of Christian-on-Christian conflicts which also make me sad :(

    A bit of a related observation Annelise - have you noticed that all the 'controversial' issues you've been writing about (women, homosexuality etc) pretty much have the roots of their controversy in Biblical interpretation - specifically literalism versus narrative etc? You probably have - just thought it might be something interesting for you to explore next (I'd like to read that post as I'm sure you'll do it much more eloquently than I could!). The history of Biblical interpretation - what little I know of it - is pretty fascinating, particularly when you look at the trends of how it's changed over the centuries, and in response to other forces such as the development of the printing press, the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution.

    1. I had noticed the common theme, Lou! Egalitarianism is often seen as the top of a slippery slope towards fully embracing homosexuality, so a lot of the books I've read on women-stuff also look at this issue (mostly the authors say that they don't condone homosexual behaviour, despite their egalitarian views on women).

      Thanks for having so much faith in me, but I don't know that I'm qualified enough to talk about Biblical interpretation! 'The Blue Parakeet' by Scot McKnight (a book I reviewed last year) deals with this topic, as does 'Scripture and the Authority of God' by N.T. Wright, which I may try to review if I can ever get up the oomph to finish reading it! It fries my tired brain, even though I love Wright's writing. You're right, though, that getting to the root of the issue would be a good idea, rather than only talking about the symptoms. Hmmmm.... *insert inspired but sleepy emoticon*

    2. Hehehe: Wright, write, right. Who loves English?