This was posted on Facebook as an exercise in being more honest across all spheres of my life. I wanted to see if I could write a single statement I was happy to share with everyone, no fudging or spinning my views differently to tell people what they wanted to hear – Christians, atheists, family, friends. The reaction blew me away. I only set out to deal with a personal issue about being genuine with people, so the amount it prompted other people to think and discuss things is really more than I ever hoped for. Disclaimer: it wasn’t written to withstand that much scrutiny; I oversimplify the state of affairs in the evangelical community and the change that’s already happening, and I left out a whole lot of Biblical discussion that didn’t make sense for something aimed at a wide cross-section of people.
Witty Title Goes Here
I recently had the very great pleasure of celebrating my cousin’s wedding, a day or two after the US Supreme Court opened the door to gay marriage across the United States. My news feed was the happiest I’ve ever seen it: the wedding, even-more-jubilant-than-usual Pride parades, friends’ graduations for good measure. Celebrations all around. It brought me back to thinking about the fight against gay marriage from evangelical Christians (when I write Christians from here on, I mean those opposed to gay marriage). Many outsiders see hypocrisy: a movement that preaches love yet denies a huge group of people their freedom to express it. It’s a misinformed and slightly lazy characterisation – it’s much less effort to dismiss people as hypocrites or fools than it is to try to understand what’s going on when good people have opinions that shock us. But the Christian approach is lazier still, essentially falling back on “the Bible’s always right” without considering whether maybe the Bible can still be right, but they’re wrong. As a bisexual-ish ex-Christian, it’s an emotional debate for me, tied into who I am in many ways. Partly I need to vent my frustration with the church world that I was immersed in throughout my upbringing and means so much to me, but has it disastrously wrong on this one. Partly I wanted to defend that same world to cynical friends who are unjustly harsh in their criticism. Mostly I realised that until I start being more upfront, I’m not only dishonest by omission, I’m also implicitly remaining ashamed in some way of my sexuality and my convictions.
I’m fortunate to have been brought up in a loving and supportive Christian family, and many of my friends are from the Pentecostal church I used to go to. This is a church that once cancelled its Sunday evening services for months and told its congregation to go and serve in the local community instead. They acted like Jesus rather than just talked about him, demonstrating love in practice not just in prayer. It was church done right, inclusive and compassionate, not a book club for geeking out on 17th century prose. Except… it and similar churches continue to oppose (or at least tiptoe around) gay marriage, and so I see this extraordinary community of people I admire trying to reconcile loving thy neighbour with a theological stance that denies some a privilege (or should that be a human need?) offered to others. They’re still a million miles from the caricature protesters on the news, all vituperative venom and judgment and angry placards. It’s a shame that that inevitably steals all the attention. That’s not evangelism, it’s an ignorant but vocal minority attacking from a place of insecurity, fearful of ideas and desires they don’t understand, and it greatly inflames the short patience the LGBT community has for the Church. (Aside: Beneath their many bad arguments is an undercurrent of “it’s just icky, isn’t it? I mean, how does… when you… what bits go where… why would you do that, whyyy???”. Even though it’s rarely stated directly, that revulsion at the physical ins and outs of it all leaks into the angry capital letters of protestors’ slogans. What’s striking is the totally unwarranted idea that it’s all about sex; the idea of one (wo)man loving another as a husband and wife do doesn’t compute, so it’s ignored, and sex fills in the gap. This mis-focus is then reinforced by the fact that all direct references to homosexuality in the Bible are concerned with lust and sex, not relationships. It’s curious that no one is more obsessed with gay sex than those who rally against it, assuming that the right to screw anybody must be the true cause uniting the entire gay community. When in fact, in most of Western society today, it’s pretty clear that gay people aren’t waiting on anyone’s permission for that. Although gay marriage inevitably entails considerations of sexual ethics, sex has nothing to do with why LGBT people have fought for it, and there are those who easily forget that. Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that those who seek to condemn others are so blind to the concept of love.) So, back to Christians whose hearts break at a message of hate, and yet object to gay marriage nevertheless. From their angle, the campaign is not against gay rights but for the sanctity of an immutable God-given institution. What right do humans have to meddle in that? Most Christians would otherwise have been happy to support same sex relationships, but the Bible appears to condemn it, and to the Christian, the Bible has built up a bulletproof track record for getting everything right, not just theoretically but very profoundly in their personal experiences. It’s earned their trust over any other consideration, and arguing against the word of God generally sounds unwise to boot. But things start to look shaky on closer inspection – to take one of many many examples, even the literal-sounding biblical basis that humans are created as man and woman falters at the (oft-ignored) proportion of babies whose sex is less than crystal clear until doctors’ interference after birth. If even biological sex characteristics are not always binary, never mind orientation, it calls into question the ability to treat biblical statements regarding sex, gender and sexuality as universally applicable in a literal sense. The cracks deepen when one considers for example Matthew 7:17-18 and asks whether the right interpretation of the Bible would cause such hurt to so many. Rejecting gay marriage says: your commitment, your love and therefore your identity are not worthy of the same recognition that heterosexual couples get to take for granted. The psychological impact is hard to overstate – it’s a demeaning dismissal of a bond as precious to a gay couple as it is to any other. The most loving intentions in the world can only mitigate, not void that. This, of course, doesn’t prove that it’s not what the Bible meant to convey – but it’s anomalous enough that alarm bells should start ringing. (Tony Campolo announced his acceptance of gay marriage a few weeks ago and cites this argument more eloquently than I can). And yes, certainly Paul doesn’t sound too keen on the whole gay thing when he writes to the Romans in the New Testament, but Biblical scholars better qualified than me suggest there is more to this than meets the eye . I think many Christians have become a bit too certain they know what God thinks and what the Bible means, when the church has undergone similar shifts in interpretation in its (not so distant) past. It’s easy to say “but that was different“, but the only difference is that racial segregation, the emancipation proclamation, women’s suffrage etc. were in the past (mostly) and this is the present. We get to look back with the benefit of hindsight and the liberty to judge the views held in a bygone time without feeling bad about ourselves, with our present enlightened selves on a pedestal on which we’ve engraved “we’ve got it right now”. We forget at our peril that that pedestal wobbles precariously, and we are guilty of profound arrogance if we suppose that people in the future won’t fix our mistakes and look at our primitive morality with the same derision .
It all boils down to this: you can shout “I love you” to the LGBT community until you’re blue in the face, but it’s vacuous until you respect their human need for union with someone they love. This is why “hate the sin, love the sinner” fails here. A Christian might remark at this point that loving someone does not mean endorsing their sinful lifestyle, but rather confronting it. But reparative (“de-gaying”) therapy has failed, and for no other immorality do we see this strange effect where, far more than just being painful, it actually does profoundly more harm than good to confront it. Christian assumptions about same-sex relationships just don’t stack up any more. I’ve never made a thing of this stuff before, because… I wouldn’t want to cause a fuss, I guess? But that kind of attitude patronises everyone, and is that really how little I should value my convictions? It’s rare for me to be anything more than superficially attracted to another man, but the difference between never and rarely is all the difference in the world. One day, I could be making the choice to commit the remainder of my life to a man I love. It’s very unlikely. Girls are just more interesting! But it could happen. In that case, I fear the wedding reception might play host to an elephant in the room. I am immeasurably thankful for my parents and that coming out to them was a frankly anticlimactic non-event, and similarly for all the other Christians I’m out to. Still, marriage is a different kettle of fish, and it’s hard not to suspect that some of the most important people to me in the world would have reservations, despite the love and support I know they would continue to give, about truly celebrating and affirming perhaps the most significant moment in my life. That brings great sadness. But then I also wish some of my non-Christian friends would not be so quick to judge completely wonderful, brilliant people who I love dearly, based on an absurd caricature. I really hope things change. But for now, it’s just good to be straight with everyone. So to speak. : e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezQjNJUSraY is a good example of the substantial and swelling body of literature. : Could this argument be turned against itself? Might a future society look back on LGBT rights as the mistake? Unlikely – affording minorities the respect and rights enjoyed by the majority has historically proved to be a one-way transformation that becomes obvious in retrospect.
Time and time again, progress only comes from trying to understand those you disagree with; mockery is a cathartic indulgence, and it has its uses, but it’s not the road to go down if you want genuine change.