With the growing openness of gay men and women and as they become more incorporated into the fabric of the culture, conservative Christianity has been challenged to rethink their position.
For years the only visible response was “it’s a vile sin”. As gay people slowly became visible, up sprang vitriolic “family” groups dedicated to fighting for the civil subjugation of gay people and the denial of social equality or even basic civil rights.
Although this approach was often phrased as “love the sinner, hate the sin”, there was little evidence that the “sinner” was much loved at all. Rather, she was reviled as being immoral, militant, radical, anti-family, and a threat to children, the church, and all of Western civilization. Advertising campaigns, legislation, rallies, and political movements were generated to take away his children, deny his employment or housing, ban him from civil service, tax him more heavily, incarcerate him if he dare fight back, and in all ways keep him a second class citizen.
But over time, secular voices were joined by mainline Christians in calling such treatment barbarian and un-Christian. And some of the younger conservative Christians had a hard time aligning the “evil homosexual” image with those gay men and women they know.
So a new face of conservative Christianity is arising calling for more tolerance and seeking to share a loving God with their gay neighbors, to welcome them and love them rather than loudly condemn them.
And almost without exception, they get it entirely, completely, and miserably wrong.
Rather than see gay people as people, we are seen as a mission field, lost and desperate sinners trapped in a sinful and dangerous lifestyle hopelessly searching for acceptance and grace. And they come into the discussion with the assumption that their understanding of Scripture is not only true, but universally accepted.
Too often, conservative Christians start with the premise that gay folk share their beliefs about homosexuality:
■all humans feel a draw to know God and live according to His commandments; and knowing Him, on any terms, is good
■all sex other than one man, one woman under the covenant of heterosexual marriage is unquestionably condemned by God
■homosexuality is acting out on ungodly temptation to sin
■if gay people only came to feel loved by God then they would give up their sinful lifestyle
But these are not assumptions that our community accepts. And often, these are assumptions have no more practical applications to our lives than than carrying a “God Hates Fags” signs.
These “more tolerant” conservatives generally come bearing a specific message, one that seems to have stepped in to replace “love the sinner, hate the sin”. It goes something like this:
We all are sinners. We gossip and lie and get angry and make mistakes all the time. God forgives us all and sees no sin as greater than any other sin. God loves homosexuals and forgives their sins as quickly as he forgives the sins of anyone else.
And they sit back waiting for the homosexual sinners to come kiss their hands with tears streaming down their faces, oh so thankful for this charity.
But what these Christians fail to see is that we do not see our sexual orientation in terms of behavior. We are not gay because we do gay things. We are gay because we are internally, inherently drawn in matters of romantic, emotional, sexual and spiritual attraction to persons of the same sex.
The sins that this tolerant Christian sees God forgive in his life are based on his own behaviors; his failings are his own actions. But the sins that he sees God forgive in our lives are not behavioral, but inherent; our failings are intrinsic and will be present no matter what we do.
And when gay folk reject this overture, as we do, they indignantly reply, “Well! I called myself a sinner, too! What more to you want?”
Take, as illustration, a Christian bus message campaign in Toronto. Amidst a number of other questions posted on bus benches by Bus Stop Bible Studies, was this one:
The website to which the reader was directed sought to “show love” and sensitivity. First, they explained why gay people are gay (cached):
Reason 1 – The fall of mankind. Death and decay came into the world when Adam sinned.
Reason 2 – Refusing to know God. In Paul’s Letter to the Romans he explains how God will show his displeasure “…as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth.” that is those who have chosen to go against Him.
Well, now, that’s fun. My sexual orientation is either the sad and tragic consequence of sin in the world, much like muscular dystrophy or famine or it is the consequence of rebellious me refusing to know God. Either a generic ill or a punishment.
Gee, that isn’t particularly encouraging. So next we get the love and grace message. Even though we are the consequence of Original Sin or of godless rebellion, there’s Good News!
Does God love homosexuals?
Yes! Without exception.
Are my responsibilities as a homosexual any different from heterosexuals?
We know from passages throughout Scripture that God hates homosexual acts BUT no more than any other sinful act. Some individuals seem to place homosexual acts in a special class – God does not. Sin is sin.
Homosexual activity is no better or worse than heterosexuals engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage.
Woo hoo. A devoted gay relationship is no more offensive to God than cheating on your spouse. Goodie.
And that’s the nice part. They also shared that AIDS is not God’s judgment… but if you engage in “selfish freewill choices” then “As you sow, so shall you reap.” And, even worse, you may hurt an “innocent person” like a hemophiliac child.
I guess they forgot one little part: he can wake up tomorrow and decide to stop being a cheating, lying, womanizing a$$hat, but I’ll still be gay.
And the extra-special plan that God has for gay people? Is it a lifetime of celibacy?
Perhaps it is never, ever, experiencing romance, flirting, a first date, or a kiss on the beach under the moonlight. Maybe a life of devotion to others, knowing that your last breath will not be with a partner. Being a wonderful uncle or sister or neighbor, but knowing this: God’s Plan is for you to never be the most important person in anyone’s life.
And they wonder why we don’t leap at the opportunity.
“But it’s grace”, they say. “God is as quick to forgive you for your life of love, commitment and devotion to your partner as He is to forgive me of my extramarital affairs. He’ll forgive you for building a life together, for caring until death do you part, He’ll pardon you for experiencing same-sex attraction just as quickly as he forgives a murderer.”
Is it any surprise that some gay people conclude that God is a bully? Or that even more have responded to such nonsense by questioning the existence of gods at all and have come to conclude that it’s all just irrational myth and superstitions?
And, indeed, Toronto’s gay community was not amused. (Torontoist)
After receiving a number of complaints about the “Does God care…?” poster, the TTC sent the offending ad to its advertising review committee to evaluate whether the panels should remain posted. But, says TTC Director of Communications Brad Ross, “That point is moot now that Bus Stop Bible Studies has voluntarily decided to remove the ads.”
But they did not do so graciously.
They removed the website’s “sin” discussion and replaced it with a whiny complaint about how they were misunderstood and now they are being picked on.
The content of this page has been removed. It has become apparent that, while one is free to ask the question, “Does God care if I’m gay?” one is not so free to answer the question from a Biblical perspective.
It seems that the whole message of God’s justice and grace was being misinterpreted.
Oh, those poor bus stop preachers. The nasty gays misinterpreted the message about how they were gay because they rejected God and the notion that with AIDS, “you reap what you sow”.
The funny thing is that I believe that the bus stop folks really do believe that they are tolerant. They didn’t come preaching hate (as they see it). They didn’t even say that you had to become straight to know God.
But their ignorance and presumption was only exceeded by their callousness and self-righteousness. They came bearing the same ol’ steaming pile of dogma, wrapped in smugness and arrogance, and were Shocked! that it was rejected as hateful and offensive.
So here is my message to the conservative Christians who “have a heart for the gay community”: think about what you are saying and how crazy offensive it would be if directed towards anyone else.
You claim that you see all sin the same, but you don’t. No one does. Gossip may be annoying, but we don’t light the torches and gather the pitchforks like we do when a murderer is loose. We don’t amend the constitution to protect the family from those who love money. We don’t pass laws banning liars from serving in Congress or keeping those who curse their parents from serving in the military.
We know that you really do think that our “sin” is so much worse than your own and we are not impressed when you lie and say that you don’t.
And, guess what? We are not sitting around waiting for someone, anyone, to tell us that God loves us. There are gay affirming churches, and we know how to get to them.
Yes, we know that you believe these churches to be wrong, but you believe that a whole lot of churches are wrong about a whole slew of doctrinal issues and the only one you seem interested in addressing is gay people.
Think how odd it would sound to “really have a heart for Lutherans” or “feel God is calling me to evangelize to Episcopalians”. How condescending and arrogant. That’s exactly the same way it feels to us when you come sharing the news that God loves us and if we only just really, really knew that then our lives would be changed.
And for as long as you continue to be part of the movement to deny civil equalities, you will never, ever “reach gay people for Christ”. If your Christ compels you to take away my health insurance, then your Christ is my enemy. If His message of love is to take my children away from me, then I’ll do without that kind of love, thanks.
If your position on my personal freedoms is exactly the same as that of the Phelps family, then you really have nothing to share with me or my community. If your voting pattern is identical to Peter LaBarbera, then your gospel is nothing but a sounding brass or tinkling cymbal.
Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate that you aren’t calling us abominations and perverts. I really do. Setting aside the language of condemnation and revulsion is a step in the right direction.
But it isn’t as big a step as you think it is.
And as long as you come to us with the message that God wants us to live a love-less life of aloneness and think that we are going to see this as good news, don’t be surprised that we are not impressed. If you think that you are doing us a favor by being “compassionate for our struggle”, then don’t expect any more congratulation than what your are already giving yourself. And until you come up with a theology that reveals God as something other than a bigot or a bully, you can be sure that your “mission to the homosexuals” will not be fruitful.