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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

When the Church Fails Homosexuals

I have a problem with us Christians. The problem spans denominational divides and it's "Christians' response to homosexuals." The gospel is pretty clear what this response should be since it's the same response Christians are supposed to have toward anyone - Love.

Boom. Blog post over.

Or if you want some clarification, keep reading.

This is not a post about Leviticus and exegesis. It's not a post about St. Paul's letters and Biblical support of or opposition to homosexuality or other alternative sexualities. Not really. Those are important conversations to have but this post isn't theological. It's practical. This post is about how we're failing one segment of the human population, one part of the divine creation in which God is fully present.

We are failing homosexuals by rejecting them. We are failing them by demonizing them, by arguing with science (does Galileo ring a bell?), and by not supporting them in the obvious ways all Christians can agree we should.

Imagine for a moment that when people started to openly identify as gay and they were victimized, violently assaulted, locked out of employment and their livelihood, ostracized from their neighbors like lepers, driven underground, and turned away from every part of "respectable society", imagine that Christians had met homosexuals there. Imagine if we had thrown open our doors, not to say "you are perfect", but to say "God loves you, and so do we." Imagine if we had promised to stand by them to end violence, end employment and benefits discrimination, end victimization, end cruelty. Imagine if Christians, the natural allies of the lowly and the disenfranchised, had partnered with homosexuals and fought for these common beliefs. What a witness we could have been! What bonds of friendship and unity we would have built!

But no, we judged them. Worse, we made conformity the litmus test for inclusion into Christian communities where homosexuals would actually have had a chance to see solidarity, experience a loving community, and hear the message of the gospel. I remember once watching an old documentary about the Civil Rights Movement in white churches. The pastor was trying to convince his parishioners that integration was a good thing. One white woman implored on camera with something like, "Pastor, I mean them [blacks] no harm and I wish them every good. But I just don't want them sitting next to me." If that comparison makes you uncomfortable, it's meant to.

Before homosexuals could be "real" Christians, we demanded sexual purity, a standard most of the adult population in our churches (married or otherwise) couldn't meet. I've been using the past tense here but not much has changed. Just a few weeks ago, Jason Collins became the first openly gay NBA player. Chris Broussard, another "Christian" NBA player responded by going on national television to declare that if Collins identified as a homosexual then he obviously wasn't a real Christian.

Even today, very compassionate Christians who neither condone nor condemn homosexuality still insist sexual orientation is ultimately a choice, despite the mounting empirical evidence to the contrary. Research also suggests sexuality, rather than an either/or distinction of heterosexual or homosexual, is actually a large spectrum with people falling in between the heterosexual/homosexual (and other?) poles with various degrees of proximity to either one.

Catholics have learned the hard way that we should listen to reason. (Remember my Galileo mention?) And this is why Catholicism, among other denominations, has said there is nothing wrong with being born homosexual. This from one of the most conservative religious bodies on the planet. (For the record, Catholicism makes a distinction between a homosexual nature and homosexual acts.)

But even if you throw out that research and that view, we can all agree that there is a very large number of cases of assault, hatred, and discrimination against homosexuals. And most of this isn't coming from the secular world or atheists. Most is coming from individuals who would identify as "Christian." What does that say about us?

Now homosexuality is a hot button issue with everyone racing to either legalize or outlaw gay marriage. And Christians are leading the charge on the latter. And not just political groups made up of Christians, of course, but identifiable Christian communities, like the bishops, Catholic groups, and evangelicals.

The "Defense of Marriage" is their battle cry. But defense from what? What is the real danger to marriage?

No Christians are protesting, legistlating, or publicly defending marriage by standing against pornography, the oversexualization of women and girls, messages of domination to men, promiscuity, infidelity, rampant divorce, disregard for procreation, messed up notions of what marriage means, our culture's overemphasis on romantic love, frequency of sex as the measure of a marriage's health, and the lack of formation and preparation before marriage. These are all problems of which Christians are well aware. And we're much farther down a dangerous road with respect to all of these other problems than we are with gay marriage. But I don't get letters from the bishops telling me to write my congressman about loose laws on the creation of and access to pornography.

That's because we've failed the homosexual community. Again, you don't have to be a Christian who supports that lifestyle. You just have to be one who can see past it to the reflection of God's image before you and know that it deserves your peaceful, no-strings-attached love.

When Christians start having LGBTQ outreaches and standing with the marginalized and oppressed, we'll be seen as the true followers of Christ. We're called to stop judging homosexuals and stop creating campaigns against them. I'm not saying definitions of marriage aren't important. But it's honestly hard to imagine Jesus on a picket line supporting Prop 8. It's much easier to imagine him amazing everyone (even his followers - us!) by his kindness, by his subversion of our cultural norms, and by his unfailing ability to meet the marginalized where they are. And that's where I want to be too. I want to be in that unexpected, life-giving, radical meeting space.


  1. Part of the issue with gay "marriage" is that it exposes American Christians for their own hypocrisy. Clearly, if Christian marriages had been treated as sacred, insoluble relationships open to life, relationships ordered to the dignity of both husband and wife, it seems to me that there would be no huge outcry for gay 'marriage'. But look at the average Evangelical Church in the South (where Evangelicalism has its home). Start counting the number of divorces, remarriages, abusive spouses, etc., and you will be shocked, particularly if you are not from the area. And these are the people who are supposed to be the Catholic Church's "allies" on the "sacred institution of marriage"? Something tells me we don't agree at some fundamental level. The Catholic Church has its own problems as many of the members have adopted the general American view of marriage in opposition to their own Church.

    That's not to say I'm for legalizing gay "marriage". I'm not one to make the perfect the enemy of the good. I just think that we ought to be a little more circumspect in formulating our arguments against it. We ought to start with, as you said, recognizing the essential value of people engaged in homosexual relationships. Then we ought to understand that it is the community's right to define the legal benefits of marriage or the absence thereof, and work within the cultural situation in which we find ourselves, looking out for the common good. In many situations, I think there is a real danger of persecution against those who believe that homosexual relationships are objectively wrong in places that recognize gay marriage. I think this because I've seen it, but I also wonder whether the Catholic Church should involve itself in such a losing political battle. Then, there are those places in which the State is inextricably united to the population's moral views on marriage, places where an active cultural Christianity is at work in the political structures of the state. This is the case in Arkansas. Clearly, there are good reasons for not forcing justices of the peace or county officials in predominately Christian states to authorize rites that violate their conscience. Clearly, the local community views such officials, including clergy, as having the duty to model certain values. Yet, even here, the Church should fight against the stigma many place on homosexuals to reach out and minister to them, and political activity should be circumscribed by the effect such would have on their ability to witness the truth to people of all backgrounds.

    1. Thanks for providing some interesting insight and from a southern perspective too. I believe you're right, it is a losing political battle and how involved the Church should be in America is a great question. It will be interesting to see where personal 'rights of conscience' will be allowed to exempt individuals from participating what will eventually became legal marriages. I predict a much more dire battle on that day.

  2. "No Christians are protesting, legistlating, or publicly defending marriage by standing against pornography, the oversexualization of women and girls, messages of domination to men, promiscuity, infidelity, rampant divorce, disregard for procreation..." etc.

    Amen! I have actually had recent conversations with friends wherein I express this exact concern. I do believe in the sanctity of marriage and family and I know that comes at least in part from my LDS upbringing, but I could not agree more that the Christian community at large is focusing way too much energy on the legalization of gay marriage as the biggest threat. I think it's happening not so much because it is a more severe "attack" on the institution of marriage (though this is an argument many will make) but because it is easier to take a "holier than thou" stance and believe that the problem lies elsewhere. Many Christians feel that the gay community is altogether an "Other." It's easier to point out what you believe to be someone else's sins than to look inward and see the problems happening (even rampantly) in an individual life and/or one's own Christian community. However, I will say that the LDS Church in particular has taken an even more definitive and vocal stance on pornography than homosexuality; there is a lot of activism among Mormons to fight the porn industry and its damaging effects. That is to say, I think there are groups of Christians and others who understand the value of focusing on constructive ways to strengthen marriages and families. That seems like a step in the direction you're talking about.

    Also, this: "It's much easier to imagine him amazing everyone (even his followers - us!) by his kindness, by his subversion of our cultural norms, and by his unfailing ability to meet the marginalized where they are. And that's where I want to be too. I want to be in that unexpected, life-giving, radical meeting space." Beautiful, Sam.

    Reminds me of a quote from Joseph Smith (if you'll indulge me): "Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive." I love this idea that we underestimate the boundless nature of God's love. In this sense, it's clear that being Christlike is linked to our ability to love, not our ability to police others.

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head, that "we underestimate the boundless nature of God's love." We never seem to doubt his divine wrath but we have a hard time believing in such expansive love. Maybe that's the human condition?
      Thank you for the Joseph Smith quote and the LDS stance; I didn't know they stood so ardently against pornography, which is wonderful (and again, a much greater danger in my opinion). It's very easy for us to think dualistically, of us v. them, our goodness v. our badness, etc. I'd like to see Christianity and religion overcome the ways in which those attitudes are unhealthy.

  3. I think you summed it up very well in this statement: " I want to be in that unexpected, life-giving, radical meeting space."
    And to that, I say AMEN! (me too!)

    1. Thanks Marc! I think statements like that are the healthiest. They're "open" and don't have their own agenda. The more I adopt those kinds of attitudes, the healthier I feel.