Speaking about gays
Yesterday, President Obama reversed his earlier opinion and announced that a ban against gay marriage is unconstitutional. I’ll let others with more political savvy talk about the change of position on a crucial issue, the power of the executive office, and other earthly but important dynamics of our political system.
I will comment on how thoughtful Christians might respond. For the most part, most of us don’t know what to say about homosexuality. A lot of Christians know what to think – the Bible says it’s wrong. But we can’t find our voice. Indeed, some Christian leaders, who seem to chime in about every other topic, are remarkably mute about same-sex attractions. Check out their sermon archives. Some go further and say we shouldn’t talk about “secondary” issues like homosexuality. We should just preach the simple gospel and leave political issues like gay rights and abortion for the politicians.
I disagree. I think we should and must speak about homosexuality. But we need to find vocabulary, tone, and insight that haven’t gotten much air time.
I’ll quickly add that I have no illusions that the non-Christian world, especially the media, will respond with kindness and understanding. I anticipate an outpouring of hatred against Christians who dare to upset the applecart of advancement of a “tolerant” society. But the world’s intolerance of us should not determine our agenda. Jesus told us that people would even resort to lying about us (Matt. 5:11) and he warned “Woe to you when all men speak well of you” (Luke 6:26).
There are legitimate reasons why some Christians are reluctant to speak up. They see many who have only been able to talk about gays with anger, self-righteousness, and hate. Not wishing to be associated with such ungracious voices, many just clam up. A better response, I believe, is to find alternative expression that avoids the pitfall of hate and the ditch of compromise. Silence is almost universally interpreted as acceptance or endorsement. There must be ways to articulate that homosexuality is not good or natural or healthy. I’ll suggest some ideas in the next blog.
But first, let me offer a three-part rationale for saying anything.
Not too long ago, Brian McLaren, an influential (but in my opinion, heretical) speaker and writer suggested that Christians take a five year moratorium from saying anything about homosexuality. It was just too hot an issue, he thought. But less than five years later, he offered many thoughts about the issue. In other words, even he couldn’t stay silent. That’s the first part of my rationale – we cannot stay silent because the issue will not go away. People will ask us what we think, whether we want them to or not. Everyone, including Barak Obama, is talking about it. So should we.
Second, for Christians and others with unwanted same-sex attraction, our silence is exactly the opposite of what they desperately need. I have served as an advisor to a ministry to ex-gays for quite some time and silence is not what they want from the heterosexual Christian community. Our silence hurts them as they seek healing, wholeness, and close, nonsexual connection to people of the same sex.
Third, and most important, the way we address homosexuality touches on a host of antecedent issues that pave the way for the gospel. In other words, the issues behind homosexuality are not irrelevant or peripheral. They are core. The reasons we believe homosexuality to be harmful to people and society are reasons that we believe many things: 1) God has spoken through his word, 2) people should not follow every urge within them, 3) there are virtues far more important than “being true to yourself,” 4) our world’s prescriptions for happiness may actually do the opposite, 5) our identities must be based on things more central than our sexual orientation. And there are many other principles that, if we do not argue for them, we will never get to the gospel. At least, we will never be able to present the gospel in a way that makes any sense to people.
In the chapter on homosexuality in my book, Questioning Evangelism, I wrote this: “More than thirty years ago, Francis Schaeffer quoted the following words of Martin Luther. One wonders how these two men would respond to today’s gay community. ‘If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the Devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.’”
So how do we do this? I’ll save that for the next blog.