As a Christian who supports the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the church I often find myself on the defensive, which is to be expected. I’ve been called everything from a heretic to an apostate often at the same time (not sure how’s it’s possible to be both). But what really frustrates me are the misconceptions people have about me and my larger beliefs because of this one issue. There seems to be a lot of misconceptions on what I am about as a Christian ally, so I’m here to clear up some things.
While these can probably be applied to a number of Christian allies, let me be clear that I am speaking from my own personal engrained beliefs and am not claiming to be able to answer or defend every person who supports inclusivity in the church. I’ve written the most common misconceptions in forms they often appear in as they’ve been addressed to me. While I use the second person to suggest a fictional dialogue, my responses are not meant to be addressed to readers personally. Here are the misconceptions that come up most often:
1. “You don’t believe in Bible at all or don’t consider it authoritative.” I actually take the Bible pretty seriously. I read it about every day and I devote a lot of time to studying it, praying over it, and discussing it with fellow Christians. You don’t need to point to the texts that you think have anything to say about homosexual behavior. I’ve read them all many times over, and I’ve read commentaries and interpretations from all different sides on them. I and most of the allies I know are pretty darn serious about scripture. We know it well and take things like the Beatitudes as directives for Christians. So please, don’t just post lines from Leviticus, Romans, or a poorly translated verse from 1 Corinthians by themselves like we’ve never seen them before. Guess what, we’ve read them all, we’ve studied them all, we thought over them all, and we’ve prayed over them all. Many of us have written our thoughts and interpretations of these very texts and you don’t have to look very hard to find them, so please stop pretending we ignore scripture. If you want to engage in a discussion with us on Biblical interpretations that’s fine, but you have to be willing to actually debate it.
2. “You are not Christians in any real sense of the word anyway, and do not follow any orthodox teachings.” There are a lot of faces to Christianity and the people who claim to be Christian, so just the word orthodox is a loaded term, but if you look hard at the various faces of people who support LGBT inclusion in the church, you may find people who you share more in common with you than you think. Sure it’s easier probably to dismiss us all as a bunch of post-modern, free-loving hippies, but my guess is you probably already know that’s load of crap. I can only really speak for myself, so here goes. I’m a Trinitarian Christian. I affirm the councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon (and yes I do know what was discussed at these councils). I’m a Protestant and an Arminian, which means I don’t believe in predestination or irresistible grace. I’m Methodist so I believe grace precedes justification and the need for Christians to strive for entire sanctification. I believe in two sacraments, the baptism of both infants and adults, and the real presence of Christ in communion. I have a 39 book Old Testament, though I also sometimes read the Apocrypha. And I read a 27 book New Testament. I affirm all Twenty-Five Articles of Religion set forth by my denomination, which are themselves adapted from the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Anglican tradition. I affirm the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, and the Pentecost. Whether these characteristics in particular match whatever definition of orthodoxy you may hold in your head, the fact of the matter is that many professed Christians throughout time have held any or all these and considered themselves orthodox. So do I.
3. “You are trying to make the church conform to the world rather than act prophetic.” This is an important one, because Christians are guilty of this all the time. We want to be popular, hip, get featured on some blog, etc. I agree with Jesus when he points to the corrupt and immoral practices that undergird much of society in his time, and still undergirds our own. We have to be in the world, but not of it. Agreed. But I disagree with the assumption that I and other Christian allies are supporting gay rights in the church out of a desire to be popular or trendy. For one thing, the popular pendulum has only swung toward celebration and affirmation of homosexuality in recent years, whereas allies have existed within the church for decades (and sometimes been forced out). While I often hear the argument that the church needs to support gay rights to attract young people or stay relevant, that’s not why I support gay rights in the church. I support them because I believe it is what God is calling me to do. The experiences I’ve had and friendships I’ve formed with homosexual and lesbian Christians that have challenged my old assumptions made it impossible for me to ignore the pain many of them have experienced, sometimes at the hand of the church itself. I’ve seen so many people called to ministry (some with otherwise orthodox or conservative beliefs) not being encouraged because of this part of themselves. I’ve seen those who’ve experienced abuse or rejection from their church and family who still seem most at peace when they are kneeling before God’s altar. I’ve seen same-sex couples offer the kind of loving home and care we always envision parents giving their children, but they’ve had to fight tooth and nail simply for the right to offer it. This has nothing to do with conforming to the world and everything to do with seeing and celebrating God’s love and grace in the world. I support gay rights because I believe fundamentally that the Holy Spirit has put these individuals before our eyes and is calling us to be the hands and feet of Christ to them. You may disagree with the manner in which we try to be the hands and feet, but please stop questioning our intentions. Call us heretics, apostates, or whatever else have you, but don’t think for a minute you can dismiss our actions as mere attempts at trendiness.
4. “You are supporters of a broader attack on traditional sexual morality and will open the door to other practices like bestiality, polygamy, and pedophilia.” This is some variation on the classical slippery slope argument. The problem I’ve always had with the slippery slope argument is that it deliberately avoids discussing an issue on its own merits and instead focuses one’s attention on uncertain possibilities rather than the real question. The fact is that I’m probably just as much against these “other practices” as you, but when people make the slippery slope argument that doesn’t really matter to them. The whole purpose of the slippery slope argument is to make you, your opinions or beliefs, and the merits of the issue you’re fighting for completely irrelevant. Know that I don’t consider any of these other practices mentioned above to be moral, nor do I want the church to bless any of them. You have my word that if someone should advocate for them in the future I will join you in resisting, but if you’re out of arguments against my position on gay rights and are therefore resorting to the slippery slope argument as a last resort, then don’t expect me to humor you.
5. “You reject the idea of natural law and believe all morality is relative rather than authoritative.” If this were true, we’d be advocating for a lot of crazier things. It’s very easy to present arguments in extremes when it comes to issues we’re passionate about, but in reality, the way you and I get at our morality is probably more similar than we might want to admit. When one assumes, however, that LGBT allies reject natural law completely and believe all morals are relative, they are also making the assumption that those who are not allies are the complete opposite, believing no morals are socially conditioned and all laws comes from on high. But this simply isn’t true either. As Rachel Held Evans pointed out when it comes the issue of homosexuality in many churches, “Everyone’s a Biblical literalist until you bring up gluttony…or divorce, or gossip, or slavery, or head coverings, or Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence, or the abomination of eating shellfish and the hell-worthy sin of calling other people idiots.” The list can go on. At some point all of us can point to some commandment or law in the Bible and make an argument for why it doesn’t apply to us or isn’t as serious anymore. It’s not always the same argument: 1. It was only applicable to the Israelites, 2. It was meant as an ideal, 3. It’s grounded in ancient Middle Eastern culture, 4. It was superseded by Jesus, 5. It’s not as important as this or that law anyway, etc. I’m not going to critique any of these arguments here, but will say that you’ll always find someone who disagrees with anyone of them. To every Luther there is a Karlstadt. The point is that at some level every one of us contextualizes the commands in scripture. Every one of us draws a line somewhere between which ones are still applicable to us today and which ones are not, for whatever reason. If opponents to LGBT inclusion treated all scripture the same, they would be following Old Testament directives on what to eat, how to farm, when to stone your child, etc. By the same token if all of us allies treated all the commands the same, we might be inclined to toss out “love thy neighbor”, “though shall not kill”, or “though shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor”. Do you hear many allies saying Christians are not compelled to live according to the laws I just cited? Didn’t think so.
6. “You think anyone who disagrees with you must hate LBGT persons.” I realize that for many beliefs on marriage and human sexuality are very important. Mine are important to me too. We do believe there is a way to love a person, while disagreeing with the way they are living. Where I will call you out as not showing Christian love, is in the following instances:
a. When fear of appearing to accept a person’s lifestyle keeps one from actually treating them as a person, such as when a church closes their doors to LGBT persons or actively avoids ministry or encounters out of fear that it will cause trouble or look bad. Christians don’t get to turn away anyone.
b. When churches encourage families or loved ones to reject or shun LGBT persons, or see these things happening around them and do nothing.
c. When expressing one’s beliefs poses as justification for bullying, persecution, or any form of violence or malice.
d. When churches try to discourage homosexuality by spreading lies or slurs against homosexuals. “Though shall not be bear false witness.”
7. “You would be happier going to a church that affirmed your own views on human sexuality anyway, so why don’t you do that?” So you assume just because I support LBGT inclusion in the church it must be the only thing I care about? I’m sure everyone can find at least ten things about their church they don’t like, but at the same time they probably can think of a hundred things they do like just as easily. To suggest we all should leave or would be happier over one thing is silly. When did schism become the preferable option anyway? The fact of the matter is I’m part of the church and larger denomination I’m in because I consider it home. I agree with most of the theology and love the kind of community and practice I’ve found there. If I was willing to leave over the issue of human sexuality and inclusivity I would have done so a long time ago on my own.
8. “You’d watch our churches empty out just to get your way. If we do things your way we’ll lose a lot of members and decline.” Now who’s conforming to the world’s standards? Are we willing to become unpopular or less powerful in order to be more prophetic? Yes. That being said I value a gradual change in the church where hearts are won over rather than issues forced. But don’t quote us membership stats and expect us to tremble. The same crowds that were cheering for Jesus in the streets one day were calling to have him crucified the next. If we’re ready to follow Him, there is very little we’re not willing to sacrifice for justice.
9. “You must be secretly gay yourself, otherwise you wouldn’t support this.” Wow! That’s a pretty cynical view for a Christian to have. That a person is incapable of true altruistic behavior unless they are really looking out for themselves? Believe it or not, I feel pretty sure that about my heterosexuality. In fact, in a way my assurance of that makes me a stronger ally, because I realize that my sexuality was not something I chose. Do I control how I express it? Yes, at least somewhat, but I can’t simply change it nor do I consider it healthy to completely suppress it. I have to believe it’s the same for homosexual and lesbian persons. They didn’t choose their orientation, but it’s nevertheless a part of who they are. It doesn’t seem fair for me as someone who didn’t choose his orientation to hold that against them. While I might celebrate how this part of me along with the rest of my being is a gift from God, I see it just as that, a gift. I would encourage LGBT persons to celebrate their own gifts God has graced them with, even when it makes others uncomfortable.
10. “You hate conservative Christians/churches and want to destroy them, otherwise you wouldn’t be doing this.” Seriously? After what I said in Point 6 you can’t honestly expect to apply a double-standard here. If you can oppose marriages and ordination for LGBT persons without being a labeled a “hater” outright, shouldn’t I be allowed to argue the other side without being called a “hater”? It might interest you to know that I have family and close friends who are on the other side of this issue. And you know what, I love them. Our disagreement doesn’t (and never should) get in the way of that. One of the many reasons I’m still in the moderate denomination I grew up in is because I value the perspective they bring to theology. I believe that blended together liberal and conservative Christians benefit from one another. I generally don’t like churches where either side is made completely unwelcome. If there’s anything I hate it’s a church where dissent is silenced completely. So no, I don’t hate conservative Christians. My love for them simply doesn’t entitle me to silence.