When I was a junior in high school I worked on the school newspaper and was the sports editor for my last two years in high school. I remember one fall afternoon after school pretty vividly. We had the previous issue of the paper ran an ad for a gay and lesbian student support group. The editors and our faculty advisor discussed that this would probably be a controversial move and we could take some flak. We decided that we had a First Amendment interest to run the ad. We also ran ads for a Christian crisis pregnancy center and advertised the student-led Bible study that met. So we thought we were being pretty balanced too.
Or so I thought… there was a very irate pastor in the school’s main office giving the secretary an earful about how inappropriate running that ad was. Well, the secretary “wisely” pointed me out saying I was one of the editors. So this guy comes out to talk to me. Needless to say I was a little intimidated, and I also reminded myself to thank the secretary later on when I had a chance.
While this pastor was verbally “bullying” me (that is what it felt like), I kept thinking… I don’t disagree with your view of homosexuality. I thought it wasn’t natural personally, but I thought they had a right to run the ad. It wasn’t like their was anything vulgar in the ad, just the time and location of their next meeting. I was hanging around because I had to wait for my brother in order to go home, and when he saw what was going on he got the ROTC teacher to call me over saying he needed my help. Thereby “rescuing” me from this pastor.
One thing I recall from that incident was how sad it was to have to be “rescued” from a pastor. I wasn’t a Christ-follower then, and I though if this is what Christianity is all about – then I don’t want anything to do with it. Also this pastor had to be incredibly unhinged if he thought a 17-year-old high school newspaper sports editor was going to be able to solve his problem. Also it made him and those who also complained to seem unfair in our eyes since we also ran ads that were promoting their activities and programs.
If you haven’t realized it yet, but chapter 5 in UnChristian is called “Antihomosexual”. The perception out there among young outsiders is that Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians. Not just that we object to their lifestyles, but that we are also fearful of homosexuals and scorn them. Our perceived disdain of homosexuals, Kinnaman and Lyons share, is “virtually synonymous with the Christian faith.” Out of the 16-29 year-old outsiders surveyed 91% said that “antihomosexual” accurately describes present-day Christianity. They go on to say…
“Of course homosexuality is an electric topic. Most people have strong feelings about it. And the issue is incredibly complex, affecting families and children and influencing media and culture. Gay activists have been aggressive in their attempts to change Americans’ perceptions, and media has played a significant role in shaping young people’s attitudes and values on this topic. We cannot underestimate how a morally relativistic generation, along with sophisticated media and political strategies, have created a tinder box for Christians’ reputations in this regard.”
However, Christians have often responded to the environment we find ourselves in un-Christian ways. When we encounter homosexuals “we often come across as arrogant, self-righteous, and uncaring – the opposite of how Jesus engaged outsiders.” They cite some examples:
Christians believe events like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina are God’s judgment on homosexuals.
Public comments from pastors and other Christian leaders are often perceived as unduly berating gays.
Another outsider pointed out how Christians oppose gays in public office: “Why should they be any less qualified to serve in government.”
Christians use coarse jokes and offensive language to describe homosexuals, such as “fags,” sodomists.”
Some outsiders interviewed pointed to God-hates-gays websites.
Those are more extreme examples, but they also cited some examples that are pretty common in mainstream Christianity.
Born-again Christians are more likely to disapprove of homosexuality than divorce.
Most born-again Christians have a hard time knowing how they should respond to the lifestyles of homosexuals as well as how to respond to the political efforts of gay and lesbian activists. (Example – four out of five evangelicals, say that homosexual relations between two consenting adults should be illegal – the authors ask, “Do we really want government regulating the sex lives of adults?” “Our concerns about preventing the advancement of homosexual rights often translate into a desire for unrealistic boundaries on people’s lives.”
Two of every five churchgoers, say that school boards out to have the right to fire teachers who are known homosexuals.
Many Christians continue to be very skeptical about donating to HIV/AIDS causes, even overseas, despite our generosity in many other areas. This usually stems with a feeling that this disease is deserved.
The authors say we need to be clear about what we believe. Are there some sins and crimes that God can not forgive? A quarter of all born-again Christians think so. We need to understand that we are all sinners. A struggle with being attracted to opposite sex is no different than the struggle of gays being attracted to the same sex.
“The Bible says while we were still enemies of God, he made peace with us through the cross, (Romans 5:19). Because he loved the world, he sent his Son to die, (John 3:16). Everything hinges on what a person decides to do with Jesus – commit to him or reject him. Regardless of the sin we commit, he still loves us.
Let me drive this point home as it relates to homosexuality. It’s true that sexual sins are particularly destructive in people’s lives, but this is true of all sexual sin. And frankly, when we recognize the complexity and significance of sin and sexual sin, it should engage our concern and compassion on the issue of homosexuality even more.”
They also mention some of the inaccurate assumptions that Christians often embrace:
Homosexuals are incapable of acting morally.
Homosexuals are an organized movement with the purpose of subverting conservative Christianity. (Most are not political activists, and 1/3 attend church regularly. 1/6 have beliefs that qualify them as born-again Christians). They say, “bottom line: some gays are antagonistic to Christianity, but many are not.”
Homosexuality is a simple issue.
It is best to avoid any friendships with homosexuals (which is certainly not the approach that Jesus took with sinful people).
We definitely see shifting
values with this issue. Those under the age of twenty-six are much more likely to accept homosexuality without consideration. Most young adults endorse the idea of same-sex marriage, and a majority favor the legal rights of gays and lesbians to adopt children. Only 14% of Mosaics and 28% of Busters said they strongly oppose changing the laws to grant homosexuals more freedoms, rights and protections. Compare that with older generations where 42% firmly oppose legal protection for gays and lesbians.
The way that we usually address this issue is through preaching and politics, what was most revealing to the authors is the absence in the in the Christian community of any other approaches to addressing homosexuality (like prayer and donating money to organizations that help people struggling with homosexuality or having meaningful discussions with people about it).
Also we have to realize that among Mosaic and Buster churchgoers, fewer than 1/3 believe that homosexual lifestyles are a major problem. Compare that with 1/2 of Boomers and nearly three out of every five Elders. Most young believers believe the Bible does not condone homosexuality, their conviction, according to the authors, “is waning.” They are also embarrassed by the church’s treatment of gays and lesbians.
“Based on several years of studying these issues, I cannot emphasize enough how churches and Christian leaders are not only missing the chance to address the sexual struggles of young people but are piercing the confidence of young believers by not offering a biblical response to the issue of homosexuality.”
Acknowledging the complexity – “Everyone has sexual baggage but also has the potential for sexual wholeness. There are major problems across the spectrum of sexuality that the church needs to address. For example, a majority of born-again Busters believe that cohabitation and sexual fantasies are morally acceptable.
Opening doors with conversations – Build relationships, get to know homosexuals, elevate the importance of conversation. For example, “being willing to discuss HIV/AIDS has opened up doors for conversations with people who have sworn off having anything to do with conservative Christians.
Treating other Christians with respect – we need to “downgrade the importance of being antihomosexual as a ‘credential,’ proving that we are more faithful to God than anyone else is.”
Having the right perspective – “We should not give up channels of influence, such as in politics, just because our stand might cause negative perceptions, but we must pursue our efforts in these arenas with integrity, respect and love for people… It is necessary and appropriate for Christians to affirm marriage is between one man and one woman…. We cannot assume that politics is the only or best way to influence people… You change a country not merely by bolstering its laws but by transforming the hearts of its people.”
Expressing Concern for Kids – who are part of homosexual families – “Christians have to avoid rhetoric that dehumanizes people, especially in interpersonal interactions. Our most important concern must be the response of young people to Christ, not merely what type of home they grew up in.”
Having Compassion – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor executed because of his opposition to the Nazi party wrote this while in a concentration camp, “Nothing that we despise in the other man is entirely absent from ourselves. We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or don’t do, and more in light of what they suffer.” Some questions that the authors want Christians to consider – “Do our language and actions communicate compassion to others? If our theology says homosexuality is wrong and sinful, is it still true that homosexuals have deep sexual needs, just like the rest of us? How can we not utter compassionate words and perform compassionate acts?”
My question is – what would that look like? I know I’ve struggled in this area, and have likely been guilty of harboring some of the misconceptions or for not being as loving as I should. How can we influence our churches and ministries to better serve the homosexual community?
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