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The Church, the Activists, and the Homosexual Question

Seems there’s a recurring subject these days, one that just won’t go away… no matter how much discomfort it causes. One of those polarizing issues. Brian McLaren comments on the Homosexual Question: Finding a Pastoral Response. His position is along the same lines as whenever he’s commented on the subject previously… a kind of middle-ground, not-certain-of-the-right-answer kind of position. A refreshing one, actually. But what does happen following the increasingly common scenario:

The couple approached me immediately after the service. This was their first time visiting, and they really enjoyed the service, they said, but they had one question. You can guess what the question was about: not transubstantiation, not speaking in tongues, not inerrancy or eschatology, but where our church stood on homosexuality.

The other day, Internet Monk Michael Spencer posted a rant titled “It Ought To Be A Parable. It’s That Good.” I tend to agree with him… he’s on about how the religious right can get up in arms about the positions taken by certain gay actors and artists when an outcry is warranted, yet a kind of selective silence ensues when it suits. Like nobody mentioning that the star in the movie Chariots of Fire was gay and the producer was a Muslim. He writes,

I’m starting to believe that there is absolutely no way to say that the current crop of culture warriors is anywhere close to being as committed to the Gospel as they are to doing battle with homosexual activists. Listening to the culture warriors explain their latest bout of shock and outrage is quite revealing. I don’t know how they feel about Jesus most of the time, but I sure know how they feel about homosexual activists and other political sinners.

Scary. If anything, it seems to be getting worse. Nit-pickier. Now, I may not agree with my friend The Old Bill on the Bible’s position vis a vis homosexuality, but I have come to the point of understanding how he can read it differently than I do. The bigger issue perhaps is the manner in which some sins are evidently acceptable to the “culture warriors” and some are not. But who gets to decide?

I used to not like K.D. Lang — for a while because of the whole vagan thing (but leather doesn’t count) when she hails from cattle country, then because of her stated sexual preference, but ultimately, mostly because Constant Craving was in my view the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Seriously. I don’t care how much it sold or what it won, I would blacklist a radio station for playing it, and my opinion of that particular song didn’t change even though my view of KD changed somewhat when I heard her singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on Hymns of the 49th Parallel, a CD that gets its share of airtime in my beverage tray these days. Yeah, since my distancing from the religious hyper-right, I can once again think Ellen DeGeneres is funny too. I still have friends who might be inclined to pick up the CD from my collection, look at it, and ask, “But isn’t she a lesbian?” I think by now most of these friends are just as likely to keep their thoughts to themselves these days, what with us having gone off the deep end and all with this liberal emerging church thing (aack, cough, splutter, -ahem!-)… or maybe they’d just be too distracted by the kid’s yoga DVD we picked up recently (which in the end was a bit over the yogic top for our taste). Yeah, it’s a slippery slope, what with us having listened to “new age music” for far too long now.

As I read Michael Spencer’s rant, I was thinking about former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray. He’s been criticized lately for forgetting about the city where he made his name while he continues to consult and speak about a “new deal for cities,” but when he was elected mayor, I know of a few churches that interpreted the event as God’s judgement upon the city. Even though his political stripes don’t match my own, I can’t say he was a bad mayor… just an openly gay one. For whatever that’s worth…. perhaps it’s time to stop mistaking what it means. I recall the election where he was running against an opponent who had been convicted of tax evasion… but if I mentioned this tidbit, I met with a defence of the tax issue since it was under appeal after all, and well, Murray really was gay. Whatever…. as I said, evidently someone decided that one sin is much worse than another. Is honesty and integrity really less important for a politician than sexual preference? I tried to point out the supreme irony of someone wanting to spend my tax dollars while he was criminally avoiding paying his own. The only answer I got was a rather weak, “Well, this [homosexuality] is overt…” from which I learned that it’s evidently best to keep your sins to yourself.

When Glen Murray first ran for mayor, I remember the voices of the gay lobby in the media, telling everyone not to vote against him because he was gay, but to vote for the best candidate based upon the issues. The failure of the media to produce a single member of the gay community who voted against Glen Murray suggests to me that the gay community is no different from ours in at least some respects, including the impetus to vote in a certain way. In casting a vote, the issues are often not the issue at all… the factor that holds sway is who makes us the most comfortable, whose social values most closely reflect our own. Somehow we feel that people who think like we do about social issues will always know what’s best to do. So we vote based largely in fear, because after all, if so-and-so gets elected then [all kinds of bad things] will happen. It must have occured to my fellow Canadians that a large part of the political campaign foists the same message regardless of the party: “Vote for me because the other guy is scary.” (Come on, you Americans, like you’re any different?) In the tech world, we call this Microsoft-perfected tactic FUD and we all know it lacks substance. Bzzzt! Sorry, but thanks for playing. Anyway, when Glen Murray ran against the tax-evader, Winnipeggers were forced to choose between a candidate whose social values didn’t quite match up with their own and a candidate who had a demonstrated difficulty with the legal system. Most of the church went with the crook…. but hold on, doesn’t this political choice seem strangely familiar? Isn’t today election day in Canada?

This all brings me around to the question of gay marriage in Canada. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that raised my hackles a little… it said “Defend the traditional view of marriage” or something to that effect. I myself think that marriage should be defined in a more traditional sense, but that civil unions should be extended to gay couples… which is more moderate than most who defend the traditional definition of marriage. The big issue I have here is that the church is basically attempting to exercise a voice it does not have, and to keep pushing the issue can do little more than spend credibility they can’t afford to lose.

Last year a couple of pastors asked me what I thought about the whole gay marriage debate. I told them it was over, that they should go and pick a line they can actually defend and stop trying to speak from a platform they don’t have. I meant the church lobby, not them personally… I may have said it more nicely, but I did say it directly. I told them that the only outcome they could reach was to lose credibility. I’m not sure they quite heard me, in the end. I don’t think they could begin to understand how “love the sinner, hate the sin” doesn’t cut it with this community. It’s like saying, sure, we don’t mind dogs, we love dogs — but leave that mongrel outside. All anyone hears is “hate the sinner with this sin.” It’s getting pretty old. I’m not saying that they have to change their theological stance, but… don’t they have to at least be gracious?

I wonder if the gay community of the first century would have been somewhere between tax collectors and lepers on the social scale. The Bible doesn’t record Jesus interacting with this community at all, but he did talk to lepers and dine with tax collectors, which is more than anyone struggling with homosexual issues is likely to get from most of our churches these days. Probably not the pastoral response Brian McLaren is looking for. Or the one that Jesus is looking for.

Just thinking aloud, that’s all.

8 Responses to “The Church, the Activists, and the Homosexual Question”

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  2. + Alan Says:

    I appreciate your thinking on this Bro. What I see mostly is not thinking at all or “thinking” with emotions in the lead or merely based on pragmatics (both problematic with this and many other issues). One way or the other, we have to Love. That’s a God’s Nature thing, not an emotional thing. And it doesn’t always make sense – to the “right” or to the “left.”

    Yeah – civil unions, gay mayors, etc. – these, to me, are fights that aren’t ours to fight. We’re waisting our time and breath on things like this. We let go of one plow to go grab another one when we do this I think. Anyway, just thinking out loud back. Peace be with you.

  3. grace Says:

    I agree that the phrase you referred to doesn’t cut it.
    How about we “love the sinner.” Period!

  4. Howard E. Cook Says:

    We transcend the culture wars by putting the “homosexual question” into the perspective of human and cosmic evolution. Frank J. Tipler, in his latest book The Physics of Christianity, sees the vrigin birth of Jesus as a “species event.” He was, says Tipler, an XX male for whom females were of no interest as sex objects. That put Jesus clearly in the Gay revolution camp and supports the cosmological and evolutionary perspective Cook advances in Be Done on Earth, a sequel to which, with the title COGS From Towre to Pyramid is now in the works.

  5. Grateful Says:

    As a devout Christian who has struggled all my life with my own sexual orientation, I am grateful to read your post and the comments. Ask any Christian in my shoe and you’ll learn of the tremendously difficult time we have with ourselves. While the church puts up a fight with the activists, those of us who belong to conservative evangelical churches become forced to take sides. Most likely we’d go deeper in the closet and join the crusade. Brian McLaren’s post is refreshing because, at long last, someone is willing to admit that the church does not have all the answers. Well then let’s figure it out together with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Stop hiding behind self-righteous militancy and start asking questions.

    I was recently strolling through a gay district in a major US city and wondered if there was any Christian witness in this neighborhood. You know, like they have soup kitchens, homeless shelters, friendship corners to build bridges to the unreached. When was the last time an evangelical congregation sat at the well in order to meet the Samaritan woman that is the GLBT community of our days? We’d cross oceans to befriend unreached people groups but we wouldn’t cross a street to build a meaningful and sincere friendship with the gay neighbor.

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