Oddly enough, my blog host doesn't have a simple format for block quotes, so my comments are interspersed below in italics. I have done this as a kind of point-by-point response. I realized in process this might not have been the best format given the length and nature of my reply, but I just didn't have it in me to start fresh. Maybe at some point I'll summarize my concerns.
When asked by The Barna Group what words or phrases best describe Christianity, the top response among Americans ages 16-29 was “antihomosexual.” For a staggering 91 percent of non-Christians, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about the Christian faith. The same was true for 80 percent of young churchgoers. (The next most common negative images? : “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and “too involved in politics.”)
In the book that documents these findings, titled unChristian, David Kinnaman writes:
“The gay issue has become the ‘big one, the negative image most likely to be intertwined with Christianity’s reputation. It is also the dimensions that most clearly demonstrates the unchristian faith to young people today, surfacing in a spate of negative perceptions: judgmental, bigoted, sheltered, right-wingers, hypocritical, insincere, and uncaring. Outsiders say [Christian] hostility toward gays...has become virtually synonymous with the Christian faith.”
Later research, documented in Kinnaman’s You Lost Me, reveals that one of the top reasons 59 percent of young adults with a Christian background have left the church is because they perceive the church to be too exclusive, particularly regarding their LGBT friends. Eight million twenty-somethings have left the church, and this is one reason why.
Let’s start here. There’s not much to say about this except that if you’re going to reference statistics, you really need to give some specific citation. She mentions the book, but the way she presents the numbers in the first paragraph is less than clear. Based on the USA today article that cites the same numbers, it appears that rather than being the first word that spontaneously popped into 91% of non-Christians’ minds, "antihomosexual" was one choice among several. It might help to know that and to know what the other options were. Regardless, I don’t want to get bogged down here except to say that this sets a tone that is not very helpful and seems all too quick to marshal uncharitable accusations in service of the author's perspective.
In my experience, all the anecdotal evidence backs up the research.
When I speak at Christian colleges, I often take time to chat with students in the cafeteria. When I ask them what issues are most important to them, they consistently report that they are frustrated by how the Church has treated their gay and lesbian friends. Some of these students would say they most identify with what groups like the Gay Christian Network term “Side A” (they believe homosexual relationships have the same value as heterosexual relations in the sight of God). Others better identify with “Side B” (they believe only male/female relationship in marriage is God’s intent for sexuality). But every single student I have spoken with believes that the Church has mishandled its response to homosexuality.
What church? Who? The Westboro Baptists? The Episcopalian Church? The Catholics? The PCUSA? This is the kind of vague anti-establishment criticism that is typical of youth culture in all generations, but it really tells us very little.
Most have close gay and lesbian friends.
Most feel that the Church’s response to homosexuality is partly responsible for high rates of depression and suicide among their gay and lesbian friends, particularly those who are gay and Christian.
Most are highly suspicious of “ex-gay” ministries that encourage men and women with same-sex attractions to marry members of the opposite sex in spite of their feelings.
These kinds of statements, particularly this last one, come across as veiled accusations. The author seems to take as a given that what young people are suspicious of is in fact what “ex-gay” ministries are in the business of. But, without protesting the rather pejorative terminology, what ministries do this? I have known at least two ministers who worked with ministries for men struggling with homosexual desires, and this is certainly not what they did. Further, consider this statement from the website of Exodus International, one of the most prominent ministries to homosexuals:
"Some may change their sexual behavior to align with biblical teaching on sexuality and may experience a shift in sexual attractions or orientation; others may not. We are motivated not by a shift in attraction or orientation, but by the desire to live a life consistent with our faith."
This statement, along with their claim that they are explicitly against conversion or reparative therapy, makes it unlikely that they would encourage people to marry the opposite sex if they were still experiencing significant homosexual attractions.
Or consider the first of the five goals of the Roman Catholic ministry Courage (five goals which were formulated by the founding members): “To live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality.” No suggestion of marriage to overcome homosexual attraction here.
NARTH, an institution that does favor reparative/conversion therapy, is unaffiliated with any Christian ministry, though it is headquartered at the Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic in California. But even they do not appear to favor marriage as a form of reparative therapy, focusing instead on psychoanalytical methods.
So here we have three prominent organizations likely to be labeled "ex-gay," and it turns out that none of the three are likely to endorse marriage as therapy to change sexual orientation. Yet, based on what those whom the author speaks to are suspicious of, we are led to believe that this is typical of such ministries, or at least that is the implication.
Most feel that the church is complicit, at least at some level, in anti-gay bullying.
Again, which church? Who? Are there churches and groups of people that call themselves churches that bully? Surely. Is it characteristic of the church? I hardly think so, and I’m not really inclined to accept such a claim without some evidence or explanation, given that it seems to besmirch the reputation of the bride of Christ on the basis of the feelings of students that this author has spoken with. But that is the problem: Evans doesn’t exactly say that the church is complicit in bullying, just that lots of young people “feel” that “at some level” the church is complicit. What does this mean? And if it’s true, what should we do about it? Those are questions worth exploring. But alas, they are left dangling. Does support for a marriage amendment constitute such complicity in these young people’s minds? In the author’s mind? We don’t know, and we are left feeling a little like someone who has had a pebble thrown at the back of our head, but we aren’t sure by whom, and we aren’t sure why.
And most...I daresay all...have expressed to me passionate opposition to legislative action against gays and lesbians.
“When evangelicals turn their anti-gay sentiments into a political campaign,” one college senior on her way to graduate school told me, “all it does is confirm to my gay friends that they will never be welcome in the church. It makes them bitter, and it makes me mad too. This is why I never refer to myself as an evangelical. Ugh. I’m embarrassed to be part of that group.”
I can relate.
I see at least three factors at work here which concern me, two philosophical/political/theological and one ethical. The first is what seems to be an implicit assumption that Christians should keep their faith out of politics. But this is neither possible nor desirable, and the idea of doing so points to a deep philosophical divide between those who would separate life into the sacred and the secular and those who would call for all of our actions, both public and private, to be informed by Scripture and a careful application of it to the various situations to which we are called. Obviously, I am inclined to the latter; I think that Jesus wants to redeem the whole world, including social and political structures, not just individual souls. (That’s why I think Christians were right to have fought political battles over things like slavery.) Further, the state is instituted by and answerable to God for administering justice (cf Rom. 13). This means that it will necessarily operate with some vision of what justice is, either a Biblically informed Christian vision of justice, or some rival vision that takes something other than the glory of God and obedience to him to be its highest end. All this is simply to say that if Christians are to be involved in the political realm at all (surely we will all accept they have the right if not the obligation to be), they likewise have the right, and even the obligation, to do so as Christians. They cannot and should not leave their religion at the door. We are not dualists. Public life is every bit as inherently religious as private, and to act otherwise is to serve two (or more) masters.
But this brings us to the second political point: whether or not the specific types of political moves being discussed here are appropriate or acceptable. My guess is that there are more than a few that would agree with what I’ve said above and yet feel that the specific instance of legislation either banning or (as in the case of the North Carolina) constitutionally strengthening the existing prohibition on the civil sanctioning of homosexual marriages or unions is inappropriate. While our Christian faith may be a factor in our support for laws against murder, theft, and child abuse, certainly there are things which we as Christians would agree are sins but not crimes. My goal here is not to defend the specific strategy of the North Carolina bill, or any other particular piece of legislation, but to argue that the basic stated goals of such legislation are not inappropriate. While one could hardly call our governments (federal or state) "Christian" at this point in history, there is some value in not going from bad to worse. What the pieces of legislation discussed over the past few weeks all have in common is a goal of not having the civil authorities sanction--that is, put their imprimatur on--sexually immoral relationships. These laws do not take action against homosexuals; in fact, they attempt to secure inaction. They are aimed at ensuring the continuance of the status quo, as opposed to moving toward a situation in which our government, which represents us and is accountable to God for administering justice, gives a positive statement of legitimacy and sanction to behavior which Scripture describes as an abomination (Lev 18.22), and which St. Paul describes as keeping one from the Kingdom of God apart from repentance (I Cor. 6.9-10; I Tim. 1.9-10). This is extremely important to note. This is not legislation outlawing homosexual acts, or even outlawing homosexual marriage which has never been legally recognized. It simply reiterates and attempts to strengthen the current practice of the state, which is to only sanction marriage between one man and one woman. It seems patently understandable that Christians would not want the government to give to a behavior that the Bible says is wrong, and thus ultimately destructive to human flourishing, a status which would encourage it and provide financial and social incentives to pursue it.
Finally, the third issue, the ethical one, has to do with charity and what we assume about other Christians. For instance, the friend that Evans cites sets the tone by referring to evangelicals as harboring anti-gay sentiments. On the one hand, if she simply means believing that homosexual behavior and lifestyles are sinful, then I guess the label fits, but then that has been the position of the church for 2,000 years. But the connotation is clear, and it suggests that evangelicals actually have a bigoted disdain for homosexuals. This is evident in the embarrassment that Evans’ friend feels, and with which Evans sympathizes, at being associated with evangelicals. But is there not a lack of charity here? Should we not feel a certain loyalty to our brothers and sisters that means that we assume that they are seeking to be obedient to Scripture and yet loving of others unless we see specific evidence otherwise? On what grounds is it legitimate to assume the worst about those who push for legislative action? On what basis would you assume that they are doing so out of anti-gay sentiment rather than out of a desire to avoid institutionalizing sin? You may disagree with the method, but that’s no excuse for assuming the worst about a group of people whose very self-identification as evangelicals tells you that they want to be associated with fidelity to Scripture and the God of Scripture.
Moreover, as to the student’s point about homosexuals “never [being] welcome in the church, ” are we really at a place where we can’t abide the idea that perhaps one should feel a sense of unwelcome in the Church if one is unwilling to repent? The Church is the bride of Christ. It is a place to receive grace, but grace goes hand in hand with repentance (Acts 2.37-38). What makes homosexuality unique, as it manifests itself in contemporary culture and in these debates, is not that it is a sin. Indeed, sinners are welcomed into the Church, where they can repent and find forgiveness. Rather, the homosexuality that is at issue in these debates is often a lifestyle and an identity, and what is being asked by its proponents is that it be accepted. Alcoholics are welcomed into the Church, but they are called to repent of alcoholism. Liars are welcomed into the Church, but they are called to repent and stop lying. And this is not to say that we ask people to shape up before they come in, or that the Church demands perfection. We all come in to the Church as sinners in need of grace. And we all continue to need grace throughout our lives in the Church. But it is true that when we come in, Christ through his Bride bids us repent. And if we are unwilling to do so, or are unwilling to accept that we even need to repent, then it is true: we will not feel welcome. We will be constantly confronted with the cognitive dissonance of the fact that what we are embracing is what this Body is calling us to turn from. So yes, those who engage in homosexual behavior are welcomed into the Church, but they are called to repent of sexual immorality. The call to repent does not equal a closed door, else no one would be a member of the church. The call to repent is universal. All who enter must repent.
When Tennessee added an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage (even though it was already illegal in the state), members of my church at the time put signs in the yard declaring support for the initiative. From my perspective, the message this sent to the entire community was simple: EVERYONE BUT GAYS WELCOME.
Dan and I left the church soon afterwards.
I think I addressed this above. Would supporting a law against any other action that Scripture calls sin (murder, pedophilia, theft, etc.) be to say: EVERYONE BUT _____ WELCOME? Of course not. It would be to say that the Church is a place that calls for the repentance of sin, and thus opposes civil sanctioning of said sin. It is an act of love to oppose the sanctioning of violations of God’s law. This is not to say that all sins must be outlawed, but we are not here talking about providing penal judgment for sin. We are talking about not sanctioning it, or putting a civil imprimatur on it as a society. Obviously we cannot outlaw lying or lust, but we can refuse to recognize lies as truth or lust as marriage at a civil level.
Which brings me to North Carolina and Amendment One.
Despite the fact that the North Carolina law already holds that marriage in the eyes of state is only between a man and a woman, an amendment was put on the ballot to permanently ban same-sex marriage in the state constitution. The initiative doesn’t appear to change anything on a practical level, (though some are saying it may have unintended negative consequences on heterosexual relationships), but seems to serve primarily as an ideological statement
....an expensive, destructive, and impractical ideological statement.
Conservatives in the state—who you would think would be more opposed to tampering with constitutions—supported the amendment, and last night it passed. Religious leaders led the charge in support of the amendment, with 93-year-old Billy Graham taking out multiple ads in publications across the state supporting the measure.
As I watched my Facebook and Twitter feeds last night, the reaction among my friends fell into an imperfect but highly predictable pattern. Christians over 40 were celebrating. Christians under 40 were mourning. Reading through the comments, the same thought kept returning to my mind as occurred to me when I first saw that Billy Graham ad: You’re losing us.
What does she mean? Will she leave the Church over this, the Bride of Christ outside of which there is ordinarily no hope of salvation? Why? Is she so sure that her generation has it all figured out? Is she so sure that the millennia of generations of Christians who have read Scripture to absolutely forbid the acceptance of homosexual behavior, seen it as a sin, and thus never dreamed of giving it sanctioned status under the law, were utterly wrong and that she is willing to leave over it?
It seems to me that in addition to the political and ethical problems addressed above, these kinds of statements make up the other core of what I find so distasteful about this article, and indeed much of what is coming from the younger evangelicals. There is a pervasive sense that the perspective of the young is to be privileged, heeded, and given deference. On what grounds does anyone think it Biblically defensible for the young to sit in judgment over their elders, living and dead, and presume to offer such ultimatums as “You’re losing us”? Why would you not assume it more likely that your generation is young and immature and more than likely blinded by certain contemporary cultural norms and biases that you have not lived long enough or thought critically enough to recognize? Why would you assume that everyone before you has gotten it wrong? Why would you not defer to the wisdom of the ages, and seek to sit patiently under the teaching of elder, wiser, Christians before asserting your own perspective and throwing down the gauntlet? Scripture is very clear on these issues. Deference always goes to our elders, and that means to history as well. Reformation and rethinking happen, but not because young people insist on asserting their perspective and threaten what by all appearances is abandonment of the Bride. (But hey, maybe not, this is America, so we can just pick another or start our own).
Ultimatums do not suite the young.
I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it again...(though I’m starting to think that no one is listening):
My generation is tired of the culture wars.
Abraham Kuyper would weep over such a statement. Granted, the military imagery can go too far, but the church militant is an important and historically significant perspective.
We are tired of fighting, tired of vain efforts to advance the Kingdom through politics and power, tired of drawing lines in the sand, tired of being known for what we are against, not what we are for.
I’m glad William Wilberforce wasn’t so easily tired.
And when it comes to homosexuality, we no longer think in the black-at-white categories of the generations before ours. We know too many wonderful people from the LGBT community to consider homosexuality a mere “issue.” These are people, and they are our friends. When they tell us that something hurts them, we listen. And Amendment One hurts like hell.
Perhaps this is right, and perhaps those who have gone before have just been too dim and cruel and narrow-minded to notice. But perhaps, just perhaps, this represents just a hint of elitism. Or was St. Paul just too wrapped up in black and white thinking? (1 Cor 6.9-10, 1 Tim. 1.10).
Regardless of whether you identify most with Side A or Side B, (or with one of the many variations within those two broad categories), it should be clear that amendments like these needlessly offend gays and lesbians, damage the reputation of Christians, and further alienate young adults—both Christians and non-Christian—from the Church.
But the problem is, it is not clear. Again, this privileging of one’s perspective, even at the expense of the good name of other Christians, is inappropriate. Good Christians, thoughtful Christians, sincere and humble Christians not motivated by bigotry, disagree on the issue. If you are against state level marriage amendments, it's alright to say so, but you should not be implicating your Christian brethren with bigotry, anti-gay sentiments, or any other ugly accusation just because they happen to think there is value in such amendments (or in other political actions we might discuss). What you believe to be a “needless offense” others see as a worthwhile and even necessary political act.
So my question for those evangelicals leading the charge in the culture wars is this: Is it worth it?
Is a political “victory” really worth losing millions more young people to cynicism regarding the Church?
The proper question is: is it worth leaving the bride of Christ and the hope of salvation because at a young age you disagree with something the Church has always taught and in some instances is seeking to promote in society via civil legislation?
Is a political “victory” worth further alienating people who identify as LGBT?
Is a political “victory” worth perpetuating the idea that evangelical Christians are at war with gays and lesbians?
And is a political “victory” worth drowning out that quiet but persistent internal voice that asks—what if we get this wrong?
Too many Christian leaders seem to think the answer to that question is “yes,” and it's costing them.
Here it seems that perhaps Evans is shifting from the general questions about faith and politics and “culture wars” to the specifics of the marriage amendment issue. Is this particular issue the hill on which to die? Is this the most effective way for Christians to fight for more Christian and biblically informed social structures and institutions under which humans can thrive? I don’t know. I kind of doubt it. But on the other hand, it might be a necessary stop-gap measure to prevent our political leaders from doing one more foolish and wrath-incurring thing (in the vein of legalized abortion, etc.) by officially giving civil sanction to sexually immoral relationships. Again, while Christians can differ on the wisdom of this particular means of “fighting the culture wars,” the culture wars will always have to be fought if we believe that Jesus wants our faith and our redemption to have an effect on the world around us. And there is no justification for assuming that it is bigotry, callousness, or any other un-Christian attitude that motivates Christians who disagree with you on the particulars.
Make no mistake: as I said before, the civil government exists to promote a vision of justice. It will either serve a Biblical vision of justice or some other vision. As Christians, how can we hope for anything less than a civil government that promotes a vision of justice that is Christian and thus oriented toward human flourishing? Part of such justice means not calling good evil, or evil good. To recognize and sanction two people living in a sinful sexual relationship as married would be to call evil good, and the prophets have strong words for such sophistry.
Because young Christians are ready for peace.
This is tough to know how to respond to. On the one hand, the Church is called to be at peace with one another as Christians, and articles like this seem to me to promote division, not peace. Disregarding and making uncharitable judgments about your elders in the Church is not peaceable behavior.
But on the other hand, if the call is to peace with those outside the Church, then things get even more complicated. In a way I sympathize. I have little patience for those who use Christianity as a pretense for being arrogant and spiteful, the television and radio personalities who use the faith like a cruel weapon. But on the other hand, the antithesis stands, and while we pursue the spread of the gospel by loving engagement and the proclamation of good news, we also stand against sin and oppression and the destruction of the image of God in our midst. So simply being ready for peace is not enough. Christ has called us to be willing to fight for peace and to sacrifice our comfort and our individual peace to bring about the lasting peace of redemption of both individual sinners and the world we inhabit.
We are ready to lay down our arms.
We are ready to start washing feet instead of waging war.
Scripture calls us to both ( John 13.14, 1 Tim. 6.12, Ephesians 6.10-17, James 4.4, etc.). We may not choose one over the other.
And if we cannot find that sort of peace within the Church, I fear we will look for it elsewhere.
I can only say that I plead with Christians not to be so arrogant as to think that they are too good for the Church God has chosen and is redeeming for Himself. She is your Mother, and if God loves her, so should you.
A final thought: Let’s be honest here: it may seem plausible to be 'above it all' and to always search for the tertium quid, the third way. And often this is right. But we are at an impasse. Scripture speaks clearly on homosexual behavior, and it is not nearly so delicate as many of us seem to think necessary. On the other hand, Scripture also speaks with the utmost eloquence of the grace and peace and joy offered to those who will repent and trust Jesus to help them become the kind of humans he made them to be. We do no favors to our homosexual friends by softening Scripture's rebuke, any more than we would do a favor to a friend who committed adultery by hushing it up. The fact is that sin kills. It destroys. It debases humans. So if we love our brothers and sisters, we should speak straightforwardly on this issue. We can be kind, we can be winsome, but we cannot be cowardly. It is not love to hide behind modern notions of tolerance to avoid pain. And it is certainly not love to insist that any time other Christians speak to questions about homosexuality (whether via legislation regarding sanctioning homosexual unions or otherwise) that they are acting out of bigotry or self-interest.