A USA Today opinion piece on Christianity and homosexuality strikes me as rather boring–and a little annoying. The author is a young Southern Baptist who writes about faith and culture and appears to be into Christian environmental advocacy. What we have here is a plea for evangelical Christians to stop being ridiculously homophobic and love gay people even if they don’t agree with their lifestyle. Well that’s just dandy and I’m sure there are plenty of neanderthal evangelicals out there who have a visceral hatred of all things gay who need to hear it.
But. Is anyone else getting tired of this kind of semi-progressive evangelical way of talking about this stuff? Why on earth is it so earth-shattering for Christians to be saying that we need to be loving towards people, irrespective of their sexual exploits and identities? All too often these sorts of “pleas” come off as far too self-congratulatory and confident. They assume that the issue is closed, settled, and certain and all we need to do now is be nice and loving about how we deploy our settled correctness. What looks like sensitivity and opposition to bigotry is, in fact false humility.
At least the crazy fundamentalist bigots that the author derides are quite obviously unsettled by homosexuality. The author is placidly unaffected by it. He is secure in his belief that its wrong to have gay sex, but the presence of gay people doesn’t bother him. He is enlightened, patient, and loving, undisturbed by the presence of the otherness of gays. This posture makes alarmingly clear that the problem of homosexuality–or the issue of Christian sexual ethics more generally–is just not a problem for him. Its all something that he can easily handle, processing it in a paternalistically compassionate and calmly measured manner.
But shouldn’t we disturbed by issues like this? Isn’t a total lack of conceptual unsettledness a glaring sign of ideology? This is why mainline liberalism and mature compassionate evangelicalism are two sides of the same coin when it comes to the issue of homosexuality. For both the actual presence and issues of gay Christians are an afterthought. What counts is ideological advocacy for the correct, settled, true position. This is precisely why, to my mind, Rowan Williams is taking precisely the right course in regard to these issues. He is refusing to allow ideological advocacy, in either direction, to determine how the church faces these issues. Only by starting there, and by taking seriously the challenge of actual gay people in the particular reality of their lives can we begin to address this issue in a way that doesn’t fall into ideological platitudes that do little more than validate us in our sense of self-certainty and correctness.