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Compassion, Homosexuality, and Platitudes

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.


  1. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Well put, Halden, and spot on. On either side, the discourse is just so damn cheap, it is really sickening.

    Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 5:28 pm | Permalink
  2. Jason Oliver wrote:

    This is an issue I think about daily When wrestling to form any coherent response to gay Christians and their allies, evangelical or non-evangelical, I am confused and at a loss for a sense of theological direction. Homosexuality is an elephant in the room topic in the American black churches because sexuality in general a hot button issue. Silence is usually the order of service. And if anything is mentioned in some conservative black churches, there are some very rhetorically violent comments shouted from the pulpits usually attacking stereotypical gay males as “effeminates” . The response from the well-intentioned Southern Baptist friend mentioned in your post, Halden, doesn’t settle this heated rhetorical battle because his posture isn’t enough. Gay Christians want full affirmation from the Church declaring that same gender sexuality is a gift from God and that their relationships are (or should) “blessed” by the Church. Progressive and liberation theologians like Adrian Hatcher, the late Marcella Althaus-Reid, and others remind us that the Church historically has been complicit in the systematic oppression of peoples. They would have us to believe that Church is heterosexist, homophobic, and transphobic and need of repentance. Though I still believe that God’s created marriage as a union between one man and one woman in lifelong faithfulness, these progressive theologies really scare me! I sometimes don’t know whose side am I on!

    Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 6:33 pm | Permalink
  3. Derek wrote:

    Great post Halden. You are probably right: a lot of people who say these things probably don’t know a single homosexual person. As one who has experienced “the concrete reality” of the issue in those i love, i have to agree that platitudes seem woefully inadequate in those moments.

    Maybe the reason is that these platitudes have no lasting practical value, b/c they don’t answer the “how” question. Whether they are naive or believe it is self-evident, not answering this question seems to nullify the person’s “theological platitude.” To be frank, when those close to me discuss the issue, i often am at a loss for “how to love them.”

    Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 8:13 pm | Permalink
  4. Theophilus wrote:

    I’m currently a student at a Christian university that has essentially adopted the position advocated in the argument above. However, there are a number of openly homosexual students on campus. The result has been that only the gay-friendly ideology gets much of a voice on campus. Many other students have been more quietly wrestling with what it means to have gay and lesbian students on campus, openly professing Christ.

    Unfortunately (for the sake of dialogue and wrestling with the issues at least), all our on-campus homosexuals have held to a very similar, very liberal position on the meaning and authority of the Bible. This being an evangelical school, they have usually allowed other aspects of their faith to flow from an understanding of the Bible in which it is generally not an acceptable “first source” when an issue is being dealt with. What would be really interesting would be to have some exchanges between these students and someone like Henri J. M. Nouwen, who wrestled with his homosexuality while acknowledging that there is authority in scripture and tradition.

    Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 9:26 pm | Permalink
  5. Cecil Prescod wrote:

    I appreciate the post, and the desire to move beyond platitudes. As a pastor in a mainstream Protestant denomination (United Church of Christ) which prides itself as an open and affirming, I confess that the struggle, for both liberal and conservatives, is how we live our profession in the presence of lgbt christians. Do we allow them to speak for themselves? Are we willing to hear how God’s Spirit is working in their lives and relationships? Can we stop shouting our ideological (often disguised as theological) positions, in order to hear God
    Soli Deo Gloria.

    Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 11:31 pm | Permalink
  6. Alejandro wrote:

    You may have done before, but I’ll ask here: could you point us to the Archbishop’s work (articles, speeches, news reports, etc. or whatever) on the subject? I’ve read very little and from what I have read I didn’t gather as much.

    Friday, April 24, 2009 at 6:18 am | Permalink
  7. Mike Bull wrote:

    I disagree totally. I could be wrong but this seems to confuse wrestling with sin with wrestling with whether or not it is actually sin. We have clear guidance from Scripture. Our difficult task is to reshape the world according to it. Vacillating on, or being unsettled on settled truth doesn’t help anyone. The real question is how the Bible ‘blueprint’ is to be measured out on the ground.

    Also, there is a big Scriptural difference in dealing with gays and gay Christians. We all, as harlots and tax collectors, come into the kingdom and are forgiven. But once on the other side of Jesus’ “go and sin no more”, church discipline should come into play. Jezebel gets excommunicated if she won’t repent.

    The discussion isn’t about whether or not we begin with ideology. We always begin with Word, and that is where the evil one always poses his questions.

    Friday, April 24, 2009 at 8:35 pm | Permalink
  8. Mike,
    Where does Scripture give us any clue that it’s to be used as a “blue-print” or to be used to “reshape the world”?
    Nice post Halden! Good food for thought!

    Saturday, April 25, 2009 at 8:13 am | Permalink
  9. Derek wrote:

    Mike, i think you are confusing “the word” with “the Word.” For many the difference is significant.

    Saturday, April 25, 2009 at 9:09 am | Permalink
  10. roger flyer wrote:

    Whoah! Mike your surname forewarns us! but the china shop of language can’t quite handle your rush…what is the oth3r side of Jesus? Word? and Who is Jezebel?

    Monday, April 27, 2009 at 5:47 am | Permalink
  11. Mike Bull wrote:

    Re the comment on word vs. Word, the Bible makes clear distinctions on this issue.
    Doug Wilson expounds the same point today:

    Hate Crimes, Sex, and the Love of God

    “Those who know that their sexual failures are sin are in a different category than those who want to remake the world in a way that conforms to their lusts.”

    Doug is a great one for dealing with the real world without letting it water him down (unlike Williams, brilliant though he can be). Love can be a surgeon’s scalpel, and often is.

    On the blueprint idea, it’s throughout scripture. Sorry if my Scriptural allusions seem all over the shop. I just wrote a book on biblical typology and it keeps slipping out. We need to learn to speak Bible. Who is Jezebel? Golly. Time to put down those other books and pick up the Old Testament.

    We remake the world through the sacraments and self-sacrifice. At the feast, we examine ourselves and are divided in two – judicially. And the gospel divides the world in two – judicially. If we are not remaking the world, others certainly are. We pop our heads out and wave the rubber sword of the gnostic, but that’s exactly what has gotten the west to where it is now.

    On remaking the world I made some comments here:

    I enjoy your blog.

    Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Permalink
  12. roger flyer wrote:

    Hi Mike-
    I was wondering who in the contemporary church represents Jezebel to you? This was a phrase I heard spoken in the ‘stream’ of the church I used to be part of. It always perplexed me. Who would you call out and ex-communicate as ‘Jezebel’ today? Gay people?

    I think you are wrong to think scripture gives us blueprints.

    Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

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