A Matter of Conscience (An Open Letter to Evangelicals)

Thanks to a post I published over a month ago, I’ve managed to build some good will and credibility capital with my evangelical brothers and sisters, especially those in the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Today, I want to “cash in” on some of that capital.

We’re all well aware of the renewed heat underlying the debate about same-sex marriage that expands far beyond the boundaries of our own denomination.  In recent weeks, North Carolina passed Amendment One and President Obama publicly endorsed marriage equality.

Most of the evangelical Christians I know are intelligent, compassionate, and dedicated people who despise the use of verbal or physical violence against any group of people.  I wish that more of them understood the nature of systemic violence that forms the backbone of oppression and heterosexism, but I’m willing to accept that most of them are not conscious homophobes or bigots.

Over the last 25 years or so, evangelicals have evolved in their understanding of and fight against HIV/AIDS.  In the early 1980s, it was more common for well-known preachers to deem the virus a plague of God’s wrath against the LGBT community.  Since then, the majority of mainstream evangelicals have come to realize that this is a global health issue.  Evangelical churches like Central Presbyterian Church in Baltimore have started outreach programs like Hope Springs to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS in their own communities.  Like President Obama’s views on marriage, it’s fair to say that the mainstream evangelical perspective on the HIV/AIDS crisis has “evolved”.

Today, I would encourage evangelicals toward a similar “evolution” in the fight against homophobia.  I repeat that most evangelicals are not homophobes.  The vast majority of the ones I know are sickened by stories of physical violence levied against people because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

This country needs a widespread call from evangelical pulpits that takes a firm stance against homophobia as a sin against God.  This is not to say that such churches should immediately alter their views on marriage or interpretations of scripture.  Keep those as they are for now.

But evangelicals should take seriously the ends and means that they already espouse.  Their endgame is to lead the whole world toward greater wholeness through a relationship with Christ.  They passionately believe in preaching the Christian gospel in word and deed wherever they go.  They affirm that friendship is the single best method of evangelism.

What would it do for their witness to Christ if there was a large movement of traditional and orthodox evangelicals who, while maintaining their views on marriage, called for an end to homophobia and violence?  What would happen if they, as entire churches, consciously nurtured personal relationships with folks in the LGBT community?  What kind of gospel credibility would be built if evangelical pastors made a sustained effort at condemning homophobia from their pulpits?

Let me offer you a picture of the other side.  This is a sample of what folks in the LGBT community are hearing from evangelicals:

The first video is Rev. Charles Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church, the second is Rev. Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church.

Most evangelicals I know detest this kind of talk.  They would agree that it does nothing but damage the entire church’s witness to Christ.  However, the voices of these bigots are much louder than the voices of evangelicals I know.  The message that folks in the LGBT community are hearing is not the one that says “Jesus loves you.”  The voices being heard are the ones that say, “You’re disgusting.  You’re an abomination.  You don’t matter in this country.  We wish you didn’t exist.”

It’s up to evangelical Christians to change all this, if they want to be effective witnesses for Christ.  Even those evangelicals who limit their understanding of marriage to heterosexual couples need to stand up and add their voices to the fight against homophobia.  Pastors, don’t keep silent out of fear of what your congregation will think.  Your silence implies agreement with bigots and hate-mongers.  What’s more important to you as evangelicals: not appearing “soft on homosexuality” to your congregants or effectively witnessing to the love of Jesus?

You don’t have to change your views on marriage or re-interpret your Bible, just be faithful to what you already believe the Bible is telling you.

Take a stand against violence and homophobia.  Preach the gospel.  Be the gospel.

The Other Definition of Homophobia

Me and my big mouth!

I’ve reminded myself once again of the dangers of blogging in a pre-caffeinated state of mind.  Something strikes you as funny and insightful, but then you look at it later and go, “Why did I think that was a good idea?”

Early this morning, I posted a picture from Facebook that defines Homophobia as “the fear that gay men will treat you the way you treat women.”  That was seriously not cool of me.

In a much-read blog post from last week, I wrote that people of all ideological stripes should be conducting their conversations about this issue “in a spirit that is consistent with our highest shared values.”  Posting that image was not consistent with those values.  Nobody called me on it or prompted me to write this.  It’s just one of those moments for honest self-reflection and confession.

I want to appeal to the best in all of us, not the worst.

The picture made me chuckle a little when I first read it because I agree that our society’s historic prejudice against LGBT people is ultimately rooted in our longstanding degradation of women.  Hence, we attach hurtful labels like “butch” and “sissy” to those people who don’t conform to our culturally-formed preconceived notions about gender roles and behavior.  In that sense, the picture makes a point.  But I think there might be ways of communicating that truth that don’t resort to bumpersticker slogans and uncivil language that continues to lower the bar of mutual degradation.

So, with all of this in mind, I’d like to offer another definition of the term Homophobia.

Literally speaking, phobia means “fear” and homo means “same.”  Hence, I would define homophobia as “fear of the same.”  Beneath the labels by which we identify, the categories by which we organize, and the shibboleths by which we exclude one another, we are all humans who have to share this planet.  Last night, I was listening to a sermon by Desmond Tutu where he proclaims that we are all “God-bearers.”  He asks the congregation repeatedly, “What if we really believed that?!”

This, the deepest truth about us as beings, is common to all in equal portions.  As we draw up our ideological battle lines and develop our conservative/liberal conspiracy theories out of this demonic paranoia, we are all bowing down to the spirit of homophobia: fear of the same.  We are choosing to fear those who are fundamentally the same as us: fellow children of God and co-bearers of the divine image.

We can do better than that.  I can do better than that.  I want to do better than that.