Two Ways to Maybe Not Write About Gay People

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I want to say right off the bat that I love that the conversation is happening. In my closet days, I never imagined seeing the day when Christians, devout Bible-believing Christians, would speak out against harmful measures towards the gay community. The swell of righteousness that has been percolating through blogs across the web in response to the proposed Arizona bill has been such an assuring sign of forward progress. Of change. For the most part, it’s been a good day of reading.

 

One blogger stands out for writing the best, most poignant response to all of this. Preston, if you’re reading, you nailed it.

 

Preston put it this way:

 

We’ve stumbled into a theological grey area. Because Christians don’t agree on this. And actually, Christians don’t always agree on what counts as gossip, as sinful divorce. Even whether or not gay marriage is a sin.

So wait. Whose Christianity is it?

 

It’s a simple excerpt as you can see (read the whole post here) but it is also a sharp deviation from the typical progressive Christian response.

 

The message I normally hear, and have previously written about, is this: Christians are beating up the gays again and how will they ever find Jesus if we keep pushing them away from him? We need to be better at witnessing, showing Jesus love, like the way he was with sinners he encountered…

 

It’s a condescending argument, and yet, one that doesn’t seem to realize it’s condescending. It typecasts gays as the worst sinners of the gospel that Jesus, despite everything, STILL LOVED. He goes even that far! Amazing!

 

I cannot count the number of times I have been likened to Jesus drunk friends, or the adulteress woman, or the tax collectors. I am the pre- “go and sin no more” gospel character- the shabby fellow who’s luck is about to turn when I meet the Light of the World.  And Jesus would’ve met me differently; he would’ve converted me. But Christians today aren’t meeting me like he would. And because of their unkindness, I am still lurking in the corner- rightfully so!- waiting to be wooed into the light by love.

 

But wait a sec… I am a Christian. There are thousands, maybe millions, of others out there like me. There are entire organizations like the Gay Christian Network and Believe Out Loud, lots of congregations around the country that affirm same-sex couples. What’s going on here?

 

I want to suggest two arguments that tend to muddy things up for us. That need to be nuanced before the next culture war blow-up happens.

 

 1. Jesus ate with sinners- we need to eat with sinners. Serve sinners. Love sinners.

 Of course he did, the gospels tell us so. And we all are sinners, but Jesus loves us as we are, that is all there is to it. But when, from the outset of your piece, you circumscribe our sexuality as a mark of our sinfulness, you are othering us. It does not feel warm and fuzzy to be called the lesser that is still loved. The SINNER. The project. It feels rather low. Insulting. A bit ignorant.

Like you, we seek to live good and honorable lives. As Christians we put our faith, desires, and daily living before God and ask for his direction. So, when you assume that being gay or being in a same-sex relationship is sinful by way of analogizing our lives with the rowdy crowd Christ hung out with, you suggest that we are more broken, more need of redemption than you. And you continue a narrative that says there are no other interpretations of scripture (reformed interpretations, affirming ones, are growing in opinion.)

 2. There are more important issues

This one really gets under my skin. Though I know it is being directed at conservative Christians, it can feel like someone is somehow blaming my existence on the lack of attention to things like poverty, creation care, and human trafficking. It also assumes that this whole equal rights business, the liberating of a minority group, is kind of frivolous. Something to get over with. Move on to the important stuff that actually matters. 

I tell you.

Injustice is injustice. And when it comes to gay and lesbian people- the wrongs have been devastating.

They’ve resulted in a thousands survivors of reparative therapy- people who simply wanted to be normal, accepted, and loved by God, because according to Christian culture and teaching, they couldn’t until they changed. It has resulted in those who lied their way into a marriage only to come out thirty years later, trying to pick up the pieces of their family, grieving over all that time lost. Gay teens today are still the most at risk for suicides, and though they make up a tiny part of the population, they are the most likely to be homeless, too.

Healing, restoring dignity and giving respect to a group that has been maligned for a millennia is no frivolous thing. It matters, this process, it is where God is working his magic for the good of his beloved, for the good of his church and for his world. He is showing us with every shift in society, every conversation with loving Christian friends, that he is for us and everything will be okay. Two things that were once hard to believe.

And I get it. You are voicing your support. But even when you are eager to publish that post and show your solidarity with us, you still carry the capacity to offend and if publishing your piece is important enough to you, you must pay close attention to how you write about gay people, because you might be hitting us in an unforeseen way.

  • http://tclarson.com/ TC Larson

    There are good conversations happening, but many of those conversations are the first wobbling steps into considering that the old “gay-Christian = oxymoron” idea is untrue. When the widespread church teaching is anti-gay and also worried about a furthering of the “gay agenda”, even when one does start to consider other possibilities, there’s no language for it yet. And so we muck it up. Your consistently generous treatment of these “considering the merits of a previously foreign concept” occasions helps further the conversation rather than shut it down. I, for one, thank you for that.

    • registeredrunaway

      You put that perfectly, it is the first wobbling steps, and I think with how fast progress is happening for the gay community, I sometimes forget that Christians have a lot more wrestling ahead of them before they are able to honestly consider that gays can be Christians, too. Thank you so much for your generous words- they were so needed (I get nervous critiquing other writers!)

    • http://www.registeredrunaway.com/ Benjamin Moberg

      I think you have stated this perfectly TC! Sometimes I wonder if- with how quickly culture is changing regarding the equal treatment of gay people- I forget that the church is starting at a much further place back. These things take time. And the Holy Spirit is patient.

      And thank you for your generous words TC! That means so much to me.

  • Charlie Walker

    Injustice is injustice. Amen.

  • Sheila Warner

    Wow, I had never considered how the second statement could wound a soul. It is indeed dismissive of the real pain inflicted on the LGBTQ community. Thanks for that insight. As for my own POV, I cheered when I heard that Gov Brewer vetoed the “religious freedom” bill. All throughout the debate, I was just so angry that it even was passed by the AZ legislative body. My personal rights end where your personal rights begin. I’m happy that the bill is now DOA.

    • registeredrunaway

      It’s something that a lot of people don’t realize, but it’s definitely something that can be hurtful. Injustice anywhere is a threat to Justice everywhere, as King said, and so picking and choosing which Justice issues matter most doesn’t help anyone. Also, you are awesome :)

    • http://www.registeredrunaway.com/ Benjamin Moberg

      The second point can be so tiring, and dishonoring, and i think progressive people have just become so used to that talking point that they don’t even consider the underlying meaning of it anymore. And- YES. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere, as King said.

      And to your following comment, Sheila, I know you well enough now :). No worries, I knew exactly what you were saying. You are so appreciated here.

  • Sheila Warner

    Oh, and the statement about my personal rights vs yours was meant to be a general statement, not referring to me in particular. I don’t believe homosexuality is a sin, and I support gay rights.

  • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

    “I am the pre- ‘go and sin no more’ gospel character”

    ^ That bit right there hit me really hard, Ben. I’ve heard so many people use that story in this way in conversations about this issue for so many years, and I’m sad to say I never thought of how it would feel to be the person that is repeatedly characterized in such a way while everyone else is characterizing themselves as a faithful disciple, as the ones that “got it” sooner, or converted to Christ of their own volition (even though that’s a ridiculous, hypocritical, arrogant assertion on anyone’s part.) Thank you for this post, friend. Your words always wake me up.

    • http://www.registeredrunaway.com/ Benjamin Moberg

      Thank you, Bethany. It really can be hard, especially when you’re trying to lift away the stigma of sinfulness shrouding the gay community, and it is such a stumbling block in opening the dialog about whether gay relationships are unbiblical. I am always moved by your eagerness to learn, Bethany, it means more than you know.

    • Bethany Alden Riggs

      I have heard a lot of people quoting the story woman caught in adultery lately, all pointing out how Jesus commanded her to “sin no more.” They’ve been using this to say, “Yeah, we should be nice to gays, but that doesn’t mean we have to condone their (choices, lifestyle, sin, whatever word they choose).” I realized recently what it is about the “woman caught in adultery” argument that bothers me so much, aside from how it automatically places anyone gay into the “sinners” camp. For starters, the woman, by virtue of being female, was a marginalized and often abused/denigrated member of society, someone with basically zero rights under Roman civil law. And as men had full control over their households and all members of them, they very often were physically, verbally, and sexually violent with their wives, had multiple affairs or visited brothels frequently and without consequences, and ruled with an iron fist. It’s more than possible that this woman wasn’t just having a “fling” but that she was seeking love and affection from somebody who didn’t treat her cruelly. So we can call her promiscuous or unfaithful all day long, but we have no idea what kind of circumstances led her to another man. And then, when she was caught, she had no rights to legal counsel or protection, and in fact could, per the law, be publicly humiliated and shamed before also being publicly executed. But Jesus didn’t just say, “You know, you really screwed up, you can’t live this way, but here’s a second chance to get your shit together.” First, he protected her and refused to shame her, instead calling out those who were rushing to condemn her. Then he publicly affirmed her worth by speaking directly to her and asking where all her accusers had gone. He also publicly stated “Neither do I condemn you.” and then released her. Only then did he speak to her about her “life choices.” So IF (and I say if because I’m unconvinced) homosexuality in itself is a sin, and we want to play Jesus by challenging people to “turn from their sin”, then we first need to be playing Jesus by protecting, affirming, treating as equals, and refusing to shame or condemn gays. So many seem to want to make gay people the “pre-’go and sin no more’ gospel character,” but want to be the post-’loving, protecting, affirming, welcoming’ version of Christ and skip straight to the part about “accountability” (another buzzword that is getting on my nerves in this debate.) And as I said, I’m not convinced that being gay is sinful; in fact, I really don’t think that it is. But even if I’m wrong, this is still a shitty way to characterize people and a terrible example to use. It does no favors for anyone.

  • http://littledidsheknow.net/ Cara Strickland

    This is so gracious, Ben.
    I’ve really been struggling with a lot of the responses I’ve been reading lately (and hearing).
    I find myself often correcting people who seem to think that gay and Christian can’t be in the same sentence with veracity.
    This piece is honest, and nuanced, and moves the conversation forward. Thank you for sharing, and for continuing to be a gracious voice. It’s been so helpful for me.

    • http://www.registeredrunaway.com/ Benjamin Moberg

      Thank you Cara! Ah, it is so important to correct and it’s not wrong to do so! At the Gay Christian Conference, I went to a workshop where we discussed the most hurtful narratives that happen in Church and Christian Culture, and the unanimously voted most hurtful narrative, or script, was the dismissal of a gay person’s faith. It is the one that hurts the most.

      You are so amazing, Cara. Thank you so much for your kind comment.

  • Jane Halton

    This reminds me of one of the first things I read on your blog (which of course I can’t find now). What I remember about it was a gracious and powerful reminder that even if we consider ourselves “allies” we can’t sit silent and support gay Christians quietly. Both pieces were piercing and gracious. What a powerful combination Ben. Thank you.

    • http://www.registeredrunaway.com/ Benjamin Moberg

      Shoot- I wish I could remember the piece too! (Ah, now I must find it!) Thank you Jane! It is important to speak out, because so much of Christian Culture denies we (and you) exist.

      • Jane Halton

        I’ll race you to find it!

  • http://musingsfromabricolage.wordpress.com/ Emily Heitzman

    Thank you for posting this, Ben. One of the things that angers me the most is when people place LGBTQ individuals in the same category as sinners and assume that they are not (or cannot be) Christians. Many of my LGBTQ friends, colleagues in ministry, and parishioners are some of the most devout Christians with some of the most beautiful faith I know. I just cannot even comprehend how it must feel to be placed in a box and declared “sinner” and “non-Christian” because of one’s sexual orientation. I just want to say I’m so sorry that you and so many others continue to be put into this box by others.

    I also appreciate your second point. I think this does happen often – even and especially among many progressives who are trying to move others in a direction away from focusing on an “anti-gay agenda.” And, yet, I hear you and agree with you: “Injustice is injustice!” And we cannot just ignore this “issue” because we want to avoid confrontation. Jesus didn’t say: “Blessed are the peace-keepers” – (those who avoid standing for what is just in order to keep the peace.) He said: “Blessed are the peace-MAKERS.”

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  • Kirsten Oliphant

    I just want you to know that I’m still here, reading, and that I appreciate your thoughts, your words, and your vulnerability. Thank you.

  • Kayla Davis

    Thank you for this, Ben. It was encouraging for me to read. I’m grateful for your stand and the “non-condeming” tone of the entire blog. I’m looking forward to finding more ways to help you and the Christian Gay Community move forward. Thanks again!