Saturday, 12 May 2012
By Sharon at SheWorships
Last week I was home in North Carolina visiting family and friends, which made for interesting timing. It was the week leading up to NC’s Marriage Amendment vote, which means I was inundated with information, debates, and commercials for both sides. Because I now live in Illinois I was admittedly uneducated about many of the nuances of the debate, so last week was a bit of a crash course for me.
After a week of reading about the issue and discussing it with people on both sides, I confess that I still find much of it to be very confusing. While a lot of North Carolinians have very strong convictions on either side of the debate, I found it to be exceedingly complex, and at times Ike and I both found ourselves scratching our heads over the details.
Having said that, I will not comment directly on the amendment here. I still don’t have a firm enough grasp on the legislation to speak knowledgeably about it. What I do want to comment on is the way this particular conversation is taking place.
Although the Marriage Amendment was a highly divisive issue in North Carolina, it did initiate conversation about gay marriage, and to an extent that has not really happened in North Carolina before. It is an important issue that warrants attention, so the increased dialogue was a good thing. However, the manner in which North Carolinians’ disagreements were aired was not always productive, and that’s what concerns me. I want to touch on that issue today, and I’ll begin by addressing Christians who are against the amendment before moving on to those who are for it.
Gay rights is frequently articulated as the civil rights issue of our day. I know many Christians who believe this to be true, and have advocated loudly and whole-heartedly for equal rights in the homosexual community. In addition to the fact that these Christians often have a much more nuanced theological account of sexuality than conservatives give them credit for, I tend to believe that this branch of the church is doing the important work of interceding for the weak and the marginalized in our society. Though I may not always see eye to eye with these brothers and sisters on all aspects of the issue, I appreciate their Christlike desire to stand between the persecutor and the persecuted. That is what Jesus called us to do.
That said, the language of “civil rights” is tricky and can be polarizing. The term is connected to our nation’s collective remorse about real and terrible sins that we have committed against members of our country. And because of this, I fear that the language of civil rights can, at times, oversimplify the arguments in play. By employing civil rights language, it can shut down conversation by pitting the freedom fighters against the homophobes, a dichotomy that hardly does justice to those who believe homosexuality is wrong.
That is not to say that homophobia and opposition to homosexuality are not always related. Many times they are. But to dismiss those who disagree with gay marriage or homosexuality as mere bigots is to be unfair and even manipulative. Many Christians in the church are honestly, humbly, and genuinely wrestling with the teachings of Scripture and the vast witness of the Church on this matter. They are weighing what they know of Christian teaching with their love for gay friends and family members. For many Christians, their conclusions are not rooted in fear but in study, conviction, and love of God and neighbor.
That said, Christians who disagree with homosexuality but are not doing so in hate, aggression, or violence should have the freedom to disagree without being called names by other Christians. They are not “unenlightened,” they are not “idiots,” and that kind of language has got to stop. It is divisive, it is untruthful, and it does not belong in the church, my friends.
With that in mind, I will now move on to those who supported the amendment.
I believe that Christians should have the freedom to disagree with the culture on the issue of homosexuality. I am someone who disagrees with much of the culture on this matter. However (and this is a BIG , underscored “however”), Christians who do so need to take responsibility for the fact that our disagreement can have real and terrible consequences for the gay community. In fact, our disagreement HAS had terrible consequences for the gay community.
The reality is that the church has been behind much of the hardship facing gays and lesbians in our nation today. Countless gays and lesbians have heart-breaking stories of being black-balled from their church communities after having been informed that God “hates” them or that they are going to Hell. This is to our shame, and we need to take responsibility for this sin.
As I mentioned before, Jesus set an example of protecting the persecuted, and the church has often been on the wrong side of this equation. Whether or not we agree with homosexuality, we are called to love the LGBT community and protect them from harm if they need it.
I suspect that many Christians underestimate how critical the need is. We see gay and lesbian celebrities who enjoy fame, success, and positive attention, or we watch television shows that glamorize the gay lifestyle. These examples lead to the false impression that it is no longer hard to be gay in our country, so Christians respond defensively, as if we are the ones without power.
But television is not real life. Much of what we see in Hollywood bears no resemblance to the actual, lived experience of gays and lesbians in our country. Their path is hard, it is lonely, and it is often full of pain. And unfortunately, Christians often contribute to that pain.
Knowing this, we must consider our language about homosexuality carefully and soberly. Although I disagree with the direction that many mainline Christian denominations have taken in the last decade, I have been hesitant to write about it for this very reason. I know that my words have the potential to cause suffering, and I take that very, very seriously.
For me, the question of sexuality and marriage in our country runs much deeper than the discussions currently taking place about homosexuality. Many heterosexuals in the church have an incredibly fractured understanding of sex and marriage, so that is where I choose to spend my time writing. I do that not as a cop out to avoid the issue, but because I am still learning how to balance my convictions with Jesus’ call to love everyone.
As I continue to navigate these muddy waters I know I will do so imperfectly, but I hope to do so humbly. Self-righteousness is never a Christian virtue, but on this particular matter in which Christians have done so much harm, self-righteousness is especially inappropriate. As we continue to dialogue about this issue we must confess our sin and our fear, and reject the temptation to construe one another in overly simplistic stereotypes. We are brothers and sisters in Christ–may our language reflect this conviction.