Christians are drawn to the homosexuality controversy like moths to a flame.
The latest controversy (of many) is the announcement by World Vision that they would be willing to hire a gay Christian in a same-sex marriage. They weren’t taking a position of the topic of same-sex marriage, they were acknowledging that churches and Christian denominations have differing positions on this subject and they no longer felt that they should bar professing Christians who are in committed same-sex marriage from employment with their organization.
The Internet blew up. Many conservative Christians chimed in to condemn World Vision. Michael Brown launched into a tirade about The Apostasy of World Vision. Brown says: “This is a betrayal of the gospel, a betrayal of the Lord, a betrayal of the family and a betrayal of the countless thousands of Christians who have put their trust in World Vision as a legitimate Christian organization.” Matthew Lee Anderson explains to conservative Christians that they need not feel guilty about withdrawing their support for children they might be sponsoring overseas: On whether Christians should keep supporting World Vision. Southern Baptist Professor and blogger Denny Burk says that World Vision has crossed “the theological Rubicon” through this announcement. He likens the leaders of World Vision to the false teachers we are warned against in the New Testament: The Collapse of Christianity at World Vision. Chad Holtz says that World Vision’s new policy is evidence that the relief organization, like the United Methodist Church, is actually in the grip of Deism: What World Vision and the UMC have in common. John Piper says that World Vision’s new policy “sets a trajectory for the demise of true compassion for the poor”: World Vision: Adultery No, Homosexual Practice Yes. A report from Christianity Today says: “The day after the announcement was made, the Assemblies of God, one of America’s largest and fastest-growing denominations, urged its members to consider dropping their financial support from World Vision and instead ‘gradually shifting’ it to ‘Pentecostal and evangelical charities that maintain biblical standards of sexual morality.'”
And plenty of people have pointed out the hypocrisy involved in all of this. Why has gay marriage — a topic about which churches and denominations, not to mention the general public is bitterly divided — taken precedence over the imperative to help the poor and the needy? Randal Rauser points out that evangelical Christians are talking about withdrawing support from World Vision because they are willing to hire people in same-sex marriages, but have not demanded that the organizations they support have policies which keep them “from hiring folks who have been divorced (for reasons other than covenantal unfaithfulness) and then remarried whilst the former spouse is still alive ” — something clearly prohibited by Jesus himself. Benjamin L. Corey wrote about When We’d Rather Let Kids Go Hungry Than Be Reasonable On Gay Marriage. Further, in light of the outcry over World Vision’s proposed policy change he says that now evangelicalism is fractured: The Day Evangelicalism Died. He writes: “Be clear: this actually wasn’t a debate on same sex marriage. This was a debate on whether or not a Christian organization can hire gay Christians from denominations who have a different theological perspective on the issue.”
However, the outcry was very successful. In the first place, Children were quickly dropped from sponsorship, as indicated in the tweet below (I don’t know whether they read Matthew Lee Anderson or not):
Hard not to hate here. MT @rvccryan: my wife works for WV. In today’s staff meeting Richard Stearns announced that so far 2000 kids dropped.
— Luke Harms (@lukeharms) March 26, 2014
So, in response, World Vision reversed it’s position: World Vision Reverses Decision To Hire Christians in Same-Sex Marriages. Rachel Held Evans has posted a lament over this reversal here: World Vision Update and in a updated post here: Who’s this child sponsorship about, anyway?
World Vision will pay a price for this controversy — some of the support that was lost will not be regained — but so will those who protested most loudly. It will be new evidence that Christians are rabidly anti-gay. I’m not sure journalist Damon Linker is right that “…churches should brace for a mass exodus of the faithful” but it is undoubtedly true that the louder the protest against gay and lesbian people, the less credible the church looks as an advocate for love and respect for all people.
Nothing gets Christians riled up like the homosexuality issue. It is the Christian moral issue that no one can solve in a way that convinces anyone else. In spite of all the heat and emotion and name-calling the controversy continues. Advocates of same-sex marriage can’t get the people who hold to traditional understandings of sexual ethics to curl up and die. Conservatives can’t get the gay marriage advocates to shut up or go away.
This controversy has served for a long time as a wedge issue. It divides the conservatives from the liberals. It determines, for many people, who is worth listening to — and who isn’t.
And, the controversy just keeps going — honestly, it’s like moths drawn to a flame. We can’t stop reading about it, writing about it, getting mad about it….
Whenever I post on homosexuality I always get a lot of traffic. A little while ago I dashed off an “Obligatory Homosexuality Post” just to acknowledge some current controversies about homosexuality in the United Methodist Church and to point out the UMC’s long history of inconsistent enforcement — much of it regionally based. The post quickly became the most popular thing I wrote that week. All I was saying is that the current provisions of the United Methodist Disciple are going to be very hard to enforce in the current climate of the church. Really, they always have been.
And I said this:
The homosexuality issue touches off deep anxiety and anger and outrage. As I understand it, the Murray Bowen theory suggests that such anxiety touches off certain primitive emotional responses: fight, flight, freeze, protect. So, there you have it, folks: the United Methodist homosexuality controversy.
The anger and anxiety are operating on both the denominational level and the local church level. Alexander Griswold of the conservative IRD notes the connection between strong advocacy of LGBTQ issues by local church pastors, and the decline of the churches they serve: Renegade UMC Pastors See Congregations Dwindle. I’m sure he’s right in noting that trend. But, I’m also sure there are churches that have resisted the preaching of very dogmatic and judgmental pastors who have preached against homosexuality, as well. That may not be as pronounced a phenomenon. But, we are now a culture where more and more gays and lesbians are “out” — people now know them as their relatives, friends and co-workers (or themselves) — rather than members of some theoretical group with a nefarious “agenda.” My guess is that the current unrest in the United Methodist denomination is causing losses from all sides.
So, how do we get past our instinctive anxiety regarding this?
I can only tell you what I do. I imagine myself as a man who is exclusively attracted to people of my own gender. That is quite a stretch since I have absolutely no sexual attraction to guys, and don’t even find them (as a gender) especially interesting. But, I try to find my position in this controversy as a gay man. If I were a gay man, this would not be a choice an my part, but a condition. It is not something I have chosen, it is a perspective on life and on people. I try to imagine who I would be if this were the case.
If I were a same-sex attracted person, and if I held to my present understanding of Christian sexual ethics, I would be a man who was committed to living a celibate life. I would affirm the traditional Christian understanding of marriage and I would take seriously the strongly-worded condemnations of same-gender sex in the Bible. (Of course, these are conditioned by the times in which they were written — as is everything in the Bible — but I would want to make some sort of sense of them. The fact that the condemnations are strongly worded and are present in both the Old and New Testaments — even though they would have been somewhat counter-cultural in their day — would cause me to want to take them seriously.)
This little mental exercise helps me to situate myself in the debate. It helps me to see the issue from the inside instead of the outside. It lowers the temperature of the issue for me. It helps me remember that the issue is not keeping gays and lesbians out of the church — in fact, it clarifies to me that I need to be actively concerned about extending hospitality to all kinds of people.
As a matter of fact, I have gay and lesbian friends. I have heard some of them talk about their lives and their faith struggles (which are really not especially different than anyone else’s — except for the nature of their un-chosen sexual attractions.)
It helps me to understand the people who choose same-sex marriage. While this is a choice my imagined self would not make, I can certainly understand why people would. And, I can understand why they would want the legal standing and legal rights and protections accorded to other people in similarly committed relationships.
I guess it doesn’t solve anything, but it does take me out of the realm of knee jerk reactions. I simply ask myself how I would want to be treated if I were a gay person.
It doesn’t mean that same-gender sex isn’t a moral issue. As far as I can tell, the traditional case against same-gender sex still makes sense on a theoretical level. Obviously, I could be wrong. But, until I am convinced I am wrong, I have to go with what seems to be correct. Sure. But, I always need to remember that my primary calling is to love God with all my heart mind and strength and to love my neighbor as myself. When I start reacting in a way that hinders my ability to love, something is wrong.