Some Things Christians Could Agree Upon Even If They End Up Having To Agree to Disagree (About Gay & Lesbian Issues)
The controversy in the Church over the morality of same gender sex has flared up again lately with the appearance of a new wave of books on the subject. Now evangelical and (otherwise) conservative authors are advocating the moral acceptance of same gender sex — for those who are so inclined. (This includes one book that I find rather interesting myself.) And, there has been a strong and angry reaction against this — causing one publisher to be removed from the National Religious Broadcasters. While the controversy has entered a new stage, it still appears that Christians are bitterly opposed on this issue. In the United Methodist Church, there has been talk of schism over the issue — though I personally doubt that that will happen. All in all, Christians seem no closer to being able to agree with one another about the morality of same gender sex than they ever were.
There are two opposing views. I call them Side A & Side B. “To put the difference in simple, perhaps overly simple terms: SideB believes that gay/homosexual sex is immoral. SideA by contrast believes that gay/homosexual sex is morally equal to heterosexual sex.”
And, one might wonder, in the face of a disagreement so bitter, divisive and deep, whether there could possibly be any common cause among the disputants. Are there, in fact, some things Christians could agree upon, even if they find they disagree on the morality of same gender sex?
Well, yes. As a matter of fact, I think there are.
(1.) We could agree that since we all have to exist on this same planet and in this same society together whatever we can do to foster mutual respect and consideration is all to the good. Insults, misrepresentations, generalizations, etc. — common as they are — will not help in this effort. Neither do efforts to silence or oppress people because someone doesn’t happen to like their ideas, or “lifestyle choices” (whatever that means), or religion, or whatever. Neither do efforts to misrepresent the things people are saying just to score some sort of rhetorical point.
The rule here is the same as in any other effort to understand and communicate: spend twice as much time listening as you do talking. Don’t try to shout down the opposition. Listen to them. Then, having carefully listened, point out where you think they are wrong.
Here’s good rule of thumb: if you find yourself saying: “I can’t understand why anyone would believe thus-and-so” — it’s a sure sign you’ve missed something. Can you state your opponent’s position in a way that your opponent would recognize? If not: what have you missed?
I was impressed with this response that Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network gave (a long time ago) to someone who sent him an email question about Scripture & the gay/lesbian debate:
Most Christians already have pretty strong feelings about this subject, and in my experience, Bible arguments (whether they’re great arguments or terrible ones, (and I’ve heard both) don’t usually change people’s minds on this subject. As a Christian, I believe my view should come from Scripture, but I also know that Bible debates aren’t likely to change other people’s minds. So I encourage you to work within your church to build relationships with those who disagree with you, and at the appropriate time, share your story about your friend and why this matters to you. Even from a Side B perspective, there are a lot of things your church members could do to show the love of Christ, and they may not have thought of many of them yet!
This is my experience too. Heading into debate, or attempting to produce what you think to be some “killer argument” is just going to make matters worse. This hardens disputants into their previous positions. And, as the frustration grows, the tone of the debate gets worse.
So, don’t do that.
It’s a simple principle (one would think): we must live together on the same earth with people we do not agree with — and whose choices we may not approve of. They are still deserving of respect and consideration.
(2.) We could agree to a common commitment to truth telling. A thing is not “true” because it fits with my overall point of view. In fact, if it doesn’t seem to fit, maybe I should give that datum a little more consideration. Do not write off uncomfortable information just because it doesn’t fit.
Christians cannot in good conscience promise gays & lesbians that the Holy Spirit will cure their same-gender attraction. Where does that even come from? Yet, I hear it all the time from my conservative friends. “God can cure that, y’know.” Where are they getting this? Where in the Bible does it say, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will make thee to lust after thy opposite sex”? And I am not pleased that the Christian Post recently ran a piece promoting the discredited techniques of the International Healing Foundation to suggest that same gender attractions could be changed. We need to be honest that it is unlikely that same gender attractions can be changed to any large degree. And, it is discouraging that this article, written in 2002, still remains unheeded. I know I often seem to come down on evangelicals. But, this is the tribe I’d like to identify with, if I can.
And, no, that doesn’t get SideA Christians off the hook in their claims about the Scriptures, or the historical background of the Scriptures, or Christian Tradition. A thing is not true because it’s been widely repeated and because it neatly fits with their point of view. A large pile of disinformation does not constitute proof.
Obviously, there’s some disagreement over what is “true’ and what isn’t. Okay. Fine. Whatever. But, at least we can be committed to truth telling within the limitations of our own ability to discern what the “truth” is. And, we could be open about what the foundation of our truth-claims are, so that our listeners can decide for themselves how they want to evaluate that.
(3.) We could agree to a common commitment to respond to individuals as individuals rather than simply as members of a particular group. So if I know a person is a “Christian” or a “Muslim” or a “homosexual” or an “atheist” or whatever this may or may not tell me what they think about various issues. I need to communicate with them as an individual and not simply as a member of a particular “species.” Generalizations about people-groups (even when fairly accurate) tend to foment division rather than heal them. One is always tempted to think that: If only those people (the liberals or the conservatives or the Democrats or the Republicans or the ACLU or the blah-blah-blah) would go away (die, drop off the end of the earth, move to another planet) we could solve the nation’s problems. Not only does this assume at the outset that society’s divisions in fact cannot be healed, it obscures the reality that there are individuals within these various people-groups to whose minds and hearts one can appeal. Actually, all these groups are also composed of individuals. The good news is that because of this, the task of transcending our divisions is not technically hopeless — however difficult it may be.
(4.) We could agree to somehow helping to defuse this issue so it isn’t such a “flash-point” issue for people. People seem to have trouble talking about sexuality issues in general. It’s just too personal. They get angry. They get nasty.
Why do people insist on saying such hateful things about others who disagree with them on the homosexuality issue? Why do people insist on misrepresenting what other people are saying in the effort to further their own cause?
It is possible that this issue will never be fully “resolved” — as is the case with the issues of war, abortion, divorce and many other moral issues. Christians continue to arrive at different conclusions. Maybe there will always be “sides.”
Love and respect and honesty will need to always prevail in our communities of faith.
So, what can we do now to foster those qualities?