On Culture Wars and Gay Christian Sinners

Fellow blogger John Barron has an excellent post over at Sifting Reality defending Christians with respect to homosexuality — or more specifically, Christian obsession with homosexuality, given the in-your-face ubiquity of homosexual and homosexual-accepting culture, coupled with the demonization of Christians as intolerant bigots for viewing homosexuality as a sin.

He’s right. It’s a trap of demonization and counter-demonization. And he’s also right that homosexuality is unique among the “sexual sins” (adultery, promiscuity, incest, pedophilia, etc.) in demanding not merely non-criminality, but full acceptance — which takes, for many Christians, offensive forms of open homosexual displays.

I made something like this point, though not as effectively as John, back in July, when I explored whether libertarians should support gay marriage:

Part of the conservative discomfort with the gay political and cultural agenda in America is its selective outrage, its contempt for tradition, its relatively mild reaction to how horribly gays are treated in countries currently favored by the Left (as opposed to Israel, for example, where gays enjoy by far the most civil, political and cultural rights of any nation in the Middle East), its sometimes in-your-face promotion of gay sex (no different, in conservative estimation, than in-your-face promotion of heterosexual sex and hyper-sexualization of women), and its demonization of ordinary Americans for vague discomfort with gay culture.

My answer, by the way, was yes, libertarians should support gay marriage, but not necessarily the entire gay-rights agenda:

It is a libertarian imperative to support gay marriage as a political (not judicial) proposition because marriage is a government-sanctioned institution and the government has no legitimate interest in the genders of the spouses-to-be. It is not a libertarian imperative to support the gay rights agenda across the board, and it is the prerogative of any libertarian to be troubled by, and object to, some aspects of the gay rights agenda.

As it is the prerogative of any libertarian to support every aspect of the gay rights agenda, as I generally do, because I personally believe in a culture of equal respect and stature among gays, trans-gendered, and straights. But that’s a political proposition, and it must be won politically, without recourse to heavy-handed [judicial] absolutes.

Which takes me back to John Barron’s defense of Christian obsession with homosexuality.

I say the following respectfully, as most of my family and many of my friends are Christians. Christians started this fight by freighting homosexuality with the heavily denunciatory baggage of “sin” (never mind “abomination” and such).

And they often did so in a way that cast doubt upon even the possibility of a “gay Christian.” In other words, total war. To be sure, some congregations nervously accepted homosexuals as sinners like all the rest of us, even though they actively choose a daily lifestyle that is supposedly sinful. (“Hi, my name is x, and I love Jesus, but I’ll be actively and deliberately sinning for the rest of my life.”) But that’s not an actual comfort to a gay person.

Homosexuality is an orientation — which science and history view as natural for a minority, and in the language of religion, “the way God made them.” For gay people, it’s as bizarre to insist that they “resist these impulses” and become something else as to insist that healthy chocolate lovers resist that impulse and become rigorous chocolate-avoiders. It cannot be right, in the Christian tradition, to condemn so many people to active pursuit of sinfulness, simply because of who they already are.

It’s impossible, therefore, to parse “sin” in the same way as, for example, adultery. Adulterers are not making a choice about who they are. They’re making a choice about what they will do, very consistent with who they are (heterosexuals). Adulterers can nevertheless come to church, and take solace in the fact that we’re all sinners, we all do bad acts. And we’re good Christians because we do so many other proper Christian things. Homosexuals cannot come into the same church and take any solace in the fact that we’re all sinners, because they’re not simply guilty of a sinful act, or acts, but guilty, according to much Christian dogma, of actively choosing “sin” every day of their lives because of who they are. That’s no way to live.

Who hurts people more? The adulterer or the homosexual? I don’t have the statistics, but if the strife and collateral damage of torn marriages is any indication, adultery hurts vastly more people than homosexuality. Is “who hurts people more” a fair question? Fair question, as concerns whether it is possible to reach conciliation between gays and Christians. Depends on your taste for absolutes.

We posit the adulterer as the one who commits a sin, desires not to do so again, does so again, desires not to do so again, does so again, and so forth — but always remains within the grace of God, and always capable of choosing not to commit an obvious and calamitous and injurious sin again, and therefore happily within the embracing and forgiving rubric of the church.

But our conservative churches view the homosexual as different, as heavily freighted with categorically unforgivable sin from the get-go. There is no presumption of grace, you’re-only-as-bad-as-your-next-act, much less a steady embrace of their Christianity. Homosexuals simply choose sin, whether or not they ever hurt another human being for the rest of their lives, and they’re accordingly the worst sinners, the sinners who permanently choose and love sin. Even the worst adulterers are forgiven because they don’t “permanently” choose sin. It’s not something they “are,” just something they do, sometimes repeatedly. But being homosexual is a permanent sin, an “abomination.”

It cannot be a surprise that gay culture reacted strongly to this characterization. It cannot be a surprise that secular gay culture, in particular, declared war on this Christian hostility. It cannot be a surprise that where gay culture is predominant, it would include a heavy dollop of sometimes disgusting and vicious anti-Christian sentiment. And it cannot be a surprise that we’re witnessing the current horrible nastiness of gays against Christians and Christians against gays.

At the root of the hostility is the definition of “sin.” That single short word commands legions of warriors on both sides. If homosexuality is angrily and categorically viewed as “sin,” regardless of its consequences, then there will be very few gay Christians, and the historically and successfully inclusive quality of Christianity will most oddly stop just short of homosexuals.

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17 Responses to On Culture Wars and Gay Christian Sinners

  1. lobotero says:

    Excellent post! As always!

  2. John Barron says:

    I do not view sexuality as an identity, especially since sexual desires are fluid — they change over time. For example, I used to be attracted to shorter blonde women, and now I find tall brunettes more attractive, and I dont particularly care for blondes. After being married for some time, I also find women who resemble my wife attractive. All of this is to say we are not destined by our desires. My response to George on my new post pertains to this post here:

    1. Many Christians have an aversion to homosexuals. The blame can be placed at the feet of Christians and homosexual activists as I note in [Get] Over The Rainbow. Too many Christians do not know how to handle homosexuals when they encounter them. There is a compulsion to preach at them. Christians need to learn how to properly treat them, and how to properly discuss the issue with tact and charity. Homosexuals need to learn to not be so hostile and quick to name call.

    2. Homosexuals reject God and religion because they both tend to declare homosexuality to be sinful. There is an over abundance of focus on sexuality as part of their core identity that heterosexuals do not. Since there is that condemnation to such a large part of them, there is a resentment. Homosexuals moreso than other demographics have an inability to differentiate between who they are and what they do. What is being said is: Homosexual sexual relationships are sinful. What they hear is: Homosexuals are bad people. They will more often than not reject the Bible because the bible says they shouldnt do the things they are doing, even if no Christian ever says it to them.

    3. The bible says that anyone who is unrepentant of their sin, their salvation should be questioned. Not that we determine it, God does. And the Bible has passages of people with certain lives of particular sins will not inherit the Kingdom. But that is not limited to practicing homosexuals. I think homosexuals who profess to be believers do so inspite of the clear admonitions of their sexual behaviors. The passages must either be ignored or interpreted in such a way as to mean the opposite of what they actually say. I think anyone willing to submit the bible to their life rather than their life to the bible are not really Christians, but that goes for anyone trying to justify promiscuity, theft, adultery, excessive drinking, or any number of other sins.

    We all sin. The difference with homosexuals is, they are one of the only — if not the only — demographic of sinners who actually indulge, thrive, and revel in their sin. Adulterers don’t advertize and demand you accept them for who they are. The promiscuous dont do it either. Homosexuality seems to be in a class of it’s own in this respect.

    I wouldn’t classify homosexual Christians in a sweeping way that they are not really Christians, it would be a case by case basis. But anyone who claims to be a believer and then does whatever they can to keep in their sin is suspect.

    I do not consider any desire as exempt from its submission as sin. Meaning, a certain behavior that is driven by desire however strong or natural feeling, does not make it not a sin. I agree homosexual desires are natural feeling, and powerful, it doesnt give someone the right to give in. No matter how much I have a natural feeling and strong desire to steal, I would be sinning if I stole.

    Sorry for the length of this comment, I dont mean to filibuster.

    • I strongly agree with your first point John. Then we tend to part ways because you’re committed to the language of sin and exclusion. That’s where the irreparable breakdown occurs. It’s hard to conceive a mutually respectful conversation when one party is convinced the other is going to hell, or at best committed to an abomination. That’s what makes the conservative Christian notion of sin so offensive to gay people — not that we should stop talking about “sin” altogether, but that we should freight activity or orientation that doesn’t, in and of itself, hurt anyone with the categorically judgmental label of “sin.”

      Take another example. The Bible obliges us to honor the Sabbath and to keep it holy. This isn’t one of those bizarre and arcane laws in Leviticus. It’s one of the Ten Commandments! Can’t get more core-Biblical than that. And yet I’d bet millions of people who consider themselves Christians spend Sunday watching football and doing all manner of things that are, to put it mildly, shy of holy. Is their Christianity suspect as a consequence? Should they be condemned as willful sinners, as repeat offenders? Is the incredibly aggressive “culture” of professional football and its promotion an offense to Christianity? Would we ever even think about freighting a conversation about how we should conduct ourselves on the Sabbath with the heavily denuciatory language of sin?

      Conversely, the Ten Commandments say nothing about homosexuality. I’m not subscribing to a reductionist view about the primacy of the Ten Commandments. I’m simply saying that we might have good and constructive reasons to reexamine a “sin” framework regarding homosexuality that guarantees resentment and alienation.

  3. lbwoodgate says:

    Ditto what lobo said Kendrick.

    A comment and a question.

    Adultery is behavior that many people can identify and “there but for the grace of God” go they. Whereas, homosexuality is something they cannot and will not allow themselves to see theirself as. This, IMO, is why one is more forgivable than they other. The one allows them to fulfill a natural inclination that is validated by the church, the other doesn’t.

    “Part of the conservative discomfort with the gay political and cultural agenda in America is its selective outrage, its contempt for tradition, its relatively mild reaction to how horribly gays are treated in countries currently favored by the Left (as opposed to Israel, for example, where gays enjoy by far the most civil, political and cultural rights of any nation in the Middle East), its sometimes in-your-face promotion of gay sex (no different, in conservative estimation, than in-your-face promotion of heterosexual sex and hyper-sexualization of women), and its demonization of ordinary Americans for vague discomfort with gay culture.”

    This seems to ignore the fact that after centuries of enduring the prejudices of heterosexual dominance, “gay pride”, like that of most civil liberty movements, finally has to “get in your face” and even turn violent. When tolerance is not there people have to be forced to face their intolerance.

    And share with me if you will Kendrick what you see as the “gay agenda”. You realize of course this tends to come across as a subjective perception rather than one that incorporates what gays really want and feel.

    For the record, I too am quite uncomfortable watching gays being intimate in public and such performances in movies and on TV. But then, as a product of the South, so was I for a while as I watched black men being intimate with white women. I have since accepted such relationships.

    • Good point Larry. I know I’m using “gay agenda” as a catch-all phrase for a movement and a sensibility that is quite diverse. I’m using it here in the sense of what happens at the sharp interface between gay activists and their critics, often Christians. I’m also using it here as a short-hand for the point John makes eloquently in his own blog post and in his comment here: the demand not merely for legal rights, but full cultural acceptance and respect. I happen to believe in that agenda, though I wince at the form the demand takes at times, and I’m concerned that a project challenging the demonization of one people — gays — not become an even uglier project of demonization of another people — Christians.

  4. lbwoodgate says:

    I need to add this statement so I can check the “notify me” box or I won’t receive your feedback in a timely manner. Sorry for using the space.

  5. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    I do view sexuality as an identity, one that is immutable. To compare homosexual leanings to one’s preference of blonde vs. brunette is trite, irrelevant and way off the mark. I don’t read the Bible and would never use it to bolster my arguments. I wouldn’t even ever begin to get into a discussion or debate with someone who does use the Bible to argue points related to who is and who is not a Christian. I’m not denouncing John for doing so. I just simply do not bother with that particular method of bolstering one’s beliefs and opinions. Those who will define “sin” and who feel that their particular religion affords them the standing to declare what it is and isn’t, can’t be argued with or debated – unless you find that to be enjoyable. I’m thinking that you do, Kendrick. And, of course, you’re open to these discussions. I simply don’t go there. It doesn’t feel worth it.

    • You’re right, I do enjoy these discussions:) — in part because so many people I dearly love are conservative Christians who point to the Bible as an absolute authority, and that’s the way I was raised as well.

  6. John Barron says:

    Kendrick

    Read my post “Laying down the law” under the Christianity tab for a general response to your last comment. Your referencing the ot law for the nt Christian represents a very common misunderstanding of the relationship between the old and new testaments.

    But Christians can’t rightly just say what God has called sin is no longer just because it hurts the sinners feelings. I can’t tell my child that it is OK to be selfish just because she’ll be upset to have to share.

    • John, I read your post “Laying down the law,” and it’s characteristically thoughtful, very interesting in fact — but hardly a statement of mainstream Christianity, much less conservative Christianity. It’s a very clever (in the good sense) liberation from law without rejecting law, which is a suspiciously postmodern approach, and I know you love that. 🙂 Yet even you acknowledge, in one of your responsive comments to that post, that “the Old Covenant still shows us what sin is, and what perfection looks like.” In other words, New Testament Christians are not bound by the Ten Commandments as the Jews were/are, but the Ten Commandments still show us what sin is, and we opt in with inspiration from the Holy Spirit. And that means we’re back to the same intractable “sin” language that inspired my post.

      More to the immediate point, I’m not arguing that Christians should jettison the concept of “sin” “just because it hurts the sinners’ feelings,” and I think you know I would never argue that. Moreover, as a child who was told by my mother to share whether I wanted to or not, and who resented it at the time (I remember the occasion vividly), I’m finally prepared to say she was absolutely right. The reason I raised the Sabbath commandment by way of example is precisely to raise the issue of how we talk about sin and what its alienating implications may be. I don’t happen to think God has issued an unequivocal statement that homosexuality is sin. Many people do. Okay, is there a way to bridge that? Well, one way might be to talk about sin more lightly — rather in the way Christians talk, if they talk at all, about the sin of failing to keep the Sabbath holy, on a regular basis. And one way to induce Christians to think of sin more lightly in this way would be for gay culture to stop calling Christians despicable bigots and the like.

  7. Terrance H. says:

    I think the difference is that being gay is not a state of mind. It’s not something you become consciously. You’re just gay, period. Being Christian or believing in Christian theology is like a state of mind, and I would argue it’s a perversion of that state when you use it to discriminate.

    • I wouldn’t introduce the term “discriminate” (much less “perversion”). First, in this particular conversation we’re not talking about overt acts of discrimination. We’re talking about attitudes that arise from preconceived notions about what constitutes sin. Second, every religion, every political ideology, every system of thought generally yields various forms of “discrimination” (at the most basic level, among those who conform to, or embrace, the system, and those who do not). This is benign “discrimination” of the sort we all do every day (as when we discriminate between ripe and unripe avocados at the market). Perhaps you meant — as is more commonly alleged against Christians — “…when you use it as a basis for bigotry” (as “bigotry” can exist even in the absence of any overt act of discrimination). And I would then agree with you that Christianity is distorted if it becomes the basis for bigotry. I would not argue, however, that Christians who view homosexuality as sin are per se bigots. In fact, that’s the error on the other side of the equation I’m arguing against. John Barron is not a bigot, much less guilty of any active discrimination. He has a rational (and always civilly-expressed) point of view — the implications of which I’m exploring and which I believe could be reexamined constructively toward bridging some of the ill will between gay and conservative Christian communities.

      • Terrance H. says:

        Kendrick,

        I would use the term “discriminate” because that’s precisely what I believe many Christians do. And because Jesus was all about love and forgiveness, I believe it is a perversion – a twist, if you’d rather – of his message when you justify your discrimination with Christian theology.

        I know what you two are talking about, but John and I have had a debate in the past about this very issue and he seems to believe that homosexuals are no more discriminated against than Christians. I merely pointed out the difference.

        I don’t like calling John a bigot, and I have in fact defended him countless times when people have come to my blog slinging similar sentiments. But his religion, which has gradually morphed into a complete perversion of what it used to be, discriminates. As you say, ideologies can be discriminatory, even if the adherents are not necessarily.

        My study of theology has taught me that Christianity has changed quite a bit. It has been changed by so many and interpreted so many different ways that it doesn’t resemble anything close to the early Christian theology. The current one discriminates, I think.

        That’s just my opinion. But I definitely like your thoughts and John’s too. I was just throwing my own opinion out there.

        • And your opinions are always most welcome here Terrance. In fact, I’d say the same thing about your opinion as I said about John’s — rational and civilly-expressed. And I’d then again say the same thing — that it warrants reexamination in the interest of forging whatever common ground there may be (after which we can all agree to disagree). Part of the reexamination, in your case, would include (with apologies for my obsession with the words we use) resisting the temptation to use words like “complete perversion” with reference to Christianity. I know you tried most valiantly to offer a benign synonym — “twist” — at the outset of your comment, which I applauded, but then you doubled back and called Christianity a “complete perversion of what it used to be.” Interestingly, too many Christians have called homosexuality a “perversion.” But that hasn’t happened here. It’s Christianity being called a “perversion.” And I think that’s precisely John’s point. And I think it’s a very good one.

          The history of Christian theology is too vast for a post, much less a comment to a post. But I too am an amateur reader in various theologies, and I would have been a most enthusiastic theologian in one of the infinite parallel universes where God dropped by the house for a chat with an infinitely reassuring Wink. I don’t see Christian theology doing anything differently than what every system of thought does as it ages and moves further away in history from its charismatic founder. And strictly speaking, Jesus was not a Christian. He was a Jew. Paul, primarily, was the “founder” of Christianity — along with the authors of the Gospels, who together developed the rudiments of early Christianity (to which one might add the authors of various apocryphal and gnostic writings and gospels, which did not become canonical for various reasons — which is precisely one of the threshold crises of the early church, most basically, “oh dear, who are we?? because lots of people are presuming to define us in massively contradictory ways.” There is an enormous difference between a charismatic leader and the institutions established to perpetuate that leader’s preachings — rather as there has always been an enormous tension in the history of religion between prophets and priests. In its 2000-year navigation of the perpetually complicated question, “who are we?” I think Christianity has done pretty well. That many of its adherents today view homosexuality as a sin in such strident terms is, in my modest opinion, misguided and most definitely unproductive — but it does not make “Christianity” irrational, much less a “perversion.” (And by the way, there certainly is no evidence that open acceptance of homosexuality was a part of the cultural or theological milieu when Jesus walked and talked — so it’s a stretch, on the subject of homosexuality, to suggest that Christianity has somehow degraded since Jesus.)

          • Terrance H. says:

            Kendrick,

            In reference to homosexuality, Christians use the word “perversion” to mean unnatural, abnormal sexual behavior. I am using the term to mean an alteration in the theology of Christianity over the centuries. It’s much more nuanced than most people believe, but I at no time made the statement that homosexuality was ever accepted. I just don’t believe early Christians approached the issue in the same way modern Christians do. Early Christians, in my opinion, were more concerned with the pederasty that existed in Greece and Rome. Romans 1:26-27 is devoted to denouncing such acts, in my opinion, rather than homosexual relationships between consenting adults; modern Christians, as you know, don’t see it that way.

            But I’ll satisfy your issue right now by saying that modern Christianity has strayed from early theology, rather than say they have perverted it.

            And by “early Christianity,” I simply mean during the life and immediately following the death of Jesus Christ, who I am quite aware, was a Jew. I want to clarify this because as we both know, when Christianity became prevalent in Rome, anything deemed to be even remotely Pagan was banned.

            But are you familiar with Adelphopoiesis? It was a ceremony practiced by some Christian churches that united two people of the same-sex, most often men. Some historians claim it was a practice similar to marriage, simply with two people of the same-sex. That particular purpose is quite obviously disputed by the Greek Orthodox and Catholic Church, but Historian John Boswell makes a nice case for the contrary in his book Same-Sex Unions In Premodern Europe, which I have actually read. Boswell’s views get mostly harsh criticism, but the only thing I can suggest to both you and John is to read the book. He probably has some essays online you can peruse as well.

            That’s all academic, obviously. The point I am making is that nowhere in the New Testament or in Jesus’ words do I find justification for the hateful rhetoric we so often hear from Christians in reference to homosexuality. None whatsoever. Jesus taught love and compassion, not intolerance. And I don’t think you can offer me a credible argument that takes issue with my belief that Christianity is, by and large, completely intolerant of homosexuality and, on some small scale, women’s rights.

            As for me, I don’t want anyone to be discriminated against. I rejected all types of discrimination, but I do believe it’s useful to point out the difference between discriminating against a state of mind or belief system, and then a biological or genetic determinant that he person has no control over. I suggest that discriminating against someone for being gay is no different than discriminating against someone for being black, Asian, or even female. Though I don’t think homosexual groups discriminate against Christians generally, as many Christian churches actually accept LGBT people with open arms.

            But Christianity has gone through quite an evolution. During Jesus’ life, the notion of a Trinity was totally vacant from any sort of Christian theology. It was included only after the Crucifixion. Then you have the different avenues of Christianity that spread to different parts of the world, and in some cases began to lose parts of itself, taking on different cultural myths and legends and merging it with its own doctrine, which was relative to who took it where (Gnostics, Sabians, Ebionites, etc…) There were some Christians who did not adhere to Mosaic Law, and some who didn’t know how regard Jesus, unsure if He should be considered the Messiah.

            You could read for five years straight on the subject and barely scratch the surface, as you seem to believe. It’s just far too nuanced, me thinks.

  8. John Barron says:

    Early Christians, in my opinion, were more concerned with the pederasty that existed in Greece and Rome. Romans 1:26-27 is devoted to denouncing such acts, in my opinion, rather than homosexual relationships between consenting adults; modern Christians, as you know, don’t see it that way.

    I would say this is false. The Romans passage reads:

    “in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error”

    It speaks of men burning with lust for other men. Not boys.

    I’m not going to belabor the point, but all homosexual activity has always been condemned by both Judaism and Christianity. It wasnt that they saw two men or women in homosexual relationships and said “well, what’s really the problem is pederasty, but just to be consistent, we have to admonish you too” This revisionist outlook on the history of the Church is what helps give credence to the Activist’s messege of selective attention. They want it to look like it is contemoprary Christians who are creating the controversy.

  9. Terrance H. says:

    I would say this is false.

    What else is new?

    It speaks of men burning with lust for other men. Not boys.

    Some translations read “males,” not men or boys. And let’s also keep in mind cultural distinctions. In Jesus’ time, 12-year-old boys were considered men who were expected to be learning a trade, not frolicking in the streets or Synagogues. Regardless, I’ll not belabor the point myself, because, frankly, I don’t care. It’s neither here nor there, but it is useful to point out that the passage is in dispute, used by modern Christians in a way it was not used before.

    Contemporary Christians did not create the controversy, I agree. But they certainly seem to have ignored Jesus’ true message with the same fervor as the Catholic Church in past times. It’s bigotry and nothing more. I don’t regard you as a bigot, but I do think your faith is unfortunately riddled with it, because it lost that nascent purity that existed in time of Christ. That has been my point from the beginning. You can agree, disagree, or remain indifferent to the point, but it is what it is.

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