John MacArthur’s advice for parents of gay children

John MacArthur has some advice for Christian parents whose children come out of the closet: shun them.

To quote from his video:

If that adult child professes Christ, claims to be a Christian, then that becomes an issue for confrontation of the sternest and strongest kind, because that falls into Matthew 18. That’s a sin for which you go to that person. If the person doesn’t repent and turn, you take two or three witnesses and confront again. If there’s still no repentance, you tell the church, and the church pursues. And if there’s still no repentance, then there’s a public putting out of the church of that person who professes to be a Christian. That’s how you deal with that.

You have to alienate them. You have to separate them… You isolate them. You don’t have a meal with them. You separate yourself from them. You turn them over to Satan, as it were, as Scripture says.

MacArthur calls this a Matthew 18 issue, referring to the passage where Jesus tells his disciples how to deal with sin. So let’s take another look at this text.

MacArthur’s translation of choice, the NKJV, says, “If your brother sins against you.” Granted, not all manuscripts include these qualifying words. But the context—including the mention of “two or three witnesses,” evoking courtroom imagery—indicates a situation where one person has injured the other.

There’s even less ambiguity in the parallel passage, Luke 17:

If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.

Matthew 18 isn’t about just any alleged sin. It’s about what you should do if another member of the church wrongs you personally. Even if being gay is a sin, how would my child be sinning against me personally by coming out to me? This isn’t about me. It’s about them and their identity. They haven’t done anything to me. I suppose someone might want to argue that they’ve sinned against me by letting me down as a parent. But how I respond is my choice. No one, to the best of my knowledge, has ever come out of the closet because they wanted to hurt their parents.

Matthew 18 is not a license for indiscriminate shunning. Whatever camp you’re in—affirming, non-affirming, or just confused—we should all agree this is a shamefully selective misuse of the Bible. We can do better.

If your son or daughter comes out to you, don’t follow MacArthur’s advice. Please don’t. For the sake of your child. Their life could literally depend on it. When parents reject their kids for being gay, it can send them on a downward spiral from which there may be no coming back.

  • Their risk of depression goes up.
  • They’re more likely to engage in substance abuse and unprotected sex.
  • They’re SIGNIFICANTLY more likely to attempt suicide.

Of course, maybe that’s what MacArthur thinks it means to “hand them over to Satan.” (Pro tip: it’s not.)

If you want much, much better advice on how to respond, read Benjamin Moberg’s piece. It’s beautifully written from the vantage point of personal experience. And yes, it has something for you—whether you’re open and affirming or whether you maintain a traditional sexual ethic.

Your kid’s life and well being could hang in the balance.

—//—

Postscript: My friend Nathan makes another good point about MacArthur’s misuse of Matthew 18. Jesus is addressing the church, not families. In fact, Matthew 18 is the only time the word ekklesia, translated “assembly” or “church,” appears in the Gospels. Even if a church were to decide that a person’s sexuality was a “Matthew 18 issue”—and that’s something a great many churches, affirming and non-affirming, would dispute—it has no bearing on how a parent should treat their son or daughter for coming out. What MacArthur is advocating is wrong, and it’s based on a careless reading of Matthew 18. As Nathan put it yesterday, “No church, whatever their position on this is, has the right to tell you to alienate, shun and un-invite your own children from the dining table they grew up eating at.” MacArthur should know better. We all should.

God and the Gay Christian: 6 highlights from the @Patheos live chat

vines

Yesterday Patheos hosted a live chat for Matthew Vine’s new book God and the Gay Christian, featuring Matthew, Rachel Held Evans, Tony Jones, and, occasionally, Jay Bakker. (No live chat is complete without a few technical hiccups.) I haven’t read the book yet; it’s in my to-read pile. But I listened in on their lunchtime conversation, which is available on the Patheos website.

Here are 6 things that stood out…

1. Dispensing with less helpful arguments

Matthew has no interest in some of the more speculative arguments which are sometimes put forward — for example, the notion that David and Jonathan were gay lovers. Or Ruth and Naomi. Or Jesus and John.

These arguments seem to assume that any affection between two men (or two women) depicted in the Bible must be implicitly sexual, as if there were no such thing as nonsexual affection between two closely connected people of the same gender. If you’re pro-same-sex marriage and you’re making this argument, it’s not helping your case. I’m also worried that it plays into the idea that being gay is all about sex. If the church needs to stop reducing gay people to a particular sex act, then Matthew is right to shift the debate to other issues (regardless of whether you agree with him on those issues or not).

2. Matthew vs. Tony

Not one to disappoint, Tony Jones brought a slightly contrarian voice to the discussion. He and Matthew went back and forth over how to deal with Paul, though think it’s futile to read Paul’s comments on homosexual acts as a commentary on the kind of same-sex relationships that are possible today.

Matthew is writing as an evangelical. That’s the whole point of his book, to make a theologically conservative case for the affirming view. So it’s not surprising he wants to maintain a high view of Paul. “We don’t have to disagree with or demote Paul to affirm gay Christians in the church,” he argues.

Tony countered that Paul couldn’t know what we know today about sexual orientation; therefore, he wasn’t in a position to speak directly to the kind of issues we’re wrestling with today. For Tony, this is no more a problem than the fact that Paul didn’t know anything about cars, yet we’re OK with driving them.

Tony’s point is worth hearing. Part of reading and interpreting the Bible is understanding its original context (and limitations) before we try to bring it into our context. You can’t just dump the Bible into our setting and expect everything to translate. This, among other things, is why no one thinks the earth is stationary, despite clear evidence that’s what the biblical writers believed.

But there’s also a real danger of becoming arrogant, of thinking that we’re more enlightened than the biblical writers were. (Poor old chaps.) Matthew’s caution against this tendency is worth also hearing—especially in this debate.

3. Celibacy as a gift, not a command

All the panelists felt that Matthew’s chapter on celibacy is one of the most compelling parts of his book. Again, I haven’t read it (yet), but Matthew’s argument, summarized by Tony at one point, seems to be that celibacy was never mandated in the biblical text. According to Jesus and Paul, some people had the gift of celibacy. But no one was ever ordered to be celibate. Most of us certainly aren’t wired to for celibacy, in any case.

So the question Matthew raises is what do you do if someone who isn’t wired for celibacy IS wired to be attracted to people of the same gender? The conservative view has traditionally said that gay people have one of two options: conversion therapy or celibacy. Now that even many conservatives have disavowed conversion therapy, celibacy is all that’s left. But if celibacy is a gift, not a command, then doesn’t that mean we have to assume God has given the gift of celibacy to every LGBT person? I don’t think many of us, regardless of what side we take, would be comfortable pressing that assumption too far, in light of reality.

If neither celibacy nor a change of orientation are realistic for the vast majority of gay people, then we’re left to wrestle with the question posed by Rachel Held Evans: is it right to deny gay Christians the opportunity to sanctify their sexual desires through a covenant?

4. What does Al Mohler really think about orientation?

God and the Gay Christian hadn’t been on bookshelves for a day when Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler issued an ebook rebuttal, coauthored with James Hamilton, Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, and Heath Lambert. (Note: They were given prepublication copies of Matthew’s book, so they were able to interact with his content.)

During the live chat, Matthew shared what disappointed him about their response: namely, Mohler’s claim that if you accept sexual orientation as an innate part of someone’s identity, then you’ve undermined the whole Bible.

It seems like the “if you believe X, then you’ve undermined the Bible/gospel/Christianity” card gets played a lot these days. But this one made me skeptical. Could Mohler really have written that? After all, just three years ago he made ripples in his own denomination when he acknowledged that sexual orientation is “not something that people can just turn on and turn off.” At the time he confessed:

We’ve lied about the nature of homosexuality and have practiced what can only be described as a form of homophobia. We’ve used the ‘choice’ language when it is clear that sexual orientation is a deep inner struggle and not merely a matter of choice.

I haven’t read Al Mohler’s ebook yet (I plan to after reading Matthew’s book), so I was curious to see if Matthew depicted his argument correctly.

He did. Here’s what Mohler wrote:

If the modern concept of sexual orientation is to be taken as a brute fact, then the Bible simply cannot be trusted.

That seems like a far cry from his previous affirmation that sexual orientation is not “a matter of choice.” So which is it for Al Mohler?

5. A conservative sexual ethic

One of the key points to remember is that Matthew is not arguing for a more liberal or permissive sexuality. He wants to call gay Christians to the same standard of conduct to which the church has traditionally held heterosexual couples: no sex outside marriage, monogamy within marriage, no adultery, etc.

From a Christian perspective, sex is sacred. Commitment is a nonnegotiable part of sexual ethics.
—Matthew Vines

True, this won’t satisfy those for whom ceding any ground on same-sex marriage is unacceptable — or those on the other side who’ve gone further in questioning the sexual ethic taken for granted by most evangelicals as biblical. But it does seem like it could bolster Matthew’s argument against the “slippery slope” accusation.

6. A broader conversation

Near the end of the live chat, Matthew and the other panelists acknowledged that change won’t come easy.

Rachel Held Evans believes that many people, especially pastors, are afraid of losing everything if they are open with their desire to be more affirming. She called on people to be brave and start some uncomfortable conversations anyway, trusting that there are more people than we think who are ready for a new conversation.

Tony Jones voiced pessimism about the church’s ability to find a third way, accommodating both the traditional and affirming camps. But he felt that more and more individuals will continue to “make the shift” as they come into contact with people like Matthew and books like God and the Gay Christian.

Matthew similarly acknowledged the incremental nature of change and said that the first step is bringing LGBT Christians into the room and making sure they’re part of the conversation. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen, as demonstrated by the Southern Baptists’ recent ERLC conference devoted to the topic of human sexuality. “Having a whole conference about this and not including any gay Christian voices is not OK,” Matthew said.

I suppose someone could make the same point about the live chat. There was no voice there to represent the traditional view. While I don’t think a 60-minute online chat should be held to the same standard as a three-day conference, I hope future conversations will bring more voices to the table. If we are going to find a third way (despite Tony’s probably well-placed pessimism), it won’t happen unless we start listening to each other.

That being said, it takes two to tango. The question is whether Al Mohler is in the mood to dance.

The story that made World Vision trend on Twitter

Image courtesy of World Vision US

Image courtesy of World Vision US

Today, World Vision helped care for more than 4 million kids. They do so every day, and they do it without making headlines. There’s not much of a story there, I guess.

But when they announced that Christian employees in monogamous, same-sex marriages didn’t have to fear for their jobs anymore? All hell broke loose.

For a while, World Vision was trending on Twitter. Not because of the 70,000 people they helped gain access to clean water that day, but because of outrage over the fact that a cross-denominational Christian humanitarian organization decided it wasn’t its job to police a theological difference among denominations.

A gospel issue?
Of course, those voicing outrage don’t see it that way. To them, there is only one position you can hold on the issue of same-sex marriage and still be considered a Christian. Russell Moore claimed the gospel itself was at stake. John Piper argued that World Vision was trivializing the cross. Franklin Graham went so far as to say that “World Vision doesn’t believe in the Bible.”

I’ll grant that same-sex marriage is a deeply divisive issue among Christians. (I believe there are people of good faith on both sides of the debate.) But show me which of the great ecumenical creeds — Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian — makes homosexuality a litmus text for orthodoxy.

Show me which of the defining scriptural summaries of the gospel* say anything about same-sex marriage.

And if we celebrate a polygamist king as a “man after God’s own heart,” then why do we assume that a monogamous relationship between two people of the same gender is supposedly a deal-breaker for God?

We don’t need to trivialize differences of opinion on same-sex marriage. But to characterize it as a gospel issue? To me, that seems to miss the point of the gospel.

A justice issue?
I don’t envy the leadership at World Vision. To those who saw their (initial) decision as an attempt to pander to a broader audience: the people at World Vision know who their donor base is. They knew there would be a cost (update: though it seems they underestimated how much it would cost).

Some might ask, “Why take the risk? What about the kids?” It’s a fair question. But another question worth asking is whether it’s right to marginalize one group in order to pacify someone who is willing to hold impoverished children hostage to make sure they get their way.

But the stakes are even higher. Many countries — including some in which World Vision serves — have seen an alarming resurgence of homophobia in recent years. We’re not just talking about places where same-sex marriage is controversial. We’re talking about places where being gay can land you in jail — in some cases for life. We’re talking about places like Uganda and Nigeria, where homosexuality has been criminalized with the support of some US evangelicals who, having lost the culture wars here, are seeking out fertile territory elsewhere. Anti-gay rhetoric in this country has real-world consequences elsewhere. Wherever you stand on same-sex marriage, we we should be able to agree that these trends in other parts of the world are alarming.

One of World Vision’s commitments is to build a world where every person is respected, loved, and given a chance to thrive. Can they really do that halfway around the world if they don’t do so among their own staff here?

A personal issue
For many who weighed in on the controversy, this debate is an abstraction. For me, it’s more than that.

I spent four years writing for World Vision. I had colleagues who were gay, who were afraid of losing their jobs, who had to live in the closet because if they didn’t, they would be fired.

I’m also a World Vision donor. My family and I sponsor four kids. I’ve seen firsthand the difference they makes in impoverished communities.

So for me, this is about colleagues who no longer have to choose between their identity and doing something they believe in. It’s about my sponsored kids and their friends — many of whom have lost sponsors because, evidently, some people think that’s an OK way to retaliate.

This is personal. It’s about people. You may disagree with World Vision’s decision. But please don’t sacrifice children on the altar of your convictions. Especially not over an issue that cannot be construed as a tenant of orthodoxy according to any ecumenical creed or biblical summary of the gospel. Not over questions about which Christians legitimately disagree.

World Vision’s employment policy is not a gospel issue. Loving others is.

* Romans 1:1-4, Romans 3:21-26, 1 Corinthians 15, Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 1:15-20, 1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:8, 1 Peter 3:18-22. See The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight for a list of definitive gospel summary passages in the New Testament.

A posthumous letter to Fred Phelps

I remember the first time I found you online. It was 1997. Your website had more clip art then. I had spent the summer in DC, working for an anti-gay lobby — one that some regard as a hate group.

You were always there to make us feel better about ourselves. We could publish all the fear-inducing propaganda we wanted. But as long as we didn’t actually put the words “God hates fags” on our materials, we weren’t as bad as you. We could always count on Westboro Baptist Church to make us look kind and loving by comparison.

I thought of you that summer when I wrote my booklet. I even wrote this last bit just to prove we weren’t like you:

When confronted with fallen man’s sexuality, we must always return to the biblical norm. We must always do so out of love for our fellow man.

We wanted many of the same things as you. But where you were motivated by hate, we were driven by love… at least that’s what we told ourselves. You were the speck of dust I conveniently used to ignore the plank in my own eye.

In hindsight, the impact of our rhetoric was perhaps more insidious because we masqueraded as loving. You didn’t bother with pretense. You didn’t feign compassion while suggesting that gays are latent child predators who deserve to be locked up.

The reason it felt so good to despise you was because it kept me from facing the darkness that lurked in my own heart.

A decade later, I saw you again, this time on a BBC documentary. By 2008, I was not the same person who wrote that booklet in 1997. You only made a brief appearance in The Most Hated Family in America, but it was enough to convince me that all that hate was more than just a ploy for attention. “This is somebody who was addicted to rage and anger,” one filmmaker said about you.

Now you’re gone. If I’m honest, I don’t want you in the kingdom of God. I don’t want you to find mercy and forgiveness. I want you to feel the weight of all the hurt you caused.

And that worries me, because it means I don’t want God to be as merciful as he wants to be. I don’t want him to leave the 99 to go after the one lost sheep. Not in this case.

It also means I’m more like you than I care to admit. You always made it clear that you didn’t give a rip whether anyone had a change of heart because of your protests. When someone asked if you ever pray for the salvation of those you condemn, you bellowed, “Of course not!” You were happy to watch souls burn. You were convinced God had already preselected you and a handful of others for salvation. And you despised anyone who hoped God might cast his love a bit wider.

If I cheer for your damnation, then I am no different from you. I won’t make that mistake. Not anymore. I want a merciful God. I want a God who sees no one as beyond rescuing, not even from their own hatred.

So I will pray for your repose, Fred Phelps. I pray that perpetual light shines on you. I don’t know if we get a second chance after death, but if we do, I pray that yours will be to discover a God who is infinitely more loving than you dared to imagine. I still pray you’ll feel the weight of all the hurt you caused, but that you will find forgiveness and mercy for it, too. Because I need that just as much as you do.

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Maybe love is the best reason to rethink your convictions

Not that long ago, a friend came out of the closet to me. At first, I wasn’t sure what to say. I knew it wasn’t my place to express an opinion on the moral legitimacy of same-sex relationships, especially when I wasn’t even sure what I believed about that anymore.

What I did know was that I cared about my friend. I owed it to them — and myself — to reconsider what I had always assumed by default to be true, to make sure I’d thought this through, listened to the other side, considered all possibilities. That’s something I’d never really done before.

In the end, what motivated my decision to reconsider wasn’t some big epiphany. It was a friend.

Courtesy Spencer E Holtaway

Recently, when Facebook announced it was offering 51 additional gender identities for people to choose from, conservative pundits reacted with predictable outrage. But even some of us who aren’t conservative were probably tempted to roll our eyes at the news.

Then a friend on Facebook started using one of the 51 new options. Suddenly it didn’t seem like PC sensitivity run amok. To my friend, it meant safety. Validation. Reassurance they were OK even if they didn’t fit neatly into one of the only two categories previously available to them.

Photo by ChodHound on Flickr

I’m not saying all of this is simple. Figuring out what you should believe isn’t always an easy task. But our first (and perhaps only) response to someone who is gay or who identifies according to a gender category we’ve never even heard of… well, let me suggest that part IS simple.

If our first impulse is anything other than to love, embrace, and accept the other person as they are, then we have missed the boat.  

You might say I’m being overly simplistic. You might argue this kind of acceptance only encourages people down a destructive path.

Set aside for a moment the question of whether loving someone of the same gender or identifying as “non-binary” on Facebook causes actual harm to someone. That’s a debatable assumption at best. The real problem with any other response is that you start to see issues instead of people. You begin treating loved ones as problems to be solved, instead of divine image-bearers who were made to be cherished.

Well, I’m done viewing others as problems that need to be fixed.

AFP, Isaac Kasamani

If you want to know where treating people as problems gets you, just look at Uganda.

The president of Uganda just signed a bill to solve the “problem” of homosexuality in his country. The law makes homosexuality punishable by life imprisonment in some cases. It requires citizens to denounce anyone they suspect of being gay.

One Ugandan newspaper wasted no time complying with that last provision, publishing a list of “200 top homos.” The last time a paper did this in Uganda, the names and addresses were run under the headline “Hang Them.” A gay rights campaigner was bludgeoned to death.

Defending the Bill, Uganda’s minister for ethics and integrity, Simon Lokodo, described gays as “beasts of the forest.” To him, homosexuality is a disease to be cured. Lokodo has even suggested that heterosexual child rape is preferable to consensual sex between two male adults.

That’s where you end up when you start viewing members of the LGBT community — or anyone else, for that matter — as problems to be solved rather than people to be loved.

—//—

I used to look down on those who started questioning longstanding beliefs, all because they knew someone who was gay. I used to think the strength of your convictions was measured by your willingness to hold them no matter what the fallout, no matter how much hurt they caused.

Then I remembered that “love does no harm to a neighbor.” I remembered that the FIRST thing we should see in someone else is the divine imprint, the image of God staring back at us.

Whatever your beliefs may be, if you don’t start here, then there’s no way to get it right.

Maybe caring about a friend is one of the best reasons you could have to reevaluate your convictions.

[Photo credits: Spencer E Holtaway, ChodHound on Flickr, Isaac Kasamani/AFP]

Seriously, Kansas?

Kansas state capitol building (credit: Rand McNally)

With same-sex marriage advancing faster than anyone expected, you might wonder what the LGBT community has to complain about anymore. The grand prize, marriage equality nationwide, is almost within reach. Surely the country has entered some kind of “post-homophobic” era.

Right. Just like the election of Barack Obama ushered in a “post-racial” era.

Reality is never quite that simple, and history is never a completely linear affair, as the state of Kansas reminded us when its House of Representatives passed House Bill 2453 by a vote of 72-49. The Kansas Senate, which consists of 32 Republicans and 8 Democrats, is likely to follow suit, and the state’s conservative governor, Sam Brownback, will almost certainly sign the bill into law.

Slate contributor Mark Joseph Stern describes the impact of HB 2453 like this:

The result will mark Kansas as the first state, though certainly not the last, to legalize segregation of gay and straight people in virtually every area of life.

Slate is a liberal publication. Of course they’re going to describe the bill in the most melodramatic terms possible, right?

So I read HB 2453 for myself. You should too.

It’s fairly short, as legislation goes. But in case you don’t have time to read the whole thing, I’ve included some of the major provisions below. (Highlights are mine.)

In short, the bill asserts the right of any “individual or religious entity” to deny “any services” to someone based on the individual or entity’s “sincerely held religious beliefs.” The bill has been described as an attempt to protect people from being forced to help with same-sex weddings, but section 1 goes could be interpreted as going much further, apparently perhaps giving people the right to refuse ANY service, “related to or unrelated to” marriage. (Update: Thanks to Dan for pointing out in the comments below that the wording of the bill is somewhat vague on this point.)

No individual or religious entity shall be required by any governmental entity to do any of the following, if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender:

(a) Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement.

House Bill 2453 strips away a person’s legal recourse in response to such refusal to provide service. To quote Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, “If a gay couple sues for discrimination, they won’t just lose; they’ll be forced to pay their opponent’s attorney fees.”

He appears to be right on that count:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no refusal by an individual or religious entity to engage in any activity described in section 1, and amendments hereto, shall result in:

(1) A civil claim or cause of action under state or local law based upon such refusal; or

(2) an action by any governmental entity to penalize, withhold benefits from, discriminate against or otherwise disadvantage any protected individual or religious entity, under any state or local law.

If a government entity, or any person asserts a claim or cause of action, or takes any adverse action against an individual or religious entity in violation of subsection (a), such individual or religious entity shall be entitled upon request to recover all reasonable attorney fees, costs, and damages such individual or religious entity incurred as a result of such violation.

In theory, governments and “non-religious” entities are still obligated to provide “lawful service” to gay people — i.e. driver’s licenses (though not marriage, in the eyes of Kansas):

If an individual employed by a governmental entity or other non-religious entity invokes any of the protections provided by section 1, and amendments hereto, as a basis for declining to provide a lawful service that is otherwise consistent with the entity’s duties or policies, the individual’s employer, in directing the performance of such service, shall either promptly provide another employee to provide such service, or shall otherwise ensure that the requested service is provided, if it can be done without undo hardship to the employer.

But religious entities are not mentioned in the bill’s provision to “ensure that the requested service is provided.” On top of which, House Bill 2453 defines religious entities pretty broadly, as:

An organization, regardless of its non-profit or for-profit status, and regardless of whether its activities are deemed wholly or partly religious…

For purposes of discriminating against gays, a religious entity can even be:

A privately held business operating consistently with its sincerely held religious beliefs…

Apparently Slate wasn’t being so melodramatic after all.

—//—

Under HB 2453, it’s possible that if you work at the DMV and someone you know (or suspect) to be gay asks you to renew their driver’s license, you can refuse. In which case, your supervisor has to find someone who will. But essentially, you get to recreate the experience of a 1950s-era “whites only” lunch counter, right here in 2014. You get to tell someone you think they’re unworthy of your attention — even if the requested service has nothing to do with gay marriage. You get to discriminate, consequence-free.

Mark Joseph Stern suggested that HB 2453 would allow police officers to refuse to respond if a gay couple called for help. I can’t find anything in this monstrosity of a law that would suggest he’s read it wrongly.

The wording of HB 2453 is vague enough to create the possibility that someone who owns or works for a private business, you could refuse any service to someone you know or suspect to be gay, as long as you can claim to operate your business in accordance with your “sincerely held religious beliefs.” (What does that mean, anyway? Can you claim to be a religious business if you put gospel tracts next to the cash register? If you hang a fish decal in the window?)

We’re not necessarily just talking about wedding planners and photographers, either. We’re not just talking about pastors who choose not to officiate same-sex weddings. (Religious ministers have never been compelled to officiate weddings to which they objected, regardless of the reason.)

Depending on how the bill is read, any business providing any service — related or unrelated to marriage — is allowed to discriminate under Kansas House Bill 2453.

Proponents of the law say it will prevent discrimination. Discrimination against those who want to discriminate, it seems. “Discrimination is horrible. It’s hurtful… It has no place in civilized society, and that’s precisely why we’re moving this bill,” said Rep. Charles Macheers in defense of HB 2453.

Was he oblivious to the irony?

—//—

Same-sex marriage remains a contentious issue. Though not everyone will agree, I happen to believe there are people of goodwill on both sides. Not everyone who objects to same-sex marriage is a hater or a homophobe. Likewise, not everyone who supports gay marriage is out to destroy Western civilization.

But all persons are equal before the law. This bedrock principle of democracy is enshrined in the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. It means you cannot target one group or class of people for discrimination, even in the name of protecting your “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Especially not when it comes to basic services to which every citizen is entitled — like getting a driver’s license or having a police officer respond when you’re being held at gunpoint.

Finally, to my fellow Christians in Kansas and beyond who think laws like HB 2453 are necessary to protect their religiously-based objection to gay marriage, please remember what the apostle Paul taught. Only one law is necessary. Only one law trumps the rest. It’s not the law of religious freedom. And it’s certainly not the law that allows allowing you to discriminate against someone even when it comes to providing a service that in no way requires you to violate your conscience.

The only law that matters is the law of love. This is the law that fulfills all the rest, according to Paul. This law, he insists, “does no harm to a neighbor.”

HB 2453, on the other hand, does a great deal of harm to our neighbors.

The patriarch and the pope: the real difference between Phil Robertson and Pope Francis

By now, enough has been said about Duck Dynasty to make Sir Tim Berners-Lee sorry he invented the Internet.

Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan shared what I felt was the best response so far. Also worth considering: a valid question from Time about A&E’s suspension of Phil Robertson and this Atlantic piece arguing the “real scandal” is what Phil said about blacks who lived during the Jim Crow era. Also, Preston Sprinkle demonstrates what a conservative response to this controversy ought to look like.

So I have just one thing to add, and it’s about this meme, which circulated on Twitter yesterday, shaming “liberal logic” for its alleged duplicity.

dynasty pope

On one level, just about every word is true. Both men believe sex between two individuals of the same gender is sinful. Pope Francis was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. And while Phil was suspended rather than fired, many would say it comes to the same thing.

But all that’s beside the maddeningly obvious point, because those making this argument haven’t bothered to ask: why was one named “Person of the Year” while the other was suspended from his own TV show? 

If you believe anti-conservative bigotry is the driving force behind Phil Robertson’s suspension from Duck Dynasty, you owe it yourself to ask why the gay community and its supporters have responded so differently to these two men.

The difference is that Francis’ first—and, to date, only—comments about gay people have focused on their inherent dignity and worth. Which is in marked contrast to his predecessor, who characterized homosexuality as having “a strong tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil.”

Pope Francis made waves in 2013 by saying, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

It wasn’t just a one-off comment. He also went on to say this in an interview with America Magazine:

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.

Nobody’s under any illusion that the pope will alter Catholic doctrine on sexuality. But he HAS modeled a radical shift in the church’s posture toward gays.

If you want a sense of what that means for people in the gay community, take a look at The Advocate, an LGBT magazine — which also named Pope Francis their Person of the Year for 2013.

Phil Robertson chose a different path. He used his platform to express revulsion at the mechanics of gay sex, thereby reducing people to a sex act. His comments reveal a diminished view of their humanity.

If he had simply said, “I believe the Bible teaches sex should be between a man and a woman,” I doubt anyone would’ve batted an eye. Certainly no one would have been surprised at a devout, openly religious southern family patriarch expressing this conviction.

The difference between Pope Francis and Phil Robertson comes down to this. When the pope looks at a gay person, he sees a human being. Phil’s comments in GQ suggest that when he looks at a gay person, the first thing he sees are reproductive organs being put where he thinks they shouldn’t.

And that’s a problem. Because whatever you believe about homosexuality, people are so much more than who they sleep with or who they’re wired to be attracted to. Pope Francis gets that, even though he maintains a conservative view of sexuality.

Finally, the contrast between the patriarch and the pope exposes the lie in thinking that Christians are just being persecuted for their beliefs. After all, naming someone “Person of the Year” is a pretty odd way of persecuting them, don’t you think?

If Christians are going to be persecuted — and really, there is so very little of that in this country — then it’s time we were persecuted for something worthwhile.

Diminishing someone else’s humanity is not one of those things. 

John Piper’s mythical research debunking orientation

Piper tweet

The other day John Piper took to Twitter to claim that sexual orientation is little more than a social construct. The fact that Piper thinks so is isn’t surprising in itself, but he also said there is “vast research” proving that sexual orientation (or perceived orientation, as he called it) changes all the time.

Usually, when someone invokes “vast research” or “overwhelming evidence” to make their case, it comes across as a discussion-ender. In this case, it also had the effect of implying that a conspiracy was at work. Such evidence debunking sexual orientation, if it exists, would be paradigm shifting. Why is no one talking about it, unless there’s an effort to cover it up?

Well, maybe it’s because the research doesn’t say what Piper thinks it does.

The link Piper tweeted was a blog post which claimed that a 2007 Centers for Disease Control survey had found that the “vast majority” of fully gay 16 year-olds had become fully heterosexual — that is, reporting “only opposite-sex attraction” — one year later.

There it is: an official government study proving that most gay teenagers change their orientation — not just a little, but by a lot. In which case, if you think about it, it’s kind of amazing that any of us know someone who’s gay.

The problem is, the CDC never did any such study. However, the University of North Carolina did, and its findings were cited in the self-published book My Genes Made Me Do It: A Scientific Look at Sexual Orientation, which claims that 98% of gay students eventually move toward heterosexuality.

But as it turns out, that’s not quite what the UNC study found.

Researchers asked teenagers to rate their sexual identity on a 5-point scale: fully gay, mostly gay, bisexual, mostly straight, and fully straight. Only around 1 in 10 teenagers reported a change in their sexual orientation one year later — and most of these had moved toward same-sex attraction, not away from it.

In addition, most students who reported a change did so by only one point on the identity scale — for example, moving from “fully straight” to “mostly straight.” Just 0.4% of students moved two or more points away from same-sex attraction — for example, from “mostly gay” to “mostly straight.”

In other words, that claim made in the blog Piper shared — that “the vast majority” of 16 year-olds who identified as fully gay were fully straight one year later? It’s misleading.

No one disputes that there’s some degree of fluidity when it comes to sexual orientation, especially for those somewhere in the middle of the continuum, somewhere between fully straight and fully gay. There are peer-reviewed studies that suggest women and bisexuals are somewhat more likely to report some kind of change in their sexual identity over time. On the other hand, 90% of gay men in one peer-reviewed study reported no change in their sexual identity over a 10-year period.

Perhaps what it boils down to is that sexuality, like almost everything else about us humans, is intricate and complicated — especially when it comes to teenagers, whose hormones are just starting to kick in. How much of what’s perceived as fluidity of sexual orientation is really just confusion about their identity? How much is driven by the fear of acknowledging their orientation because of the stigma they could face from their peers and family? How much of it is just kids trying to figure themselves out as they careen toward adulthood?

Whatever you believe about homosexuality and the Bible or the moral legitimacy of same-sex relationships, there’s no use pretending sexual orientation isn’t real. Not when people have been ostracized and stigmatized for their identity — yet it remains part of who they are. Not when people have survived parents who literally tried to “beat the gay out of their children.”

Sexual orientation isn’t always simple. And whatever yours may be — gay, straight, or somewhere in between — it is not the sum total of who you are as a human being made in God’s image. There is more to you than who you’re wired to be attracted to. But sexual orientation is a reality of human existence. And we should accept that.

This is not just an academic discussion. Because research has also shown that those who experience stability in their sexual orientation — gay or straight — are more likely to enjoy good mental health. The more comfortable a teenager is in her identity, the better off she’ll be. On the other hand, the more a teenager’s sexual orientation is stigmatized by peers and family, the more likely he is to question himself, experiencing confusion and poorer mental health.

Whatever your beliefs may be, we can’t afford to trivialize or dismiss sexual orientation. Not if we care about our kids’ well being.

Which is why I hope John Piper will take another look at the research.

So there was a forum in Grand Rapids…

lz granderson tweet

So there was a forum in Grand Rapids last night on being gay and Christian.

Keep in mind this is a city where you can barely throw a stick without hitting a church. Or a Christian publisher.

With just two nights to go, only a dozen or so people had registered. But last night, Wealthy Street Theatre was packed.

wealthy streetThe presentations were good. Some were really good. And sure, some parts could have been better. (Twenty minutes probably isn’t enough to meaningfully address all six “clobber texts” in the Bible.)

But what mattered more than the presentations were the people who made them.

A respected psychologist.

The son of a famous pastor.

A card-carrying member of the Christian Reformed Church.

A woman who described herself as representing the black Southern Pentecostal lesbian community.

All of them gay. All of them Christian. All of them saying, “Yes, it can be both.”

And people showed up. Most were ready to listen, judging by their demeanor during the presentations and the Q&A that followed.

Sure, 500 people is a tiny fraction of the local population. Heck, it’s a tiny fraction of the local Christian population. (This is Grand Rapids, remember.)

But it’s a start.

I suspect that most Christians have never truly examined their convictions on this issue. Most of us have inherited our beliefs and assumptions without ever really questioning them. Most of us have taken someone else’s word for it that there’s only one way to interpret the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality — assuming it addresses the subject at all. (Side note: when someone tells you there’s only one way to interpret a 2,000 year-old text, be suspicious.)

But I think all that is starting to change, as the safe, sanitized worlds we’ve built for ourselves begin to collapse…

As “LGBT” ceases to be a distant concept for most of us…

As people we know and love — sons, daughters, uncles, parents, friends — come out of the closet.

We owe them more than an unexamined theology of condemnation.

We owe it to them to not just cling to our inherited beliefs and assumptions by default.

We owe it to them to “test everything” — including our own convictions, prejudices, and assumptions.

We owe it to them to hold on to what is good.

All I can say is, I saw a lot that was good in Wealthy Street Theater last night.

How this is so not about popular opinion

Yesterday, as the Supreme Court heard arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, red equal signs like this began appearing all over Facebook:

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Regardless of what the court decides, public opinion has shifted decisively in the 17 years since DOMA. Today, a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. Even if some polls exaggerate the degree of support (as gay marriage opponents suggest), no one denies that a substantial shift has taken place.

Evangelical Christians have not been immune to this shift, either.

Some have softened their political opposition to gay rights while maintaining their religious objections. Some have gone further, questioning the biblical basis for a heterosexual-only point of view.

Either way, whenever someone publicly shifts their thinking on this issue — whether it’s Rob Portman, Rob Bell, or some random Christian on Facebook — they’re generally accused of caving to popular opinion.

Of being too easily influenced by the winds of cultural change.

Of sacrificing their convictions for the sake of social acceptability.

Just ask Ryan, a friend of mine who was shunned by his campus ministry group, all because he wrote a post questioning the notion that gays automatically go to hell.

“Homosexuality, if sinful,” he wrote, “is a sin of love.” We ought to be much more concerned with sins of hate, he argued — including the sin of hating gays.

For that, he was condemned by his friends. His campus ministry leaders ordered people to disassociate with him. He was told he couldn’t be a Christian and think like this.

During a particularly grueling marathon confrontation, Ryan’s spiritual mentor looked him in the eyes and said, “God absolutely hates you.”

All of which brings me to this…

For those of us who have wrestled with these questions, who have gone back and tested assumptions we long held by default, and maybe even shifted on some of them as a result… this is so not about caving to popular opinion.

Most of the people we’re connected to — most of our friends and loved ones — are still firmly on the other side of the fence. Things are changing, yes. But 57 percent of evangelicals — and 75 percent of white evangelicals — still oppose gay marriage.

If this were about winning the approval of a majority of those who are closest to us, believe me, we would not be asking these questions. We would not be reassessing long-held assumptions.

As it is, we walk this path — we ask and we reassess — because our hearts and minds compel us. Because it’s the right thing to do, even if it costs us the approval of most of the people we care about.

We may not agree on everything. But please don’t say that people like Ryan are just caving to the whims of popular opinion. To do so is to miss the point of their journey — and the price they’ve paid for taking it.