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.

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:

photo

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.

A few final thoughts on the Chick-fil-A fracas

I promise this will by my last Chick-fil-A-inspired post. Just a few clarifying thoughts because, well, there’s more to this issue than what can be covered in a single post.

1. Most who participated in Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day are not hateful or bigoted. That said, I still believe we should consider not just our intentions but how our actions are perceived by others. We may not have intended a certain action to be mean-spirited, but if someone tells us, “That didn’t feel a lot like love to me,” we owe it to them (and ourselves) to at least ask ourselves if there was anything we could have done differently.

Still, it’s true that many who participated in Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day weren’t that bothered about gay rights one way or the other; what got them fired up was a perceived assault on liberty.

To that end…

2. Dan Cathy has the same freedom of speech that you and I do. The mayors of Boston and Chicago would do well to remember this, as would anyone who wants to punish Cathy (or his company) for exercising his constitutional right to express his convictions. Remember, tolerance and free speech are two-way streets.

But let’s not get too carried away here. A few careless mayors threatening to make questionable use of zoning laws to keep Chick-fil-A out of their cities hardly constitutes a full-throttle assault on the first amendment. And in fact, liberal supporters of gay marriage such as the ACLU were among those who stood up to the mayors of Boston and Chicago.

3. There’s still the whole matter of “fighting for our rights.” I believe that when you become a Christian, you give up the right to fight for your rights. You take up a cross. You turn the other cheek. You bless those who curse — even Rahm Emanuel. (And he curses a LOT.)

And yes, to those hurt or offended by his comments… even Dan Cathy.

4. Let’s choose constructive dialogue over any of the alternatives. Not all who turned out in support of Chick-fil-A last week intended to make a statement against gays and lesbians, but given the larger backdrop of this never-ending culture war, it was bound to be taken this way.

What if, instead, churches organized a day to reaffirm our love for members of the gay community? To maybe call your lesbian daughter or your gay uncle and tell them you love them, or to share a meal with them and just listen to their story?

There will be plenty of opportunity to wrestle through the larger theological and political questions at stake. But maybe today we could start laying a foundation for a healthier dialogue. Maybe both sides could start building trust and mutual respect.

In an earlier post, I said many Christians hide behind the cliché “love the sinner, hate the sin.” I think that’s true. But I also think there are a great many who know that’s not the way, but they’re not sure where to go from there. We should engage them in respectful dialogue so we can find a way forward together.

5. Regardless of our individual motives or actions, we have to own this. You may have never spoken a hateful word to a gay person in your life. (If so, I hope others will learn from your example.) But I guarantee you somebody has, and it’s somebody claiming to speak for the church. Which means, like it or not, we all own this problem.

The church is not just a collection of individuals; it is a body. We speak and act as a body. When one part of the body says or does something harmful, we all have to take responsibility for the mess.

6. Most gays aren’t out to curse God or destroy marriage. Whether or not gay marriage is wrong, it wasn’t fair of Dan Cathy to depict an entire generation as “shaking their fists at God.” Most gays and lesbians fighting for same-sex marriage just want to get married and live a quiet life. Whether they’re right or wrong to want that, their intention is not to defy God. It’s not to destroy marriage for everyone else. It’s just not. So let’s take our favorite bogeymen out of this very important conversation.

Of course, the flip side is…

7. Most opponents of same-sex marriage aren’t out to oppress gays. They’re just not. They believe that marriage as we know it is embedded in the very fabric of society and in the Bible as well. They believe we are tampering with something established by God himself.

This debate is more complex than “those who hate gays” vs. “those who don’t.” Many who oppose same-sex marriage on moral or religious grounds are quite happy to support other civil rights for gay and lesbian couples, including some benefits that aren’t presently available to them because they’re not able to get married.

We can (and should) debate the best way forward without painting one side as a bunch of godless reprobates or the other as a bunch of haters. Finally…

8. “Love your neighbor” cuts both ways. We need to do a better job loving our gay and lesbian neighbors; there’s no question about it. But let’s make sure we don’t needlessly hurt someone else in the process. That’s why I’m uncomfortable with calls to boycott Chick-fil-A. The only person that’s going to hurt is the fry cook working a minimum-wage job.

In the end, this isn’t a choice between lining up to support Chick-fil-A or boycotting them. This isn’t about being “pro-marriage” or “pro-gay.” The question facing those of us who seek to follow Christ is this:

What path can we walk that demonstrates love for ALL our neighbors?

Sometimes we have to choose between waffle fries and loving our neighbor

I told myself I wasn’t going to do a Chick-fil-A post.

But then one of my friends shared this, and it made me think:

We Christians have this line that makes us feel both righteous and yet socially compassionate. It’s “hate the sin, love the sinner…” And I imagine that a lot of people who lined up yesterday to grab their waffle fries felt that they were doing just that. But for me, who is not only a Christian, but also gay, well, this organized lunch my fellow Christians partook of felt nothing like love.

I don’t think we fully appreciate how our gay and lesbian neighbors were hurt by this week’s demonstration.

(I say “we” because even though I didn’t participate in Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, I am nevertheless part of the church. Many of those who did participate are my brothers and sisters in Christ, as are many who looked on from the other side.)

Most participants saw this as a statement about free speech, not an unloving gesture toward gays. But given the politically charged environment, there’s no way something like this wouldn’t come across as a statement to our gay and lesbian neighbors. And that matters, because we’re not the final judge of how loving or unloving our actions are. The real indicator is how they affect others.

Keeping in mind that love demands more than just tolerance or the absence of hate,  we must ask: did our gay and lesbian neighbors feel loved by the church this week?

Again, many will say this was about free speech and a perceived threat to it. But Jesus never told us to stand up for free speech. He told us to love our neighbor. He told us it was the second greatest command and that it was like the first, “love the Lord your God.”

In other words, we love God by loving our neighbor. We cannot claim the former without practicing the latter.

Just who is our neighbor? According to Jesus, it’s whoever we find it most difficult to love. For first-century Jews, that was Samaritans. For many Christians today, it’s the LGBT community. That’s why it’s not good enough to say, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” It’s time we purged this cliché from our lexicon.

When the time comes to give an account of our lives, we won’t get many bonus points for loving those who look and think like we do. We may not even get that much extra credit for loving all those adorable, hungry children in Africa. Let’s face it: both are relatively easy for us to do.

What might really count in the end is how well we loved our gay and lesbian neighbors.

Regardless of our intentions, we didn’t do a great job this week. “Love does no harm to a neighbor,” wrote the apostle Paul. Yet intentionally or not, our actions this week caused harm.

May we all do better next week.

The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. —Romans 13:9-11 (NIV)

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Related: 

The scandal of the evangelical conscience

Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley recently preached a sermon on the tension between grace and truth, in which he shared the story of a gay couple who attends his church. Stanley neither condemned nor condoned their homosexuality; he simply told their story.

That same week, a video of another pastor, Sean Harris, went viral. He could be heard telling parishioners to punch their effeminate sons and break their limp wrists.

Andy Stanley’s decision to mention homosexuality without clearly condemning it prompted a backlash among some evangelical leaders like Al Mohler. A leading Christian website ran a front page story about the dust-up. It was suggested that Stanley was guilty of “total capitulation to the spirit of the age” (to use the words of one of Stanley’s critics) for not expressing his opposition to homosexuality.

On that same evangelical website, there was not one mention of the now famous sermon by Sean Harris.

To be fair, Harris is not a megachurch pastor. Nor is Charles Worley. Or Curtis Knapp. These individuals represent a small, fringe corner of the church. They don’t speak for everyone. They don’t speak for most Christians who oppose homosexuality.

Their following may be mercifully small; however, thanks to the wonders of social media, their platform is anything but.

  • Nearly 400,000 people have watched a video of Sean Harris advising parents to punch effeminate sons and break their limp wrists.

In recent weeks, these individuals have become the face of the church to our gay and lesbian neighbors. Which is what makes the silence of evangelical leaders so unfortunate.

This is where we could use a little of Al Mohler’s indignation. Surely this is more deserving of a front-page story on a leading evangelical website than what some megachurch pastor didn’t say about homosexuality.

Even if you believe homosexual practice is at odds with the Bible, you probably understand there’s something else incompatible with the way of Jesus: hate.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10, NIV)

As Christians, we have a debt of love to our gay and lesbian neighbors. This debt obligates us to speak against the violence and hatred of men like Sean Harris, Charles Worley, and Curtis Knapp. Silence is not an option.

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* BTW, someone by the name of Adolf already tried this. During World War II, Hitler sent thousands of gays to concentration camps, along with Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the mentally disabled, and other “undesirables.” You know, in case you were wondering where Charles Worley gets his inspiration. For more, see “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals” on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum website.

Related post: They Can’t Take Your Baby Jesus at Homebrewed Theology

That’s democracy for you . . .

Yesterday’s vote in North Carolina has been followed by all the usual (and predictable) punditry, from outrage to triumphalism. Supporters of Amendment 1 have rightly pointed out that in every state where it’s been put to a vote (31 and counting), a clear majority have voted to ban gay marriage. Whereas the eight states which have legalized gay marriage have all done so by judicial or legislative fiat.

The argument being that when democracy is allowed to run its course, gay marriage loses. Yay for democracy . . . right?

Regardless of which side you take in the gay marriage debate, let me propose that this fight-by-popular-vote is dangerous, self-serving, and profoundly misinformed. Especially for those who revere the founding fathers and the Constitution.

The United States is not a democracy. Nor was it ever meant to be one. To be sure, politicians on both sides have exploited and contributed to our national ignorance by hailing the virtues of “democracy” every time they’re in front of the cameras. Which is why we all need a history refresher.

The Constitution, revisited

In the late 1780s, after America’s first attempt at governance under the Articles of Confederation proved a disaster, the founding fathers returned to the drawing board and wrote the Constitution of the United States.

It was a bold, unprecedented, and highly controversial vision of government. In order to sell it to the public, three of the Constitution’s framers — Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay — anonymously wrote the Federalist Papers. Their aim was to explain and defend this new form of government, which they insisted was neither monarchy nor democracy but a republic — a system of representative government.

Why is this important? And what does it have to do with a marriage amendment in North Carolina?

It matters because the kind of “majority rule” currently (and, in all likelihood, temporarily) embraced by opponents of gay marriage just so happens to be the exact opposite of what the founding fathers intended for this country.

Consider these excerpts on the perils of democracy from Federalist No. 10, written by James Madison, who is also known as the “Father of the Constitution.”

Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.

To secure the public good and the private rights against the danger of [majority rule] is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.

Either the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority at the same time must be prevented, or the majority . . . must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression.

Pure democracy . . . can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

In Federalist No. 51 —famous for its exploration of the doctrine of checks and balances, or “separation of powers” — Madison also addressed the importance of protecting minority rights against the tyranny of majority rule:

It is of great importance in a republic . . . to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights.

Justice is the end [i.e. goal] of government. It is the end of civil society. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature.

Whereas under the form of government laid out by Madison’s Constitution . . .

Even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves; so . . . will the more powerful factions or parties be induced to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful.

In other words, direct democracy or “majority rule” was not what the founders had in mind because they knew that left to its own devices, the majority would invariably oppress and deprive the minority of its rights.

Traditional marriage advocates celebrate their string of ballot victories, including the latest in North Carolina, as if a simple majority vote is all the proof needed that gay marriage is bad for society.

But there’s a reason things like slavery, civil rights, and women’s suffrage weren’t put to a popular vote. There’s a reason why the U.S. Senate is structured so a minority of senators can thwart the legislative agenda of a simple majority. (There’s also a reason why senators weren’t directly elected by the public until the Seventeenth Amendment was ratified in 1913.)

In all likelihood, the founding fathers would have been horrified at the prospect of gay marriage.

But they would have been equally horrified at the way in which gay marriage opponents have advanced their agenda. “That’s democracy for you,” such opponents might say after their 31st ballot victory.

To which Madison and the other framers of the Constitution would say: “But that’s exactly why we didn’t give you direct democracy.”

What goes around . . .

There’s an even bigger consideration, to which Madison alludes near the end of Federalist No. 51. Majority rule is a fickle thing, as Republicans learned in 2006 and Democrats in 2010.

It’s in the majority’s best interest not to use their power to oppress the minority — if not for more virtuous reasons, then for the simple fact that they may not always be the majority.

Public opinion is shifting on gay marriage. Maybe not everywhere at the same pace, but it’s shifting all the same — and not in favor of “traditional marriage,” despite some overconfident claims to the contrary.

Today, the country is evenly split on gay marriage, with 50% in favor and 48% against. The National Organization for Marriage makes much of the fact that support is down three points from a year ago. But the larger trend is clearly not in their favor. Fifteen years ago, only a quarter of Americans supported gay marriage. That number has doubled in half a generation.

Opposition to gay marriage will almost certainly become a minority view by the end of this decade, if not sooner. Which should give pause to traditional marriage advocates who are currently using the brute force of majority rule to impose their will.

Someday, opponents of gay rights will be a distinct minority in this country, and they may suddenly find the tables turned. They may find their views (and their right to hold them) being put to a referendum.

Which, let me be clear, would be every bit as much a trampling of the Constitution as what they’re currently doing.

The Constitution was designed to protect the rights of the minority — whether it’s the gay couple who just wants to have access to the same rights and benefits as heterosexuals, or the evangelical who believes homosexuality is a sin against God and nature.

Either way, this “battle by referendum” is a lose-lose proposition.

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Side note #1: I believe the Federalist Papers should be required reading for every American student. I’m grateful to my political science advisor in college, Philip Loy (who’s retiring this year), for making us read these important founding documents.

Side note #2: Another perspectives worth reading can be found here: “How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation” by Rachel Held Evans.