When Half-Steps are Worse than No Steps

March 26, 2015

[Disclaimer–the views here are my own and do not reflect those of any organization I am affiliated with. In the academic world I never felt the need to  stress this but I want to clarify that I write and wrestle with these issues as an individual and am not the mouthpiece for any church, ideology, or group in my writing. I welcome thoughtful discussion in the comment thread.]
My commentary here is not to drive anyone to a “progressive” church. I’ve recently written about unexpected turns in my spiritual development and though I once held to that “progressive Christian” standpoint with conviction–as many of my friends and colleagues still do and do so authentically–I no longer personally  identify with any religious group. However, I remain a proponent of inter-religious dialogue, action, and understanding. Lately I’ve been wrestling with secular humanism in my writing–wondering if it can inspire the good (without the bad) of the strongest religious convictions in the past and my verdict remains reserved at this point. I just know that I am a doubter and I am trying to be comfortable with that.
That being said, my mind boggles at so much of what I hear from religious people. I don’t even mean the positions themselves–e.g. I completely understand why a fundamentalist Christian views homosexuality as a sin. I obviously disagree with them–I disagreed with them long before I parted ways with the church too. I have worked with far too many denominations, pastors, and studied religion and the Bible intensely from within a church context, seminary context, and secular university context. I truly think it is more in-line with the spirit of Christianity to celebrate gay unions than it is to be homophobic. But I completely understand why a Christian with an inerrant view of scripture literally cannot understand how this can be so. That’s because this battle has been fought over many issues before in much the same way–scripture as the basis for both the pro and anti slavery positions and for both the pro and anti ordination of female clergy debate. It is,though,  a bit odd that those who are aware of those debates are perplexed about this “latest” debate (in quotations because this debate is more than 60 years old in most mainline protestant circles). There are more verses in the Bible that can be used to justify slavery and to oppose the ordination of female clergy than there are that even deal with homosexuality, but anti-gay churches that have moved past both of those issues seem unwilling to connect the dots. Connecting the dots reveals that the debate over the ordination of and marrying of LGBT couples from a Christian perspective is not really about sex at all–it’s about hermeneutics, interpretation, and the role of scripture (or the philosophy of scripture).
Now, what is perplexing to me is that there still exist so many pockets of American Christendom where it is actually unknown that a Christian denomination can be welcome and affirming. That is what gets me–I see where one can disagree but how can one be completely unaware of the many Christian bodies moving well beyond this issue and embracing their LGBT family? As the Presbyterian (USA) Church becomes the latest notable group to make their pro LGBT position official, more than half of mainline Christianity is now welcome and/or affirming on some level. So when I run into people–in VA, KY, TN–who bring up this topic often out of the blue who are unaware that their opinion is but one opinion and that there are mainstream counterparts to that opinion I am a bit flabbergasted. Perhaps Mark Twain was right and news just reaches us 20 years later in this part of the country. Because I have noticed that in the rural and suburban south “welcoming” is finally trickling in to even many fundamentalist churches–which is where mainline protestant churches stood 20 years ago. The problem is that at that time there was at least some excuse for the hesitation  to adapt to the issue. In 2015–science, psychology, history, and sociology all unequivocally prove that sexual orientation is not a “lifestyle choice” but a healthy, natural variation occurring across humanity and species–that it is a part of a person’s identity in much the same way as eye color. Of course, as notable geneticists contrarily point out, there is no singular “gay gene” because it is much more complex than such a simplification and of course there are outliers to everything in that of course some people may actively choose to participate in a same-sex relationship but one cannot simply choose to fully change one’s orientation.
Anyway, what I am getting at is this: in 2015 to just now be getting on the “welcoming” bandwagon but to avoid the “affirming” addendum is simply ridiculous. At least the screeching hate speech from those who refuse to tone down their rhetoric against the “gay agenda” or the “homosexual lifestyle” are consistent across a swath of issues. More importantly, at least those churches let people know loud and clear where they stand so that a LGBT person can avoid those churches. But churches who grin and smile and “welcome” the LGBT person but only in part–excluding a core part of the LGBT person’s very identity–are much more insidious and damaging. Because the LGBT person can never be fully actualized and welcome, they can never be loved for who they are in the welcoming but non-affirming church. To welcome someone into your community but to exclude a core part of their identity is in many ways worse than to completely shun them. Furthermore, to call that core part of their identity a “sin”–to label it as a defect, a bad choice, or a consequence of poor moral character is insulting and damaging and runs in contrast to every logical development in science, psychology, and theology made in the past 100 years.
You simply cannot “love the sinner and hate the sin” vis-a-vis this issue as I have heard all of my life in the south. Not when the “sin” is a natural component of a person’s identity. If Christians believe in a “Creator” they must accept that if sexual orientation is a (a) a natural and (b) healthy occurrence that would be harmful and damaging (and impossible) to “repair”, then they must accept that LGBT persons are as they were “created.” To call that a sin is insulting and abusive.
[Ending disclaimer– I do not claim that all who hold the “welcome but non-affirming” position are “bad” people and if you are of that camp I am not personally attacking you. I argue that holding that position is dangerous and hurtful in ways you likely do not realize. I argue that it is theologically, psychologically, and scientifically unsound to hold such a position. Yet I recognize that this such a position is cultivated, taught, and held onto for a variety of reasons that run very deep.]

One Response to “When Half-Steps are Worse than No Steps”

  1. My favorite post to date.

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