Why Liberal Is Not a Bad Word
You are known for your criticism of the church's historical "fundasexuality." What do you think ought to be the relationship between Christian churches and gay communities?
I love the statement Desmond Tutu just issued about homosexuality. His experience under racial apartheid in South Africa has sensitized him to other kinds of separation and discrimination, including discrimination against gay people. But at the same time, I know that many people, including dear friends and family members, will never choose Tutu's path. They are committed to a certain way of reading the Bible that won't allow them to change their view, and they are deeply involved in religious communities that won't allow them even to consider another way of seeing the issue without facing excommunication and so on. So what this means is that those of us who feel that gay people are being mistreated must be willing to receive the same treatment that gay people receive. That's solidarity. And that's not easy. But working for change has never been easy.
So, Christians should love gay men and women and stand in solidarity with those who are mistreated. But do you think that homosexuality is wrong, and that Christians have an obligation to say so?
Sincere Christians see this issue differently. Christians who think homosexuality is categorically wrong certainly say so. And those of us who don't see the issue in those terms try to talk about it in the ways we think are most truthful, accurate, just, compassionate, and faithful to God and neighbor. If you ask me, "Do you think heterosexuality is right or wrong?" I would have to say, "That depends on a lot of things -- like who, when, how, why, and so on." My answer regarding homosexuality would have to be at least that nuanced.
The call to solidarity with gays who are mistreated is compelling. I imagine, with regret, how different the relationship would have been if evangelicals had been the first to respond to the AIDS crisis and serve those who were dying in the wards. But are there limits? Can someone who believes homosexuality is wrong stand in solidarity with gays in such a way that he does not implicitly condone what he feels is morally wrong?
This question is so helpful because it acknowledges the fact that some of us -- not just evangelicals, but also Catholics and Mainliners and Eastern Orthodox -- believe homosexuality is a simple, clear-cut matter of sin, period, that it's absolutely and categorically wrong and evil all the time. And, as you suggest, those who see homosexuality as wrong can still be highly compassionate and humane toward gay people, if they choose to.
It's ironic that we make so much of whether gay people choose their orientation, but not that much about whether non-compassionate people choose theirs! So people who believe homosexuality is sin can -- and I would say should -- choose compassion to the limits of their conscience and ability. I find it terribly disappointing when Christians act as if their disapproval of homosexuality exempts them or prohibits them from showing basic neighborly compassion to their gay brothers and sisters and friends. It's as if Jesus said, "Love your neighbor as yourself, unless he is gay." You would think a person's understanding of his or her own sinfulness and God's extraordinary mercy would make him or her highly merciful to others, but sometimes it doesn't. Thanks to the good work of courageous evangelical Christians like Andrew Marin, though, I think that's beginning to change in a positive direction, even among some very conservative and strict evangelicals. I thank God for this.