A quick thought relative to yesterday’s Are anti-gay Christians my “brothers and sisters” in Christ?
The point is sometimes made that I lack insight into the mindset of a good person/Christian who also feels that homosexuality is a sin against God—that because I’ve never held that belief myself it’s not possible for me to truly understand the Christian who does. “There are many good loving [Christians] who really just don’t get it,” said one commenter to yesterday’s post. “But I’m trying to understand and therefore show some compassion for them in their journey. Perhaps this is a little easier for me than it is for someone like John Shore.”
I’ve been hearing that sort of thing a lot since doing my podcast episode I’m Hot in Overalls. (A comment to that episode, in fact, from my friend Kathy Baldock, says, “Lucky you, you did not have to get over any bias like I did. BUT, I have the benefit of understanding all that bias.” The well-meaning implication being, of course, that I don’t.)
I totally get why people might think that I lack understanding of the fundamentalist’s mindset. It doesn’t irk me that people think that, or anything like that. But it does make me want to clear something up.
My first experience as a Christian was at a church in San Diego so conservative on the issue of homosexuality that (as I wrote about in Our Church: “Sign this anti-gay statement, or leave”) its pastor declared my wife Cat and me heretics for nothing more egregious than wanting to have a conversation on the matter. Cat and I were deep members of that church for six solid years. We did a weekly Bible study with its elders. We knew those people, and dearly loved them. The pastor was a personal friend of mine. We dined together regularly. Cat and I spent holidays at his house with his wonderful family.
To this day I would trust that pastor with everything I own. He’s a great, deeply honorable man. I’m a much better person for having known and loved him.
Before moving to San Diego, Cat and I lived for nine years in Bakersfield, CA. You don’t get more fundy-rednecky than Bakersfield. We had dear friends there whom I know believe that homosexuality is a sin against God. I didn’t know then that they felt that way, because it virtually never came up. But looking back, there’s no question about their beliefs in that regard. I knew their churches; I know the kind of Christians they were/are.
And these aren’t just good people; these are phenomenal people. These are people I love and respect like I do very few people I’ve ever known. One of them used to be my wife’s boss, and we still think of him as one of the greatest people in the history of us. The guy is just pure, strong light. (Hi, John!) He’s done more good for more people than any 10,000 regular people will ever do for anyone. And though I believe that his thoughts on the matter have evolved, I think he may still hold homosexuality a sin. I know he did back when Cat and I were lucky enough to have him in our daily lives.
My best friend throughout high school was also the best man at my wedding. He is a devout Mormon. I know what he believes about homosexuality. If I’d known then, would I have had him as my best man? Honestly, I don’t know. I know I loved him. I know that if I had wanted to we would have talked about it, as we did everything that mattered to either of us. I know I did go after him, hard, about the (then) inherent racism in Mormonism, and was ultimately satisfied with his response. (That response boiled down to, “Yes, it’s wrong, and I expect it will change. But this is my faith, and right now this is its theology. What can I do?” Fair enough. When you love someone, you love all of them.)
It is not necessary to hold a belief yourself in order to understand and appreciate the mindset of someone who does. I get Christians who believe that being gay is a sin. As I’ve often said, I know they’re just trying to be loyal to the Bible they’re reading. I understand the uncomplicated truth that you can’t fault people for simply trying to do what they understand as best.
The belief that homosexuality is necessarily an affront to God is wrong. That can’t change. But people do change. And about this matter more and more people are changing every day. It’s my job to continue to press that envelope—to monitor that conversation, and in whatever way seems best adjust my tone within it. Sometimes I’m conciliatory; sometimes I come down hard; within any given post I mostly try to do both. But no matter how purely emphatic I might at any given moment choose to be, I’m always aware that my words are directed to that within each of us which knows the difference between right and wrong. And it’s the fact that deep down every one of us is able to make that distinction that keeps me ever hopeful and optimistic.