Some commenters expressed consternation at Rob Bell’s answers on the Christian radio show that I highlighted earlier in the week. Some thought he should have had a better answer when asked, point blank, whether it’s a sin for a man to have sex with another man. Others noted that for Rob to do so would have have lowered him to his inquisitors’ level, to mean that he was playing by their rules — and anyone who’s followed Rob’s career knows that he’s not apt to do that.
But it reminded me of a lunch that Doug and I shared with another prominent Christian leader a couple weeks ago. When the subject of marriage equality came up, he pushed back on me a bit: “Tony, it’s just not my issue. My issue is ______. Why do you insist on pulling me into the issue that you think is most important?”
It’s a good question, but I have a good answer.
Clearly, the issue of gay marriage — and, more broadly, the issues of human sexuality, gay ordination, and how to treat persons who are gay, lesbian, transgendered, and queer — are vexing the church. And, I would say, they are vexing the church poignantly, immediately, and like no other issues. As I said to my friend at lunch, LGBT issues are a wave crashing across American culture right now, and you don’t get to not have an opinion about it.
I get that there are other issues that various people find more important: poverty, immigration, Guantanamo, the war in Afganistan, climate change. Those are all important, and they need to be dealt with by the church and spoken about by Christian leaders. Yes, absolutely, and without question.
But at this moment in time, GLBT issues have come to a head. It is the issue of the moment. And that’s not just because evangelicals have made a shibboleth issue, like the radio host and evangelical pastor on the radio show with Rob Bell. It’s also because GLBT persons have rightly asked the church for a response. This isn’t just an issue being ginned up by the right or the left — this is an issue being asked about by a critical mass of our society. And people are not just asking Christian leaders what we think; they’re also asking leaders of other faiths, politicians, and other public figures.
If you’re a Christian leader, you might be asked about immigration or whether you believe in human-made climate change. You will get asked about homosexuality. At a pastors’ conference, on a radio show, on your blog, on Twitter, or just about anywhere.
So, you may not like it, because it’s not what you want to talk about. And you may think it’s a small issue compared with war or poverty. And you may even be right. But it is the issue of the moment, so you’d better do your homework and have an articulate answer, no matter where you fall on the issue.