Christians *Should* Apologize to Gays, and Gays to Christians

The recent closing of Exodus International, a Christian ministry dedicated to helping people overcome same-sex attraction; and the apology to the gay community from the organization’s president, Alan Chambers, have spawned a rousing theological discourse in defense and/or condemnation of this organization’s evolution.

A (gay) friend of mine and I navigated this minefield over 10 years ago in the spring of 2001 at the invitation of two students (one gay, one Christian) from Tufts University. My friend and fellow journalist Dave Cullen and I stood at the center of a fierce debate that, a year earlier, found Tufts University embroiled in a controversy that captured national attention.

The Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF, affiliated with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) had withheld a leadership appointment from a long-standing member who had been tracked along those lines. Prior to the appointment process, however, she came out as a lesbian. TCF in turn passed her over. She filed a suit to the student judiciary claiming discrimination based upon sexual orientation and TCF was stripped of their school-sponsored status. The Tufts Transgendered Lesbian Gay & Bisexual Collective (TTLGBC) (now referred to as LGBT) and TCF thus assumed hostile opposing positions on this campus, which Dave and I were invited to redress. Dave and I knew each other through our mutual coverage of the Columbine shooting (1999). As a result we became fast, albeit unconventional, friends.

At Tufts we outlined how our friendship developed despite the animosity our respective communities possessed one toward another. The evening eventually won a campus award for being the “Best Co-Sponsored Activity” of that year.

We focused our discussion upon two sides of the same coin: how Christians have failed the gay community (my part) and how the gay community has failed Christians (Dave’s part).

How Christians Have Failed the Gay Community

I prefaced my part of the discussion with a brief digression about Paul’s “sin list.”

“Paul mentions many kinds of behavior he calls ‘sin.’ Some sins are really bad, like murder, adultery, idolatry, heartlessness, ruthlessness. Others are more innocuous, like greed, drunkenness, slander, gossip, arrogance, envy, gluttony. Paul includes homosexuality among these ‘sins.’

In Paul’s mind the ‘really bad’ sins and the ‘innocuous’ sins carry the same result—alienation from God, which, is the classic definition of sin. Evangelicals have failed the gay community because our community has tended to isolate homosexuality as a more virulent form of human rebellion than, say, gossip or gluttony –or materialism. Christians assumed an embattled defensive position and put homosexuality in a category all its own when it comes to sin, while whitewashing other pathologies running rampant in our community. This has made us look like hypocrites, which we are, and it has hurt the gay community.”

I apologized  for that.

The second way in which evangelicals have failed the gay community, I said, has been in a general tendency to neglect seeking opportunities to engage people who are gay. To cover Columbine, Dave is to be admired for his resolve to go to evangelical churches and Bible studies and get to know people at the center of the story, despite his feeling they would judge him. That is more than I, for example, had done in his community, and I apologized for that as well. (I concede that in the years since our forum this trend is changing, as it should.)

To introduce the third and final point, I told a story about a situation I faced with someone I did not like: “If the truth were told, I might have said that I actually hated this person, but no good Christian ever says that.”

“These kinds of feelings are vexing for Christians because we can’t get away from the words of our Lord: ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ Loving your enemies is not human. It goes against every basic human instinct we possess.

But I’ve come to see, that is exactly the point. If most Christians were honest and had the chance, we’d probably like to pull Jesus aside and say, ‘What were you thinking when you said that?’ I imagine he would answer this way: ‘Well, I was thinking that by loving your enemies you are exhibiting the qualities of God, who loves you. By exhibiting the qualities of God you are allowing him to make you someone you’re not inclined to be, nor ever could be, apart from his taking you there. Loving your enemies is God in you, taking you beyond human inclination. Do you want to go there? It is hard. You will have to give up some inclinations. But I’ll take you there.’”

“We Christians are called to love,” I said in conclusion. “But I’m afraid we have done that badly when it comes to the gay community. For Christians, mere ‘tolerance’ is not an option. We are not called to ‘tolerate.’ We are called to love.”

Dave said to me once, “We don’t want to be ‘tolerated.’ Who wants to live in this world feeling like you’re being tolerated?” If tolerance is all we’re hoping for between our communities then we’re settling for less than what God meant us to be for one another as fellow humans.

How Gays Have Failed the Christian Community

Dave introduced his portion of the discussion about how the gay community has failed Christians by recalling a Bible study meeting he had attended while researching the Columbine shooting. The people in the group started to talk about how they felt discriminated and Dave wanted to laugh out loud. He was thinking: You people control the Republican party! Your party has run the White House for most of the last thirty years! You guys get veto power over most of our Presidents. You’re running the country, not us! He thought, They’re putting me on.

“I had no idea they felt alienated and ostracized the way gay people do,” he said. He wrote an article about Columbine for Salon titled “I Smell the Presence of Satan” (May 15, 1999) and was surprised when evangelicals gave him “supportive reviews.”

“I got a lot of e-mails from people thanking me for being open-minded and for not slamming them. That’s when I started realizing these people aren’t making this up. I came to see they’re in the same position that we are.”

He then highlighted three areas among the cultural elite (his term) who have “written off” evangelical Christians.

First, he felt it first hand in the book publishing industry, specifically among New York houses, when he broached them about doing a joint book project with me about relationships between gays and evangelicals. “I pitched this collaboration idea and, well, pick your cliché. They weren’t interested. My editor, a major person in publishing, was basically saying, ‘These Christian people are wackos. Why do we want support this or give them a platform?’ I was taken aback,” he said.

Second, the entertainment industry, too, views Christians as “easy targets” and wields a special hammer, he said. “The artistic community feels like gays have been victimized and that the Christian community has bullied them. There is some basis for it, but we ruthlessly ridicule Christians beyond anything they deserve.”

Dave’s third and final point addressed a tactic he said he “felt ashamed of.” That is, he said, “we take your clowns and pretend they represent who you are.” He mentioned specifically Fred Phelps, the fringe extremist who pickets funerals of gay people and others, carrying with signs like, ‘You’re going to hell’ and ‘God Hates Fags.’ “We know most evangelicals condemn that,” said Dave. “Still, it’s the fringe people our community uses against you. It’s unfair and we do it constantly. We know we can get away with it.”

In the course of all this Dave asked me, ‘Where do you evangelicals draw the line between loving someone who is, by your place of authority, living a life that contradicts God’s law?’”  I had read something said by Chai Feldblum, a professor of law and the director of the Federal Legislation Clinic at Georgetown Law Center, who has worked for disability and lesbian/ gay rights. Commenting on what she felt was the disingenuous nature of former-President Clinton’s “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” policy for gays in the military, she said: “A rabbi said to me, ‘I get it. You can be gay, but you always have to have a headache.’” To those who are gay, she said, “this seems like a really poor way of living one’s life.”

Reflecting upon Dave’s terminology, “Where do you evangelicals draw the line,”  I came to understand that a line does indeed need to be drawn, but evangelicals aren’t the ones to draw it. The line is drawn in a place where evangelicals and gays– where Dave and I– stand on the same side of it.

When Jesus invited us to follow him, he warned that if we walk with him we will have to give things up. Our human dispositions are strong and our inclinations, fierce. That is why following him to a place beyond human inclination is called faith. We don’t always see or feel the immediate pay-off. Jesus reinterpreted the Old Testament law in such a way as to make harder on everybody, and especially church people. It wasn’t enough not to kill your brother or sister; you couldn’t entertain angry thoughts about them and remain consistent with God’s perfect plan for his people. What can any of us do?

I concluded my words at Tufts that night: “Dave Cullen as a gay man doesn’t want ‘tolerance’ from me, and I, as an evangelical woman don’t want ‘tolerance’ from him. He wants my friendship, which I freely give, and I want his friendship and am blessed and enlarged in knowing him. That doesn’t come from tolerance. Dave and I have grown in friendship because we see each other as fellow pilgrims groping along the same road, both on the same side of the drawn line, both of us with headaches.”

~ ~ ~ ~

Wendy Murray holds a MATS in New Testament from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and served as an editor and Senior Writer at Christianity Today for ten years. Go here to see a conversation she sponsored for CT with Dave Cullen and Bill Oudemolen, then pastor of Foothills Bible Church outside Littleton, CO. See Wendy’s CT cover story on the Columbine Shooting.


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About Wendy Murray

Wendy Murray is a veteran and award-winning journalist. She served as associate editor and Senior Writer at Christianity Today magazine and has written extensively for other publications such as Books & Culture and The Christian Century. She has written 11 books.

  • rcdcr

    I will apologize to christians on the 12th of fucking NEVER.

  • Tyler Francke

    A fascinating exchange, and, in my opinion, two very humble and magnanimous perspectives. From this piece, I don’t know exactly what Dave Cullen’s spiritual views are, but he seemed a lot more Christ-like in discussing this topic than some Christians I’ve seen. Thanks for sharing.

  • Frank Elliott

    So gays have written off the Evangelical community and other Christian communities. Whose fault is that? The one point that Catholics and Baptist authorities agree on is that gays, especially young ones, should be kept in the closet. How long do you expect your child or or a teenage member of your Church to listen to constant criticism that does nothing but make him feel ashamed and hated before he writes you off. You’ve made him fear for his own safety if he’s honest with you about his orientation even if he never intends to have sex. You make it clear every day of his life that he’s unacceptable for the way he was born. How can he do anything but forget you to maintain his own sanity?

    • Wendy Murray

      Thanks for your comment. There are a lot of generalizations here that need concrete bearing out — for example, Catholics and Baptists make up only a percentage of the many other Christian denominations that are wrestling with this issue and trying to do so in love and respect. I regret if any child or young person fears for his/her safety in any church. But I totally understand how churches can make life very difficult for people whose life circumstances depart from the so-called norm. Thanks for reading.

  • tomstaph

    Apologize to Christians. Fuk that.

  • Lisa

    As an evangelical lesbian I have experienced evangelical acceptance prior to coming out and rejection after coming out. As a divinity school student I straddle the LGBTQ and Christian worlds on a daily basis. I’ve seen some of the best and worst of both of these worlds. I continue to feel strongly that they evangelical community is it’s own worst enemy and that the gay community deserves only a hearty, genuine apology followed by meaningful change.

    • Wendy Murray

      Thanks for your heartfelt response. I too have experienced great pain from the evangelical community, not due to my sexuality but due to my being divorced. There are plenty of apologies that every soul’s predicament could warrant. Yet we must go on, and try to do right by God alone. Thanks for writing and for reading.

      • gimpi1

        Perhaps Evangelical folks could just try to not be so hurtful. I’m neither Christian, gay or divorced, but I’ve been jumped on many times, for supporting Democratic candidates, for understanding basic science, for attending college and more, by people claiming to be Evangelical Christians. One thing I would encourage everyone to remember: Your beliefs are no excuse for cruelty or rudeness. When did so many people decide it was?

        • Wendy Murray

          Thank you for your comment. I think a consistent theme in many of the responses I’ve gotten to this post upholds a monolithic picture of “evangelicals,” which — as coming from that community (and having my fair share of problems with it) — I can say is misguided. I can assure every reader of this blog that 99 percent of evangelicals unequivocally condemn the likes of Fred Phelps. I don’t think anyone *decided* cruelty and rudeness is okay. If those who exercise these negative traits call themselves Christians, then they are hypocrites and I would not call them evangelicals. Jesus himself would condemn them for it.
          Thank you for reading and commenting.

          • gimpi1

            I’m sure it’s in no way a majority of Evangelical Christians. The squeaky wheel and so on. One doesn’t have to be as round-the-twist as Mr. Phelps to to be perceived as snarky, however. One thing that I have noticed is a reluctance for some Christians to call each other out, perhaps because they don’t understand that the whole “silence equals consent” meme.

            For instance, I have Christian friends who will great any outrage in Islam with demands that moderate muslims speak out against the action. However, I don’t hear many Christians speak out against such carrying-on when Mr. Phelps raises his ugly head or when Mr. Robertson states that modern Haitians were somehow to blame for the earthquake that struck their country due to a “pact with the devil” in the 17th century.

            I think it’s because most Christians see Moslems as a monolithic “other.” They aren’t, any more than Christians, Jews, Nones, Hindus or anyone is. We often seem to see “the other” as part of a undistinguished group, while wanting to be regarded as individuals ourselves. Just a quirk of being human, I suppose.

            I’m glad you are willing to call people who get down and dirty under the guise of “hating sin” out for it. Good show.

          • Wendy Murray

            Thanks for your respectful dialogue and insightful remarks.

    • Ford1968

      Lisa –
      I share your “of two worlds” perspective. I’m a Christian who is gay and married. I grew up in the conservative Christian world, and, although I left it, I still have family and friends who are a part of that community.

      From my perspective, the stuff that the Church does that most people agree is hurtful and harmful to sexual minorities emerges naturally from the conservative sexual ethic; that theology insists that people who are gay are deeply flawed and unworthy of God’s blessings that flow from loving and being loved romantically. It erroneously insists that all people who are gay are gifted with celibacy.

      If the Church is serious about loving people who are gay better, we are going to have to change our theology. At some point, we are going to have to humble ourselves, admit that we got it wrong, admit that we have caused immense harm, and pray for God to show us how to believe in a way that doesn’t cause harm.

      The hurt and harm will continue so long as the Church is unwilling to believe differently.

      • Debbie Rempel

        Can you please tell me how one is a Christian and gay? We all sin – but the Bible clearly says homosexuality is a sin and I don’t see anyone else sinning and saying it’s okay.

  • Basil

    Is it just me, or do others find this article kind of offensive? There is an equating of victim and oppressor here, which is totally unjustified and willfully ignores real, actual, physical victims, many of them young people, (as opposed to hurt feelings of snivelling oppressors). Just to be clear: How many evangelicals have bullied by LGBT persons into committing suicide? How many evangelicals have been victims of hate crimes like assault and murder, because of their ‘religious orientation’? How many evangelicals have been fired from their jobs, or denied housing, because of their ‘religious orientation’ (which unlike sexual orientation, is actually a choice)? How many evanglicals have been targeted by discriminatory laws and ballot initiatives, funded and supported by LGBT hate groups?

    The answer is zero, for all of those things. So what exactly is it that gay people have to apologize for?

    This blog article is what passes for serious intellectual thought? Really? What a load…

    • Zeke

      It’s not just you. The idea that homosexuals owe an apology to the group that embodies the very soul of their oppression, discrimination, stigmatization, and marginalization is beyond offensive. The argument seems to be that (i) the entertainment and publishing industries characterize evangelicals as wackos and/or ridicules them (homosexuals deserve blame for this why?) and (ii) the truly certified bomb-grade wackos like the WBC folks are held up as spokesman for all evangelicals. The “real evangelicals” don’t share these views. Blogger, please. Except for the hateful signs made in the WBC basement, polls of all evangelicals overwhelmingly show there isn’t a large gap here when it comes to their views on homosexuality.

      • Wendy Murray

        In answer to your question regarding the industries that ridicule Christians, wondering why the gay community deserve blame for this, is something you will have to ask my friend Dave Cullen, who asserted it (I didn’t).

        • Jeff Smith

          But do you agree with Dave’s assertions?

          • Wendy Murray

            The short answer is yes. Dave’s idea for a joint book project with me was decisively dismissed by New York houses by dint of my being a Christian (thus, a wacko) and for no other reason. I do not see how this kind of intolerance is justifiable in the gay community when they would deem any such dismissal by the Christian community as racist and homophobic. They would be rightly affronted by it, as I, too, am affronted by this knee-jerk assessment of who I am simply by dint of my beliefs. It would be helpful for the larger discourse if clear-headed interlocutors within the gay community would hold to the same standard those who advocate their platform as they hold over Christians.

            Ira Glass, of NPR, answered the rest of the assertions put forth by Dave in a fascinating interview he did a few weeks ago. This is a Jewish person reflecting upon how Christians are treated in the media.


          • Basil

            I remember election day in 2006; I was working the polls in elections in Virginia, which was voting a very sweeping constitutions amendment, forever denying any legal status to gay couples (no marriage, no civil unions, no domestic partnership, not even any joint contracts). I was helping distribute literature on behalf of the Commonwealth Coalition, which was totally underfunded, but putting up a brave fight against the amendment. I remember the depressing hateful remarks from conservative Christian voters, asking what’s wrong with me, if I was “a queer”. It was a bad day — for the first time in a long time, that I felt like I was that 13 year old boy again, who was being beaten up because he was a “faggot”.

            I don’t accept for a moment this ludicrous argument from evangelicals that ‘we are not all like Fred Phelps’, as if he and his ilk, are just some really off the charts aberrant extreme. It’s a dishonest assertion given the virulence of open anti-gay sentiment in the evangelical community, and the centrality of that community in anti-gay political campaigns. A lot of evangelical pastors go out of their way incite a lot of bigotry, derision, and even violence against the LGBT community, and it comes out of the woodwork every time there is an anti-gay ballot initiative. Just go look up what happened in North Carolina last year — you had one pastor encouraging his flock to beat their gay sons if they act effeminate (it was a charming part of his sermon encouraging his flock to vote for the anti-gay marriage amendment to the state constitution). There are hundreds, if not thousands, of similar examples — at every ballot initiative or political campaign, including prop 8 in California (the documentation of that invective is part of the trial record at the district court which overturned Prop 8). It seems an obvious and plain fact to say that “smear the queer” is one of the favorite pastimes in the evangelical community. Heck, just yesterday, Mike Huckabee tweeted that “Jesus wept” because of the Supreme Court rulings about DOMA and Prop 8. (He did weep, tears of joy!)

            Maybe the NY publishing houses that dismissed you and joint book project were LGBT? That’s not clear, and I’m not sure how their dismissiveness necessarily rebounds to the LGBT community. That said, I don’t think it is a knee-jerk assessment to say that the evangelical community writ large has a serious problem with homophobia. I think it is a damning judgment that has been well earned. If individual evangelical Christians want to change that, than maybe they could start by calling to account religious and political leaders who attack the civil rights of LGBT Americans, and seem to revel in spreading some really vicious anti-gay rhetoric about them (us). I think that would be more convincing than the current penchant in the evangelical community for making hyperbolic claims of martyrdom and persecution, every time LGBT Americans get a step closer to civil equality.

            But what do I know really, I’m just a queer…

          • Wendy Murray

            Dear Basil,
            I am going to retain your post for 24 hours and then delete it since it violates the protocols I have outlined for my policy on comments. It is fair that we disagree, but I have had enough of the vitriol that people of faith hate ‘queers.’ it simply isn’t true and your are using the argument from a position of weakness. I am sorry for our disagreement, but your line of argumentation is unsound.

          • Basil

            Dear Wendy

            I made a strong argument, I used firm language (no curse words or anything like that), I have my sarcastic notes, but I don’t think that comes anywhere near to vitriol. But it’s your blog post, you own it, you can do what you want. But since you kindly wrote back, let’s just be clear. You put a blog post equating the hurt feelings of “Christians” with the enormous emotional, and sometimes physical violence done by the evangelical community to the LGBT community (especially LGBT young people) — and somehow I have the unsound argument? Really? That takes some brass.

            1. There is an enormous amount of anti-gay incitement, much of it quite public, that is generated by the evangelical community, frequently related to political campaigns. To pretend it doesn’t happen — when it is copiously documented in the media and takes all of 30 seconds to find on Google, or to pretend “it’s only Fred Phelps”, and then claim that it is horribly unfair for us gay people & our straight allies to castigate you “Christians” as hating queers — well Wendy, that is just dishonest. It’s not a stereotype, if it is true, and it most certainly is true. The evidence is too pervasive, the examples too frequent, the consequences — for the LGBT community — too devastating, and the apologies from evangelicals — almost completely lacking. We get nowhere in a dialogue if we are going to be dishonest, and pretend that what is happening isn’t real. We get no closer to redemption if we cannot honestly admit the transgression. The evangelical has a serious problem with homophobia, and to try an deny that when it is so manifest, is simply a lie. And we all know, lying actually is a sin.

            2. On the concept of sin — is your assertion that homosexuality is only a little teeny-tiny sin equivalent to greed or drunkenness — as opposed to being a big sin, like say murder — is that a Christian apology? Is that supposed to give us gay people warm fuzzy feelings? If so, it failed completely. Homosexuality is part of the human condition. It is innate and biological, it is naturally occurring not just in humans, but in hundreds of different species of animals, and it is part of God’s creation. To assert it is a sin, big or small, to show disrespect to God’s creation, and displays a profound lack of faith. It is simply a trait, not a moral failing, in the same way that blond hair is a trait and not a moral failing.

            3. There are lots of people of faith, some gay, and many more straight, who have transcended this problem of homophobia that seems quite virulent in the evangelical community (and the Mormon community, and parts of Catholic church as well…but that is beyond our scope here). So to try to equate “people of faith” with “Christians” is simply wrong. There are lots of LGBT-affirming people of faith, and their ranks are growing all the time. Heck, our National Cathedral in Washington DC (part of the Episcopal church, but open to all) rang out its bells in celebration on Wednesday when news broke of the Supreme Court’s decisions on DOMA and Prop 8, which was a wonderful show of faith and solidarity with the LGBT community in its struggle for equality. So please don’t equate “Christians” with all people of faith, or even to all Christians. It’s just simply not the case, at least not anymore. There are plenty of faiths and denominations to choose from that are committed to the equality of all mankind in the eyes of God.

            I learned in my faith community, from a respected elder, that time and love wear down fear/rejection/hate, like rain wearing down a mountain. I’ve seen it happen, it is transformative. I hope it happens for you.

          • Wendy Murray

            Dear Basil,
            Thank you for your prayers for me. I will also pray for you. Please don’t forgot the first portion of this post’s title.

  • ahermit

    Evangelicals have failed the gay community because our community has
    tended to isolate homosexuality as a more virulent form of human
    rebellion than, say, gossip or gluttony –or materialism. Christians
    assumed an embattled defensive position and put homosexuality in a
    category all its own when it comes to sin, while whitewashing other
    pathologies running rampant in our community.

    The problem with this is you’re still calling homosexuality a “pathology.” Conceding that being gay isn’t as bad as murder is a step in the right direction, I guess, but as long as you’re lumping it in with drunkenness or gluttony you’re still doing it wrong.

    • Wendy Murray

      Very interesting point. Thanks for helping me understand this better. I appreciate you writing.

  • Voidhawk

    On one hand Christians should apologise because they’ve tended to think of homosexuality as worse than other sins whereas it’s actually equal to slander and greed

    Whereas homosexuals should apologise for thinking that the fringe nutters represent all Christians…

    Do you not see a problem with this? Sure, not all Christians are Fred Phelps but even in you’re apology you’re still calling gays as bad as liars and the greedy. If you believe that this a position which is conciliatory, you’re WAY off the mark. Come back to us when gays are dragging Christians from the back of pick-up trucks for being Christian or being bullied by an overwhelming gay majority into suicide and self-harm.

  • Lexter Victorio

    It’s everyone’s right to be hurt and each person reacts to it differently. Not a lot of people can deal with the responsibilities of gender and love maturely. I think this article at least tries to provide as much perspective as it can and should in matters of God and His creations. Thank you for this article.

    • Wendy Murray

      Thanks for reading and posting a thoughtful comment.