By Marlon Milner - May 12 2009
"I have got something for all these sissy men who can't walk straight - it's called a baseball bat!"
I will never forget those words.
They were not spoken on the corner, or on the basketball court, or even in a bar. They were spoken over the pulpit, by a Christian minister who was adamantly opposed to homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
The words - while crude to say the least - are also quite common. Here was a Baptist minister, preaching in a small Pentecostal church, talking about a subject that all too often was used homiletically to "get in the house," that is to get an enthusiastic response from the audience. I took offense to these words over 10 years ago. So after the service I confronted my pastor about the guest preacher's comments, which came just weeks after Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming was robbed, beaten, and left to die in October 1998. Shepard was found after several days being tied to a fence, with a severe head fracture, and in a coma. He died days later in a hospital in Colorado.
Given the swirling debate about hate crimes and this violent murder at the time, it was the height of irresponsibility for this minister - no matter what his view was on homosexuality - to advocate violence.
It was precisely this kind of vitriol that had rendered meaningless any intelligent moral or Biblical argument Evangelical preachers could make against homosexuality and same-sex marriage. But it also became obvious to me that it was totally not pastoral to make such comments.
Sex generally, and homosexuality specifically have been taboo subjects in far too many Evangelical churches. The ineffectiveness of the Evangelical church to talk about sex and homosexuality is as evidenced in the hate mongering words this pastor shared from the pulpit, as it is with Bristol Palin getting pregnant and ultimately not getting married, even while her mother was the Republican nominee for vice president of the United States.
The failure to have what Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder - herself a former Evangelical - calls a non-punitive discussion on human sexuality hurts Evangelicals and their position in many ways.
The first and most obvious problem is that of hypocrisy. Miss California, Carrie Prejean could criticize same-sex marriage, but pose in nothing but her panties. And Bristol could have a baby outside of marriage, even as Sarah Palin was embraced as the darling of politically active Evangelical Christians. At minimum, such photographs, which would be generally considered pornographic by most Evangelicals, are as detrimental as same-sex practices, at least if Evangelicals want to be consistent on what they see as rampant sexual immorality in society. Evangelicals, often embarrassingly, end up on the wrong side of sexual issues - not known for our purity or consistency. But rather always know for our scandal or hypocrisy, whether it was Jim Bakker or Bristol Palin, or Ted Haggard.
But having no frank talk about sex is not only hypocritical, it's not rational. Evangelical Christians' silence about sexuality, or regulatory approach to sexual relations never offers explanatory power, particularly to young people who search for identity through sexuality. As girls and boys become women and men, they often define themselves through sexual practice. A boy's manhood is defined by his ability to be sexually active. And the sure sign of a mature young lady is that she has a baby bump. Now, obviously this reflects the immaturity of many young people to experiment with sexual practices, without understanding the consequences.
Unfortunately, far too many Evangelical young people do not have a safe place to express their evolving sexual identity. A space where things can be treated not only confessionally, but also critically and confidentially.
Finally, the lack of frank, honest discussion hurts the Evangelical community from within. It is not hypocrisy that really hurts Evangelicals, but the lack of honesty. Think about this, many of the strongest Gay and Lesbian Christian traditions in the United States were started by Evangelicals. Troy Perry was defrocked as a minister in the Church of God, Cleveland, TN., before he formed the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches 40 years ago. Mel White was a ghostwriter for Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson before creating SoulForce. And White even continued to worship for a while at Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg in an effort to reach out to a community from which he was estranged once he said he was gay.
Flunder was a third-generation member of the Church of God in Christ, and is well known for her gospel music career. But she saw so many singers and musicians, secretly criticized or joked about, because they were gay or lesbian, be used by the church, and love the church, but ultimately be rejected by it. So Flunder became a United Church of Christ minister and formed a group called The Fellowship.