Evangelicals, Gays and Success in the Culture Wars
In the December issue of First Things (“Bearing Better Witness”), Ron Sider argues that Evangelicals as a group have missed a huge opportunity by failing, in general, to reach out in love to homosexuals, to minister to AIDS victims and to encourage gay men and women to come to worship in their churches. Sider is president of Evangelicals for Social Action, so he speaks about the Evanglical mindset with some degree of authority.
Specifically, Sider believes that Evangelicals would have far greater credibility in the debates over gay marriage and other key policy issues in the culture wars, if they could not be so easily dismissed as “gay bashers”. To his credit, Sider realizes that Christian credibility in modern discussions of homosexuality is not tied exclusively to the tendency of some groups to condemn both the sinner and the sin. Again, speaking purely in the Evangelical context, he points out in particular that the widespread acceptance of divorce—which is a pervasive refusal to take the importance of marriage seriously—undermines the Christian’s ability to speak credibly about stable unions between a man and a woman.
I would add to that the widespread acceptance of contraception, and I would extend my comments to include Catholics. It is very difficult to speak logically about the nature and purposes of human sexuality in ways that exclude homosexual acts once contraception is allowed. Nonetheless, in his article Sider does offer examples of the kinds of arguments that would most likely be persuasive in the public forum if, in fact, those who advance these arguments could speak with any sort of credibility. The arguments Sider favors are those that rely on research which shows that children are statistically far happier and better adjusted when raised by their biological parents.
There are several important insights here which are scarcely open to question. But I do question whether the difference in Evangelical credibility would be as great as Ron Sider thinks it would be if only Evangelicals were not, in Sider’s unfortunate phrase, “better at hating than loving”. After all, Catholics have not in general been afflicted with the deficiencies of Evangelicals with respect to homosexuality. The Catholic Church has been in the forefront of ministering to AIDS victims, and Catholics are not noted for gay bashing, since the distinction between the sin and the sinner is a staple of the Catholic diet. Moreover, for a variety of reasons, our pews are peppered with culture-bound Catholics who don’t connect Church teaching with their own moral positions very well. Many of these don’t oppose homosexual activity at all.
And yet any Catholic who upholds the Church’s teaching on homosexuality in general or the gay lifestyle and gay marriage in particular will, in most venues, find himself immediately without credibility simply because of what he believes.
In making his point to Evangelicals, Sider holds up for imitation the approach of Ed Dobson, pastor of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan:
He decided to visit the local AIDS resource center run by the gay community. The director was shocked that the pastor of the largest evangelical church in town would visit. Dobson’s church was soon deeply engaged with the gay community. Calvary placed a church member on the board of the AIDS resource center, bought Christmas gifts for families affected by AIDS, paid for funeral expenses for impoverished people who died of AIDS, and welcomed the gay community to attend church.
From this inspiring story, Sider spins a bit of a myth. He cites an editorial in the local gay and lesbian newsletter which thanked Calvary Church for its care and for inviting gays to its services, and he implies that this indicates a significant increase in credibility in the culture wars. But while Christian love and service must always be our goal, surely there have been a great many instances in which gay writers have responded to Christian love by portraying Christian morality as an evil, no matter how lovingly upheld, that must be despised, mocked and destroyed.
We must always remember that there is a great difference between a person afflicted with same-sex attraction who is sincerely seeking the best way to deal with it, and a movement which insists that same-sex attraction be recognized as good, and the resulting life-style wholeheartedly endorsed. Within such a movement, credibility depends first and foremost on agreement.
Sider is right that we cannot successfully defend marriage if we accept easy divorce, and I dare say I am right that we cannot successfully oppose the gay lifestyle if we defend contraception. But I’m not sure Sider is right that Evangelical heavy-handedness concerning homosexuality has gone a long way toward ruining our chances in the culture wars. That’s too much like blaming those who are right for what is wrong. And while I can certainly agree that if love is a strategy, it is the greatest of all strategies—nonetheless I cannot get past that “if”.
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Posted by: Bernadette -
Dec. 15, 2010 9:29 AM ET USA
This is a truism that has been needed to be said for a long, long time! How can we defend our Catholic position on homosexuality when we accept divorce and contraception? If we don't live up to our position on the indissolubility of marriage and the "marital embrace" being open to life? We don't have a leg to stand on. We have made marriage into a mockery by those in the gay lifestyle.
Posted by: JonathanC -
Dec. 15, 2010 1:57 AM ET USA
Sider's work is always left of center and far too critical of Evangelicals. Ministries to people with these issues do not want Media spotlights. In my town of 4 Catholic parishes it is the Evangelicals who have quiet effective ministries available to men dealing with sexual difficulties. And they are well attended by men who want freedom from these problems. But that's the key - THEY want freedom. They don't want the Media. Unfortunately, nothing is offered in local Catholic parishes
Posted by: Mike in Toronto -
Dec. 15, 2010 12:41 AM ET USA
Great essay, Jeff! A quick search turned up this Church-approved apostolate for those with homosexual tendencies who wish to live chaste lives according to the Law of God: Courage.
Posted by: frjpharrington3912 -
Dec. 14, 2010 11:39 PM ET USA
A compassionate and honest comentary which makes an important distinction between the human person infinitely loved by God and human behavior which often times offends God. Take Adam and Eve for example. Created in the image and likeness of God with all the preternatural gifts, yet they sinned by disobedience and were punished by God. Love and truth are opposite sides of the same coin. God's (natural) law is truth and a sign of his love, for in it man discovers his true self and discovers God.
Posted by: DrJazz -
Dec. 14, 2010 6:03 AM ET USA