I recently witnessed an online argument that really bothered me.
During a long and obviously hurtful theological tussle between two men, one of them (Tom*) made it clear that in his opinion, no person can claim to be a Christian while supporting equal rights for gays. He seemed to know his theology well. He made all of the usual “God-says-it-and-that-settles-it” arguments. He appealed to scripture and to the “natural” order of things. He wrote about the “gay agenda”, and how American society is being “deceived”. He stated condescendingly that he would pray for his more liberal friend to see the anti-gay light.
Tom wrote a lot and didn’t care who saw what he had to say. He was forceful, and passionate, and convincing. He was totally happy with the line in the sand he was drawing between those who are inside his group and those who are outside.
Tom’s understanding of Christianity seemed to have morphed into a crusade in which defeating the “gay agenda” trumped every other issue including salvation, sanctification, eschatology and the Kingdom of God. Gay rights issues were clearly his theological deal breaker.
An anti-gay gospel is not a “good-news-if-you’re-human” kind of message… It’s a “good-news-if-you’re-attracted-to-the-opposite-sex” message. It’s a message that is focused on the spiritual benefits of being straight, backed with a seemingly solid interpretation of scripture… It has all the marks of an exclusive denomination. (A denomination that– if I were in the denomination-naming business– I’d likely call “Straightianity”: A version of Christianity which perpetuates the myth that “gay Christian” is an oxymoron and gay-affirming churches are heretical.)
The Heart of Straightianity
It is hard for Jesus’ message of love and acceptance to find its spotlight in a belief system that hinges on God’s preference of one group over another. Arguments that place straight people above non-heterosexual people are among the more unfortunate as they are usually based on a heap of deeply ingrained cultural biases and under-researched interpretations of scripture.
I don’t totally understand what is happening in circles where Christianity is solely a religion about God’s desire to exact meticulous control over our sex lives… But, I am certain of this: What they’re peddling isn’t about faith. It’s about fear.
Their fear of abandoning anti-gay interpretations of scripture is the same kind of fear that reared its head when theological “progressives” in prior generations argued in favor of the abolition of slavery, the teachings of Galileo and women’s rights. We’re talking about a fear of moving forward, a fear of the unknown and a fear of being wrong.
There’s also some element of group identity at stake. It’s the kind of group identity which insists that we must all be alike if we are to be legitimately united. This insistence upon “sameness” is dangerous… It is the root of the very prejudices that have plagued us since the first settlers encountered the Native Americans. Those who believe God requires sexual hegemony exhibit a symptom of the ongoing issues with diversity that exist in this country. Those issues are rooted in a misguided, unexplored fear that if the “minority” (the unchosen, the “unclean”, the outsiders) are allowed equality, they will overthrow the majority and take away their privilege.
The only way to conquer one’s fear of diversity, or fear of minorities or fear of being wrong is to confront it head on. We must begin to ask ourselves what we’re trying to protect… Social gender roles? A reputation? An oppressive tradition? Majority privilege?
And those of us who see others exhibit behaviors characteristic of bigoted fear must be willing to ask them to search their souls. We must begin to ask: Why are you so afraid? Do you believe God really prefers you over your brother/sister? Could you be wrong?
We need to speak up because other Biblical, but exclusive, arguments have been painfully wrong in the past. I assure you, arguments for God’s preference of straight people over gays are equally wrong. If there is a God, then this God must certainly be above the shameful acts of tribalism that we’ve imposed upon ourselves. We should aspire to be like the Messenger who included outcasts when no one would touch them– And not like our ancestors who have always attempted to oppress what they didn’t understand.
*Tom isn’t his real name.
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