Written by Dr. Todd Mangum
Thursday, 26 April 2012 00:00
Recently, I was sent a provocative picture by someone who is an evangelical Christian who has been forming friendships and having some substantive conversations (including spiritual things) with gay and lesbian people in their neighborhood. The picture (of a gay man, underwear clad, hugging some Christians along the street of the gay-pride parade route) appears under the headline, “A Christian group shows up to a Chicago Gay Pride parade holding apologetic signs including "I'm sorry for how the church treated you".
This person had posted the picture and web-article on their Facebook page – and had received some positive response to it, especially from their gay/lesbian friends. And then, one of this person’s mentors from their church, wrote them a private email, telling them how shocked and puzzled they were that this appeared on their Facebook page. It was a thoughtful, non-hostile but clearly-concerned, communication of questions and apprehensions about it.
The person asked what I thought about all this. Here is what I said:
First of all, kudos for being on the front lines in such matters; things are confusing and messy in the actual engagement of issues and with real people.
I thought the note from [your mentor] was also good – thoughtful, respectful, and fair – and I agree with [them] that “the message” of the facebook posting (with picture) is confusing. Because issues regarding gay and lesbian orientation have become so politicized, any statement on it requires nuance and explication. “Bumper sticker” statements are simply insufficient – and provoke, rather than proclaim.
I’d affirm the following points – which are at some tension with one another:
1. “The church” has been right to identify same-sex sexual behavior as sinful.
2. Nevertheless, in addition to rightly identifying same-sex sexual behavior as sinful, “the church” has delivered wounds to gays and lesbians by stigmatizing their penchants to sinfulness in a way not done to other sinful penchants, adding to the pain of their struggle, failing to recognize the pain, complexity, and difficulties inherently encountered by a person with same-sex attractions, etc.
3. “The church” has been slow to recognize that same-sex attractions are not simply “choices” that one makes voluntarily.
4. Many people with same-sex attractions have now formed an identity around same-sex attraction and behavior such that seeks to normalize and normativize them, and in the process heap scorn on churches still identifying same-sex sexual behavior as sinful.
It is difficult to enter into this complex cauldron of tensions to make any statement that will not be subject to misunderstanding, mis-characterization or outright ridicule.
You are also correct in your response to your friend that, when level-headed Christians are paralyzed by the intractable tensions in the current situation and say nothing, that leaves only the Fred Phelps of the world willing to rashly and pervertedly [!] proclaim what is then perceived as the ONLY message from “the church” on the issue. Adamant statements to the contrary (even if they are not, on their own, “balanced”) can be appropriate in such a context.
I am not sure it was a mistake to post the picture. I am ambivalent about that, to be honest. Did it spark the conversations worth having, or did it spark conversations you think are a waste of time, a distraction, that you wish you weren’t having? That is probably the diagnostic test. . . . ?
Those are my thoughts. Wish I could be more helpful.
And those were my thoughts – and I really do wish I could have been more helpful. What are your thoughts? Can you be more helpful?
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.