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Speaking of Homosexuality
Discussing the Issues with Kindness and Clarity
By Joe Dallas
Baker Publishing GroupCopyright © 2016 Joe Dallas
All rights reserved.
THE CONTEXT OF OUR CONVERSATION
Whenever you tear an idea from its context and treat it as if it were a self-sufficient, independent item, you invalidate the thought process involved.
— Leonard Peikoff, American philosopher
On June 26, 2015, the US Supreme Court struck down state laws limiting the definition of marriage to a heterosexual union. While there's no understating the significance of the decision, what followed on Pennsylvania Avenue signaled a seismic change in context as well as law.
The president, celebrating the SCOTUS decision, had the White House bathed in rainbow-colored lights, announcing that the world's most powerful leader felt the redefinition of marriage should be heralded at the highest level of government. And an unmistakable message was sent to everyone with traditional views: "We've turned a corner. Henceforward, your viewpoint will not only be considered the minority view but will require a defense as well. Change, or explain yourself."
It's in the context of this national shift that we now speak of homosexuality.
Context Changes Everything
Let's bring this down to the personal context. How would you feel if someone greeted you, "Hey, dirtbag, you're looking like a paunchy old wino. Get a facelift!"
Insulted? Outraged? Ready to fight?
Funny, I didn't feel that way at all. My buddy of more than twenty-five years greeted me with those words just a few weeks ago when I sat down to coffee with him, and far from insulted, I was delighted. His banter proved our closeness. Most men I know see teasing as playful sparring reserved for well-bonded friends. Of course, if someone I knew only casually threw a remark like that my way, I'd be furious. Words that in one context would incite hostility, when spoken within the context of long-standing friendship, spark a brotherly glow.
In conversation it's never just about content. Context — the nature of the relationship, the history the participants share, the roles they play in each other's lives, social tensions between groups to which they belong — has its effect on both dialogue and emotional responses. You can't divorce context from a conversation. It's what determines whether "Hey, dirtbag!" is an insult or a term of endearment.
It's no wonder, then, that the disciples were stunned when Jesus went out of His way to engage a Samaritan woman at a well (John 4:1–43). Asking someone for a cup of water was normal under other circumstances, but not these, considering the long-standing animosity between Hebrews and Samaritans. So while the content of His first words ("Give Me a drink," 4:7) wasn't startling in itself, in context it certainly was. So much so that, before responding to His request, she first commented on the surprising fact that they were even talking: "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?" (4:9).
Knowing and remembering the context of our conversation helps us speak wisely. It reminds us of whatever preconceived ideas the other person might have about us. It keeps us sensitive to suspicions or grievances they may feel toward "people like us," and it helps us better understand the resistance (or even hostility) that can arise.
Let's not be naïve. When you, a conservative Christian, speak of homosexuality to a homosexual, you're tackling many of the same challenges Jesus faced with a Samaritan — preconceived ideas she had about Jews, bad experiences she'd had with them, things she'd been told about them (some true, some not), and an overarching awareness that her group and His group stood at odds. All of those obstacles were in place before the two of them met.
When we engage in dialogue with a gay friend or loved one, we usually have to deal with double the complications the Lord did, because, being sinless, Jesus had no prejudices or misconceptions. But we have ours, as does the other person. We can know what Scripture says about homosexuality as a behavior, but little about homosexuals as people. So they may have their preconceived ideas about us; we may have ours about them. Also part of the dialogue's backdrop is the subject's highly political nature, plus the national clashes over same-sex marriage and gay-related legislation. Additionally, most cases involve interpersonal history, whether good or bad.
Three key elements, then, shape the context of the conversation between a Traditionalist and a Revisionist (someone holding a prohomosexual viewpoint): presumption, politics, and the personal.
Presumptions: Ours about Them
The history of Christian writing and speaking on homosexuality is rich with presumptions, some of which, I'm sorry to say, have been mine. You'd think that I, formerly active within the gay community, would be immune to overgeneralizations. But in earlier years, I've said and written things I now see were too general, too ... well, presumptuous.
My position on the wrongness of homosexuality hasn't budged an inch, nor will it. But now I'm more willing to answer "I don't know" to questions about its origins, allowing for the fact that no one theory of causation seems to fit every person. I'm also less adamant now about the controversial "change" issue, because history has shown that, although some people abandon homosexual behavior and find they have potential for heterosexual response, others find they remain attracted exclusively to the same sex and live celibate lives. Different people experience different outcomes, and both outcomes should be respected. (We'll tackle that in chap. 5.)
As I mentioned, I'm now disinclined to rely on any one theory about the cause of homosexuality. There are many, and I see value in many of them, but I realize that, while one theory fits one person well, it might fail to explain the experience of another. So now I'm adamant only about Scripture and willing to consider the merits of any secular theory without adopting it as universal truth.
Many believers cannot or will not recognize that homosexual orientation (same-sex attraction) is usually involuntary. They think somehow gays and lesbians glanced over the menu — heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual — and ordered the same-sex special. Others presume all homosexuals are promiscuous, or politically liberal, or easily identified, or aggressively pushing the "gay agenda," whatever that is. They use terms like gay lifestyle, assuming all gays and lesbians live the same way. And they believe all gays and lesbians are activists, sharing identical social and political goals.
Other folks conclude that if the homosexual orientation is not a choice, then only an early molestation, trauma, or unsatisfactory father-son or mother-daughter relationship could account for same-sex desires. And perhaps most presumptive of all, they've decided that no homosexual could truly be happy. So deep inside, they tell themselves, their gay friend or loved one really wants to be straight but just isn't ready to admit it.
None of these assumptions holds true in every case, because there's as much diversity in lifestyle and experience among homosexual people as among heterosexuals. There are politically conservative and moderate gays as surely as there are liberals; some are celibate, some are in monogamous relationships, some nonmonogamous; some are occasionally active sexually, some wildly promiscuous. Some are easy to spot; others, you'd never know. Many were subjected to early traumas or faulty parenting; others sprang from healthy, loving homes. And while some are dissatisfied with their sexuality, others are content.
So to say homosexual acts are wrong in God's sight is a far cry from saying all homosexuals are cut from the same cloth. You don't have to cling to stereotypes in order to maintain the biblical view.
But that inconvenient fact won't keep misconceptions from coloring the context of conversations between gays and some obstinate Traditionalists. Many on both sides of the debate are guilty of stereotyping. We'll address all the misconceptions cited above, but it's enough for now to recognize they exist, and they matter.
The Ick Factor
Sometimes, though, a Traditionalist's response to homosexuals is hindered less by false assumptions and more by an exaggerated emotional aversion. This is more common among men, sometimes so strong that it stunts a believer's ability to communicate with, much less relate to, a gay or lesbian. I call it the Ick Factor.
Some distaste at the image or concept of homosexual sex is to be expected and doesn't constitute homophobia but, instead, a natural aversion to unnatural behavior. But if you can't talk to a homosexual without thinking about what he does in bed, or you're morbidly focused on her sexual activities, or you classify his sexual sin apart from and above all others, that's not just a distaste for sin — that's an inflated reaction, maybe even an unhealthy fixation. If you find gay sex to be "icky," yet you keep thinking about it, like gawking at a traffic accident-repulsed and fascinated at the same time — then I'd say the Ick Factor has a hold on you.
So the problem of presumptions, stereotypes, misconceptions, and the Ick Factor all contribute (negatively) to the context of our conversation. But many homosexuals also have presumptions about conservative Christians.
Presumptions: Theirs about Us
When I was part of the gay community, my friends and I referred to the conservative church as The Enemy. We assumed most Christians harbored deep, venomous animosity toward us, evidenced in the way they spoke about us and their efforts at defeating our political goals. I suspect little has changed since then, and the few statistics available seem to confirm that.
In 2007 the Barna Group reported that 91 percent of young non-Christians believed modern Christianity was "antihomosexual" and that believers showed "excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians." As if that weren't bad enough, the same study indicated that the majority of young churchgoers felt the same way. If that's the case, both nonbelievers and believers of the next generation presume Traditionalists don't love homosexuals and, in fact, hold them in contempt.
Underscoring this, the Public Religion Research Institute in 2013 determined that more than four in ten Americans gave religious organizations a D or an F in their handling of homosexuality. The same number also said they believe the messages from places of worship contribute "a lot" to negative perceptions of gay and lesbian people. This led David Aikman, former Time correspondent and senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC, to conclude, "Gays, in general, regard evangelical Christians not just as critical of them, but also as implacably hostile toward them."
We can protest these characterizations, and we should. Many today interpret any objection to homosexuality, no matter how kindly voiced, as hostility, so the accusation of hatred usually misrepresents our attitude. But let's not pretend there's no reason for gays to presume we're hostile. When Christian leaders say less-than-charitable things about gays, then gays will logically assume those leaders speak for the rest of us.
When the Rev. Jerry Falwell declared AIDS was God's judgment on homosexuals, considering the man's influence and huge Christian following, homosexuals had good cause to think we all agreed. When Benny Hinn, a controversial but popular faith healer, prophesied that "God would destroy the homosexual population by fire" by the mid-1990s, and the entire auditorium broke into applause upon hearing that gays would die, why wouldn't gays think we were all applauding as well? When Pat Robertson accused AIDS -infected homosexual men in San Francisco of wearing rings with blades in order to cut and infect others, it's inaccurate but hardly unfair for homosexuals to think plenty of us believe him. And when Donnie Swaggart, son of evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, told his television audience that gays would, if possible, employ beheading tactics to silence their enemies, any gay or lesbian might well put two and two together and come up with hate.
Combine these with less-than-responsible remarks about gays by private citizens, less-than-loving comments hurled from lesser-known pulpits, and legitimate-but-misunderstood objections to homosexuality expressed by many believers, and you can see why the presumption that we're hostile is widespread. The point isn't whether those presumptions are warranted — a subject we'll discuss in chapter 7. If someone thinks we view them with disdain, fear, or outright hostility, we need to know and, when possible, counteract it.
The misunderstanding works both ways. We are at times wrong about them; they are at times wrong about us. And those wrongs can't help but cause some of them to ask, much as the Samaritan to the Hebrew, "How is it that you, a Christian, are speaking to me, a gay?"
Let's walk a mile in the shoes of the lesbian woman or homosexual man with whom we're conversing. They know we're Bible-believing Traditionalists, and they know we vote. So they don't need much imagination to guess how we vote on virtually any gay-related legislation, directly impacting their personal, economic, and professional lives.
They also logically assume we support organizations that lobby against social and political goals they hold dear (whether we support those efforts or not) and that we actively support candidates whose views are closer to ours than theirs. These are all intelligent, informed assumptions, often true, sometimes not.
In short, gay co-workers, friends, or family members can easily see us as people who directly or indirectly, through the democratic process, seek to deny them rights they feel are essential. It's understandable if they even view us with the same why-do-you-hate-me? bewilderment with which African Americans viewed white segregationists decades ago.
I'm fully aware many Christians do not, in fact, oppose all pro-gay legislation, just as I know many Traditionalists on homosexuality are not conservative Republicans and may support politically liberal candidates. But as of this writing, statistics indicate most of us who are theologically conservative are politically conservative as well, a reality all too obvious to the gay community. How then, they ask themselves, are they to trust people who would deny their rights?
For all these reasons, mistrust is a frequent companion to many a homosexual conversing with a Traditionalist.
But mistrust works both ways, because we, too, feel threatened. Some of us see the gay rights movement's political and social goals as unfair, sometimes even draconian. And whereas many lesbians and gays believe we threaten their sexual and relational freedoms, many of us believe they threaten our freedoms of speech, religion, and conscience.
As noted earlier, Christian businesses have suffered lawsuits and legal judgments for refusing to service same-sex weddings, even when other vendors providing the same services were available and willing. The academic environment on college and high school campuses is restrictive and punitive toward believers who speak their minds on the subject, no matter how respectfully. And in a number of companies or industries, Christian employees feel pressured to express open support for pro-gay causes or positions the company has adopted, of which they privately disapprove. Fear of retaliation can leave them feeling paralyzed.
And that's not to mention international trends that, in some nations, show even more heavy-handedness with conservative dissidents. Many are familiar with the case over ten years ago of Swedish pastor Ake Green, who, in violation of recently enacted Swedish law, made statements from his pulpit that were deemed "damaging to people based on their sexual orientation." Pastor Green served jail time, and during his trial the prosecution noted that "collecting Bible [verses] on this topic as he does makes this hate speech."
Our neighbor Canada is not far behind Sweden. In 2013 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Bible-based expressions opposing homosexuality constituted a hate crime, upholding the conviction of activist William Whatcott for distributing flyers regarding the Bible's prohibitions against homosexuality. Christian radio broadcasts, when referencing homosexuality, are often censored before being aired in Canada. And I can testify firsthand to the dos and don'ts imposed on Christians when speaking over the Canadian television or radio airwaves.
The list of grievances against European countries imposing limits on religious expression, especially concerning this subject, is awfully long, ominously hinting at America's conceivable near future. The Traditionalist is conscious of all this when conversing with someone who's gay, lesbian, or prohomosexual, leaving both parties feeling, at times, guarded and suspicious. There's just no way for the current political landscape not to play, sometimes significantly, into the context of our conversations.
Excerpted from Speaking of Homosexuality by Joe Dallas. Copyright © 2016 Joe Dallas. Excerpted by permission of Baker Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 The Context of Our Conversation 27
2 To Whom Am I Speaking? 41
3 Rules of Engagement 51
4 Born Gay? 59
5 The "Change" Controversy 69
6 Same-Sex Marriage 87
7 Homophobia, Hate, Hypocrisy, and Harm 105
8 Gay Christians 121
9 Sodom 145
10 Homosexuality and Leviticus 155
11 What Jesus Did or Did Not Say 175
12 Paul and Romans 189
13 Paul and Arsenokoites 207
14 When It's All Said and Done 223