Sunday, September 11, 2005

Going Where Angels Fear To Tread ... Again!

Some may remember I reproduced an essay I found on the internet called "No Longer Welcome?". It stimulated an interesting response as expected - and I've found another that I guess will do the same. I don't want to reproduce it all because I don't quite totally agree with Dr Roy Clements and his standpoint. For those who want to read it in its entirety it can be found at: What I have done is to reproduce the elements of the essay dealing with prejudice and stereotypes.

However I think the theme of the essay is outstanding and should be heard. I don't think it should just be limited to homosexuality (as Dr Clements wrote) - rather it can apply to ANY taboo subject that the church leaders of today seem to fear so much. Well they do in Bristol anyway.

I think the key note for me is that there is a generation rising up that refuse to allow any subject to be taboo. And on pondering that at this ridiculously early hour (it's ten to five in the morning and I'm jealous of my sleeping patients) - I think that generation is right. Yes it has spawned gay rights, yes it has spawned Pro-Choice - but don't these people have a point? Why SHOULD we listen to the "older" evangelical generation who tell us to be quiet and behave? Why SHOULD we not be able to bring our hurts, our wounds and our desperate fears and pains to the very place where (I think) the Lord Jesus said we could? Why SHOULD we have to re-adopt the evangelical mask of "Oh I'm fine" - that hated phrase!

Okay - so don't agree with Dr Clements and his pro-homosexual stance. But don't just retreat into silence tutting your Berkhof tuts about how the world is deteriorating. Come up with an alternative! And don't try to tell me that such prejudice doesn't exist in the "grace" churches of UK 2005. THEY DO!! The gauntlet has been thrown down yet again for church leaders. I just worry few will take it up.

How to avoid the charge of homophobia

Evangelical Christians who are opposed to homosexual behaviour sometimes complain that they find it impossible to express their moral objections on this score without being accused of homophobia. To some extent the complaint is probably justified. However, in many cases I suspect that the charge of prejudice is one these Christians bring upon themselves, either by the content of their opinions or the style in which they are voiced. Let me offer, therefore, a few pieces of advice to any such would-be moraliser.

1. Be sensitive

You are addressing, then, a community that has become habituated to abuse and contempt. It is not surprising if they tend to assume that all those who speak hostile words against homosexuality share the homophobic prejudice to which they have grown accustomed.

If you really want to avoid this, you must remember that all communication consists not in what is said, but in what is heard. Try putting yourself in the shoes of a gay Christian and reflect on how they are likely to understand your words. Similar efforts have to be made these days in commenting on many other sensitive areas. The police must watch their language when they challenge afro-carribean youths in Brixton. Businessmen have had to learn to speak with extra caution when dealing with female staff. Some preachers have made efforts in the direction of inclusive language. The vocabulary we choose, the jokes we crack, the stereotypes we endorse - verbal carelessness of many kinds can betray the presence of prejudice buried so deep in our vocabulary we do not even recognise its offensive potential.

However, a little pre-emptive tact is all that it takes to forestall such unjust criticisms, if you really do wish to avoid them.

2. Be rational

Prejudice, by definition, is irrational. It feeds on superstitious taboos, distorted caricatures and just plain ignorance. All these factors contribute to homophobia. Most gay Christians find it impossible to understand the reason for the Church's traditional negativism towards the kind of relationships for which their hearts yearn. They put it in the same category of embarrassing ecclesiastical gaffes as witch-trials, anti-semitism and the crusades.To them the current anti-gay movement among evangelicals seems as ludicrously out-of-date as the flat-earth society. It must reflect prejudice, they say, because it is so utterly irrational. The way to avoid this charge is to make sure your opinions are rigorously argued.

3. Be consistent

Prejudice is invariably discriminatory. It is selects a certain group of people as the object of its loathing and ignores others. It seems to the gay community that in targeting them evangelical Christians are displaying precisely this kind of selectivity. They observe that a strong case can be made, both from tradition and scripture, against usury, abortion and divorce. But evangelicals do not seem to be mounting public campaigns to have bankers, gynaecologists and divorcees excommunicated or excluded from public ministry. On the contrary, a sweet reasonableness permits such individuals to continue in fellowship. Why are gays singled out for the evangelical anathema?

Two answers are usually given to this:

The first is that homosexuality is a peculiarly serious crime. But, once again, we must know why? More serious than the cruel burden of debt inflicted on the poorest nations of the world? More serious than the dismembering of unborn children? More serious than a direct challenge to the word of Christ himself about the inviolability of the marriage bond?

The second answer is that the pro-homosexual lobby has been so brazen in its flaunting of "gay rights" that evangelicals have been forced to take counter-measures. Gays might have been allowed to stay in the closet, we are assured, but they have insisted on public recognition and awoken the sleeping dragon of moral outrage as a result.

4. Be humble

It is always easier to identify arrogance in others than in oneself. No doubt the strident assertions of some pro-gay activists lack meekness, or even courtesy. Raised voices and immoderate words are all too often symptoms of chronically inflated egos, and both the gay and anti-gay lobbies certainly have their share of these.

However, there is more dangerous form of arrogance than simple bigheadedness. Prejudice is particularly menacing when it is coupled to an arrogant assertion of absolute certainty. Of course, the response of post-modernism has been to deny all claims to absolute certainty by radically relativising the meaning of "Truth". But evangelicals refuse to throw the baby out with the bathwater in that way; and rightly so in my view. It is perfectly possible to witness to the infallibility of Scripture without surrendering to authoritarianism, and it is absolutely crucial at this juncture in the cultural history of the West that we demonstrate that possibility to the watching world. Failure to do so will result in evangelicalism being stigmatised along with the Taliban; and again, rightly so.

The only sense in which homosexuality can rightly be said to be a "defining issue" for the Church today is that it crucially tests the ability of Christians to eschew fundamentalist fanaticism and to hold the divine Word of truth in humility.

Homophobic bigotry - or just conscientious objection?

To sum up then, if you would avoid the charge of homophobia you must demonstrate:

the sensitivity that chooses tactful words;
the rationality that offers arguments rather than assertions;
the consistency that expresses equal indignation about other social issues;
and, perhaps most important of all, the humility to admit that you might be wrong.

You may complain that pro-gay speakers and writers do not show such consideration to you. Instead your sincere moral convictions have been denounced as homophobic bigotry. I acknowledge that this could be true. But, however unfair the misrepresentation of your views, the situation is not symmetric. Christian gays are not trying to eject you from the Church or from ministry, you are trying to eject them.

In law a verdict of "Not Guilty" requires only the establishment of "reasonable doubt". Even if you feel the case against gays has been proved, there are other members of the jury who are less convinced. No one wishes to shut you up, but what you say and how you say it makes a huge difference.


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Steve P said...

I just wanted to write and say how hugely I appreciated what you wrote in this article. I'm in a similiar position to you I think - I'm a gay Christian in an evangelical church and I've been scared for ages in case someone "found out". I tried sharing with a couple of the leaders a few weeks ago and it DIDNT go well. I am now paranoid that they are going to throw me out or do something like that.

So thanks so much for the encouragment that I am not alone!! It would be fab to email and chat more if you have the time!


Anonymous said...

I think we would all like to hear your testimony in full ... been following your blog for a while.

Go on take the plunge! Sounds like you've got a unique story adn you're going to challenge a lot of people.