I’ve been spending too much time on the internet over the past two days. I’ve been reading blogs and news articles and getting too frustrated about insensitive commenters and unintentionally starting arguments on my facebook page about a certain issue. I’ve pretty much given up eating and sleeping, and it’s gone so far that I’ve had to ask myself “Why do I care so much?” Should I really be taking a side and engaging in the Christian culture wars? Surprisingly, my answer was “yes”. I care about World Vision and homophobia and evangelical bullying because it’s important.
In case you’re not sure what I’m talking about, let me quickly fill you in. On Tuesday it was announced that World Vision USA (a prominent Christian world relief organization that I support) was revising its employee handbook to say that while sex outside of marriage is still prohibited for employees, they were expanding their definition of marriage to include same-sex married couples. This was not, as they stated, a full endorsement of gay marriage, but it was “symbolic of Christian unity”¹, recognizing the fact that many practicing Christians are members of churches and denominations that perform and support same-sex marriages.
While I was happy about this decision, I also sighed inwardly, anticipating the forthcoming evangelical circus that the world was about to witness. I prayed that my prediction might be wrong, but here we are.
You might be wondering why I’m even bothering to write about this issue, especially considering that there have been so many great responses (here, here, and here, for example) by people who are more influential, more eloquent, and less snarky than I am. But I am beginning to believe that maybe, just maybe, if more of us speak out and say “This is not okay”, the message will be heard just a little bit louder above all of the noise.
Not even hours after this news came out, several prominent evangelicals came out renouncing World Vision and encouraging others to do the same. Many people threatened to withdraw financial support and end child sponsorships because of this compromise of values. I won’t restate all of what was said, but basically, to me, it sounded like “Ahhhhh! The Gospel is at stake! We must rush to defend it!” Articles were written, comment threads were flooded by the same old tired arguments, social media went crazy, and the rest of the world got to look on and wonder why the hell we care so much if homosexuals feed hungry children.
There may not be a whole lot I can really do or say, but I’m going to try. So, this is me, in my very best “teacher voice” saying “This needs to stop. Treating fellow human beings this way is absolutely unacceptable.”
I haven’t always felt this way. As a matter of fact, anyone who knew me in high school would probably be surprised that I no longer consider Christianity and homosexuality to be mutually exclusive. I used to be so quick to pull out my Bible and “defend my beliefs” whenever someone made a point I didn’t quite agree with. I used to feel the burden of “sharing my faith” (a.k.a. starting a lot of arguments) with my friends. I’ll let you in on a secret: It never worked. Not even once. Basically, I succeeded only in alienating people and acting like an arrogant jerk. Though I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with sharing your beliefs when motivated by love or genuine conviction, when I was so quick to defend myself, I believe I was motivated primarily by insecurity. I was clinging to Christian rhetoric because of my deep-seated fear that I was wrong.
While I hesitate to make sweeping generalizations about someone else’s motivations, I think it may be the very same insecurity that inspired so much immediate conservative backlash “for the sake of the Gospel”. Honestly, I believe the real Gospel message is so much bigger than this. If the “word of God is living and active”², and as powerful and life-changing as we say it is, then doesn’t need our defense. It doesn’t need John Piper or Al Mohler to be its official spokesmen. I believe that it is just as true when it is demonstrated in word or deed by a man or a woman, an LGBT or a straight person, or an American or a person of any other nationality.
Truth be told, I’ve always been a little afraid to come out of the closet (see what I did there?) as a gay-affirming Christian, or rather as a Christian who believe that the real teachings of Jesus (you know, the ones about loving your enemies and helping the poor and seeking reconciliation) are more important than our arguments about homosexuality, women in church ministry, or any other hot-button topics we like to make a big, hairy deal about. I may lose the respect of people who disagree, but I really can’t keep quiet any longer. This is just too important.
Look around you. There are children around the world who are dying from preventable diseases and being denied a basic education and lacking necessities for survival. There are people who I see every day struggling with addictions, poverty, and abusive situations who would benefit from strong leaders – gay, straight, male, or female – who can show them the way out. There is still so much left to be done, and we’re wasting our time picking fights over who should be doing it. No child in need or disaster victim is ever going to ask to check your marriage license to make sure you’re married to the correct gender before you save their life.
Let’s face it – we all have sin issues. Honestly, I’m don’t really think that loving someone of the same sex can be considered a “sin issue” at all (Yes, I’ve read Romans chapter 1. Unfriend me or pray for my salvation if you would like.) If we all had to live up to the same impossible standard that we are placing on people who feel attracted to the same sex — to resolve your “sin issue” before you can engage in any kind of ministry — each and every one of us would fail. We would all be flailing around on our own, unable to help or be helped by anyone else.
As of today, World Vision officially recanted their previous policy change, succumbing to all of the bullying they received since releasing their first statement on Tuesday. While I wrote most of this before this happened, I think this message is just as true today as it was yesterday. I may say more about it on another day, but today, I’m just exhausted by it all. I’m a little ashamed to be a follower of Christ today, to tell you the truth. Despite everything, though, I still have so much hope for my generation. Some may call us prideful for thinking that long-held beliefs should change, but I truly believe that we are in the midst of a paradigm shift, setbacks and all. I’m choosing to end today by praying for us all, and I would like to encourage you to do the same.
O Holy One, we call to you and name you as eternal, ever-present, and boundless in love. Yet there are times, O God, when we fail to recognize you in the dailyness of our lives. Sometimes shame clenches tightly around our hearts, and we hide our true feelings. Sometimes fear makes us small, and we miss the chance to speak from our strength. Sometimes doubt invades our hopefulness, and we degrade our own wisdom.
Holy God, in the daily round from sunrise to sunset, remind us again of your holy presence hovering near us and in us. Free us from shame and self-doubt. Help us to see you in the moment-by-moment possibilities to live honestly, to act courageously, and to speak from our wisdom.
¹Excerpt from their original announcement via Christianity Today