Repairing the Image of the ‘Anti-Homosexual’ Church

Let’s do a “by the numbers”:

  • 31,102 – Number of verses in the Protestant Christian Bible
  • 6 – Number of verses that explicitly condemn homosexual behavior (Lev 18:22, 20:13; Rom 1:26-27 ; 1 Cor 6:9 ; and 1 Tim 1:10).
  • 1,934 – Number of verses in the Gospels directly quoting Christ
  • 0 – Number of verses in which Christ condemns homosexual behavior.

For those of you good at math, you’ve already noticed that roughly 0 percent of Jesus’ recorded time was spent worrying about homosexuality. For the Bible as a whole, the percentage is barely larger – six verses out of more than 30,000 works out to .02 percent. So it’s something of a problem, in my view, when Barna’s much-ballyhooed 2007 surveyof young people (ages 16-29 – and I’m still in the group! Woo-hoo!) found more non-churchgoers applies the label “anti-homosexual” to the church than any other label. The breakdown, if I’m interpreting Barna’s results correctly, goes like this:

  1. Anti-homosexual – 91 percent
  2. Judgmental – 87 percent
  3. Hypocritical – 85 percent
  4. Same basic ideas as other religions – 82 percent
  5. Old-fashioned – 78 percent
  6. Good values and principles – 76 percent
  7. Too involved in politics – 75 percent
  8. Friendly – 71 percent

So that list is full of all sorts of problems, but many of them seem to stem from the very top – the church has turned something that takes up .02 percent of the Bible’s space (and none of Jesus’ time) into something identified as our overriding characteristic by 91 percent of those we’re trying to reach. Whoops. Justin Lee used this alarming survey result to make the case for “Transforming the Conversation,” as he puts it, between Christians and the LGBTQ community. I certainly agree the conversation needs to be transformed. Further, the church’s image needs to be transformed. Because regardless of whether you think active homosexuality as we define it today – a loving committed relationship between two people of the same sex – is wrong, I hope we can surely all agree it’s not good for the church to be identified primarily as anti-gay. The biggest problem is that there is so much positive for the church to grab hold of. The Bible spends much, much more time  talking about helping the poor (a quick Bible Gateway search finds 188 verses talking about them, 30 times more verses than discuss same-sex intercourse). We should be known as the pro-poor church, or the pro-marginalized church, or the pro-compassion church. But it’s hard to be known as pro-marginalized and pro-compassion when we spend an inordinate amount of time condemning the marginalized who overwhelmingly make up the LGBTQ community. So how do we turn this tanker around? It’s not enough to simply call for a moratorium on the use of Leviticus 18 and 20 and Romans 1. For one thing, it’ll be a long time before Christians agree on the question of homosexuality, and until that day comes, we’d be asking some people to compromise what they feel is a strong biblical teaching on morality. So let’s grant the traditional argument for now. Let’s say that God’s template for marriage (and therefore sex) is one man and one woman, and that being gay – that is, being attracted to the same sex – is a sign of the brokenness of the world, and that acting on those temptations is sinful, just like acting on temptations to look at porn or cheat on your wife or whatnot. Can we all agree, granting that argument, that openly gay, sexually active people are still people, and that they deserve to be protected from violence, regardless of their orientation? Can we agree that bullying against anyone is wrong? Can we agree that no one has the right to hit or abuse anyone, regardless of the moral condition of the victim? I think we can all agree on those three basic statements. And if we cannot, let’s acknowledge that Jesus certainly would. And if we can, then we as a church – as Christ-followers – should stand together and publicly support the rights of our gay and lesbian neighbors to live violence-free. How do we do this? One of the key reasons the church has garnered the “anti-homosexual” label has been its loud support of legislation to ban gay marriage. It’s time we turn the tables on that proclivity to support the imposition of our moral standards on others who don’t share them and begin supporting the imposition of physical protection on those who don’t share our moral standards. Last week, the U.S. Senate passed by a wide margin a bill to renew and expand the Violence Against Women Act to include additional protections for female LGBT victims of domestic abuse. Suzy Khimm explains:

The rate of domestic violence among LGBT couples is about the same as for heterosexual ones — an estimated 25 to 33 percent experience abuse in their lifetimes, according to National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. But LGBT victims are significantly less likely to seek out help: 45 percent of them have been turned away from domestic violence shelters, and only 7 percent call the police after an incident of domestic violence. LGBT women are particularly at risk: they’re victims of the majority of murders related to domestic violence in the gay community, the coalition says.

The bill “includes earmarked funding for community organizations that serve LGBT victims, a prohibition against LGBT discrimination by law enforcement and domestic-violence shelters, and an explicit allowance for states to use federal money to help LGBT victims.” Only 24 states currently use federal funding to support LGBT-specific anti-violence programs, but of course domestic violence is not restricted to those states. The bill now moves to the House, where Republicans oppose the bill because they consider the LGBT provisions an election-year stunt to shore up the Democratic base – as if that, even if it were true, is relevant to the merits of the legislation. Christians have an opportunity to begin correcting years of overreaction. We have an opportunity to throw our collective weight for once behind legislation that upholds the Christian values of compassion and care for the marginalized. Whether  someone is gay should not affect his or her access to shelter, treatment and protection in the wake of domestic violence. It’s not too late – never too late – to take a stand for the priorities of Jesus. Find your representative, write him or her a nice email. Tell him or her you’re a Christian. If you morally oppose homosexuality, let him or her know that you do – but that it does not affect your belief that all people deserve safety and protection, regardless of their morality. Tell him or her you think it’s the right thing to do to support the Senate’s recently passed extension of the Violence Against Women Act. And the next time the opportunity comes to support the marginalized, either personally or politically, seize it. Then do it again. And again. And again. And maybe, given enough time and enough genuine, compassionate advocacy for the oppressed and marginalized of our society, the rest of the world will start knowing we are Christians by our love.

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