How can Christians respond positively to the acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage in mainstream culture?
- ABC's hit comedy Modern Family - prominently featuring a same-sex couple - won the Emmy for outstanding comedy series.
- The US Senate passed a repeal of the 17-year-old ban known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
- The Southern Poverty Law Center classified several Christian organizations that have taken stances against the acceptance of gay marriage, or who have simply gone public with the stance against homosexuality as a morally acceptable lifestyle, as "hate groups."
- Facebook has added civil unions and domestic partnerships to the list of relationships that its users can pick from to best describe their romantic status. And as one media adviser put it, "As Facebook goes, so goes the world."
- While only Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Washington, D.C. allow same-sex marriages, Hawaii will soon become the seventh state to permit civil unions of similar legal recognition for gay couples.
- In a historic shift on gay rights, president Obama has endorsed gay marriage. His administration also announced that it believed the Constitution forbids unequal treatment of gays and lesbians in almost all cases, and specifically when it comes to federal benefits for legally married same-sex couples. As a result, the Justice Department will no longer oppose legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress in1996, which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages or extending them the same benefits as heterosexual couples.
- In his new book, Jay Bakker, son of Jim Bakker and the late Tammy Faye Messner, declared that homosexuality is not a sin. Agreeing with Bakker are Tony Jones, "theologian in residence" at Minnesota's Solomon's Porch, and Peggy Campolo, wife of evangelist Tony Campolo. Author Brian McLaren condemns the Christian preoccupation with homosexuality as "fundasexuality."
To put this into perspective, when President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law in 1996, the first episode of the gay-friendly Will & Grace hadn't even aired. As Clinton began his second term, only 27 percent of the population approved of same-sex marriage. Today that number stands at 42 percent.
This has led some Christians to call for a "Great Gay Awakening" which affirms homosexuality as a lifestyle. We're losing the cultural battle, so give in and find a new front.
While I believe there can be an orientation toward homosexual behavior (as there can be toward many things), I believe that succumbing to it is clearly denounced as a sin in the Scriptures. Robert Gagnon's definitive study on the matter should be assigned reading for those who say the Bible is convoluted on this matter. It is easy to say the Bible is not clear on the matter; a serious study simply proves otherwise. As a result, the church must stand firm on matters related to affirming same-sex marriage, and yes, let homosexuality as a lifestyle bear implications for church membership and church discipline.
But that doesn't mean there doesn't need to be a new day in regard to Christian's engagement with homosexuality. In fact, I too join the call for an awakening.
An awakening in approach.
- Homosexuals, repentant or otherwise, must be loved.
- Those desiring to be faithful to biblical teachings in this area must be met with support and, when they fail, with the same level of grace we would extend to anyone else.
- There should be no impediment to full service and position for those with a homosexual orientation who remain faithful to personal celibacy and biblical orthodoxy.
- Though much that goes under the banner of "anti-discrimination" does, in effect, promote homosexuality and create a specially-protected class (which I do not affirm), Christians should work toward a society that does not persecute practicing homosexuals, and Christians should denounce anyone who uses hate-filled speech.
- Christians should not work for homosexuality to be criminalized, and should vigorously support the full prosecution of crimes against homosexuals.
- We need a new tone and emphasis that focuses on the homosexual lifestyle as we would any other lifestyle that needs to have its deepest needs intersected by Christ. If one believes that the homosexual lifestyle is broken sexually, it must be affirmed that it is no more broken than the adulterer or the person addicted to pornography.
- We must put forward a winsome and compelling vision for life in Christ that includes our sexuality; a vision that invites all who are sexually confused and seeking God to come and drink of the living water that Jesus promises to us all (John 4).
All to say, the followers of Christ must not be homophobic; they must not hate homosexuals; they must not give in to anger or irrational fear. The followers of Christ must not caricature or demonize anyone. They must not camp out at funerals with signs that say, "God hates fags."
Those that have succumbed to such things must repent and ask for forgiveness.
So while I pray for an awakening among those who embrace the homosexual lifestyle, I also pray for an awakening among those of us who condemn it.
Namely, that in condemning it, we do not condemn them.
James Emery White
Talks given at Mecklenburg Community Church by James Emery White, presented with the sensitivity of practicing homosexuals in attendance, can be found here.
"What ‘Modern Family' Says About Modern Families," Bruce Feiler, The New York Times, Sunday Styles, January 23, 2011, pp. 1-2. Read online.
"New Facebook status options applauded by gay users" by Jocelyn Noveck, USA Today, February 19, 2001. Read online.
"Has backing gay marriage lost its political risk?" by Christi Parsons and Tom Hamburger, The Charlotte Observer, Sunday, February 27, 2011, pp. 19A-20A. Read online.
"Is Evangelical Christianity Having a Great Gay Awakening?," Cathleen Falsani, The Huffington Post , January 12, 2011. Read online.
"On gay rights, keep fighting or adapt? By Tom Krattenmaker, USA Today, Monday, February 14, 2011, p. 13A. Read online.
Gagnon, Robert A.J. The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon Press).
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About Dr. James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
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