There’s an interesting conversation going on between Craig Carter and David Fitch about the relationship between Christians and the gay community.

I don’t know Fitch’s whole body of work, but I have found the exchange pretty thought-provoking.  This section, though, seems to encapsulate the heart of Fitch’s critique of conservative Christians:

These statements, to me, are a sign that Craig has become a thoroughly Christendom thinker, a shocking development given his excellent early work on Yoder in his academic career. He assumes that public statements a.) communicate what we believe about sexuality, b.) and somehow witness the gospel. Instead, I argue, in a post Christendom world, amidst multiple sexualities of various cultures and communities, we really communicate NOTHING about who we are and what we believe God is doing among us redemptively in sexuality by making public statements that we are against “such and such.” We instead just distance ourselves over against anyone who does not already agree with us. Putting a sign out, protesting, and identifying ourselves as anti-gay, or pro gay for that matter does the very thing Craig accuses me of. It makes us into a place that attracts only the ones who agree already. It sets us up as a market niche pro-or anti gay church. It separates us from missional engagement with any number of sexual issues. And it does not communicate what cannot be communicated to those who don’t get what our sexual commitments are really about. Of course, internal to the community’s development, understanding who we are and why, and the thick languages of Christian sexuality, is all part of being a community of integrity. Within the community, we articulate these commitments, yet we hold these commitments incarnationally, we live them, and we witness to them, and invite people in who are seeking. This is part of being a minority post Christendom world. For those in Christendom, I say go ahead, put up a sign, protest and attract a crowd of people who believe the exact same things you do already. But don’t expect much mission.

There’s several issues at play in the conversation, but I’ll mention just two.

First, on the question of the church’s public witness to the gay community, Fitch contends that Christians shouldn’t make public statements but wants to keep the commitments “within the community” where we have the “thick language of Christian sexuality” to guide us.  Fitch doesn’t think that homosexuality is morally permissible.  But it’s hard to see where the line regarding public statements gets drawn.  Is the sermon a “public statement” or not? And if so, then is the language of sin with respect to homosexuality impermissible?  After all, for the neo-anabaptists, worship–including the thick language of Christian spirituality which is conveyed in the sermon–seems to be a public (i.e. political) act.

But we could push the ambiguity in the other direction, too.  Why privilege the gay community regarding the church’s public judgments about what is, or is not, sin?  Presumably, there are all sorts of behaviors and events that the church finds morally wrong, like unjust wars or poverty.  If the church is not free to make public pronouncements on one popular activity for fear of deepening the divide with said social group, then should it remain silent about all social groups that commit unjust deeds?

The second issue at stake is the way in which evangelicals have approached moral formation with respect to sexuality.  On that, I’ll have much more to say in the future, but for now let me simply affirm that I think there are real problems within evangelicalism on the teaching of sex, but that they aren’t generally where most people think.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

8 Comments

  1. As I was reading the Finch’s excerpt, I found myself naturally agreeing with it, especially because I found parallels to the “pro-choice” versus “pro-life” issue in the public sphere.

    Your questions are good ones, though. I think that the reservation about making public statements, or at least certain kinds of public statements, is relative to amount of perceived distancing that would ensue. There is no or relatively little concern that making public statements about helping the poor would be misinterpreted or misunderstood.

    Also, I think part of the reason that possible distancing can occur in the public sector is because of the nature of our communication. As you are fully aware, in a world where twitter, bumper stickers, edited “news” interviews, and the like rule, how can we possibly explain ourselves thoroughly?

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  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Craig L. Adams, Bob Rhodes. Bob Rhodes said: RT @craigadams49: RT @mattleeanderson On Christianity’s Public Witness to the Gay Community http://bit.ly/9TYQg1 […]

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  3. Odlaram,

    I agree about the problematic nature of public communication…and am just as opposed to bumper sticker theology as anyone. : ) That’s actually why we started this here little blog in the first place. We wanted to move past the cliches and the tripe to the substance of issues. (I know you know that–mostly, I’m reminding myself!) : )

    As the point about helping the poor…I was more interested in the other side, which might be critiquing certain demographics for their greed and oppressive consumerist practices.

    From what I can tell, the nervousness about critiquing sexual sins publicly has to do with the different sense of identity that people have. Because sexuality has become the center of our identities, we can’t talk about it without necessarily offending people. However, other sins are just fine to critique.

    In that sense, singling out homosexuality seems to give tacit approval to the gay community’s self-understanding about the nature of sexuality and its relationship to our identity. And that might be a problem.

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  4. This point is the one that hit me when I first read Fitch’s statement: “Why privilege the gay community regarding the church’s public judgments about what is, or is not, sin? Presumably, there are all sorts of behaviors and events that the church finds morally wrong, like unjust wars or poverty.”

    I do however, find it difficult in my own life to pronounce the immorality of homosexuality, particularly because many homosexuals feel they are born that way. I have thus begun to avoid discussing such matters with homosexual friends because they cannot help but take it *personally* and I, as a Christian, am inevitably seen as a “hater.” I understand that when viewed properly, this is no different from other behaviors, but it’s tough when so many don’t see it as fundamentally behavioral (in other words, a “choice”).

    This isn’t to say, however, that I think the Church should stop speaking its mind on the topic. Maybe it could emphasize or clarify the disagreement, but you’re always going to turn people off.

    The whole situation reminds me of something a missionary once told me about reaching people in far-removed cultures — peoples who saw almost EVERYTHING differently. His main point was that he would never be able to persuade an entire culture, no matter how sensitive or tactful he tried to be. For him, he realized that the Word of God is the ultimate persuasion tool. He noticed that all he had to do was translate the Bible and give people a choice. God could accomplish more in 1 hour than he could in a lifetime.

    It’s a simplistic answer, and there are obviously plenty of issues (e.g. how do you get certain people to actually read or “receive” from the Gospel), but I think it’s the root solution.

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  5. Yes, I suppose the issue is that people take any form of even tactful disagreement personally. (Since the abortion debate is one in which I am more versed, I will reference it again.) It would be as if almost always knew when talking to some about abortion whether they had had one or not. I know there can be the (false) impression that pro-lifers pit the woman versus the baby. But actually, we’re for woman just as much as for baby. I wonder if the same is happening in the issue of sexuality, where people feel like its a war between those with same-sex attraction and, well, everyone who doesn’t happen to have that particular sin issue. But really, it’s about every human person being made whole by God. I wonder if we could highlight that more, we could make some headway. But ah, then we’re back to the fact that sexuality in general is viewed completely differently.

    I wonder if a helpful approach would be to show examples of how good a Christian understanding of sexuality is, rather than just talking about it. Maybe we need more stories that capture this. That would be hard to pull off without being tacky or cliche. But it’s a thought. Tell better stories about the world!

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  6. @Joseph,

    Good words. I don’t much care about the debate over choice/birth. Doesn’t matter either way to me. We’ll probably be having the same choice/birth debate in 100 years about pedophiles. That’s no “slippery slope.” It’s just the reality that our sexual desires are not formed in ways that are obvious to even us…which makes their origin irrelevant to their morality.

    @odlaram7, Telling better stories is right on the money. Right. On. The. Money.

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  7. I agree on the choice/birth debate. It’s more just that its the most significant barrier from my experience. Even if we knew we were born with certain tendency, morality isn’t about the way things are (i.e. each of dispositions) but about the way things ought to be (that’s attributable to someone, if not lots of folks — D’Souza?).

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  8. […] prohibited, they can still be (wittingly or unwittingly) giving away the store. This discussion here provides a helpful case in point (HT: Joe Rigney). If someone is saying that homosexual behavior is, […]

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