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Last week, World Vision’s decision to extend employment to individuals in a same-sex marriage sparked a heated, internet-wide debate. Where have we heard this before?
In Christendom, there is apparently no topic quite as explosive as same-sex relationships. Christians are sharply divided and passionately opinionated on the issue. Same-sex marriage debates seem to rally and galvanize Christians lately. Chick-Fil-A, a fast food restaurant with a conservative Christian at the helm, became embroiled in a controversy when it became public knowledge that they regularly contributed to organizations that oppose LGBT rights. Christians quickly came to their defense, attending events at the restaurant and publicly showing support with everything from bumper stickers to Facebook updates. Others in the Christian community pushed back against what seemed like glee in denying rights to others, and a fervent debate ensued.
Do these squabbles speak love? Does the loud and passionate protestation about same-sex marriage draw others to Christ?
Similarly, when Phil Robertson made some questionable and shaming comments about gay men and was put on probation by his television network, Christians rallied in their support. Within days, over a million people had joined a “Stand With Phil” Facebook page to show support for Phil’s comments. Predictably, social media outlets and blogs blew up with both support for Phil and criticism of this support, both sides wielding scriptures to support their case.
Events like these now follow a predictable pattern, and it seems like with every new controversy, people only dig their heels in further.
And I think, as Christians, we need to ask ourselves three vital questions:
1. Why is same-sex marriage such a fraught issue?
We don’t see nearly the same level of outcry or gatekeeping when it comes to biblical mandates that are often mentioned in conjunction with homosexuality. I don’t recall a boycott of companies who hire unrepentant gluttons. Christians aren’t generally voting on issues related to outlawing the right to be drunk. And yet, there seems to be a heightened sense of outrage on this particular issue. Many Christians believe that homosexual behavior is a sin, but why is this sin given so much more airtime? Perhaps it’s time to honestly examine whether or not the attention paid to this particular issue displays some covert fear or prejudice.
2. How can we find unity in this division?
Christians will likely remain divided on this issue. Is the only solution a form of excommunicating one another — denying fellowship over this issue? We’ve managed to maintain relationships under the umbrella of Christianity despite doctrinal differences over any number of issues, from women’s roles to ideas about baptism to views about the End Times. In fact, while many view the Bible to be the inerrant word of God, few will agree on the theological nuances of every single verse. We’ve learned to navigate our differences on a wide variety of issues.
I am guessing that World Vision, as an inter-denominational organization, has employees who represent a wide spectrum of views on scriptural issues. And yet, when they opened the door to include those from denominations who take a different view of homosexuality, it was too far. World Vision dipped their toes in the water of inclusiveness and couldn’t stand the heat. The backlash was so severe that the organization quickly capitulated, leaving many progressive and gay Christians feeling betrayed and more conservative Christians feeling satisfied that truth had won out.
But was this really a win? An organization made an attempt to show more unity in the kingdom and was bullied until they changed course. This sets an alarming precedent for other inter-denominational ministries. As I watched this unfold, I felt a profound sadness that this issue has created such a schism and that there seems to be a large faction of our faith attempting to stand guard at the table of fellowship. Is this what Christ wanted for the church?
3. How is this affecting our LGBT brothers and sisters?
Lastly, I think it is vitally important to take a step back from the infighting and get a clearer picture of those we’ve left in its wake. The passionate spats over gay marriage speak volumes to gay and lesbian individuals about how the church views them. And regardless of our personal theology surrounding sexuality, we are told above all else to love. Do these squabbles speak love? Does the loud and passionate protestation about same-sex marriage draw others to Christ? Blogger Benjamin Moberg said, “I am tired of being the most galvanizing symbol for evangelical Christians.”
I asked a gay Christian friend, Kevin, to share a bit about how the World Vision debates made him feel:
It gave me so much hope when WV made their announcement; it felt kind of monumental for a truly evangelical Christian organization to be WELCOMING to people like me. But the response and subsequent reversal was devastating. More than one of my friends used the phrase “kick in the gut.” I think the worst part is that the negative response and WV’s lightning-quick reversal felt so personal. After the initial announcement, I read so many tweets and Facebook statuses such as “saddened to withdraw our support,” “angry that WV has given in to the gay agenda,” “I support traditional values,” “I will not support an organization that enables unbiblical lifestyles” and so on.
For them, it is merely an issue up for debate, not something they live with or experience. But LGBTQ+ people are not “issues” to be debated. We are people with a variety of backgrounds and beliefs. Some of us have struggled mightily to reconcile our sexuality and/or gender identity with faith in Christ. The diversity and complexity of our stories are discounted too easily by treating us like an ‘issue.’”
Christians will likely continue to be divided over the issue of same-sex marriage and relationships. But unfortunately, these debates seem to be taking center stage as we interact with the world. Is this what we want to be known for? My hope is that we can begin to make peace with each other over this issue and move forward despite our differences, and put the focus back where it’s supposed to be: sharing God’s love.