Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Things That Just Don't Help, People

I believe in my last post I mentioned how I was bored and at home. Well, I'm not really either anymore! I decided to take a few days and head back down to my college's town to visit all my friends who live here in the summer. Man, I love this town, and also the fact that I have high speed Internet down here! Yay! So I figure that since right now the friend I'm staying with is asleep (and probably will be till noon or so) I should go ahead and blog. So with that, here goes.

It's really interesting, and a little sad, to hear some conservative Christian commentary on the recent decision by the California Supreme Court remove the ban on same-sex marriages. Now, in general, I have to say I disagree with the court's decision. Even taking personal opinions out of the mix here, I feel there was little legal basis for their decision and it went against the will of the people of the state of California... not to mention that their decision to allow same-sex marriage, but not allow plural marriage, sounds more like a "because we say so" than anything else. There didn't seem to be any logical sense to how they could remove one of the prerequisites for marriage (opposite genders) but not another (two people), and they didn't take time to bridge that logical gap. They just said so. I'm not usually a fan of the slippery slope argument, but let's face it, the court left themselves pretty wide open here.

But anyway, that's not the point of the post anyway, so before any of you decide to throw chairs at me, hear me out (especially if they are nice chairs). I have been increasingly saddened by the seeming inability of many Christian commentators to talk about this issue with grace or concern for homosexuals. I think one podcast by James White brought it home for me. Yes, there were plenty of good points made about the sinfulness of the sins involved, and the missteps that the court took in order to reach its decision. But still, I'm just frustrated... is there no way to talk about those things without having to resort to idiotic statements? I can't tell you how many faulty statistics and assertions I've heard around the Internet (i.e. "gays don't want marriage," "they have multiple partners a month," etc.) And don't get me started on broad, over-reaching, and unflattering (not to mention largely untrue) statements like "gays are selfish" or "gays are trying to destroy America." Seriously, it just blows my mind that Christians are still talking like that. It makes the ignorant hiccups (like references to "deciding to be a homosexual") really pale in comparison (though they are no less annoying, I've found).

Is it really too hard to imagine that commentating on things like same-sex marriage might actually be a good opportunity to reach out to homosexuals? I mean, the two just seem to go hand-in-hand to me, because Lord only knows how many gay men and women read and/or listen to these commentaries. But how can you reach out to a group if you lie about them, and just assume that the worst statistic you've read about them is true? How can you reach out to a group if you haven't taken any time to know where that group has come from? Choosing to have homosexual sex is one thing, but no one decides to be a homosexual, and hearing that little nugget is enough to turn people off (even people like me, who are conservative), because it shows that we're just not being listened to. I mean, it really makes me wonder if they actually care. I can't think of any other sin (short of murder, perhaps) that so many Christians just don't seem to be able to be gracious about.

It's especially sad when a lot of this commentary is coming from writers, like James White, that I really respect and who are usually a breath of fresh air in terms of their thoughtfulness and intelligence (especially when compared to other Evangelical commentators). I was at least hoping for some effort to reach out to homosexuals in that podcast, but nope, nothing. Even if the effort had been wrapped in bad, NARTH-style jargon it would be better than nothing. It would at least show that they, you know, care about us. It's frustrating, I guess, but it also makes me reflect and wonder if there are any sins or struggles that I am callous about. Is there any group that I am unsympathetic to? Are there any people whose actions I rightly know as sin but who I nevertheless fail to reach out to out of my own prejudices? I can't be a total victim here, because usually the things we dislike in others are mirrored in ourselves. If I can see what doesn't help when witnessing to homosexuals, maybe I can use those things to see what doesn't help when witnessing to others.

Christ's peace to you,
Jay

23 comments:

Pomoprophet said...

Yeah. Its sad isnt it? I remember a few years ago when I was still exgay and I went to a Christian youth rally and the things they were saying were so twisted and wrong. I drove home wondering what Christians are so afraid of. Do they not believe in truth enough to let it defend itself?

And in reality they don't. Truth is too gray for them so they make this issue polarizing. They use statistics falsely to easily make our side sound horrible.

It is nothing like the character of Christ. Part of me hopes they get what they deserve. But then that isnt very Christlike either!

Good reflection at the end bro.

kurt_t said...

Jay, this guy is a crackpot. Why are you wasting your time listening to this nonsense?

Jay said...

Pomoprophet: Well, I think Truth itself is pretty easy to see. I don't think it's gray at all. I still believe that homosexual sex is a sin (and so that means even all the Bible's nasty words describing sin apply to it). I'm just saying that many Christians need to find a way to make sure that those nasty words are only describing the sin and not the sinners (because, let's face it, we're all sinners).

There has to be a way to take hard line on sin but still be gracious about it. I just haven't found too many people about to do it when it comes to homosexuality.

Kurt: He's one of the best Reformed theologians out on the Internet. Just because he seems to lose some focus and perspective in this particular subject doesn't make him a "crackpot." The core of the piece was that homosexual sex is a sin and that same-sex marriage is invalid, and I agree with those. The problem is that the core was drowned out by a lot of needless shouting and name-calling, and there was no call to repent or believe from him (for any sinner, really, but definitely not for the homosexuals who were the subject of his piece). So, was he temporarily dumb? Yes. Is he a crackpot? No.

Brandon said...

I personally think we should allow gay marriage. I don't agree with it, and I do think it's wrong, but I recognize a great deal of people do not believe as I do on the subject. I don't think my beliefs should be imposed on others, and so, if gay marriage is something that only involves the two in that marriage, then why not go ahead and let them marry. I think to do so would break some of the attitude of "Us verses Them". It tells people in support of gay marriage that if that's what they want to do they have the freedom to go ahead and do it. We won't stand in their way. We give them the choice to sin, in other words. And therefore, perhaps we become a little less hostile sounding towards them. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't still preach the good news and show them the better way to live. I agree, we need to always watch what words we use.

Anyway, great article. And very good points. :)

tilts_at_windmills said...

FWIW, I can answer some of your legal questions about the decision.

The court didn't address plural marriage because courts are restricted to resolving the case before them. If the question is whether the state constitutional right to marriage includes a right to marry a person of your own sex, then the court can say yes or no. It can't say, "yes, and also we're legalizing plural marriage." The limitation to ruling on the case at hand is one of the major restraints on judicial power.

As to "the will of the people," judges aren't allowed to consider the popularity of a point of view in making a decision. Indeed, we have courts in significant part to protect us from the will of the people./law geek

Jay said...

Brandon and Tilts: Good points, both of you. Tilts, I think my main thing with plural marriage (and please correct me if I'm mistaken here) is that the CA court ruled that its decision could not be used in hypothetical future cases to legalize plural marriage. My reaction to that was, "why not?" Maybe a law geek such as yourself can help. :)

Take care, you two!

David said...

I can't say that I'm surprised by James White's comments (though I am taking your word for it and have not listened to the podcast). Some time ago I, having heard about this gentleman from a friend, looked him up online and was a bit dismayed from what I saw. Here is the first sentence from an article entitled "Evidence for Special Creation From Scientific Evidence":

"Sadly, in our nation today there is a strong movement under way to steal from our children the freedom to think and examine their world outside of a very narrow, all-pervasive religious perspective."

If that isn't sensationalist hoo-haw I don't know what is. He then goes ahead to completely misunderstand evolution, natural selection, and genetic mutation, radically oversimplifying a complex theory to obtain a (not very compelling) bit of "evidence" for special creation.

He has many articles with these sorts of introductions, consider the following:

"I mean by that, anyone who takes seriously biblical truth and biblical principles will find himself on the sharp end of angry stares if we dare speak the truth in the midst of today’s national crisis."

I am so intensely turned off by this appeal to political rhetoric concerning the alleged "suffering" of American Christians, an affront to the Christians of Sudan, and elsewhere, who are truly suffering. It is nothing but tripe as far as I am concerned. I certainly think Dietrich Bonhoeffer may be spinning in his grave.

I also find his Greek word-definitions to be brief and rather lacking in substance (though my ideas of thoroughness are very high: I'd rather have word-studies and through examination of multiple occurrences and context than quotes from lexicons).

So that is to say, while I have no doubt that there are some things he brings up that are of worth, I do remember finding Mr. White succumbing to a "culture war" mentality too easily. Although I certainly wouldn't call him a "crackpot." I certainly feel I have done and said enough to be called "crackpot" by others and don't want to spread pot around.

I have a question about a couple things in the comments:

1) You told pomo that you "think Truth itself is pretty easy to see." What does that mean? Does that mean that every human being has equal and self-evident access to what is true? If so, why is there so much disagreement on truth? It would seem to me that this disagreement is evidence that truth is itself quite *difficult* to see, and it is a less-than-100%-certain pursuit, whether that be because of the nature of truth itself or the nature of human beings.

2) You talk about nasty words applying to sin but not to sinners. I find this not a very Reformed approach (the standard Reformed theology being that sin is integral to a person's being, not simply referring to their acts). But I think there is plenty in the Bible - particularly the OT - calling sinners nasty words (read the Psalms and see what God does to the wicked, or Jesus' parables, or 2 Peter which calls such men 'brute beasts' and 'born only to be caught and destroyed'). But mostly I don't understand holding to traditional Reformed theology and not transposing the qualities of sin onto the sinner. Perhaps you could explain in another post?

Jay said...

David: Hmmm... It must be that before now I've mostly just listened to White's apologetics for Reformed theology. I haven't looked at any of his writings on "culture war" issues and you are correct, he's much more of a sensationalist than I'd like. Sad.

I think Pomo's comment was about Christians who see the Truth as being "gray," and I was just saying that I think most are on the mark about the basics of this issue. At the same time, I didn't give Pomo enough credit for his comment about Christians needing to let Truth defend itself. As for the nature of Truth and human beings -- my little uneducated mind will still hold to the belief that those answers can be found in God's Word, but you are right in that it is in no way a deal of 100% certainty.

As for the "nasty words" thing, I guess it's just a holdover from my Arminian days, but to be honest I'm not quite willing to let that one go yet (let's just say I'm an eclectic Calvinist). Surely the qualities of sin are transposed onto the unrepentant sinner; that's the reason such a person is condemned. At the same time, if people do not have a concept of God's judgment, then calling them "wicked" or "brute beasts" is just an insult and can't be convicting at all. If White had turned around and said what he meant by those things -- or made clear that all sinners were such things, including himself -- then I wouldn't have been so upset. As it was, he made it seem like the words he spoke only applied to homosexuals... and like I said, that didn't seem like a good way to witness.

Hehe, with that comment's length, it might as well have been another post, eh? Take care of yourself, buddy!

Norm! said...

Jay said:

". . . I feel there was little legal basis for their decision and it went against the will of the people of the state of California... not to mention that their decision to allow same-sex marriage, but not allow plural marriage, sounds more like a "because we say so" than anything else. . . ."

I'm certainly not a law geek, but my understanding is that the CA court based its decision on the state's constitution and precedence. The court recognized the "right of an individual to establish a legally recognized family with a person of one’s choice". It also based its decision on its 1948 ruling striking a law that banned interracial marriage -- which was certainly a ruling against the will of the people.

As for plural marriage, I'm not aware that any one argued it before the court. While I suppose one could argue people have the right to have plural marriage, I don't see know how the state would deal with the complexities of plural marriages.

". . . Is it really too hard to imagine that commentating on things like same-sex marriage might actually be a good opportunity to reach out to homosexuals? . . ."

Well, at least Mr. White's ignorance would warn away any LGBT from his hateful message. Anti-gay rhetoric is more honest than the "sexual wholeness" psychobabble offered by politically correct conservative Christians (i.e. ex-gay movement).

I'm sure advocating anti-gay laws and opposing gay rights voids any opportunity for conservative Christians to reach out to LGBTs. [BTW, calling gays and lesbians "homosexuals" probably won't create any opportunities either :) ]

I think conservative Christians would have greater opportunities with LGBT peoples if they truly fought for religious freedom and kept their religious bias out of public policy.

Jay said...

Well, at least Mr. White's ignorance would warn away any LGBT from his hateful message. Anti-gay rhetoric is more honest than the "sexual wholeness" psychobabble offered by politically correct conservative Christians (i.e. ex-gay movement).

Well, that was kind of my point. Mr. White needs to tone down the ignorance and the hate. But do tell me how anti-gay rhetoric is "honest" at all.

Also, I don't quite understand what problems you have with calling gays and lesbians "homosexuals" since, you know, that's what they are (and myself as well... I still include myself in that). :)

Norm! said...

". . . But do tell me how anti-gay rhetoric is "honest" at all."

Well, not honest in terms of truth, but anti-gay rhetoric at least honestly portrays anti-gay adherents' real prejudice and ignorance. At the extreme, no one mistakes Rev. Fred Phelps as a loving Christian.

Whereas many anti-gay folks cloak their true prejudice behind "defending" so-called "traditional marriage", "family values", "Judeo-Christian ethics", etc., instead of just honestly saying that they are uncomfortable with gays and believe LGBT peoples are inferior, degenerate, and immoral.

". . . I don't quite understand what problems you have with calling gays and lesbians "homosexuals" . . ."

When reaching out to people, it's preferable to refer to people as they identify themselves. While homosexual is technically correct, I can't imagine conservative Christians getting very far in their outreach using homosexual instead of the preferred identity (gay, lesbian, queer, etc.). It's like if I referred to all conservative Christians as religious fundamentalists -- accurate (in my opinion), but not very endearing. :)

Also, some fringe conservative media continue to refuse to use gay because it's too positive sounding whereas homosexual sounds more like a problem condition ("yup, he's got a bad case of homosexual"). :)

spj287 said...

Wow!! Dude, this blog brought me to my knees in tears!! I especially found your thought that "choosing to have homosexual sex is one thing, but no one decides to be a homosexual..."

I think I often (even coming out of homosexuality myself) believe that I chose to live in that sinful past. Yes, I chose to act out on those sins, but really, the actions of my father ultimately began the process of my need and want for male intimacy. I think that's what you were referring to, as I don't believe you think one is born into homosexuality. Right?

Anyway, the power of this blog is overwhelming. I love you for this, bro, and I pray God continues using you in mighty ways, such as this.

-Steve

Brandon said...

Norm, just out of curiosity, what exactly would you say is the difference between gay and homosexual? I've pretty much known the two words to mean the same things. If any difference, the only one I'm aware of is that gay seems to sometimes have a little more of a political context to it. And really, I'm not sure I'd feel any worse or better if someone called me gay or homosexual. Most people, I think, tend to mean the same thing by it.

Oh, and sorry of straying off topic, Jay. I was too curious not to ask.

Norm! said...

[Oops, I didn't intend to start an off-topic discussion.]

You're right, Brandon. The only difference between gay and homosexual is the usage and context. I've notice that homosexual is more often used by people who are uncomfortable using gay and who want to distance themselves any implied endorsement. I've even heard some conservative Christian struggling with their sexuality argue that they may be homosexual, but are not gay.

Personally, I would not be offended if someone identified me as homosexual as long as I knew they were well-meaning.

vitaminbook said...

It's good to see someone giving this topic an even-handed treatment for a change! I'll be reading more of your blog :)

Jay said...

Norm: ". . .Whereas many anti-gay folks cloak their true prejudice behind "defending" so-called "traditional marriage", "family values", "Judeo-Christian ethics", etc., instead of just honestly saying that they are uncomfortable with gays and believe LGBT peoples are inferior, degenerate, and immoral."

I'm not very comfortable saying what people's biases really are if I don't personally know them, and I do my best to take people at their word. To be frank, I don't care if a person is prejudiced or not, because our prejudices are often beyond our control. As long as they take an effort to be respectful, kind, and gracious in the name of Christ, personal feelings don't really matter.

Oh, and I didn't know people had a problem with "homosexual." You can rest assured that I never meant anything ill-meaning by the term (and I use "gays" just as often as well).

SPJ: Thanks for the kudos . . .though I've never been a big fan of the "actions of the father" theory, so that's not what I meant. I don't care if homosexuality is inborn or not. I've written several posts on this, so take a look around. :)

Brandon: No worries about getting off-topic. :)

Vitaminbook: Why thank you! Take care.

Norm! said...

"...because our prejudices are often beyond our control. As long as they take an effort to be respectful, kind, and gracious in the name of Christ, personal feelings don't really matter. ..."

Really, I'm not trying to be argumentative, but I'm troubled by the idea that prejudices are "beyond our control". While we all have biases and other baggage, we all make choices as to express and act on our prejudices.

To me, actions speak far louder than words and the actions of those who oppose gay rights undermine their supposed respect and Christian faith. How is it respectful to legislate and even amend constitutions to enshrine discrimination and inequality? How is it Christ-like to devote sermons , political actions, and entire ministries to oppose a particular minority's supposed "sin" while ignoring their own behavior? I would love to hear conservative Christians call for a constitutional amendment banning no-fault divorce and premarital sex with the same tenacity they strive to oppose gay rights.

"...
Oh, and I didn't know people had a problem with "homosexual." You can rest assured that I never meant anything ill-meaning by the term..."


I really don't have a problem with homosexual, but I do find it irritating how some fringe conservatives choose to replace gay with homosexual at every opportunity (i.e. "homosexual pride parade", etc.). I know you never meant anything ill-meaning.

spj287 said...

Jay,

I'm going to hunt down those entries, as I'm really interested to know your views on it.

I also hope I didn't misrepresent your blog on my own blog.

Thanks, dude.

tilts_at_windmills said...

Norm pretty much got it in describing the case. I haven't read the whole thing, but I did a search on the .pdf and it seems like the only mention of polygamy was a footnote that suggests the state still has a valid interest in preventing polygamy and incest because the legislature could reasonably conclude that they have a "potentially detrimental effect on a sound family environment," ie, that those kind of relationships are inherently harmful. California didn't even attempt to make that argument regarding gay couples.

Also, sexual orientation is a protected class under the CA constitution, while polygamist isn't. That means the state needs to meet a higher burden of proof before it can discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Reasons that would be good enough to ban polygamy wouldn't necessarily be good enough to ban gay marriage, even if they were exactly the same.

On another note, I'll second the fact that I don't like the word "homosexual" much. It doesn't offend me in itself, but it gets used in context as a veiled insult so often that when I hear it, I'm put on my guard. Phrases like "homosexual pride parade" or "homosexual marriage" are nails on a blackboard in my brain.

Anonymous said...

I think the main reason that some LGBTs are uncomfortable with the word "homosexual" is the often implied insult (intended or not), depending on the context, that such relationships are really only about the sex and not much else.

-Lurker.

Jay said...

Tilts and Lurker: Well... I guess I've never felt insulted by it, which isn't to say that I'm gonna continue to be insensitive. Like I said, I just use both "gay" and "homosexual" and "GLBT" every now and then.

Oh, and I do support gay marriage in a lot of instances (politically, that is; not religiously). I just think the CA ruling was written in such a way that it didn't legally set up enough protection from future cases that might try to argue plural or incestuous marriage... but of course I'm not a law geek either. :)

SPJ: I don't think you misrepresented me, although to be honest I'm a little surprised that you just realized that you didn't choose your gay feelings. Most of us know that from the beginning. :)

spj287 said...

Jay, it's not that I just realized this. Rather, it's more of a confusion. LOL!! I mean, I don't believe men and women are born homosexually. I believe it has to do with the environment they are raised in. For me, my father was out of the picture. However, when he was around, he was abusive (mentally, physically, and sexually) toward my entire family and I.

otrolado said...

Wow, I don't have any comment on this particular post, I was just impressed with the massive number of comments and thought I would keep it going. Haha.