Look Away Sunday: How We Lost the Gay Debate
(Note to those who believe differently than I do: My weekly reflections are written for evangelical Christians and are intended to spur dialog among ourselves about issues relevant to our biblical views. If this is not your thing, feel free to ‘look away’ and ignore the following. BTW, this was first posted on my FB wall and received many positive comments. If you choose to interact below, please do so with grace. Thanks.)
The debate is over and we lost. The ‘debate’ being the national conversation about the redefinition of marriage. Oh, some are still fighting this culture war (definitely not my preferred metaphor, just a readily identifiable one) but the tide has turned. The conversation is done. In fact, the debate ended in the mid-1980s before we even realized we were in dialog.
Let me explain.
When the AIDS crisis really hit, I was in college. I remember hearing about the first reports of the disease and its horrifying, ravaging effects on the body. It shocked our nation. Of course, some Christian leaders were quick to call it a curse from God. Unfortunately, this was the national sentiment at the time and anyone associated with the disease was treated abominably. May all the Ryan Whites rest in peace.
But I also remember hearing a few rational voices crying out in the wilderness, trying to reach out to those with HIV/AIDS despite the stigma. Their message was about ministry - and being gay or not was irrelevant. Those suffering needed grace, first and foremost. But no one was helping them!
It seemed as if our nation had turned its back on those who were hurting most. This prompted one Christian leader (I can’t remember who) to say something like this to us evangelicals: “Now is the time to minister in the name of Christ. Because when the world abandons ‘the least of these’ those who follow Christ do not. What a witness we’ll have when the world realizes that the only ones reaching out to the gay community are Christians.”
But instead of reaching out, we left the table. That’s when we lost the debate. When we failed to be the Church during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, we took our leave from the national conversation about anything gay related, including marriage. I’m not commenting on whether we should continue to discuss the issue of marriage or not. I’m simply saying that one reason we’re where we’re at today is because of what we didn’t do 30 years ago.
Why didn’t we step up to the plate back then? Two reasons, I think. One was simple ignorance. Like I said, I was in college in the 80s – a Christian college – and even though my first two roommates happened to be gay, I was oblivious to the issues they were facing. I’m friends with both on FB, so I’ll take this moment to say that I hope I didn’t say anything mean-spirited back then, but I honestly wouldn’t know – I was ignorant. The Church was largely ignorant of the pain swirling around it because we knew very few people personally who were dying of AIDS. It wasn’t ‘our’ issue. False, but sadly true.
A second reason was our adulterous affair with politics. Somehow – and this discussion is too far-ranging to do justice to in a single paragraph – we evangelicals ended up in bed with conservative political theory. And it’s marred our witness ever since. We became apathetic to many needs around us because we chased after the gods of politics. Now hear me, I’m not saying Christians should be apolitical, just that our faith shouldn’t be identified with such. Instead, we should get back to caring for the least of these. This will, imo, give us credibility in the town square. At the political level, at the table of national conversation, we’ll then have something to say and an audience to say it to.
It can still happen. In fact, it is happening in a different area - one just as hot button controversial. Abortion. We thought we lost the debate in 1973, but due to the tireless efforts of hundreds of thousands of CPC workers who are ministering to both mothers and children (and fathers too), the number of preborn children dying each year has fallen from 4000 a day in 1990 to about 2500 a day in 2012. Still a heart sickening number. And the hill seems insurmountable. But our job is not to go postal and it’s not to go political. Our job is to extend grace. No matter what the issue.
Because when the world abandons ‘the least of these’ those who follow Christ do not. I still believe this. Millions of Christians do as well. And they act with compassion. It can change our reputation. I hope it does. Before we face another crisis as a nation, I just hope our inch-deep-mile-wide evangelical subculture will shed its ignorance and apathy and rise to the occasion.
(Thanks for reading. If you choose to comment, please be positive and encouraging, even if you disagree. BTW, the phrase 'gay debate' comes from an interesting discussion by Matthew Vines, a fellow Wichitan, on the biblical texts that refer to homosexuality. While I disagree with some of his interpretations, the point is that this is a Christian discussion and not an outsider or secular/atheist attack against a traditional position.)