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Debating Orlando’s Meaning

Christians, orthodox and progressive, talk about the fault (or not) of conservative Christians in the massacre

I’m one of four contributors to today’s NYT Room For Debate feature. The topic:

But is it fair to say that people share any blame for Saturday night’s attack because they oppose L.G.B.T. equality for religious reasons? And while the media is focused on the role that Muslim anti-gay rhetoric may have played in this slaughter, do conservative Christians need to accept greater civil rights for L.G.B.T people in order to create a less hurtful atmosphere in the United States?

From my contribution:

Whatever made the radical Muslim Omar Mateen murder 49 innocents, connecting that atrocity to Christians (and Republicans) is shameless opportunism. It renders reasoned debate impossible, and turns cultural politics into a crusade against infidels.

Waving a blood-soaked rainbow flag to rally anti-Christian scapegoating for political advantage is repulsive and dangerous. But to holy warriors, restraint looks like cowardice and acknowledging moral complexity denies the narcotic pleasures of ardent purity.

This won’t end well. Wars of religion never do.

From Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly:

I believe I’m called to engage those with whom I disagree, including L.G.B.T. advocates, sit down with them, if possible, and when feasible, work toward the common good without compromising our core principles.

But as a Christian, I don’t have the luxury or authority to slice and dice (though some try) and adhere to only those passages of the Bible that are culturally acceptable. From beginning to end, I believe the Bible is the infallible word of God and I accept it in whole, not in part. As such, I believe the Bible is clear that homosexuality is a sin.

Does that mean I condemn gay people because of their sin? Of course not. I’m a sinner, too. But as a Christian, I’m a recipient of the grace and forgiveness of Jesus, who I believe died for my sins.

From Christian LGBT advocate Julie Rodgers, who is lesbian:

It’s no surprise, then, that subtle disdain for L.G.B.T. people would eventually be expressed more overtly. In the case of the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, it was devastating. The Christians I know were grieved by the massacre and they want to know how to help. The best thing they can do is repent for the ways they’ve helped create a culture that devalues L.G.B.T. people made in the image of God, and then begin to tell a better story about us in their circles. If everyone grew up hearing that God delights in gay people and we have gifts to nourish our communities, I do not think we would be targeted for violence or discrimination.

From liberal Evangelical theologian David Gushee:

A typical evangelical in the United States today has moved to a rejection of such hate speech or of any violence toward L.G.B.T. people, but not to a place of acceptance of gay marriages, or of L.G.B.T. people in religious leadership. Hateful statements obviously create a threatening environment for L.G.B.T. people, but even polite half-acceptance leaves L.G.B.T. people in a demeaning second-class position.

I hope you’ll read the whole thing. It gives a pretty good snapshot of the chasm between us. What I see here is irreconcilable differences, regrettably.

Daly and I both condemn the violence, but insist that orthodox Christians cannot change our theology to fit the times. And we assert that it is wrong to demonize us for the actions of this Muslim terrorist.

Rodgers insists that somehow, conservative Christian rejection of homosexuality is connected to the Orlando mass murder. It’s pretty clear that nothing will satisfy her short of Christians giving up their theological convictions on homosexuality. Gushee doesn’t even make an argument, but simply goes on record with sympathy for LGBTs, and none for his fellow Evangelicals, expressing skepticism of their claim that the advance of gay rights comes at the loss of religious liberty.

Somehow, we have to live together. Somehow.

Note that both Daly and I recognize that it’s wrong to treat gay people cruelly. Daly says, “People are not an issue to be solved; they’re to be loved and cared for in grace and truth.” But Gushee and Rodgers concede nothing to their fellow believers.

Gushee and Rodgers’ side has the upper hand in this culture, and will likely have it for the rest of our lives. I believe they will use every lever possible to punish Christians for holding to Christian orthodoxy, and they will have the full weight of the law, academia, the media, the political establishment behind them. That’s not fearmongering; it’s just a fact. The challenge ahead for orthodox Christians is to stand firm in the truth without yielding to the temptation to hate.



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