Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Queers vs. Conservative Christians

On the outside looking in, both ways, toward the possibility of peace

I had a conversation yesterday with a Catholic millennial friend. She brought up this blog, and made an observation that I often hear from friends who both know me personally and who read this blog: that there’s a big gap between who I am in person (friendly, funny, relaxed) and the way I come across on this blog (grumpy, aggrieved, fearful).

I told her I know it’s a problem, and a big part of it is in the nature of writing a blog that comments mostly on news events, especially having to do with religion and culture. It’s a distorting lens through which to see me, but I can’t blame people, because this is my public face. If I wrote mostly about the things that made me happy, which is to say, the things that I talk about whenever I’m offline and hanging out with friends, this would be a boring blog. I’m able to compartmentalize easily, and leave work at work, so to speak, but I have no right to expect my readers to do that.

At one point we started talking about the awful identity politics that has emerged out of the Orlando atrocity, and then we started talking about gays vs. Christians in general.

“My queer friends think you’re a bigot,” she said. “They don’t know you, but I do, and I understand the whole context of your comments. But if somebody only read your blog posts as a one-off, it sounds like something a bigot would say.”

I told her that I regretted that, but in my long experience writing about this issue, I have discovered that there is no way to defend the orthodox Christian teaching in a way that most gay folks find acceptable, even if they disagree. In other words, simply holding the orthodox Christian teaching about homosexuality (and sexuality in general, from which it cannot be separated) is evidence of bigotry, in their eyes.

“Look at Zack Ford’s response to Russell Moore’s Orlando column,” I said. “You could not possibly be more generous and compassionate from an orthodox Christian perspective than Russell was, but it still wasn’t enough. Zack Ford demanded that he give up his convictions or be thought indecent. And that’s not something an orthodox Christian can do.”

My friend, who is straight, said that I had to understand the position of pain that gay people come from. Society has made a lot of progress away from hatred and abuse, she said, but this is still very new, and very incomplete.

“In college, we had to put together a fundraising drive for a gay friend of ours who had come out to his parents, who cut him off from college tuition,” she said. “Not only that, but they refused to sign the papers that would let him get student aid to make up for the loss.”

“Besides,” she added, “gay people are afraid of ending up like Matthew Shepard. That’s not a fear straight people have. So when the worst thing straight people have to worry about is being forced to bake a cake, it really looks horrible.” [Note: I know that the Matthew Shepard case is much murkier than it seemed at first, and that it may not have been gay-bashing at all. Insofar as he is a symbol of gay-bashing, the point still stands. — RD]

I conceded her points, but added that what the cake situation symbolizes is much more serious than she makes it out to be.

“People have lost their businesses and had to pay big fines over that kind of thing. That’s not nothing,” I said. “And what about Brendan Eich? He was kicked out of the company he founded.”

“You should see my e-mail inbox,” I continued. “It’s filled with letters from Christian and conservative academics who are genuinely terrified for their belief about homosexuality to be discovered, and in some cases for it to be known among their colleagues that they’re Christian. They’re afraid for their jobs, their reputations, and their careers. That’s not losing your life, but it’s still a very big deal.”

I told my friend that I’ve spent most of my life in newsrooms where, as a conservative Christian, I was very much the minority. Over and over I saw how casually people scorned Christians in their language, and how hatred of Christians that was not considered to be hatred by those holding the opinion skewed coverage. The ideological and epistemic bubble of newsrooms around issues having to do with the intersection of religion and, well, anything, but especially issues of sexuality, is opaque and impermeable. And when you see the way the news media portray Christians, especially on LGBT issues, you see the depth of that bias, and you know it has an effect.

“For most of my professional life, I have lived in a world where gays and lesbians were not stigmatized but valorized,” I said, “and conservative Christians were openly treated as the enemy. I heard an editor once defend biased coverage of the same-sex marriage issue by comparing us to the Ku Klux Klan.”

I believe what you’re saying about the gay perspective, I told her, and I know that the environment I’ve worked in has been so pro-gay and socially liberal, and especially hostile towards conservative Christians, that it has probably made it more difficult for me to fully appreciate how things look from the LGBT side. But that works both ways. It very often seems to me that gays and their allies see conservative Christians as nothing but haters who deserve no consideration as fellow human beings, and deserve every bad thing that happens to us as our comeuppance for having beliefs they hate.

“Consider this,” she said in reply. “That both things can be true at the same time. That gays and lesbians really do have reason to fear discrimination and worse, and that conservative Christians really do have reason to fear discrimination and losing their livelihoods.”

That sounds right to me, I told my friend. But how do LGBTs and conservative Christians move past that, while still being true to our convictions?

We didn’t have time to get into it on the phone, nor would either of us have had a solution, I’m guessing. Besides, neither of us are gay, so anything we said would have been skewed.

Let me put it to the room, though: how do we move past the irreconcilable differences, and recognize the humanity of each other even as we strongly disagree. Are there ways we can be more fair to each other and stay true to ourselves and our sacred beliefs. Can we make a place for each other, or are we doomed to fight forever?

Wherever you come down on the issue, note well that I will only publish constructive comments. If you only want to complain and moan about how hateful the other side is, and say that your side’s feelings are more important than the other side’s, I’m not going to publish your comment. Let’s try to make this thread different from every other one on this topic, shall we?

UPDATE: Gang, I’m serious about not posting things that are full of ardent griping about what the Other Side should do. It won’t kill you to try to be constructive. If you really believe that there’s nothing we can do, I’ll post that comment, but don’t be shrill about it, because that ruins a thread. I strongly, strongly urge you, in your comments, to include a suggestion for what your own side could do to be more respectful, understanding, or accommodating.