2009 Photo by Lambert Wolterbeek Muller, flickr

Recently, I was sent a provocative picture by someone who is an evangelical Christian who has been forming friendships and having some substantive conversations (including spiritual things) with gay and lesbian people in their neighborhood.  The picture (of a gay man, underwear clad, hugging some Christians along the street of the gay-pride parade route) appears under the headline, “A Christian group shows up to a Chicago Gay Pride parade holding apologetic signs including "I'm sorry for how the church treated you".

 This person had posted the picture and web-article on their Facebook page – and had received some positive response to it, especially from their gay/lesbian friends. And then, one of this person’s mentors from their church, wrote them a private email, telling them how shocked and puzzled they were that this appeared on their Facebook page. It was a thoughtful, non-hostile but clearly-concerned, communication of questions and apprehensions about it.

The person asked what I thought about all this.  Here is what I said:

First of all, kudos for being on the front lines in such matters; things are confusing and messy in the actual engagement of issues and with real people. 

I thought the note from [your mentor] was also good – thoughtful, respectful, and fair – and I agree with [them] that “the message” of the facebook posting (with picture) is confusing.  Because issues regarding gay and lesbian orientation have become so politicized, any statement on it requires nuance and explication. “Bumper sticker” statements are simply insufficient – and provoke, rather than proclaim. 

I’d affirm the following points – which are at some tension with one another: 

1.  “The church” has been right to identify same-sex sexual behavior as sinful.

2.  Nevertheless, in addition to rightly identifying same-sex sexual behavior as sinful, “the church” has delivered wounds to gays and lesbians by stigmatizing their penchants to sinfulness in a way not done to other sinful penchants, adding to the pain of their struggle, failing to recognize the pain, complexity, and difficulties inherently encountered by a person with same-sex attractions, etc.

3.  “The church” has been slow to recognize that same-sex attractions are not simply “choices” that one makes voluntarily.

4.  Many people with same-sex attractions have now formed an identity around same-sex attraction and behavior such that seeks to normalize and normativize them, and in the process heap scorn on churches still identifying same-sex sexual behavior as sinful. 

It is difficult to enter into this complex cauldron of tensions to make any statement that will not be subject to misunderstanding, mis-characterization or outright ridicule. 

You are also correct in your response to your friend that, when level-headed Christians are paralyzed by the intractable tensions in the current situation and say nothing, that leaves only the Fred Phelps of the world willing to rashly and pervertedly [!] proclaim what is then perceived as the ONLY message from “the church” on the issue.  Adamant statements to the contrary (even if they are not, on their own, “balanced”) can be appropriate in such a context.   

I am not sure it was a  mistake to post the picture.  I am ambivalent about that, to be honest.  Did it spark the conversations worth having, or did it spark conversations you think are a waste of time, a distraction, that you wish you weren’t having?  That is probably the diagnostic test. . . . ? 

Those are my thoughts.  Wish I could be more helpful. 

And those were my thoughts – and I really do wish I could have been more helpful.  What are your thoughts?  Can you be more helpful? 

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.

Comments 

 
0 #8 Luis 2012-05-17 22:47
“The church” has been slow to recognize that same-sex attractions are not simply “choices” that one makes voluntarily.

According to this heretical perspective you can say the same thing for adultery, fornication etc. Anyone can then say that their sin was "involuntary". No where in the Bible is your opinion found. If this is what your "seminary" teaches, I now understand why it has the negative reputation of being apostate.
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0 #7 R. Todd Mangum 2012-05-07 05:09
@ Chuck: hey, man! Thanks for posting.

Fair enough. I have ambivalent thoughts and feelings about the "context" point, truthfully. Seeming affirmation of "gay pride" is problematic. On the other hand, Jesus' being willing to hang out with tax collectors and sinners subjected Him to criticisms, too, of the variety, "Your being with them THERE could be taken as endorsement of their sinfulness." He still did it.

In a context in which "the Christian message" to same-sex-attracted people has been perceived to be "we hate you," perhaps we have all the more extenuating a reason to go out of our way to get to them a different message?
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+1 #6 R. Todd Mangum 2012-05-07 05:00
But, even without Yarhouse :-), here's what I'd add regarding the "excuse making" for behavior: even if the attractions are wholly involuntary, one still has choices with what one does with the attractions.

Kind of the point you were getting at (I think): a heterosexual 14-year-old boy may have involuntary (even unwanted) seemingly irrepressible attractions to girls in his gym class. Mature Christian mentorship helps him deal with and exercise self-control over those involuntary attractions. We don't have to suggest the attractions themselves are simply a "choice" he's making in order to pastor him to making mature, God-honoring choices, even assuming that the attractions themselves are involuntary. (One of the "choices" is to not dwell on the attractions such that they fester into "lust," right?)

Thanks for the question.
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0 #5 R. Todd Mangum 2012-05-07 04:55
@Phil D. -- first of all: hey, friend! Always good to hear from you! :-)

Re: the questions you raise -- all legitimate. Some of the best thinking and research on this issue of which I'm aware, and from a thoroughly Christian perspective no less, is the work of Mark Yarhouse: e.g., www.amazon.com/Homosexuality-Christian-Parents-Pastors-Friends/dp/0764207318/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1334326432&sr=1-1.
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0 #4 Phil DiLerni 2012-05-04 02:05
Hi Phil:

I don't think that anyone is denying some attractions but to be honest that sounds like you could be making an excuse for the behavior. "I'm attracted to girls ... can I commit adultery?" "I'm an angry person ... can I beat people up?" All of that being said I have still not seen ANY EVIDENCE whatsoever that there is a biological, DNA, or other physical identifiable link that explains homosexual behavior. If there was we should be able to predict this behavior in the womb ... Just my thought ...

God's peace,

Phil
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0 #3 Chuck Brodany 2012-05-03 10:30
Dear Todd,

Thanks for the post on a difficult issue. I think the confusion rests in where the aplogetic signs were displayed... a gay "pride" parade. While many churches are less than welcoming to gays, the statement during this particular event would appear to accept the prideful behavior which the church rightly identifies as sin. The context for an apology would serve better in a different context.
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0 #2 Philip Monroe 2012-05-03 10:14
Phil, just one thought. Notice the difference between actions (adultery and murder) and feelings (attraction). I think much of the science on attraction has to do with survey work of when people first recognize attractions (even prior to sexualizing those feelings). It would appear that attraction is multi-factorial (which may indicate biology, environment, etc.)
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0 #1 Phil DiLerni 2012-05-03 05:38
Hi Todd:

Great reading as always. Could you help me and point me to how you concluded #3? What science can you offer that same sex attraction is more than a choice? Are you referring to biological "wirings" or are you referring to enviornmental histories ... or both? I have struggled to find this information but tho date have not found any which affirms your conclusion.

And does that mean that adultery, murder, gossip, etc etc aren't "simply choices?"

Thanks in advance for your response.

God's peace,

Phil
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