From Persecution to Conversation

This post is our third contribution to the What Persecution Is series that we are exploring with Jake Dockter at The Great White Whale. This series explores faith, gender, sexuality, race, culture, and identity. We’ll be posting one post a week for this series over the next several weeks. We’d love for you to join the conversation. Please let us know if you’re posting any related content on your own blog, so we can talk with you.

Many conservative Christians perceive that traditional Christianity is under attack by the LGBT community. Society is rapidly changing. Technological advancements spark new moral and ethical quandaries. Religious demographics have also shifted considerably in the last twenty years, reflecting an increasingly pluralized environment. Traditionally believing Christians may fear being steamrolled in the name of progress without having a chance to integrate Christian beliefs fully into the decision-making process. They might experience different kinds of intolerance on an individual level as they discuss their Christian beliefs with others. It’s not terribly uncommon for Christians with traditional beliefs and practice to be dismissed as old-fashioned, out of touch, and even oppressive. Because so many other places in society have changed, some Christians in more conservative denominations see themselves as the last outpost in the culture war. Some employ metaphors suggesting churches moving away from hardline conservative stances have been invaded by various cultural cancers.

However, when people are constantly on the lookout for evidence that a cultural cancer has invaded their Christian tradition, anything can be perceived as a threat. As Sarah was recently told by a very conservative friend of a friend, “We have to kill the cancer before it kills us!” If a rainbow flag appears in the window of a nearby business, people at the church might talk about the neighborhood’s decline. If a pastor gives a homily on sexuality, many congregants perk their ears to notice the slightest deviation from acceptably conservative rhetoric. If an obviously identifiable LGBT person darkens the doorstep of the church building, people can focus an enormous amount of energy on ensuring that the “right” people continue to give the “right” answers. It does not take long before any LGBT person can feel as though he or she is seen as nothing more than a tumor to be excised.

In contexts where churches are on the lookout for invading cultural cancers, celibate, LGBT Christians can face a barrage of tests designed to prove that they are indeed the enemy of traditional Christianity. These tests run the gamut of continual questioning of what a celibate, LGBT Christian believes about marriage and sexuality, exhortations to live a life that is above reproach, expectations that the LGBT person achieves absolute perfection in the arena of sexual morality and all other areas of the Christian life, and demands that the celibate person say nothing positive of expanding legal protections for LGBT people or point out that non-celibate LGBT friends actually can and do have virtues. Some people will go so far as to suggest that an LGBT person should not even describe himself or herself as LGBT. After all, shouldn’t a celibate, LGBT Christian be aware of the pervasive cultural cancers? Isn’t it reasonable that such a person should expect to have to overcorrect to compensate for his/her sexual orientation in order to prove himself/herself nonthreatening? We’ve experienced many people who think that we somehow “owe it” to the Church to demonstrate in unreasonable ways that we’re faithful in our theology, that our way of life together is harmless, and that we have no intention of rocking the boat within the parish.

Many people demanding reassurance from celibate, LGBT Christians will reference their own spiritual journeys of feeling like refugees from their former Christian traditions that became more liberal over time. These people are quick to assert that they lost their church homes when their former denominations started having conversations about LGBT concerns. They can’t bear the thought of losing yet another congregation to the spreading perceived cultural cancers. However, these people do not realize that many celibate, LGBT Christians have also lost our spiritual homes and constantly fear losing any place in our congregations. Seemingly, these people refuse to see that one reason a celibate, LGBT Christian might be celibate is that he or she has an earnest desire to live into the fullness of a particular tradition’s teachings on sexuality. Moreover, conservative straight Christians frequently show unwillingness to have conversations with celibate, LGBT Christians to establish relationships on a more personal level. They seem to have zero appreciation for the reality that celibate, LGBT Christians constantly face being ostracized within every Christian tradition; safe places for LGBT celibates are few and far between, and that only becomes truer as more denominations transition toward liberal sexual ethics and denominations that do not change their sexual ethics show increasing fear of any LGBT presence.

We’re tired of conversations that constantly focus on how the gays persecute the Church and how the Church persecutes the gays. We, like many others we know and love, feel torn. We care enough about what our conservative friends have experienced to know that they honestly do feel persecuted by the LGBT community. We’re not interested in silencing their stories. As much as we have been hurt by cisgender, heterosexual Christians, it is challenging for us to admit that virtually everyone on both sides of this debate has experienced some form of persecution. Nonetheless, we need to begin talk about the ways Christians mistreat each other over these issues if we are to make any progress towards Christ together. We must remember that God invites all to draw near to him. If we cannot acknowledge authentically the wounds that have been inflicted upon both sides of this culture war, then we will not be able to see the Church as a hospital for all those who desire to see the Great Physician.

To open the discussion, we have some questions we’d like to ask conservative straight Christians. If you believe that the Church is Christ’s Church and the gates of hell shall not overcome it as the Scriptures tell us, then why are you so afraid that LGBT people are able to destroy the Church? Have you ever wondered what it means for you to have a sexual orientation and gender identity? Is your first instinct upon engaging in dialogue with an LGBT Christian to make assumptions about his or her sex life or to start preaching celibacy? If so, why? We look forward to reading your comments. LGBT readers, you can also feel free to fill the comment box with questions you have for conservative straight Christians.

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