I very much appreciate what Alan Jacobs and Rod Dreher have said in response to last week’s post, which draws out an issue that I didn’t really address head-on. Alan puts it this way, in the context of disagreement between orthodox Christians and everyone else about what is “good” for LGBT people: “Isn’t rather significant conflict inevitable here?” Rod goes even further: “When [progressives] convince themselves that dissent from their position is not only illegitimate, but a prima facie expression of hatred, finding common ground is impossible.”
Side-by-side like this, I say: Alan is right, Rod is wrong.
The argument appears to go something like this: “Our opponents won’t be satisfied until they have legally restricted our freedoms to live and practice as we think is right, socially shamed us into being untouchables, culturally humiliated us to the point where our ideas are incomprehensible to our fellow man, and economically shut us out of various professions and enterprises. They’ve brainwashed many Christians into joining them on their crusade. Since they have way more power than we do right now and good-hearted people like Brendan Eich, Tish Harrison Warren, or Baronelle Stutzmann have been shut down for making sincere attempts to bridge this gap, there is nothing left to do but sound the alarm in the hopes that our fellow Christians on lower ground can escape the coming deluge before the levee breaks. The best we can do is wait out the storm.”
I agree with the basic premises here, but not the conclusions. Frederick Douglass had to deal with all of this, plus the fact that many of the people he was writing to thought he was property. The influence of the Sexual Revolution is bad, but I don’t think it’s any more perverse than the idea that you can be a good Christian and whip another human being because he looked at you crossways while you were forcing him to do backbreaking work. If Douglass was willing to persist in making his arguments to the world at large and in challenging the anti-Christian assumptions that bolstered slavery, we can do the same for a far less violent opposition.
Christians throughout history and across the world often find themselves in hostile cultures that celebrate wicked practices and think nothing of rolling over innocent believers who take a stand. We are always called to lovingly bear witness in these contexts. The fight is never fair. The most intense cultural clashes are generally the ones that we send missionaries to, but sometimes following Jesus means that you get drafted into cross-cultural missionary service among a hostile culture. Because God is still always above all earthly powers, there is always common ground and the cost of dissent is never higher than the price Jesus paid for our souls and the souls of LGBT folk we are called to love.
Fortunately, Rod is willing to listen, and for this I am glad. He says before asking for input in good faith: “I would submit that learning how to love and serve people who don’t share our beliefs, and who are sinners (as are we) is what serious Christians do every single day. In fact, it’s what everyone in a pluralist society does, or should do.” I have some good-faith input to give, but Rod asks blunt questions and so I will give blunt answers.
Fortunately, our mutual friend Eve Tushnet has some great suggestions for loving and serving!
I can think of three ways the church can grow closer to God than we were before by repenting of Catholic sins against gay people. First, and most obviously, we would ask gay people how we can make amends. Since I’m on both sides of this question I’ll suggest giving up our assumption that we know best; listening; and serving those most in need, like homeless LGBTQ teenagers. Chronologically in that order.
Amends should cost us: our time and money and blood, our comfort and prior assumptions, perhaps our physical safety as we seek to serve LGBTQ people who are targeted for violence. Catholics sometimes worry that supporting gay people in need will be misunderstood as changing church teaching. But what kind of witness does our failure to support God’s LGBTQ children present?
For the first point about “giving up on our assumptions that we know best”, I have little to offer besides this: In order to share the truth of God’s Word with other people and emphasize the dangers of modern heresies, there is no need to talk about “World War T” or the “tip of the spear at our throats”. In fact, this sort of rhetoric is only compelling to people who already agree with you on virtually everything and I think that pruning it back is part of the prudence of missiology. If you feel like people cannot comprehend you, then you need to talk differently if you want to get your message across. It is what every cross-cultural missionary must learn to do.
On the subject of listening: Rod asks, “Do LGBTs and their allies ever stop to reflect on how they should relate to conservative Christians and others who do not share their beliefs about gender and sexuality?” Yes, they do. I have been a part of these conversations personally with friends. Tim Otto is the most prominent voice I can think of in this discussion, but I’m sure there are others. More pertinently: If you have to ask that question in that way, then I would suggest you need to find some people that you are willing to submit and listen to about this. The more you listen, the more you may paradoxically find yourself better understood by others.
A side note: yes, many of our differences are indeed metaphysical and the hot-button issues are downstream from philosophical and theological controversies. Again, this is always the case whenever Christians come into contact with anti-Christian cultural elements and it is always incumbent on those of us who have the Good News to translate it into whatever language will faithfully render its meaning to the people around us. (To this end, everyone around here would be better off if they took the Perspectives course.) Furthermore, if intellectual and theological dam really has broken upstream, why are we using up so much energy talking about every drop of floodwater downstream? It may be necessary to win people over on other metaphysical or spiritual premises before proceeding to healthy discussion of the sexual dimensions of those premises.
On the subject of serving those most in need, you know what I’m going to say. Indeed, if the Benedict Option is about discipling our children into the practices of orthodox faith and one of the indispensable practices of orthodox faith is self-sacrificial service to the poor… then, well, the Benedict Option requires that we model self-sacrificial service to the poor. Eve has some great suggestions in her post about organizations that are serving LGBT people in need. Again, there will be inevitable disagreement on what is “good” for LGBT people– but there’s plenty we can agree on that is good. Transgender people not committing suicide is good. Gay teens who have run away finding shelter is good. Lesbians not being discriminated against in housing is good. These all represent facets of the “LGBT agenda” that are not only legitimate, but a priority for Christians to pursue. The existence of legislation passed in Utah that preserves both LGBT rights and religious liberty suggests that there is even hope for some legislative compromise on these issues.
When you humble yourself to the point where you are living a life of radical service to others, there is less that a hostile world can take away from you and more holy befuddlement that you inspire. Not to mention what you will learn from walking with the poor and oppressed! I think that Christians still have a lot of power left to give up for the sake of Jesus’ name, but we will have to choose to live at the margins of society and serve those who are worse off than us materially. It is clear that we have a lot to learn from the experience of the black church about how to be a moral minority if we will only listen. (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Strength to Love is a wonderful jumping-off point for this sort of inquiry.)
Might we still get bulldozed by a malicious ideological agenda even if we love and serve people? Sure. We’re always fighting the long defeat. Being a Christian, though, compels us to love people as Christ did– persistently, aggressively, and sacrificially. No matter what agenda they might have against us.