Fred Clark from Slacktivist just quoted my recent post, “InterVarsity, Lawsuits, and Leadership,” and extended the discussion with his own post: “Don’t treat people as symbols for a tribal loyalty quiz.”
I liked some of what he said enough to also want to quote him back here, as well:
The argument about sexuality beneath the surface of the pretense of an argument about religious liberty isn’t really even an argument about sexuality. That argument, in turn, is really just a proxy for yet another underlying argument — an argument about the meaning of the Bible.
I wholeheartedly agree. Ultimately this ends up being about hermeneutics and about whether or not Christians can differ in how they interpret the Bible. Interestingly, the way this is playing out for gay Christians has been encouraging me to slowly consider truly embracing the Baptist tradition, which emphasizes freedom of conscience. I think it’s a shame many Christians will not allow more freedom of opinion on this and other controversial matters, but that seems unlikely to happen as long as they refuse to believe anyone might legitimately interpret the Bible differently than they do. It is true that certain interpretations may eventually prove to be untenable, but allowing someone to make their case and still be recognized as a Christian who values what Scripture says is a very important thing.
Evangelical groups are prodigious producers of elaborate “statements of faith” that seem to spell out their core sectarian identity in extensive, lawyerly detail. But those statements of faith don’t include the tribal markers that provide the short-hand litmus tests for all of the theological-sounding mumbo-jumbo they enumerate in detail.
My, haven’t we seen this lately with all the firings at evangelical academic institutions? And really, to me, this is what’s most unfair. The fact is, at least some Christians will always hold to more conservative positions about certain issues. We can disagree with them all we want, but they will exist, and we should recognize that they’re trying even when we think they’re utterly failing. We can try to persuade them God is leading all of us in a different direction, but we should respect the fact that they, too, are desiring to listen to the Holy Spirit. However, I think it’s completely legitimate, appropriate, and perhaps even a moral obligation for us to ask them to be polite by sharing their convictions openly—not necessarily forcefully and rudely but honestly and in broad daylight—so that we don’t have to have Christian professors losing tenure because they don’t believe in the historical Adam or 20-year-old college ministry leaders being pushed out of their spiritual community because they interpret Romans 1 differently than someone else.
I know exactly what it feels like to have your position made invisible as a Christian option. I have experienced it a great deal as a Christian who is also a feminist, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. We all need to learn to acknowledge someone’s good-faith attempt to read the Bible rightly, even when we disagree with their conclusions. While some organizations may want to organize themselves more narrowly according to their particular theological stances, they must remain ecumenically engaged with those on the “other side.” If there is any, “You can’t be with us anymore,” it needs to be followed immediately with, “But we have friends over here who think a bit more like you, and we are excited to see your ministry with them. We recognize that we are all still Christians trying to live out the gospel as best we know how.” It still may not be a solution that satisfies everyone, but it’s a step towards unity in the midst of diversity. I will always feel sad when Christians don’t support gender equality because it feels personal, but it does dampen the blow a bit when I know my position is considered “incorrect” in more of the sense that Calvinists and Arminians see each other as “wrong” rather than in the sense that deserves excommunication from Christian circles entirely.
Ultimately, Clark sees using LGBT people as an orthodoxy test is dehumanizing, a sentiment with which I heartily agree.
So here’s my plea to the tribal trustees and the evangelical gatekeepers: You’re free, in good faith, to not find my hermeneutic acceptable or persuasive. You’re free, in good faith, to believe that the clobber verses require you to condemn same-sex attraction. And you’re even free, in good faith, to believe that every other possible interpretation of those clobber verses is tantamount to a rejection of “the authority of the Bible.”
But stop treating people — flesh-and-blood children of God — as nothing more than symbols for your tribal loyalty quizzes. That’s evil. Knock it off.
I think Clark is right what when we take a deeply personal issue like this and make it into our litmus test for who’s in and who’s out, we completely disregard the seriousness of how this debate in the church impacts their lives. We’re all free to our own opinions, whether or not others like them. But mere compassion and sensitivity to the pain of our brothers and sisters in Christ should change the tone of this conversation.
Anyway, you ought to go read all of the post for yourself!