How Christian Compassion Get Complicated
The New York Times recently had an article about Christians handing out water bottles at a gay rights parade.
It begins with something relatively simple:
They had come, 150 to 200 of them, from a conservative Baptist church in Basking Ridge, as part of an outreach that the pastor, Tim Lucas, called Gay Pride Meets Christian Humility. On a hot seaside afternoon, they wore light blue T-shirts bearing the name of their ministry, Liquid, and gave out free bottles of water.
However, the people attending the rally were skeptical:
Joseph Satterfield, who took part in the celebration and accepted a bottle of water, eyed the group with some suspicion. "My only concern is their motivation," Mr. Satterfield said. "It's fine that they're here, as long as they don't try to convert people. There's a secondary purpose behind giving out bottled water. It's that secondary purpose we need to worry about."
Yet is there a third way? A somewhat Clintonesque "triangulation" for evangelical Christians on gay issues? This organization may be the start of something like that.
Churches have attended gay pride marches before, usually to support the marchers or to protest. But Mr. Lucas hoped that Liquid, which is part of a conservative Baptist church that considers homosexuality a sin, could take a third position, avoiding both the scolds of some evangelical Christians and the acceptance of more liberal churches. Without endorsing homosexuality, he said: "We want to dismantle the invisible hierarchy of sin that many evangelicals promote that puts gays and lesbians at the top of the list. That sense of self-righteousness and superiority runs rampant in our church like a cancer."
Like most church outreach, the actions are rooted in Biblical teachings. The problem has been, over centuries, that different people have drastically different interpretations of what the scriptures mean. To make matters worse, the issue of "homosexuality" as we know it today simply did not exist in the time of Christ. There is no direct parallel.
So when a Christian uses Liquid's logic, quoting the Times article (paraphrasing the Bible) that Jesus "surrounded himself with the prostitutes and tax collectors, the people the religious establishment morally disapproved of," different conclusions can been be made.
Traditionally, both liberal and conservative Christian groups have embraced this maxim of reaching out to those outside of the faith, yet they have done so in drastically different ways.
More liberal, mainline, groups, have (sometimes) welcomed gays and lesbians as they are into their churches, demanding no more change in their personal desires as they would any straight person's. No personal transformation is required, other than a religious one.
More conservative, evangelical groups have reached out to those outside its moral code, yet seemingly with a desire to change the very way they look at things. Sometimes, this change is unambiguously good...like former drug addicts who have come clean through faith. There even are some evangelical Christians who have said that they were gay until being converted.
What "converted" means, and what being a "Christian" means is something that everyone who cared about over time has argued about it intensely.
The issues of gay and straight, sin and forgiveness, are very clear in the abstract. Yet when actual people get involved, the waters get very muddy. The Times article concludes:
As the day wore on, Mr. Newkirk said he was surprised by how many of the people he talked to were Christians, and how many had been hurt by the church.
"I had a moment with a lesbian couple where I apologized for Christianity," he said. "In a sense that's what we're doing here, but I didn't expect to utter the words out loud. I'm a follower of Christ, but I'm not a follower of Christianity. Christianity has done a lot of these people a lot of harm."
Yet how do you tell that to someone who Christianity has done a lot of good? Is a position on homosexuality (pro or con) required to live a Christian life? Is a spastic anti-Christian response any different from a spastic anti-gay one?
Is there a "third way"?
If there is, it will start with all of us taking a long hard look at our own personal relationship with God; he probably has a pretty good idea what he wants us to do and is waiting for us to listen.
More Religion, Science and Philosophy
The Liquid Ministry
The Liquid Blog post about the event.
The front lines of gay Christians
Gay Christians Online
The gay Christian network
Is Homosexuality a Choice?
Hardwired for Homosexuality?
Buy the image above here.
Why some Christians preach against homosexuality
Gay-Straight Youth Pride 2004
Gay Christian Outreach Message Board
Curing Gays and Lesbians
The future of Christianity in America
Love In Action, a Christian organization that can "cure" homosexuality. Here's the Daily Kos take on the program.
The Pope has declared gay marriage as anarchy.