Sunday, September 10, 2017

Are Anti-Gay People/Groups Hateful and Mean?

It is rather astounding that the straight/gay issue seems to be the most debated, most divisive, and most destructive point of contention among Christians and Christian organizations today. Is there any way to lessen the discord caused by this contentious wedge issue?
Opposition to the Nashville Statement
The gay/straight problem was thrust into the spotlight anew by the issuance of the “Nashville Statement” on Aug. 29. That statement by conservative Christian evangelicals vigorously upheld traditional marriage and rejected same-sex marriage. (Here is a link to the complete document.)
As could have easily been predicted, there was prompt opposition to the Nashville Statement, including derogatory comments about the signers, many of whom are Southern Baptist pastors and leaders of SB institutions and agencies.
Soon there were public statements from the other side, such as the one by the noted pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. On Aug. 30, she issued the “Denver Statement” which counters point by point the articles of the Nashville Statement.
Bolz-Weber’s statement does not denigrate or malign the signers of the Nashville Statement; she merely contradicts their arguments one by one.
But other opponents have called the signers of the Nashville Statement mean and hateful (homophobic).
Some of the signers may, in fact, be mean and hateful—but are they all and should they all be disdained in that disrespectful way?
Opposition to the SPLC
Perhaps emboldened by the Nashville Statement—or challenged by the opposition to it—on Sept. 6 forty-seven conservative evangelicals sent a letter (see here) asking the mainstream media not to cite data on hate groups compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). 
In part, they wrote:
The SPLC is a discredited, left-wing, political activist organization that seeks to silence its political opponents with a “hate group” label of its own invention and application that is not only false and defamatory, but that also endangers the lives of those targeted with it.
That is a rather defamatory statement against a group whose founder, Morris Dees, has been repeatedly targeted by his opponents.
Moreover, if SPLC identifies some anti-gay Christian organization as hate groups, it is because they have seen how some people have “acted out” against LGBTQ people on the basis of the stated position of those groups.
Opposition to the Opposition
Here is my stance on this prickly issue:
(1) I strongly disagree with the Nashville Statement and basically agree with the Denver Statement. Further, June and I have been supporters of the SPLC since we came back to the U.S. to live in 2004; we have sent monetary gifts to them every year since then and will continue to do so.
(2) Still, it is most likely that those who signed the Nashville Statement did so not because of malice but because of their religious convictions—and those convictions are held primarily because of the way they interpret the Bible.
(3) Admittedly, the anti-gay sentiments of the signers of the Nashville Statement can be, and have been, shamefully used to treat gay people in mean and hateful ways. But for most of the signers that is not their intention; many of them probably seek to be loving without being affirming.
(4) Since many gays and lesbians have been caused to suffer as a result of the teaching and/or preaching of conservative evangelical organizations and churches, the SPLC has every right to oppose the hateful activities which have been spurred by those groups.
(5) Judging others, calling them names, and ridiculing their beliefs only creates greater division, larger wedges, and more animosity. Thus, it is imperative for us Christians to work on building bridges between people with conflicting convictions and incompatible interpretations of the Bible.


  1. Good essay, Leroy. Thanks. I'll respond here with several thoughts. The first is with regard to your #2 above. It has been common for most of us in Protestant Christianity to cite the Bible for many, even opposing, viewpoints that we hold. But I think we must admit and come to grips with the reality that our worldviews and beliefs have more sources than just the Bible, and quite frequently, maybe even most of the time, our views come first and biblical interpretation comes later. So I suspect the Nashville signers never came to their view of regarding LGBTQ issues because of the Bible. And probably those of us who oppose their view, as do you and I, are more likely to have come from a deep sense of equality and tolerance, the source of which is a complicated cultural and psychological issue.

    Secondly I quite agree with you that the Nashville signers are very unlikely to be malice-motivated. They're probably sincere Christians doing what they think is right.

    Thirdly we might want to alter the discussion a bit, thinking of the distinction we make between blatant racism and systemic racism. I haven't yet thought this through, but we might want to consider something like a "systemic hatred," although that phrase seems too strong to me. Perhaps a "systemic malice" that views of condemnation and intolerance support regardless of the personal good will of individuals. Hm...

    1. Thanks, Anton, for reading yesterday's blog article and for being the first to post comments. Because of time constraints, I will respond only to your thought-provoking third paragraph.

      I like your suggestion of seeing the issue as a systemic one rather than one of personal attitudes or emotions. I don't think "systemic hatred" would work because "malice" means "the intention or desire to do evil."

      I wonder if we might just refer to the strong anti-gay rhetoric as just another case of systemic evil--not evil by intention of those who hold negative ideas or make condemning statements against LGBTQ peope but evil because of the effects of those ideas, statements, etc.

      Slavery was perhaps the best example of systemic or structural evil. Many of the slaveholders were actually kind to the slaves in their personal relationships; it was the system of slavery that was evil.

      Historically, and to an extent yet today, the treatment of women as subordinate (inferior) to men was also a kind of systemic or structural evil. On a personal basis, of course, women were loved and treated with respect (or a sort), but the system--which among conservative/fundamentalist Christians was based on the Bible--was rigged against women and made real gender equality not feasible.

      So in this case also, maybe many of those who are opposed to gay rights and same-sex marriage in particular are not personally mean or hateful toward gays/lesbians but they are aligned with systemic denigration of LGBTQ people, attitudes and actions which are felt to be mean and hateful by the latter.

  2. The Church really could use some goodwill, civility, and a reminder of Christ's command to "Love One Another". But in our land of politics, and distrust, and cultural difference, I cannot imagine the polarity changing. I have witnessed goodwill but once publicly - a PBS moderator tried to instigate Jim Wallis and Rick Warren into attacking each other, but neither took the bait. Thankfully, as you note in #3, most people with rational differences can and do still behave in goodwill. I have witnessed it personally several times. Revolutionary and reactionary organizations will not. I sincerely appreciate the olive branches of #'s 2, 3, 5.

  3. This is a difficult issue for most Christians because most don`t thoroughly read and study the Bible.
    Our Foundation/Ministry had two(2) Very gay guys working for us and Everyone knew it, but they were there because of their Professional expertise. One eventually died of Aids and the other one developed a close relationship with my Dear wife Donna Sue.
    I think because of our Love&Kindness to them they were soon attending church with us and we did Not condemn Or demean them. We are Not sure if the one who died of Aids accepted Christ, but the other one did and became a Wonderful Christian and Gave up his Gay lifestyle.
    Before he also finally passed away with Aids he was instrumental in bring many in the Gay community into our Foundation/Ministry and to our church.
    I believe Love&understanding is the way we as Christians should approach this difficult situation and let the Love of GOD show itself in our lives.
    I am confident that if Donna Sue and I had Not accepted them as friends&business associates, they would probably Not have even attended church with us.
    We must remember that Christ died for us All on the cross and will Forgive Anyone of our sins.
    Blessings to All,
    John (Tim) Carr

    1. Thanks, John Tim, for sharing your personal experience with "gay guys," including your loving acceptance of them.

      A question some of us would have is this: is being gay and having a gay partner just a freely chosen "lifestyle," and does becoming a Christian demand that such a "lifestyle" be given up? And what would that mean if the "gay lifestyle" included having a partner to whom a monogamous, lifelong marriage commitment had been made?

  4. Thinking Friend Mike Greer in Kentucky shares the following comments, which looks at the issue from a different angle. Mike has significant knowledge of the struggles within the Southern Baptist Baptist Convention and its agencies.

    "There is a much bigger picture to be seen here. Most of America could not care less about what Southern Baptists think about any issue these days.

    "I see the Nashville Statement as a political device to rally the deeply divided members and leaders within the Convention. Many have learned that it is easier to create a false sense of unity by rallying anger and hate and by focusing those on a perceived common 'enemy.' In this case they target the most vulnerable and defenseless who cannot fight back.

    "Think about the various battles that are raging within the SBC. Recurring fits of unresolved racism, the battle over Calvinistic authoritarianism (Al Mohler style), the debacle over missionary layoffs resulting from the large scale loss of members and contributions, and the marriage of the SBC with the right wing in the Republican Party which has resulted in a battle over whether Trump is God's man or the Devil's (as revealed in the recent conflict over Russell Moore who in this case, with Mohler, dreamed up this effort to refocus that anger on the LGBTQ community).

    "The Nashville Statement comes out of the Louisville faction which also has a large stake in the building huge Seminary institutions that are increasingly and deceptively sucking the dollars out of what remains of the Cooperative Program funds. The Seminaries are hoping to survive and thrive as stand-alones after the civil war ends. These battles are fought in secret and behind closed doors but the evidence is overwhelming that Southern Baptists future is bleak and filled with devastating internal conflict."

    1. Thanks for your thought-provoking comments, Mike.

      I agree that "most of America" is little concerned about "what Southern Baptists think about any issue these days." But the same thing could probably be said about any other denomination in the country. Still, the Washington Post ran an article about the Nashville Statement on August 30.

      You may well be right about the motivation behind the drafting of the Nashville Statement. I doubt that that was the underlying motivation of most of the signers, but perhaps that was underlying, and maybe unrecognized, motivation by the main drafters of it.

      Most things are more complex than they seem on the surface, and you have helped us to think about some of the complexities of what just seems to be a statement of traditional Christian/biblical teachings that are, rightfully, being questioned today.

  5. Here are thought-provoking comments from Thinking Friend (and church friend) Debra Sapp-Yarwood:

    "Like you and Anton, I am uneasy with the word 'hate.' I understand why we use it. The problem is that hate is an emotion, and people who would be restrictive are not feeling an emotion that they would call 'hate.'

    "I would guess that they actually are apathetic about people whose behavior they find objectionable, but they have a sense of moral outrage at society and want to limit others’ actions according to their moral code.

    "In the case of LGBTQ people, the message they communicate is, 'I don’t hate you, I just don’t think you should marry each other.' Or, worse: 'I don’t hate you. In fact, I love you, and that’s why I pray for you to get right with God. And why I support resolutions that would limit what you can do in your private life--until you figure out that you need to get right with God.' Or, worse still: 'I hear you that you think you “love” someone of your own sex, but you are being misled by Satan.'

    "It’s not about phobia, fear. It’s not about hate. It’s a sense of moral superiority. That’s offensive and unfair too. What would be the word for it?"

    1. Thanks, Debra for your comments. It was good to hear from you again.

      The word that came to me in considering the question you end with is "judgmentalism." That term is probably based on a sense of moral superiority, but maybe it is descriptive without being so offensive.

    2. Average citizens should be granted some leeway in their beliefs (so long as they do not threaten of become violent) since all people have their personal experience. However, organizations and their leadership must be held to the high standard. (I am quite aware of this, having served in executive leadership of a couple of organizations.) I have encountered the intentional and unwarranted judgmentalism of the ACLU, NAACP, and a white supremacist organization, and we are all aware of the armed, violent outcome of the judgmental SPLC hate list on a traditional Christian organization.

      Judgmentalism is probably a term that fits across the board. But it is offensive, and I am not sure that it is the term to use if one desires to build bridges or open dialogue.

    3. The concept is right, but as the Good Book says: "Vengeance is Mine, I shall repay, says the Lord." Time to leave the malicious wrongs of the past to God, and seek repentance for my own issues.
      Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

    4. Here are further thought from Debra; she sent these comments in an email but then gave me permission to post them here:

      "Here's my reply to you and 'anonymous':

      "I don't think there is a term that is completely neutral to describe prejudicial and discriminatory views, but maybe we can get more accurate.

      "Another thing that bothers me about the term 'homophobia' is the focus on 'homo' or 'homosexual.' It puts me on edge the same way I am on edge when I see a rape described in the passive voice. 'X named woman was raped on Y trail on Z date' places the emphasis solely on X named woman, and raises questions about her: what was X named woman doing on Y trail? What was she wearing? Etc. If there is no question that X woman was raped by a man, then 'An unnamed man raped X named woman on Y trail on Z date' still requires that the woman have the courage to make her name public (while protecting the suspect till proven guilty), but it seems more even handed.

      "The word 'homophobia' places the emphasis solely on 'homo' and raises questions like, 'What's might there be to fear about homosexuals?' Some people have owned that they fear that homosexuals will influence their children to become gay, and they address that fear with such solutions as private education, home schooling or asking for a change of teacher in the public school.

      "Some people own a greater fear of something they label the 'homosexual agenda.' They often advocate for limiting the rights of homosexuals -- to make medical decisions for one another, to inherit from one another, to express their love in a civil (let alone religious) marriage ceremony. Still, they harbor no feelings of 'fear' or 'hate' for individual homosexuals they may know.

      "If there is no emotion like fear or hate involved, we have to think differently, refocus. The two phrases I've been mentally tinkering with are 'hetero hegemony' and 'hetero supremacy.' The former would suggest a cultural/social force or systemic discrimination that limits the behavior of people who are other than hetero.

      In the two scenarios above -- the first person is practicing hetero hegemony. He or she fears that a gay teacher might influence a child to become gay, and responds with actions that may affect the market for gay teachers, but is not advocating for legal limitations.

      "The second example may be borderline, but I would call it hetero supremacy, since it seeks to legally limit the rights of homosexual people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Others might say that 'hetero supremacy' should be reserved for proponents of extreme measures, such as 'conversion therapy' to make gay people become heterosexual."

    5. Thanks, Debra for adding these thoughtful and thought-provoking comments.

  6. Here are brief comments, and a good question, from Thinking Friend Bill Locke in Colorado:

    "I am once again entirely in agreement with you. I think the religious anti LGBT sentiment is more prejudicial than truly religious--you discussed BZ's change in religious thought, to an accepting, loving God--the anti-LGBTers have not yet experienced that epiphany--will they ever?"

  7. Some of the complexity of this issue is found in the comments I received from Thinking Friend Truett Baker in Arizona:

    "I think we have been down this road before, but the Nashville Statement adds little to the ongoing dialogue. I would oppose it, if for no other reason, because of who the signers are. They talk about 'loving one another,' and I have seen what their love looks like.

    "As I have said before, I don't believe homosexual people can help their nature, but they can help their behavior. God surely loves and respects them and so should we. I just don't believe their sexual behavior with one another is biblical."

  8. Local Thinking Friend Marilyn Peot has given me permission to share her comments here:

    "Hate saddens me. I think the grieving I experience on so many fronts comes from all of our self-righteousness and willingness to make the other one wrong. The many folks who feel as I do are especially suggesting the importance of deep listening to the other.

    "You are right in suggesting this issue comes from the way folks interpret the Scriptures. But then I have to laugh: I don't hear other quotes from Scripture that suggest how to live as whole human beings. Are we interested in facing our own biases, prejudices, and dislikes (maybe even hates) so that we can actually dialogue with those who think differently from us?

    "When dialogue is impossible we are truly in trouble. Until we face the fears that underline our stubborn worldview, we will never be able to face the fears of others. Do you agree?

    "All I know is there is no room for hate. Personal relationships between folks who respect each other, and what each other holds as true for them, can break through to the Truth--but only when folks are open to Truth. Isn't it true, that if I don't truly desire Truth, then even dialogue may come to impasse.

    "None of this can be settled rationally. Only sharing one's true experience (which leads to the spiritual awakening) can we even hope to converse with the 'my mind's made up' folks. I sometimes wonder if I am one of 'those' folks."

  9. I found it interesting when I read this OpEd piece from the Washington Post that when a Kremlin-linked "troll farm" purchased $100,000 (maybe $150,000) of ads from Facebook during the 2016 presidential campaign they used it in a way they knew would be more effective. "... the ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum—touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights."

    I suspect that the writers and signers of the "Nashville Statement" knew that one effective way to rally their supporters was to draw a metaphorical line in the sand on an emotional issue. True, they probably believe what they said, but unfortunately the publicity from their "statement" increases societal feelings of divisiveness. The additional letter to the media describing the SPLC as "discredited" sounds to me as example of "facts don't matter."

    1. Thanks for your pertinent comments, Clif.

      I was surprised, and disappointed, to see a short piece on the editorial page of today's (9/13) Kansas City Star that was quite critical of the SPLC. Certainly there are people who are trying to discredit them.

  10. Mary Harris is a retired UCC clergy-woman whom I met earlier this week. She kindly read my blog article and then wrote these comments:

    "I support the Denver statement! Biblical interpretation was a mind and heart changer in my transition from the word of God as protexting to Jesus is the word of God made flesh. Now Love is God and a loving God affirms all of God's creation. I now celebrate when I at another time judged. I too contribute to the SPLC . I now seek common ground with those who have a different world view. I have been freed from my previous life and am blessed every day."

  11. Here are comments about the Nashville Statement, received today, from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "I looked at the statement and found that its authors have some compassion for homosexuals, so I would hesitate to call them 'bigots' as some gay rights activists might do. The statement is more a defense of traditional marriage, based on Biblical perspectives, than a condemnation of homosexuality, although Article Seven implies that the authors may view homosexuality as a choice. I seriously doubt that it is a choice, at least for most people. I certainly did not consciously choose to be heterosexual; it is just simply how I turned out.

    "Same sex marriage should be legal, in my humble opinion. Marriage is broader than just a legal framework for procreation; it is a commitment of love between two individuals, regardless of their capacity to bear children. Why should homosexual persons be barred from publicly and legally declaring their love?"