Evangelicals and Gay Marriage

Arizona Interfaith Dialogue
Jewish Historical Center, Phoenix
May 21, 2013

by Gary Kinnaman

1 It’s complicated.

There are many differences of opinion—and many shades of difference.

People have deeply held convictions.

It’s very personal for most of us. My cousin Lynette “married” another woman, left that relationship and married a man. Our daughter-in-law’s brother died of AIDS.

2 Evangelicals: who are we?

We consider the Bible to be God’s authoritative Word for what we believe and how we live our lives—and “Christian” means having a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.

Older White evangelicals are generally conservative politically, but not Black or Hispanic evangelicals.

Younger white evangelicals are generally more moderate socially and politically. They may not consider themselves to be liberal, but they would use terms like “progressive” and “socially responsible.” The younger they are, the more likely they are to support gay marriage.

Evangelicals may include both Protestants and Catholics. Bishop Kicanas in Tucson corrected me as I was speaking at an immigration reform event recently. “We’re evangelical, too,” he said with a smile.

Some evangelicals could be accused of stereotyping homosexuals. Don’t turn that around and stereotype us!

3 The problem of the Bible

Because we take the Bible seriously, evangelical opposition to gay marriage will not go away.

Bible is our framework for doctrine and life.

Some like to say that the Bible can be interpreted many ways. Yes, some of it can. Like the number of the antichrist 666. But most of it is pretty clear language. How many ways can you interpret this: THOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY?

Some portions of the Bible have been understood different ways, but Christians have universally agreed on certain Bible fundamentals, the Apostles’ Creed for example.

Homosexual practice and gay marriage are universally opposed by Evangelicals, Catholics and Protestants alike. We believe that traditional marriage is the plan of God and the plain teaching of the Bible, not gay marriage, group marriage, or polygamy.

4 Not all of Evangelicals are superficial, unthinking, hateful bigots.

Most aren’t. Most of us struggle with these issues. Some of us are more honest about ourselves than others, but I think this is also true of the general population.

A significant issue for Evangelicals is that they feel their deep convictions and family values are under attack, much like people in the gay and lesbian community feel that their way of life is under assault.

We don’t want the courts to force us to embrace or practice things that violate our essential convictions—something no one wants to happen. For evangelicals, this is as much a matter of religious freedom as it is about sexual orientation.

So we all react. It goes public, and the media and politicians leverage the anger for viewers and votes.

New York Times, March 8, 2013, “Focus on the Family Works to Change Its Message,” by Samuel G. Freedman. Regarding the new Focus on the Family Executive Director Jim Daly, the article reports:

Mr. Daly did not come to the [University of Colorado, Colorado Springs] campus here to retreat from Focus’s opposition to same-sex marriage, which was largely the topic of the event, but to turn down the rhetorical temperature on the debate. “We’ve created an animosity,” he said in one emblematic moment of self-criticism. “We’ve said we hate the sin and love the sinner. But when you peel it back, sometimes we hated the sinner, too. And that’s not the Gospel.”
Most recently, Focus hosted a question-and-answer session with Jonathan Rauch, a journalist who has advocated gay marriage.

Such efforts have won Mr. Daly praise from unexpected quarters. The Southern Poverty Law Center, for instance, has classified the Family Research Council, another conservative Christian organization, as a hate group because of its position on homosexuality. But the law center’s senior fellow, Mark Potok, said Focus had tried to evolve with the times.

“How do you,” [Jim Daly] asked the audience, ‘in the name of tolerance and diversity accept that we, as Christians, have principles we’ve got to live by?”

5 Yes, we’ve been judgmental

From www.barna.org:
Interestingly, [our] study [2007 as part of their research for UnChristian] discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is “anti-homosexual.” Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a “bigger sin” than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.

6 Lastly, we need to get to know one another: our thoughts, our feelings, and our pain. We need to spend time with one another. Become friends. In my son’s research for unChristian, the Barna group asked these questions:

Q: Do you understand that homosexuality is a complex, multilayered issue? The great majority of born-again Christians said yes.

Q: What are you doing about this issue? Evangelicals said they were doing two things: (1) preaching against it and (2) voting against it. Less than 1% were in relationship or having a meaningful conversation with gay and lesbian people.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Nothing we despise in the other man is entirely absent from ourselves. We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or don’t do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

Postscript: Sexual orientation vs. sexual preference

Personally, I distinguish between sexual orientation and sexual practice. I don’t question the fact that some people are predisposed to homosexuality. Yet every one of us is predisposed to something. That doesn’t mean we should live out the things to which we are predisposed.

Selections form Huffington Post: Homosexuality & Choice: Are Gay People ‘Born This Way?’

We know, from many twin and adoption studies, that sexual preference has a genetic component.

A gay man is more likely than a straight man to have a (biological) gay brother; lesbians are more likely than straight women to have gay sisters.
There have also been headlines about an “alcoholism gene,” which makes people become alcoholics, and a “warrior gene,” which makes people unusually aggressive.

Genes can’t control behavior completely, though. Genes regulate the production of amino acids, which combine to form proteins. The existence or absence of a protein can have an effect on things like alcohol tolerance or mood.

Affecting something is not the same as having complete control over it.
Environment, like genetics, plays an important role in how our behavior develops.

Alcoholism runs in families not only because there is a genetic component to alcoholism, but also because children learn how to cope with stress by watching how their parents and their older siblings behave in stressful situations.

If you come from a culture where alcohol consumption is forbidden, it will be difficult for you to become an alcoholic, no matter how your body metabolizes alcohol. Even if gay people can never stop being attracted to members of the same sex, they can learn not to act on their desires.

If sexual preference can be altered, then people who support gay rights can’t rely on the argument that gay people should be protected from discrimination because gay people have no choice but to be gay—and argument that seems like an apology for homosexuality, as if homosexuality is a disease for which there is no cure.

There is an element of homophobia in that argument the implication that gay people would become straight, if only they could. Supporting gay marriage becomes equivalent to supporting the construction of wheelchair ramps. The “gays can’t help being that way” approach is reminiscent of the old view of homosexuality as a psychiatric illness.

December 2012: A team of international researchers has completed a study that suggests we will probably never find a ‘gay gene.’ Sexual orientation is not about genetics, say the researchers, it’s about epigenetics. This is the process where DNA expression is influenced by any number of external factors in the environment. And in the case of homosexuality, the researchers argue, the environment is the womb itself.

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