[In this series, I’m exploring why, beyond Christians’ political efforts to prohibit same-sex marriage, traditional Christian sexual ethics on homosexuality (and the people who profess them) have become so offensive and problematic for people who don’t profess them. Start by reading the series introduction.]
First, many Christians don’t feel the weight of how relentlessly sexual minorities have been the victims of persecution, violence, and oppression, often, but not exclusively, at the hands of people claiming to act on behalf of their religious commitments.
I’ll return to the original post from PEG 2.0, whose analysis is appropriately unsettling:
"For the vast majority of history, the world, and in particular our own culture, victimized gay people and homosexuality, and did so brutally, and did so, most often and at best, with Christian churches looking the other way. In the modernist narrative of progressive human individual liberation from structures of oppression, the history of homosexuality fits perfectly.
"Ultimately, homosexuality poses such a vital challenge to Christianity because gay people really are ‘the least of these.’ And NOT in a condescending, homosexuality-is-a-disability way, but in the forthright way that gay people have been historically shamed, attacked, ‘despised and rejected of men’ for being gay, and very often with an assist or at least the consent of the Church. And it still happens today. And you can say all you want that that’s not ‘real’ Christianity, that that’s not what Christian teaching says, that’s true, but it doesn’t matter—we did this. We’re doing this.”
Even the most conservative reading of cultural history—one that entirely ignores how badly a culture of silence and pervasive heteronormativity damages sexual minorities—must at least acknowledge the endless physical violence perpetrated against non-heterosexual individuals, sometimes inside and sometimes outside of the bounds of any particular judicial system. If Christians could demonstrate that they’ve consistently sided with sexual minorities in the midst of their marginalization and gone to any lengths to protect them from harm, it might come across as more believable when they say their beliefs about sexuality don’t prevent them from loving gay and lesbian individuals. But Christians generally can’t demonstrate that, and to the contrary, they often make headlines today for overtly opposing anti-bullying measures related to LGBT youth or for firing off anti-gay language, sending a message that they’re more concerned with enforcing their sexual ethics than they are with protecting society’s victims. At worst, they’ve insinuated the victims are to blame, as if they brought the mistreatment on themselves merely by openly expressing their nontraditional sexuality.
Furthermore, when Christians in our culture imply they’re the real victims of society since their beliefs have become so unpopular, it severely compromises their credibility with those whom society has most intensely abused and disenfranchised. As I described in the series introduction, many Christians feel uncomfortable with the way popular culture often portrays them as villains, and their reactions to that opposition have covered the spectrum from helpful to unhelpful. Since sexual minorities often utilize the language of persecution to describe their present victimization, Christians often respond by using it for themselves. Nevertheless, it’s vital for Christians to remember their holy text quotes Jesus as saying, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account,” but there’s no comprable artifact that tells sexual minorities they’re blessed when people revile them on account of their nontraditional sexuality (Matt 5:11). When Christians play the martyr card, it’s difficult for sexual minorities or the people who support them to believe Christians would ever recognize or empathize with their pain.
I often wonder whether Christians feel the weight of what sexual minorities have suffered, whether they recognize what an absolute miracle it is when a gay or lesbian person manages to maintain a vibrant faith life in our present context. It’s never, ever pleasant for us to revisit past harms we’ve perpetrated, and doing so when we didn’t directly perpetrate them often feels phony or unproductive; but until Christians can empathize with the pain sexual minorities have endured so incessantly, they might not understand why people, and not just gay people, have no patience for anything (like an ethic that prohibits gay sex) that resembles homophobia or oppression.
PEG 2.0 throws down the gauntlet: “The challenge is to make it dead-obvious to the entire world that any gay person will be embraced and affirmed in any church, in any family, in any community.” Making that attitude dead-obvious will require Christians to acknowledge and repent from both the harm they’ve done and the harm they’ve not prevented.
#1: Harmful Actions
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