I get a range of comments to posts at QTC, some supportive, some posing useful questions, and some downright hostile. Hostility I tend to publish (I dislike censorship) but ignore. Useful questions and observations I like to respond to (but not always as conscientiously as I should do), and supportive statements I enjoy: I am at least as vain as the next man. Sometimes, I get a comment that raises a really important question – like this one, to my post on Evangelical and Catholic “Gays for Jesus”.
This began with a huge compliment, describing the post as “the most articulate writing on this issue I have seen on the web”, but went on to raise a challenge. Implying that perhaps I was simply preaching to the converted, he put a question for a future article: are our opponents, those we need to reach by changing hearts and minds, motivated by reason?
This raises important questions about my purpose at this site, questions about which I am clear in my own mind, but which I have probably not articulated clearly. This was Phil’s comment, beginning with the good bit:
First, it must be said that you are offering the most articulate writing on this issue I have seen on the web. If your goal is to bring comfort to those of us who already agree with you, it seems you’re doing an excellent job.
“The most articulate on the web” is definitely something I can live with. But then, the sting in the tail:
If your goal is to change hearts and minds, perhaps a future article might address what for me is the most interesting question.
Are rejections of the gay community based on reason? Is that really why otherwise intelligent and decent people turn to their gay neighbors and say,
“You don’t deserve the rights that I claim for myself.”
A careful application of thoughtful reason may reveal that careful thoughtful reason isn’t the channel those making such claims are listening on.
If that is true, it’s possible we face a challenge similar to that faced by those struggling with homophobia, a need to step out of routine patterns that have become comfortable to us.
I have always been clear in my own mind that it is not my intention to change hears and minds, precisely because I do not see this as something that can be done by reason. The concept of bigotry is hotly disputed in current discourse, with many opponents of LGBT equality, and specifically of gay marriage, insisting for instance, that their opposition is not based on prejudice, but is founded on sincere Christian belief. For some people, I accept that claim as entirely true. There are undoubtedly many people of good will whose opposition is rooted in faith and and their understanding of the biblical message. They may well be open – minded, and susceptible to rational debate on the theology and appropriate methods of biblical interpretation – but this is probably best done in direct discussion, not on- line, not at a site such as this. They are not the people I am directly aiming to address.
For others, I’m not so sure of their openness to reason. For example, many of the supporting statements made for their belief, claims that gay marriage “is harmful to children”, or about a supposed “gay lifestyle” are made without any foundation in evidence, or on stereotypes, applying perceptions of an extreme sub-group to the entire populations. Frequently, arguments in favour of same- sex relationships or inclusion are met with simple non- sequiturs. A common response I have heard to the fact that Jesus said nothing at all on the subject is, “Yes, but he did say sin no more”. So? That’s completely irrelevant unless you have already decided that homosexuality is in fact a sin – prejudged it in fact.
Furthermore, the scriptural evidence quoted, based on a mere half dozen verses, is extremely selective, ignoring the many other biblical prohibitions that are no longer considered binding, or the far more numerous supportive Gospel texts on inclusion of all, and rejecting all forms of judgement against others.
These examples of negative judgements made without regard to evidence, or applying stereotypes to an entire group, or reaching conclusions based on unfounded assumptions, all fit into the very definition of prejudice, which is the foundation of bigotry.
While I prefer not to use the term “bigot” myself, I have to agree that much of the opposition is not based on reason, and cannot be countered by simple reason. So, what is to be done?
At the same time, if all I am achieving is “to bring comfort to those of us who already agree with you”, I would be disappointed. Leaving us all feeling good about each other may bring warm feelings and is pleasant in its way, but it’s not enough. It’s certainly not a sound justification for the immense time and thought that I put into the exercise. So, what is my aim? As I explained in my response to Phil, I aim for something in between:
In fact, my intention is precisely to bring comfort – not to those who already agree, but to those who are troubled by the apparent conflict, between what they know from their inmost beings, and the received opinions from the churches.It is not my aim to change hearts and minds. I don’t believe this can be done by reasoning, because I don’t believe that at bottom, the prejudice is based on reason. Boswell has shown how in pre-modern history, the strongest church persecution followed, and did not lead, popular prejudice. Modern history has shown that hearts and minds are most often changed when it becomes personal – when straight Christians are forced to confront the phenomenon of gay and lesbian peoples in their own families, or as friends, colleagues, or as fellow parishioners, sitting in the pews alongside them.So, my aim is not to “convert” anyone, but to encourage the queer community to have confidence in who they are, to show them that they are not in any way in conflict with authentic Christianity, and so to be open and out in church, as in their secular lives. That visibility will be of value to younger LGBT people who are still struggling, and will challenge our straight colleagues to adjust or renounce their prejudices.
- Gays for Jesus: Catholic and Evangelical (queeringthechurch.com)
- Nicolas Chinardet Asks: “What Exactly is a Bigot?” (thewildreed.blogspot.com)
- Anti-homophobia campaign launches (mumbrella.com.au)
- Sex and God (chaplainmediacity.wordpress.com)