The white evangelical rejection of gay rights has created a zero-sum game. More rights for gay Americans means fewer rights for evangelicals. Gay people are regarded as an affliction, a form of persecution, a plague of biblical proportions.
By Alan Bean
Danny Cortez is the pastor of a small Southern Baptist Church in La Mirada, CA. A few weeks ago, he created a stir in Baptistland by calling for a “third way” on gay marriage.
In a letter to his congregation, Rev. Cortez said
I recently became gay affirming after a 15-year journey of having multiple people in my congregation come out to me every year. I scoured through your whole website and read everything I could. And it was especially the testimony of my gay friends that helped me to see how they have been marginalized that my eyes became open to the injustice that the church has wrought.
In August of 2013, on a sunny day at the beach, I realized I no longer believed in the traditional teachings regarding homosexuality.
The real kicker came when the pastor’s fifteen year-old son, Drew, confided that he was gay.
The pastor’s letter was as controversial as you would expect it to be; but rather than calling a hasty vote and sending their preacher down the road, the congregation brought in speakers to address both sides of the issue. Eventually, the church voted to retain Cortez and become a Third Way church that agrees to disagree on the contentious issues raised by the gay rights revolution. They have decided to kick that can down the road and just welcome everyone to church. The church decided to love and minister to LGBT persons without judgment.
The Third Way concept was first advocated by Ken Wilson, the pastor of a large Vineyard church in the Midwest, in his book A Letter to my Congregation.
Baptist ethicist David Gushee, once a staunch opponent of marriage equality, expressed his sympathy for Wilson’s approach in his contribution to Wilson’s book.
Al Mohler, president of my alma mater the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has led the charge against Cortez his congregation. To Mohler’s frustration and sorrow, convention delegates recently refused to address the issue, a sign of how rapidly the traditional evangelical position on marriage equality is eroding.
Dr. Mohler says that when it comes to homosexuality there is no Third Way. The Southern Baptist Convention has moved to disfellowship gay-friendly congregations in the past (including my home church, Broadway Baptist in Fort Worth), and Mohler sees no reason why the famously conservative denomination should shy away from its disciplinary obligation now. To fail to do so, Mohler says, “will be nothing less than a tragic abdication of responsibility and a violation of theological integrity.”
Al Mohler speaks for the evangelical establishment when he explains why there can be no Third Way:
A church will either believe and teach that same-sex behaviors and relationships are sinful, or it will affirm them. Eventually, every congregation in America will make a public declaration of its position on this issue. It is just a matter of time (and for most churches, not much time) before every congregation in the nation faces this test.
It’s hard to argue with that logic. But logic isn’t driving the debate over homosexuality in American Christianity. Logically, the churches of the segregated South had to decide whether to accept or reject the civil rights movement. Instead, denominational officials crafted tepid resolutions affirming Brown v. Board of Education or the Voting Rights Act and calling for racial harmony. Contrary-minded congregations (and they were legion) were not drummed out of the denomination for refusing to open their churches to African American Christians. SBC pastors weren’t forced to sign off on racial equality to remain in good standing.
Instead, the SBC, with other evangelical denominations in the South, adopted a Third Way approach in which the subject of race was avoided whenever possible, ostensibly in the interest of keeping the focus where it belonged–on saving souls.
We have handled issues like the death penalty in a similar manner. Denominations may endorse or reject capital punishment, but no one has ever been expelled from a congregation, Baptist or otherwise, for being out of step with the majority on this issue.
Initially, most Southern Baptist leaders made their peace with Roe v. Wade, but when pro-life orthodoxy came into vogue the denomination didn’t divide into pro-life and pro-choice segments; instead we had a proxy battle over the Bible. Conservative insurgents knew they could count on the rank and file to fight for the Good Book, but few were willing to go to the wall on the issue of abortion.
When moral issues are hotly contested there will always be three ways (at the very least): traditional, progressive and uncomfortable.
President Obama isn’t the only person who’s opinions on gay marriage are evolving; more than half the nation is evolving right along with him. If we weren’t, the president would have kept his evolving opinions to himself.
The slavery debate in the 19th century spawned three distinct positions: pro-slavery, anti-slavery and uncommitted. Now it would be hard to find anyone willing to publicly embrace the pro-slavery position, but it took generations for the nation to turn its back on the peculiar institution.
That’s the way social change happens, slowly, awkwardly, and by degrees.
So why should it be any different with the debate over gay rights and marriage equality?
Church’s agree to disagree whenever the consequences of disagreement are perceived to be deadly. Most of pastor Cortez’s parishioners will eventually embrace marriage equality, and they know it; but they aren’t quite there yet and they don’t want anyone pushing from behind.
Compromise is neither elegant nor inspiring, but sometimes it’s the best we can do, as individuals and as congregations. Had they really wanted to, the messengers (delegates) at the most recent Southern Baptist Convention would have drummed pastor Cortez and his congregation out of the denomination, but they didn’t. If asked, a solid majority of SBC messengers would have come down on the traditional side of the gay rights debate, but that doesn’t mean they were as comfortable with their position as Dr. Mohler would like.
It took a lot more courage for Danny Cortez to embrace a third way stance than it took for Al Mohler to reinforce the traditional view. Dr. Mohler ascendancy to the presidency of Southern Seminary in Louisville came with the proviso that he would uphold the party line on every conceivable subject. He is very good at drawing lines in the theological sand because he never has to worry about blow-back.
But the vast majority of Southern Baptists are neither paid nor applauded for holding conservative views. They are Christians first and conservatives second, and many are beginning to fear that, on this issue at least, their conservatism and their Christianity are in logical tension. They want to believe the Bible, but, as true disciples of Jesus, they don’t want to be be unloving or cruel.
Forced into a vote, the vast majority would side with Dr. Mohler; but if they can sidestep a vote they will . . . and they did.
Christians on the conservative side of the gay rights debate see homosexuality as a species of sin, a chosen “lifestyle” that can be tamed by repentance and “reparative therapy”.
But this view is no longer tenable. Alan Chambers, the former leader of Exodus International, once believed that reparative therapy could “cure” same-sex attraction. But Chambers was forced to admit that his organization’s methods were ineffective and frequently damaging. After apologizing to the gay community, Chambers created an organization called Speak.Love with a mission to “serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about faith, gender, and sexuality; and partnering with others to establish trust, reduce fear, and inspire hope.”
Chambers is now a Third Way Christian. He isn’t ready to say that homosexuality is an expression of God creative intention; but he is no longer willing to offer a robust defense of the old consensus. Like Rev. Cortez, Chambers prefers loving conversation to culture war demagoguery.
The gay rights debate has been co-opted by the culture war. As a consequence, only congregations solidly entrenched on one side of the ideological divide have the luxury to pick a side and staunchly defend it. But culture war boundaries run straight through the heart of most American congregations. It doesn’t matter if 70% or 30% of the people in the pews are ready to welcome the LGBTQ community into fellowship; so long as the congregation is divided on the issue most pastors will refuse to address it.
The upside of our silence is institutional harmony; the downside is that we relinquish our prophetic voice. Moderate Christians can rarely be found in the vanguard of social change. When the shooting starts, we head for the bunkers and wait to see which side will prevail. If no winner emerges, we stay in the bunker. Many pastors can’t imagine life outside the bunker. They are people without opinions, skilled at navigating around the elephants in the room.
Tragically, our world is now so full of elephants that avoidance is no longer an option. So we adopt a Third Way stance that allows the church to move beyond stalemate.
Eventually, we will confront the obvious. God isn’t going to condemn people for being the way he made them. Therefore, whether you are gay or straight, the sexual rules are the same. We believe that committed relationships grounded in covenant love are superior to a life of random promiscuity driven by a need to make it through the night. When people find a loving partner, we celebrate.
Most congregations aren’t there yet. Some are pretty close, but fear keeps us from giving voice to new commitments. Some churches will remain stuck in the traditional perspective, but, unable to use opposition to gay rights as a effective wedge issue, will gradually drop the subject.
Some day we will all declare ourselves, just as Al Mohler insists we must. It will probably happen in my lifetime (I am sixty-one). But we’re not there yet; so we need a Third Way.
There is a terrific article in the Washington Post concerning the plight of Frank Schaefer, the erstwhile United Methodist pastor who was defrocked for presiding at the marriage of his gay son, Tim.
A youth leader at his church, Tim was around 13 when he went with his dad to one of the denomination’s annual regional meetings. The group was debating Methodist language around homosexuality, and the conversation was often contentious. Tim was struck by how few people supported gay equality.
It never occurred to Schaefer to bring the topic up with Tim on the way home. “I had the impression Tim was excited about the democratic process” of the meeting, he says. “I had no idea what he felt inside.”
Within a few years, in 2000, Schaefer got an anonymous call. Your 17-year-old son, the woman said, is gay and suicidal.
Schaefer and his wife didn’t hesitate. “We lost it in tears, hugging him. We told him we loved him so much and he did not choose this. We just affirmed him,” Schaefer says.
Of course they did! What else were they supposed to do? How complicated is this issue, really? (more…)
By Alan Bean
The old protection racket has been featured in hundreds of gangster movies. “Nice business you got here,” the mafia drone tells the owner of the corner grocery, “it’d be a real shame if something terrible were to happen to it.”
Message: “Pay us $250 a month or we will ensure that something terrible does happen.”
The evangelical protection racket works on the same crude principle . Orthodox racketeers condemn the sin of homosexuality from the rooftops. But they understand that the orthodox message is a bit too close to the Fred Phelps franchise for some evangelicals. Some prominent evangelicals may know GLBT people too well to buy the demonizing chatter. In fact, there are leading evangelicals with gay children. Left to themselves, these leaders might send mixed messages and confuse the faithful, so a way must be found to silence them.
To make a protection racket work you must be willing to follow through. The slightest deviation from the party line must be punished swiftly and without remorse. If the corner grocer refuses to pay up he gets a rock through the window and a follow-up visit.
If a pastor, Christian author, or parachurch ministry (say, World Vision) has the temerity to hint that gay or lesbian people might be children of God in good standing, something really terrible will happen.
World Vision is a ministry of compassion that gives desperately poor children and their families food, shelter, and a path out of poverty and oppression. On Monday their president announced that the US side of the organization would henceforth be hiring qualified gay and lesbian applicants living in committed relationships. World Vision wasn’t endorsing gay marriage or signing off on “the gay lifestyle”; they just said the ban on hiring would be lifted because the standing policy was creating pain within parts of World Vision’s diverse constituency. (more…)
By Alan Bean
I remember back in 1978 when Harold Lindsell published Battle for the Bible. I was in my final year at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. None of my professors thought much of Lindsell’s diatribe. In fact, he was written off as a silly man with antiquated ideas.
Forty-five years later, Lindsell’s Simple Simon theology is the controlling ideology at my alma mater and throughout the evangelical world. To argue otherwise is to surrender your orthodoxy card.
The change didn’t come gradually. In fact, it all happened while I was working on my doctorate at Southern. When I arrived in 1989, the school was much as it had been in 1978, moderate, cautious, and, within strict limits, tolerant of theological diversity. There was no room for genuine liberals, of course (this is the Southern Baptist Convention we’re talking about); but God-said-it-I-believe-it-that-settles-it conservatives were also not welcome.
By the time I walked across the stage to receive my diploma from newly installed president Albert Mohler the school had changed beyond recognition. (more…)
By Alan Bean
Regardless of your political persuasion, these are the best of times and the worst of times. The Supreme Court cuts the heart out of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and then nixes the oddly-styled Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Meanwhile, in Texas, Senator Wendy Davis and a gallery crammed with abortion-rights activists kept the Republican majority from passing a law that would have shut down the majority of abortion clinics in the Lone Star State.
Liberals are celebrating in Texas, but Rick Perry has already announced that he call another special legislative session with the specific purpose of undoing what was done last night.
Although the majority decision in the DOMA case turned on arcane legal arguments, the Supreme Court is yielding to a massive shift in public opinion on the gay marriage issue. Upholding DOMA is a nonstarter in today’s America, so the justices were forced to cobble together a legal justification for a pragmatic decision.
The same cannot be said for the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. Gay rights has recently gained in popularity in virtually every demographic group–including white evangelicals. Opposition to the Voting Rights Act is limited to the conservative white voters who control political reality in much of the American South and a fairly large slice of the Midwest. Support for the Voting Rights Act is rock solid among African American and Latino voters.
Southern states may be insulted by the suggestion that their legislatures continue to discriminate against minority voters, but there can be little doubt that they do. It is ironic, for instance, that Wendy Davis would have been unable to filibuster the Republicans’ abortion bill in the Texas Senate if proposed electoral maps that deleted thousands of minority voters from her district had not been declared unconstitutional. Moments after the Supreme Court demolished the significant parts of the Voting Rights Act, Texas Republicans moved to revive a voter ID bill that was patently intended to eliminate as many minority voters as possible. Election laws that create long lines in minority precincts but not in conservative white precincts can now move forward without opposition.
If reaction to the Voting Rights Act decision split along largely racial lines; the abortion debate breaks across the no-mans-land created by the culture war. Personally, I am too conflicted on the abortion issue to support Texas Republicans or to hoot and holler for choice in the Senate gallery. I am reluctantly pro-choice. There are profound moral issues involved in the abortion debate. When a woman decides to terminate a pregnancy it is almost always with a heavy heart. This is appropriate. Pro-life politics work really well precisely because many progressive people of faith are morally conflicted on the issue. We understand and feel the arguments on both sides of the debate.
But conservatives cannot protect the unborn without creating major health problems for poor women who, denied access to safe abortions will turn to back alley butchers. It should also be noted that conservative states like Texas refuse to adequately fund public education and have far more uninsured poor families than the balance of the country. If Texas Republicans were genuinely concerned about the unborn they would give more thought to the post-birth plight of poor children.
Abortion has become a prized political issue because it allows politicians who oppose gay rights and voting rights to regain the high moral ground. “We may be doing everything in our power to neutralize minority voters and discriminate against gay Americans,” the logic goes, “but at least we’re fighting to save the unborn.”
But it’s a lie. They aren’t trying to save the unborn; they’re trying to win elections. Banging the pro-life drum and minimizing the impact of minority voters are two equally effective strategies for maintaining political control. If the abortion issue became a political detriment, most conservative politicians would abandon it in a heart beat. I’m not saying the stalwarts on the front lines of the prolife fight aren’t sincere (they are) but the same cannot be said for their political supporters.
Apart from writing op-ed pieces for USAToday, David Person hosts an excellent talk show on WEUP Radio out of Huntsville AL each weekday. David and I do a segment together every Thursday at 5:00 even when I’m on the road and in unlikely spots like prison parking lots or a roadside McDonalds. He thinks Jason Collins will face the same kind of challenges that Robinson encountered back in the day. We have accepted black athletes; in fact, in many popular sports the majority of competitors are black. But are we ready for openly gay basketball and football players?
David Person, USAToday
First openly gay active male athlete in a major sport can confront backlash like number 42.
At a moment when baseball Hall-of-Famer Jackie Robinson is being celebrated in the popular biopic 42, another professional athlete has taken a step that will break down social barriers.
Jason Collins, a free-agent center in the NBA, announced that he is gay in an essay that was published on the Sports Illustrated website on Monday.
As the first openly gay active male U.S. athlete in a major sport, Collins, 34, a 12-year veteran, is entering uncharted territory just as Robinson did 66 years ago. And though a lot has changed since the hostile Jim Crow-era in which Robinson entered the Major Leagues as the first African-American baseball player, the 21st century has not been very welcoming to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
Yes, NBA stars such as Kobe Bryant and Baron Davis tweeted their support to Collins. Yes,President Obama called him to express his admiration and support. And former president Bill Clinton tweeted he was proud to call Collins a friend.
But a few attaboys in cyberspace is not the locker room, where some teammates could be less accepting of Collins. Nor is it the arena, where some fans might shout their displeasure.
While the NBA, NHL and NFL have developed programs and partnerships to encourage tolerance of LGBT people, professional sports is still the last frontier for raw expressions of traditional masculinity.
The long-held aversion to gay athletes isn’t only in the locker room, as comments made Monday by ESPN basketball analyst Chris Broussard indicated.
“I’m a Christian,” Broussard said on his network. “I don’t agree with homosexuality. I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is.”
Because the NBA is not a theocracy, Broussard’s opinion will remain just that. And it should be noted that not all Christians address this issue the way Broussard has or agree with his conclusions. But the broadcaster’s jeremiad points to the challenge awaiting Collins, who by the way, is also a Christian.
In the Sports Illustrated essay, Collins wrote about a visit he made to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. “I was inspired and humbled,” he said. “I celebrate being an African American and the hardships of the past that still resonate today. But I don’t let my race define me any more than I want my sexual orientation to. I don’t want to be labeled, and I can’t let someone else’s label define me.”
The history of this great nation can’t be written without acknowledging that majorities have always tried to define minorities. Sometimes through laws, and other times through social mores and even brutality, groups and individuals have been labeled and forced into second-class status because their race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation was deemed inferior.
Whether it’s caustic, profane insults or biblical denunciations, Collins would do well to use Robinson as his role model once he signs a new NBA contract and plays next season. Just like No. 42, if Collins has the guts not to dignify bigotry with an angry or equally offensive response, he will empower other LGBT athletes who yearn to come out — and their straight allies who want to support them.
David Person hosts the WEUPTalk radio program in Huntsville, Ala., and is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.
This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post
By Mark Osler
This week, Baylor basketball star Brittney Griner made her first public statements about her sexuality, and at least one headline read that this announcement is “no big deal.” In the sports world, that has been true. Griner’s impressive talent and character speak for themselves.
It is a big deal at Baylor. That’s because Baylor, citing its Christian identity, continues to bar gay men and lesbians from employment, and bars active homosexual relationships under its student code of conduct. In the past few years, debate over that policy has grown more heated. (more…)
By Pierre R. Berastain
Ted Olson and David Boies–opposing counsel in the Supreme Court case Bush V. Gore–have been on the same legal team defending the right to gay marriage. Mr. Olson is one of the most conservative lawyers in the nation, while Mr. Boies falls the other extreme end of the spectrum. They won the landmark case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger at a federal court and in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The case is set to go before the U.S. Supreme Court next year.
In this video, Mr. Olson explains the difference between judicial activism and judicial responsibility, arguing that upholding the right to gay marriage would not fall under judicial activism; after all, the United States Supreme Court has upheld the right to marriage fourteen times since 1888, and upholding it again would reflect the responsibility of the Court to defend people’s right to marriage. When Fox News’s Chris Wallace asks Mr. Olson why we should not let the people decide state by state–as we did in California–Mr. Olson asks, “Would you like your right to free speech put up by a vote?…We do not put the Bill of Rights for a vote.”