Anti-Gay Christians: Hopeless or Reachable?

After I re-blogged You Can’t Quote Leviticus to Prove God Hates Homosexuality, a really good Facebook conversation resulted. The discussion was so good–so personal, frank, and respectful–that I couldn’t bear to lose it in the unsearchable FB archives. Storm Longhauser and Lynette Cowper devoted valuable energy discussing whether or not anti-gay conservative Christians could be reached. Generally speaking, Storm Longhauser thinks not, and Lynette Cowper believes they can.  In their conversation, Storm and Lynette articulately discuss what can be an intensely frustrating experience.


Storm:  I agree that the Law was superseded by Jesus’ sacrifice, as you’ve clearly laid out. But a problem I still have is that it still suggests that, at one time, God was not okay with what we commonly call homosexuality, which gives ammo to the dissenters.

Consider Marcus Borg’s contention that the Bible is not a set of literal truths written by God, but instead a written account inspired by God. In other words, the men who wrote these passage were inspired by God to write a historical account of how they saw God in relation to the events that happened. Not God’s version of history, but theirs.

Thus, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which deals with the phenomenon of unexplainable (at that time) meteorites falling from the sky, becomes a story of God sending his wrath on a depraved city. Then, when you look at the passages you cited within the context of the time it was written, it is clear that those were laws of man and not intended by God to be applied to us–today or at any time. I posted this to the blog too.

Lynette:  Storm, there are a lot of laws in Leviticus that make little sense till you consider that they were intended to set the Israelites apart from the nations around them and insure that the nation grew and flourished. Some of the laws are downright barbaric from our modern mores, but they make more sense when considered in the light of the times. For instance, a lot of crimes and even things that simply violated holiness codes had the death penalty attached. But consider there were no prisons, no mental institutions, no psychologists, no child welfare workers, only the most basic of medical technologies, and the Israelites were walking into a land where people practiced ritual prostitution and child sacrifices. How long would it take for the Israelite culture to be swallowed whole?

You also need to remember that just because a person would receive a physical death penalty doesn’t imply anything about God’s eternal judgment. By all lights, David should have been stoned to death, yet he is described as a man after God’s own heart. The length of one’s physical life and the method of one’s physical death are not indicative of God’s blessing or judgment.

Storm:  True, but I think understanding it as a historical narrative of the way that the people of that time understood God makes it much easier to diffuse. And also explains the many inconsistencies. And considering the exclusion of other contemporaneous books that were more progressive or even were written from a woman’s perspective, it is much more clear that the agenda we’re talking about here was not God’s agenda. Simply how some wanted to use his authority to control others and set up their power base, presumably with God’s blessing.

Lynette:  That may be useful for your understanding of scripture, but doesn’t address the kinds of people who use Leviticus against GLBTQIA folks. In order to dialogue with folks, you can’t just dismiss their understandings of scripture as invalid. You have to start where they are. Conservative Christians who are willing to dialogue about LGBT rights and issues get to hear, “Well, the Bible really isn’t inerrant, so it’s immaterial what it says,” so much already that you get lumped into the “I don’t believe in your invisible sky fairy friend,” category– someone with a worldview and sense of respect for scriptural authority so far afield of the conservative Christian that no dialogue is really possible. Ron is trying to talk to these folks from their own perspective, not simply argue that their worldview is wrong.

Storm:  I have dialogued with conservative Christians, and they are pretty much inflexible. They don’t care about how their actions and condemnations have driven people to attempt suicide. Even when presented with personal accounts of the effect of their actions. So dialogue with them is pointless and a waste of time. So no need to try to change their view –they don’t have the capacity or the will to do it.

Lynette:  As an ex-conservative, I would disagree. Conservatives can be reached, but only by those who respect their worldview and approach discussion with an understanding that the Bible doesn’t have to be dismissed before dialogue can begin. It’s sort of like trying to find common ground with a scientist by positing that science is all wrong. Not going to get you anywhere and the scientist will be quite inflexible.

Storm:  Even with a more conciliatory approach as you suggest, nothing reached them. And I’m not alone in finding that to be the case. For what it’s worth, it is just too draining to attempt anymore. The callous reaction to seeing how their faith ruins other people’s lives is just more than I can take. Maybe someone can reach them, but I have no hope for them.

Lynette:  Just keep in mind that when you talk about “them,” you’re talking about me, and many other formerly conservative people in this group. You’re implying we don’t exist, as we were, according to you, too callous and inflexible to change, hopeless, and not worthy of your time.

Storm:  I would hope my experience with “them” allows me to share my understanding of that experience. It has never ever been a good one. That’s just my experience- that doesn’t make it universal even though I have yet to see anything other than what I’ve shared. It is quite painful sometimes to go through all of the arguments and rejection with not a single expression of empathy or concern, and instead receive further condemnation and hatred. That part of the equation is not my fault, nor one that I personally find worth repeating.

Lynette:  It may not be worthwhile to you, but to criticise Ron for his efforts assumes your experience is universally true and all conservatives everywhere are completely not worth anyone’s time or effort. It’s quite apparent that your approach is not going to change hearts and minds, so this is not your calling. Your approach is not the only approach, your calling is not everyone’s calling, your experience is not everyone’s experience.

I exist. Many other former conservatives, and remain conservative on other issues, stand with you on marriage equality. Telling us we do not exist is just as offensive as the ex-gay “ministries” insistence that same-sex-oriented people do not exist. There is nothing as othering as being told you don’t exist. Stereotypes are divisive, and “Conservatives are inflexible, callous, incapable of changing, hopeless, and unworthy of anyone’s time” is a stereotype.

Finally, I’m sorry, but your experience with attempting to change conservatives and failing does not trump my experience of being a conservative and changing. Many people’s experience with a particular race, religion, orientation, ethnicity, or nationality has been universally negative. It’s their experience. But whether they take that experience and turn it into prejudice, racism, homophobia, islamophobia, etc, etc. is their own choice. They are not innocent of that choice, regardless of how invariably grim their experience with a particular group has been.

The proper response when someone points out how a prejudice you hold is being hurtful to others or to them or is being harmful to your shared goals is to apologise, not justify your prejudice and claim innocence. Operating on the assumption that the only event to change a conservative is death is harmful to the cause of marriage equality, hateful toward conservatives, and othering and dismissive of the experiences of former and current conservative allies.

Storm:  Lynette, I didn’t criticize Ron. Are we supposed to agree with all aspects of a point just because you happen to agree with it, or is there room for respectful dialog? It seems you accuse me of assuming my experience isuniversally true while you seem to be doing the same thing.

Second, my experience was real, and yours is real. They don’t negate each other. They are what they are. My experience has taught me that attempting to build bridges with that particular community is just not feasible. That’s my experience, not just my opinion. If you think it is feasible, more power to you, go ahead and try. Just don’t get mad at others who have been hurt by the experience for speaking what has been true for them.

“The proper response when someone points out how a prejudice you hold is being hurtful to others or to them or is being harmful to your shared goals is to apologise, not justify your prejudice and claim innocence.”

That never happened. Not once. To a person, my experience within the conservative Christian community that I have experienced has been the exact opposite of that. So I can only take your word that there is a significant number of conservatives open minded and humble enough to at least listen and recognize the pain they have inflicted on others. But I’m justifiably skeptical.

Lynette:  Here’s the thing I’m seeing in this discussion. For the most part, I’m getting the impression that the conservatives whose hearts and minds you have tried to reach are relative strangers. These are the people who are posting anti-gay slurs and Bible quotes on various online forums. But they’re no more representative of all conservatives than they are representative of all Christians. There are vast, vast numbers of conservative Christians out there who have brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances who are LGBTQIA. And they’re stuck.

They genuinely love their family, friends, and co-workers, but they’ve been sold a bill of goods on what the Bible actually says. And they don’t know what to do. They need fellow Christians to address them from their own respect for scripture as the inspired word of God and show them that the Bible fully supports the place of LGBTQIA people in the Kingdom.

But what they’re getting at the current time is instantaneous attacks from oversensitive people whose only experience with conservative Christians (at least, those they knew to be conservative Christians) has been negative and so they immediately go on a rampage of accusations of homophobia, hatred, and bigotry.

Then, on the other side, they get Christians who tell them that the scripture is not the inspired word of God, that it’s something more akin to mythology, that the very basis for how they learned of God’s plan and loving provision for the salvation of mankind and of them, personally, is suspect.

Honestly, do we expect them to embrace any sort of change when those are the choices offered–become an atheist and/or give up the idea that scripture is the holy and inspired word of God, or continue to believe that homosexuality is a sin condemned by God’s word? I certainly wouldn’t expect the majority of true and faithful conservative Christians to make that change. So they continue to muddle along, looking for some answer to the calling of the indwelling Holy Spirit to love and accept their LGBTQIA loved ones while everything they know and have learned of scripture says these folks aren’t right with God.

It’s a terrible, terrible, grief-wracked position. But, once they find their way through, find out they don’t have to give up their respect for scripture or their love for the LGBTQIA people in their lives, they come to groups like this and what they hear is that they are hateful, bigoted, inflexible, incapable of change, unworthy of effort, and that they don’t actually exist–that no one with a respect for scripture as the inspired Word of God is also an ally in the fight for marriage equality.  You have no idea how hurtful that is. Honestly, you have no idea.

Storm:  Lynette, good observations. I’d add that some of the conservatives I am talking about are family members, though the vast majority were online. I don’t mean to cast aspersions, simply relating my experience. I understand there is pressure from both sides. I think the lesson to learn is that perhaps it’s not the two polar opposites that should be engaged in building bridges, simply because it becomes a dynamically charged situation far too quickly for many of the reasons you’ve stated.

Lynette:  That’s pretty much what I said in my third comment, Storm– the one you followed up by saying you had no hope for people like I used to be to become people like I now am.

Storm:  That’s just been my experience. Experience is hard to refute. I can believe you when you relate you’re experience. I just can’t relate to it because it is so counter to what I’ve seen. That’s why I saw no hope. That in no way makes either of our experiences untrue or unworthy. Hearing about you’re experience does at least give me hope. Even though I would still not be one who could build such bridges, at least for the moment.

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
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8 Responses to Anti-Gay Christians: Hopeless or Reachable?

  1. Wayne Johnson says:

    Thanks Ron, Lynnette, and Storm. Next month there will be a meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (the more progressive group among Baptists) here in Decatur, Georgia, regarding the current policy that forbids hiring out gay people. (By “hiring out gay people” I mean “hiring gay people who are out of the closet,” not temporarily lending them to other employers :D) Just wanted to mention this in case you or your readers might be interested. Maybe write to them, or participate if you are CBF.


    • I think your really talking about the american baptists – which broke from the southern baptists some years ago on the ordinaiton of women. And who in DC usually come to the gay pride parades supporting our gay friends and neighbors.

      the real problem with right wing religion is that they are brainwashed from birth, and their religion becomes like an obsessive compulsive disorder. Its all based on fear of death and burning in hell, mixed with the mytheology of life after death.

      sure there are exceptions, but for the most part, we should put our efforts re the eg Methodists, where about 1000 ministers have asked to have their book of discipline changed to allow gay marriage.

      Put the effort where there is the opportunity.


      • Ron Goetz says:

        “The American Baptist Association grew out of the “landmark” movement among Southern Baptists in the 1850s. The movement, which emphasized the role of the local church, was led by James R. Graves and J. M. Pendleton. A merger of two landmark associations in 1924 created the American Baptist Association.” Association of Religion Archives Data

        Landmark Movement: “Landmarkism is a type of Baptist ecclesiology. The term refers to the belief in the exclusive validity of Baptist churches and invalidity of non-Baptist churchly acts. [e.g. baptism, communion] The movement began in the Southern United States in 1851, influenced by James Robinson Graves of Tennessee. The movement was a reaction to religious progressivism earlier in the century. At the time it arose, its proponents claimed Landmarkism was a return to what Baptists had previously believed, while scholars since then have claimed it was “a major departure.” (Wikipedia)

        Stanley, in all fairness, wouldn’t you say that anyone brought up with any world view has, so to speak, been brain-washed? that is, taught a way of thinking that is childishly accepted, because children don’t generally think critically until they grow up a little?

        I’ve been working through this problem, and overall I think every distinct group needs to be, more or less, left to itself to work through the issue on its own. Every group has people within it who want change, and are already open to outside influences. They’re usually in the best position to make change.

        Of course then there are good groups like Soulforce that work, again more or less, from the outside, and they have their place in bringing change, too. In a society with elements both organic and institutional, change takes place in a myriad ways, and change agents sometimes coordinate their actions, but usually do not. Every situation is different, and every personality is different, too.


  2. Rev. Dr. Bob Sichta says:

    Particularly since one of you quotes Marcus Borg, would it help if both “sides” could agree that, at least within “mainstream conservatism” – and, more to the point, from an academic perspective, would it be useful to acknowledge that, in matters of theology, there is neither “conservative” nor “liberal”, but only good scholarship? I have found that by exploring that idea, people are able to sort themselves out from among hard core (political? ideological?) extremists of both stripes and begin recognizing the difference between bigotry and what constitutes true conservatism or liberalism.

    Example: In the “old South,” people justified their racism by clothing it in labels such as “traditionalism,” which traveled, in most of those circles, into what they decided to call “conservatism.”

    The “true conservatives” I know and interact with today are not bigots and, because they respect things like science, they are not homophobic. Bigots, however, no matter how they try to deceive themselves, are in fact (at least the ones I know) wont to reject science, intellectual study, or anything that takes them away from what they have mis-defined as a conservatism intended to reinforce beliefs that have nothing to do with conservatism, one of the offshoots of which is their rationalization into homophobia.

    It would be interested, from an academic perspective, in how this strikes you as a methodology for approaching people who are serious about their ideologies, as opposed to people who use their concepts of ideologies to support their prejudices.


  3. Ed Folkwein says:

    Thanks Ron for including this thoughtful conversation(via FB) from two faithful and thoughtful persons. Storm and Lynette, thank you very much for being civil and respectful in your dialogue. You each stated your positions without condemning or demeaning the other. Such dialogue goes a long way to promote hope for all God’s people. As a nation the USA, needs to return to such respectful conversations and debate.
    Peace and Joy to all,
    Ed, parent and friend to LGBT… peoples.


  4. Pingback: Anti-Negativity Counter-Revolution « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

  5. I must say I am very, very confused. I know this post was a while ago but I have only just read it. As a ‘BibleThumpingLiberal’ what do you think is the purpose of the Old Testament? Why did Jesus believe in it (as a Jew) if he came to override the OT? And also, the OT includes some key issues that arise in the New Testament, such as the Prophets foreseeing the coming of a Messiah, which in the NT is Jesus. Is it fair to say then, that Christians should not believe anything the OT says? Do Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah that the OT talks about? If there is no relation between the OT and Jesus, how can the OT be right to prophecy his coming?


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Dear “Taciturn Fellow,”

      Paul wrote that, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

      He also said, “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.”

      People will have disagreements over what correct explanations are.

      Regarding your many questions–I don’t believe a single thing that you seem to assume I believe about the importance of the Hebrew scriptures. You may think that they logically flow from my comments, but I assure you, they do not.


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