Monday, January 26, 2009

Criticizing "evangelicals"

Recently a couple of gay journalist friends, whose writings I read regularly, asked me if took offense whenever they publicly criticize "evangelicals" for being anti-gay. Should they be using a different term so that evangelicals like myself aren't included? What can they do to be more sensitive to my feelings when they talk about evangelicals in this way?

My response: Actually, I'm not offended. Go ahead and criticize "evangelicals" even though a few individuals like myself do identify with that term. The reason is, until we see evangelical leaders publicly repent of the slander and misinformation that they have perpetuated in our church circles about homosexuality the past few decades, and until we see leaders who are willing to lead a visible movement within evangelicalism to combat prejudice against gay and lesbian people, then I think evangelicals deserve to be criticized as a group.

Let me illustrate the problem as I see it. I've noticed that evangelical leaders have toned down some of their anti-gay rhetoric in recent times. For instance, I don't hear sermons proclaiming that "AIDS is the judgment of God on homosexuals" anymore. That's great. Now, does anybody care to give an explanation for why they've changed their tune? Is AIDS no longer God's judgment on homosexuals? What has changed about their interpretation of Romans 1:27 since 1989?

If you are one of those church leaders who hasn't changed your view but has toned down the rhetoric, are you just being politically correct and withholding from us the full counsel of God? And while you're explaining yourself, could you also explain how the current AIDS epidemic in Africa fits in with your view of Romans 1:27?

But if you have changed your views, how about explaining why? And how about making your explanation just as public as you used to make your condemnation of AIDS victims some years back? I'm sure the hundreds of thousands of families in this country that have lost loved ones to AIDS, under the cloud of shame to which your sermons contributed, would probably like to hear such an explanation.

There are other examples. How about the claim that homosexuals are pedophiles? Or that homosexuals "recruit" because they can't have children of their own? Or that homosexuality is a "lifestyle choice"? Evangelical leaders used to be so outspoken in making these claims. Some still are, but many aren't anymore. If that is you, why aren't you? Is it because you've changed, because you've repented of your slander? And if you have, why aren't you as outspoken about your change, and about the need for all of us to repent of the way we've sinned against the gay community by perpetuating these hurtful and destructive lies? Why aren't you making an effort to undo some of the damage you contributed to?

It's great that many evangelicals are beginning to realize that they need to change their attitude toward gays. They have more gay friends and acquaintances and are being forced to rethink old prejudices. But at the same time, since when are we justified in sinning loudly and repenting in secret? If we have spoken lies about our neighbor, aren't we obligated to make it right by being equally outspoken about the truth that would bring healing to those wounds?

For the most part, many of our evangelical leaders have taken the following tack: 1) Pretend you didn't publicly say all those horrific things against homosexuals in the past. 2) Quietly adjust and moderate your views without acknowledging your sin or apologizing to anyone. 3) Then get all indignant and offended when an outsider mistakes you as one of those anti-gay "extremists," even though that's exactly what you used to be not long ago.

Until our most visible evangelical leaders drop the old derriere-covering act and lead a significant movement of repentance in our midst, evangelicals do deserve to be portrayed as collectively anti-gay. Because wounding somebody deeply, then refusing to make apology or restitution to them is a form of hatred. It's not love, is it?