Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Competing agendas

Here's a conversation I've had many times over. A fellow straight Christian who takes a conservative position on same-sex relationships wants to know whether celibacy is "the answer" for gay Christians. I respond that it might be a solution for some people who think they can handle it. But there's always the problem of what to do about the people who don't think they can handle it. I bring up depression. I point out how the depression caused by the strain of trying to avoid this one sin can lead to worse problems. It might lead to acting out, for instance. It might lead to abandoning faith. It might even lead to contemplating suicide.

And the fellow Christian I'm talking to says, "Uh-huh . . . uh-huh . . . okay, but--"

Okay, but?

At this point I'm wondering, "What's so 'okay but' about suicide?" We're talking suicide. SOO-IH-SIDE. Why do alarm bells not go off in this person's head when they hear that word?

But now I've come to realize something. To me this conversation is about real people, friends I care about. It's about hearing someone on the other end of the phone going off about how they feel like God hates them and they can't do this and there are no answers and nowhere to turn and what hope can I give them that would make their life worth living, huh??

But to this straight Christian I'm talking to, this conversation is largely a theological exercise. Nothing real is at stake. It's about coming to the right answer while staying within the bounds of orthodoxy.

In other words, when one person is talking about love and the other is talking about protecting certain doctrines, how can the two sides be having the same conversation?

I see this problem on a larger scale too. We evangelicals tend to get starry eyed when it comes to rubbing shoulders with our favorite evangelical celebs. Someone tells of shaking the hand of Pastor of a Certain Megachurch, or studying under Professor at a Respected Theological Seminary or having their Facebook friend request accepted by Author of a Popular Christian Book. But when it comes to, say, a mother seeking out advice for her gay son or daughter, can she entrust her loved one into the hands of these "experts"? Is that megachurch pastor going to advise her out of love for her gay son, or is he going to be thinking about what the board of elders would say if they found out "a homosexual" was in their midst? Is that popular author going to love her gay daughter as much as she does, or will he be thinking about protecting the book deal he's trying to close with IVP?

It's a problem, isn't it?

When people ask me what respected Christian leaders or theologians I've consulted to guide me on my views, I have to admit that I haven't done that much consulting. I have no idea what other people's agendas are. Can these strangers love my friends the way I do? Can they feel the weight of the responsibility of it? Or are they just concerned about what a publisher or a committee or the powers-that-be want them to say?

I think the responsibility of love falls on the individual alone. You can't fully entrust it to others. The path love carves out is too uncertain, with too many twists and turns to be able to write it up in a brochure and submit to a board for approval. It's not something you vote on, it's a journey you take alone. I don't scoff at love like I used to, as something that's liberal and mushy and unprincipled. Loving others the way Jesus commanded is by far the most frightening thing I've ever had to do.