29/04: Ignoble Indifference: Evangelicals, Race, and GLBT issues
Ignoble Indifference invites Christians to do two things: 1) unequivocally condemn violence against gay and lesbian folks; and 2) charitably acknowledge that gay and lesbian Christians—a number of whom are conservative theologically, as Phillip Yancey notes in What’s So Amazing About Grace?—have theological reasons to account for their sexuality, an open and affirming church and so on.
To be clear, the second point is an invitation to charitable dialogue. One may or may not be convinced by certain accounts of Scripture, the Incarnation, creation, and so on—but let us be loving and intellectually honest enough to acknowledge that there is an argument concerning homosexuality (see Robert Gagnon and Dan Via w/ Zondervan’s "Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views" as an example of this), a debate over how to interpret Scripture, and fundamental questions about who we understand God to be and what it means to act ethically in the world.
While progressive evangelicals consider color within and beyond the Emergent Church, let us not ignore the stories of our gay and lesbian brethren as if the two issues are completely separate. The two issues ought not be conflated, and yet they are inextricably intertwined.
Far too often, black and brown youth who are gay and lesbian suffer from an unceasing stream of epithets, threats, and violence in the formative years of life. From the ghastly murder of Sakia Gunn, a fifteen-year-old lesbian, to the skull-fracturing beating of Gregory Love at Morehouse, visceral responses to homosexuality have provoked not only dehumanizing discourse but also destructive deeds. Violence against our gay and lesbian brethren — again, many of whom are black and brown — is immoral, illegal, and incompatible with those who follow the Prince of Peace.
Another sin of civil rights storytelling is that many who invoke Martin King ignore Bayard Rustin. And yet, the emergence of Martin King as a nonviolent prophet is unintelligible without brother Rustin — a brilliant organizer, orator, nonviolent strategist, and also a gay man.
Or when Tonex, perhaps the most gifted gospel artist of the past quarter-century, came out, many of his peers publicly threw him under the pews. On the CCM side, it appears that Jennifer Knapp—who came out recently and appeared on Larry King not too long ago—may similarly be thrown under the pews. The not-so-subtle message seems to be twofold: one cannot be explicitly gay and publicly offer praise to God; and secondly — since everyone and their grandmama knows that there are gay gospel artists — one must suffer in silence before God and Church. This message is unhelpful, tacitly encouraging a culture of shame and clandestine sexuality.
Instead, let progressive evangelicals acknowledge that there are Christian arguments for gay marriage, civil unions, and so forth. One may or may not be convinced, but let us be charitable enough to acknowledge that there are Jesus-loving and justice-seeking believers who have theological reasons to account for their sexuality, an open and affirming church, and so forth.
The stone-cold truth, I suspect, is that more than a few progressive evangelicals are indifferent about GLBT issues. By God’s grace, I ashamedly — and yet gratefully — admit that I am slowly being delivered from this apathy.
There is an evil which most of us condone and are even guilty of: indifference to evil. We remain neutral, impartial, and not easily moved by the wrongs done unto other people. Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself … The prophets’ great contribution to humanity was the discovery of the evil of indifference. One may be decent and sinister, pious and sinful.Gracious Triune God of love and justice, deliver us from this ignoble indifference.
–Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom, pgs. 110-1