By Tom Krattenmaker
To my evangelical friends,
Getting to know you has been one of the best experiences in my writing life. Through numerous columns for USA Today and over the course of researching and writing my book The Evangelicals You Don’t Know, I have had the privilege of consorting and conspiring with many of you to tell a new story about the evangelical faith in a time of profound cultural shifts — a story of brave humility, generous service, and idealistic commitment to the common good.
Many of you have become my friends — which is surprising when you remember that I’m a progressive and, for the most part, secular. We’re supposedly on opposite sides of some impenetrable barrier. I guess we’re proving ‘em wrong.
In the spirit of this friendship, I want to let you in on what I’m sensing these past couple of weeks as I’ve followed the World Vision drama and the episode of the Mozilla CEO who got ousted because of his past support for California’s gay-marriage ban. Things are getting nasty out there, and these debates are producing pain, anger, and bewilderment among many of you. So I want to convey some observations that I hope will be helpful — even if they are unsettling.
We all recall what happened a few weeks ago when the Christian relief agency World Vision announced it would begin allowing married gay people on staff and then, two days later, amid a firestorm of criticism and threats to withhold funding, reversed the decision.
Those of you with a more traditional view of homosexuality were the driving force behind World Vision’s reversal. As some of you asked, how was it right for a Christian organization of this quality and stature to endorse a sinful lifestyle choice and the annihilation of centuries of one-man-one-woman marriage? Could World Vision even call itself Christian anymore?
No surprises there; I’ve been around these arguments for years. Nor was there anything surprising about the now-customary counter-argument you heard. You were told it was so sad, so wrong, that you harbored such unchristian contempt for your gay fellow citizens, your gay fellow Christians.
What did surprise me, though, was what I heard from some of you in response to that: You felt aggrieved by the flak you received. You felt misunderstood, mischaracterized, and mistreated by those accusing you of being mean to gay people.
Was that your experience? If so, I’m afraid you’re going to have to get used to it. Increasingly, this is what you’re in for when you exclude gay people. You may feel unjustly castigated. You may feel you’re the victim of harsh intolerance. But outside of the conservative evangelical sphere, you will not find many sympathetic ears. Outside your own circles, you sound like you will do what you can to exclude gays from marriage and certain other institutions. And you want to get off scot free for doing so. Disdain for gays? You don’t harbor any of that. You love the sinner! And you deeply resent the punishment you receive for opposing gay rights.
Lots of people aren’t buying it.
I affirm that there must remain a sizeable space in our shared public life for people who have deep religious faith and who are not as quick as other groups to embrace certain forms of social change. It’s not as though believers with a particular understanding of a sacred, centuries-old scripture are all going to shrug it off and quickly “get on board” with the rest of us when a cultural tide shifts. On the whole, this commitment to principle is a profoundly positive social asset. I would urge my secular compatriots to consider, for example, the role of Christianity in the development and maintenance of human dignity.
Yet I’m worried for you. I see the day approaching when gay rights, in most mainstream circles, will enjoy the same elevated status as race-based civil rights. Science and the testimony of our gay fellow citizens are largely refuting the notion that homosexuality is a choice. More and more, it’s understood as who someone is. And as “gay” evolves into an identity rather than a lifestyle, those who oppose LGBT rights will risk the same pariah status as those who stand against equal rights for racial minorities. So being opposed to gay rights is rapidly becoming just as detrimental to your good standing in public as being labeled “racist.” Given what we now know about homosexuality, that’s probably how it should be.
I am not sure of a solution other than the one that I admit comes too easily to most of us liberal non-evangelicals — you know, the “get on board” solution. But I want you to know this is where I see things heading. Increasingly, these labels — “anti-gay,” “homophobic,” and “hater” — will be slapped on anyone opposing the inclusion of LGBT people in the mainstreams of American public life.
It’s nothing I would want for my evangelical friends. Especially when you are up to so many other awesome and uplifting things.