The Words We Use.

My blog about Louie Giglio last week was mostly inspired from reading other responses to the situation from a variety of perspectives. Some of what I found was thoughtful, some was depressing. What troubled me most was some of the word choices that conservative evangelicals seems to use in all their entries. The words we use are important. They are how we communicate and connect with others. James talk about how important the tongue is of course and regrettably some evangelicals are using words that are unhelpful, inaccurate, and deeply hurtful. I offer three examples.

Agenda- Many evangelicals love to bemoan the fact of a “Homosexual agenda” that seeks to undermine Christianity. Giglio himself falls into this in his statement declining the invitation when he states, “…it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration.” The implication is that the LGBT “agenda” is somehow “less-than.” The reality is LGBT people and advocates view their work as more promoting themselves as opposed to being “against” anything. Some LGBT people are faithful and genuine Christians. Of course where is the most fervent opposition to anything seen as “pro-gay” coming from? You guessed it, Christians. If you want to keep calling LGBT people’s calls for equal rights and recognition an “agenda” you can but evangelicals should at least be honest about the agenda that various conservative evangelicals leaders, groups and churches are leading themselves. Of course lamenting a gay “agenda” leads invariably to calls of…

Persecution- Many blogs are highlighting about how this incident is undeniable persecution of Giglio and his right to free speech in the public square. This is inaccurate on multiple levels. A website found an old sermon of his that they found repugnant and called him out on it. Rather than hold firm, renounce the sermon or defend his beliefs he offered a simple statement and backed out. If he had been arrested maybe persecution would be accurate. The ironic fact of the matter is that Giglio is benefiting immensely more from NOT speaking out than if he did. He is now able to go back to his pastoral duties and his ministry work. As I noted in my last entry, If he had renounced his sermon he would have likely lost all his leadership positions he currently holds. The persecution would come solely from his fellow Christians. Giglio is still allowed to work at and preach about whatever he likes. The fact that more people in the public square vehemently disagree with some of his beliefs is not persecution, it’s America.

Bullying– This is perhaps the most shocking word I have seen used but evangelicals have even used it in the titles of their blogs about Giglio. Just as many liberals know little about evangelical subculture, the use of this word to describe this situation shows how painfully unaware most evangelicals are to the experiences of LGBT people. LGBT young people more often report feeling unsafe in school and skipping school than almost any other group. Suicide rates among LGBT youth are tragically high. In the last few years, an “It gets better” campaign has started online where famous people tell young people that if they can survive school things will be better when they reach adulthood. To compare what Giglio has experienced to the torment many LGBT kids face on a daily basis is not only ludicrous it is unimaginably hurtful to LGBT youth and those who are seeking to make their lives better. Giglio was confronted on his beliefs, he was not bullied. He will continue leading an amazingly blessed life while too many LGBT kids see no alternative to their suffering.

If we want to have a conversation about the religious, political and social implications of the Giglio event, I support that.  I think we can have a serious conversation about the balance between religious liberty and individual freedoms in this country. But as long as the evangelical establishment (my personal faith) continues to demonize, undermine, and ignore the very real concerns of LGBT people and their advocates I see few positives occurring.

Advertisements

Louie Giglio in the news.

I did not imagine that the day after I wrote an entry about Christians, family values and LGBT people that something like this Louie Giglio news event would occur but here we are. This news story is yet another example of what Christians and evangelicals (my faith) will have to deal with in coming months and years and our response is clearly vital not just for the practice of our faith but also our relationship with the greater culture as a whole.

Some background for folks who have not been following: Giglio is a well-known pastor from Georgia. His main focus has been Passion conferences and a movement to end sex trafficking. This anti-slavery work garnered an invitation from the Obama Inaugural committee to offer a prayer at the ceremony. A couple days ago a website publicized a sermon by Giglio from the 1990s that preached negatively about homosexuals. After much outcry, Giglio released a statement respectfully declining the invitation to speak.

Full disclosure: I have watched a few sermon series by Giglio and went to one of his conferences when I lived in South Africa in 2008. I have not kept up with his Passion or anti-slavery movement but by most accounts I find him to be an engaging speaker and a great and thoughtful man of God.

Unsurprisingly the battle-lines have been drawn after this event. Somewhat unexpectedly though they are calling each other out about the same thing: tolerance and inclusiveness. LGBT advocates denounced Giglio as someone who is “anti-gay” and unworthy of the inaugural stage. Evangelicals accused LGBT advocates for promoting tolerance for everyone except them and other conservative religious followers. The question has been raised, is there any space in the public square for the conservative evangelical pastor or leader? Giglio himself expressed the issue concisely in his statement backing out of the invitation saying, “…individuals’ rights of freedom, and the collective right to hold differing views on any subject is a critical balance we, as a people, must recover and preserve.”

As an evangelical christian these are tough issues to think about and navigate. I foresee these issues continuing to come up in the days and years ahead. Here are just a few thoughts on things I think both sides could be thinking about in the days ahead.

Evangelicals need to realize that the standard “Christian” response to homosexuality is largely untenable to large segments of our present society. Most LGBT people have no desire to change, do not believe it is possible and are gravely insulted when Christians tell them that they can. This does not make them “anti-christian” as much as it makes them “pro-themselves.” In a nation that values “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” Christians need to accept that some will find all those things outside of the “evangelical” model. In addition, they need to accept that while they believe they are speaking “truth in love” this truth can be and has been incredibly hurtful, unhelpful, and destructive to people trying to not just live their lives but also find Jesus. Evangelicals also need to accept that the “Biblical” model of sexuality is not their own exclusive domain. There are many churches now that openly accept and affirm LGBT people and their relationships. We can debate and argue about who is right but are we willing to condemn all these other churches even as they preach Jesus as well? “…for whoever is not against us is for us.”

 

On the part of LGBT advocates I am sure it is wildly frustrating and even infuriating to hear over and over again how destructive their lives are from people who do not even know them. Realize that most have no idea how hurtful their words are and are often genuinely trying to simply follow their faith. I have no doubt in my mind that Giglio is not a bigot. He is however, trapped by his set of circumstances. If he were to disavow that sermon from the 90s he would likely have to give up his entire life’s work up to this point. He would lose his pastoral job and with it the leadership of his Passion conferences and leadership of his anti-slavery movement. Please understand I am not comparing his troubles to the myriad injustices LGBT people face simply existing in the world today but simply noting this is a tough issue that will take time. I personally feel it was unhelpful and unwise for Giglio to refer to LGBT people’s desire for acceptance as an “agenda” yet again yesterday. But I also think that labeling him a “bigot” does little to respect the great good he has done in his career or move the conversation forward.

I guess what I am calling for is a dose of humility from both sides. The more entrenched we become the less likely we will be able to meet each other going forward as citizens and Christians.

 

Family Values?

The recent holiday season had me experiencing and thinking about family a lot.  I am finally at a point where I feel I need to speak up about something that I find to be tremendously troubling emanating from large sections of the Christian church. I have concluded that this is a blind spot that is harming our credibility and witness as followers of Jesus. I am talking about conservative Christians support for “family values.”

On the surface “family values” sounds perfectly innocuous. Kids deserve a married mother and father who provide stability, support and love throughout their lifetime. Promoting this standard is in societies and children’s interest. Unfortunately this laudable goal has become a phrase that demeans other family models, ignores their very existence and seeks to deny fellow Americans rights we all share.

It has come to this: when a conservative American Christian promotes “family values” they are directly and openly condemning the existence of LGBT families, regardless of their intention.

It does not have to be like this. Christians can follow their faith without directly infringing on the rights of LGBT families to exist. But we need to fix this blind spot that so many have when they say “family values.” What are some ways forward?

1) Recognize that LGBT families exist. Conservative Christians can promote “family values” all they want, but that is not going to break up happy, loving, committed LGBT families. These families love each other and their children just as much as any other family. There is common ground to be promoted here. Stability between two parents benefits children, regardless of their gender, and can be seen as a decidedly conservative value. We are dealing with real people who need God’s love. The sooner we recognize this fact the better. Wrestling with this recognition will be difficult for many Christians but ignoring this issue is hardly more feasible. I am still trying to figure out what this means for myself as well. I do not have all the answers but recognize that presently we are not loving people the way we should.

2) Recognize that LGBT families are helping. Regardless of how sinful you may think gay people are personally, they are becoming loving parents to children that need them. If every child in America had loving straight parents tonight that would be something worth considering but in reality there are hundreds of thousands of children in this country who are hoping to be adopted. To try and prevent capable gay couples from starting families of their own is not only incredibly hurtful to them but ignores the needs of children all over the country.

3) Recognize that”family” is a complex phenomena. People’s definitions of family are probably as diverse as the number of people on the planet. Are two parents ideal? Probably, but does that mean we should take children away from single parent homes? Of course not. A loving single parent can do exponentially more than two parents who are emotionally neglectful and/or abusive. Sometimes grandparents or other relatives or friends are left to raise the children and they do a tremendous job. The bottom line is that the American nuclear family is one model amongst many. We can promote this model while also supporting and strengthening all the models that actually exist and are benefiting children right now.

I realize I am raising difficult and complex issues with this entry. I also realize I have not reached a final conclusion on any of the things I address above. I really hope this entry is the start of a conversation between Christians and others about what it means to practice our faith today. This probably will not be my last entry on this topic. I hope you will engage and share your stories, thoughts and comments. I welcome them as openly as I can.