Wednesday, February 27, 2013

what will we be known for?

A couple of years back, the Barna Group did a study and found that if you ask a young (16-29 years old) non-Christian in the US how to describe Christianity, they'll respond "anti-homosexual." 91% of young non-Christians in the US responded this way. That's how young Americans think about our faith.

If you're a Christian--whatever you think about homosexuality (I've written about some of my feelings here)--this statistic should be disheartening and embarrassing. We're trying to follow Jesus and tell the world that God wants to be with you, that God wants to be reconciled to you, and we've done such a terrible job and/or had such selective and terrible publicity that all people can say is, 'oh, Christians. Right. They're anti-gay'. Even if you do believe that homosexual intercourse is a sin, you have to recognize the failure here.

Part of the reason this is such a wide-spread perception is probably because people just care about this question. Everybody has a gay friend or a cousin who's a lesbian, someone you know and love, and so when someone hears that you're a Christian, they want to know your position, and they'll ask you directly. So the topic comes up again and again, and whatever else you say, the part people will remember is the 'yes' or the 'no' they wring out of you.

Well I encountered the question again today, this time in a popular Q&A forum on another blog. The person being interviewed is a young Christian writer named Shane Clairborne, author of several books, including The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. Claiborne's known for his radical (nothing ordinary about it) Christian commitments, like living among poor and homeless people in inner city Philadelphia, eschewing material comforts, and vocal anti-war and non-violence convictions. Yet, Claiborne seems to have more traditional views on sexuality, and so, sure enough, when given the chance, one person asked him directly:
Shane what is your position on same sex relationships? I remember a clip I saw of you... discussing this and sounded like you supported celibacy for gay folks. Am I correct? Also, what are your thoughts on the state of the culture war raging over gay rights? How do we redeem it? Where do you see it headed?

I've lost count of the number of times I've heard someone try to answer the question, "what is your position on same-sex relationships," but, for me, Shane Claiborne's response was stirring. In the middle of it he mentions the Barna statistic:
It must break God’s heart that this is what we have become known for. Jesus said they will know we are Christians by our love. So my admonition on this is that we become known for our love again.

Claiborne never actually gives a 'yea' or 'nay' here. I'm sure if it had be a live conversation rather than an online, ask-ahead Q&A, someone would have pointed that out and demanded an answer. But that would have only distracted from the things he did say that we absolutely need to hear. The Church's call is to go and love people. And considering how many GLBT folks have been hurt by Christians and churches, we should go out of our way to love them.
'Progressives' and 'conservatives' both need to hear this. If you're convinced that Christians need to affirm the biblical picture of marriage as 'one man, one woman', and you've never taken the time to get to know a gay man, to listen to him, and to show him God's unconditional love and grace, then you haven't done anything for the Kingdom. If you think Christians need to accept gay and lesbian individuals and bless same-sex unions, but all you really do is read DC's Earth 2 comic book or tell people how much you enjoyed Brokeback Mountain, then you haven't done one thing to take the gospel to people in need. And we're all in need.

What are we going to be known for? For our love--the way we embody God's unfailing love for his world? Or for the judgment we pass on a particular group of people?

I've written more than I meant to; this post was really supposed to be nothing more than a recommendation of this Shane Claiborne interview. Oops. But really, please do read the interview, or at least this one question and response. It's worth your time. The quotation from Billy Graham alone is worth your time. You can find it all here. The question about same-sex relationships is the second-to-last.

1 comment:

Daniel McLain Hixon said...

I think you are right, Nance, that this is an issue - maybe the issue - many people care about, and therefore ask us about. I would actually say that it is more about sex in general than same-sex relationships in particular, that just being one more expression of our culture's more general focus on sex.

When I was in seminary I once was studying in a cafeteria one evening and, it being nearly empty, ended up chatting with a young woman at a table near me. Upon learning that I was a seminarian and (therefore presumably) a committed Christian, the very first thing she wanted to know was not about the Trinity, or salvation, or what I as a Christian was doing to alleviate global poverty - what she wanted to know was if I really believed in/practiced chastity (that wasn't the word she used).

It was something like - O, you are a Christian? - so do you REALLY believe in not having sex till you are married. In her mind our sexual ethic was the defining quality of a Christian.

I think the reason this question - what we believe about sex (and same-sex relationships as a related question) comes up so much is multi-faceted. We humans are wired for sex, of course. Our society has become so sexualized that I can hardly be expected to buy a product if it is wrapped up in sex-appeal of some kind. We have defined so much of everything in sexual terms that we cannot help but define religious communities in those terms as well. When it comes to Islam I'm willing to bet that the average American knows far more about 72 virgins than about the Shahada. But which is more formative for Muslims?

It seems to me what we Christians must try to do (and have not done well yet) is promote a wholistic and Biblical vision of sexuality that is beautiful, remarkable, and for the human good. As I've said before, I would rather be known for what I favor than for what I'm against.

Yet I fear that because of the reductionistic nature of most of our mass communication media and (by reflection) our communication habits as individuals, no matter how rich a portrait we paint of what God intends for sexuality, some will only take from it: "O, so you are against same-sex practice and against every kind of extra-marital sex and against _____(insert other sexual practice here)______."

In terms of what non-believers will hear about us in the News Media - no matter how many orphans we nourish and educate, or homes we rebuild, or works of art we create -contoversy makes for better ratings for News Media than thoughtful dialogue or celebrations of good happenings.

There is a reason more people watch "the Bachelor/ette" (which in my view elevates all sorts of distortions to the natural gifts of sexuality and relationship) than will ever watch C-SPAN and PBS. That may sound more cynical than I really feel at the moment, but I'm not expecting Christianity will ever be truly popular so long as human hearts are fallen.