To my LGBTQ+ and Allied readers: Please accept this as constructive advice. To my evangelical Christian readers: Please feel free to read my outline of the approach I wish to see LGBTQ+ rights advocates take. I am interested in opening dialog with an understanding of where you are coming from. We are not angry rabid animals as many of you seem to think.
As a former evangelical Christian with an education in cultural anthropology and religious studies, I advocate for social equality and LGBTQ+ rights as ‘Outspoken Ally.’ Understanding religion and its effects is my life’s work, and I advocate by confronting the religious foundations of anti-LGBTQ+ ideals. As we push forward and gain tremendous ground in the fight for understanding and acceptance, I feel that many opportunities for discussion are being lost, and this is due to the fact that we can’t engage with what we don’t quite grasp. Traditional religious doctrine, in this case traditional Christian doctrine, is ingrained into our culture. North American society was built, after all, with Christian teaching in mind. Our laws, traditions, holidays, our collective worldview, and our cultural norms all share a Christian foundation. This also applies to the way we view difference, and in the case of the LGBTQ+ community, difference is both misunderstood and wrongly condemned by churches who adhere to a perceived 11th commandment: thou shalt not be gay.
Understanding religiously fuelled exclusion is vitally important if we are to confront it. We can’t just ignore the issue, or at least the cause of the issue, and saying “you’re just an asshole” does nothing but make the problem worse. If we are to achieve equality – true equality, and true acceptance – we have to meet our opponents on their level. Given that LGBTQ+ phobia is firmly grounded in religious teaching, that level IS religious teaching. The problem is that very few of us understand, and many just don’t care, why so many Christians feel the way they do; and why they fight so vehemently against a level of acceptance that should be of obvious benefit to everyone. There are three quick points that we should all keep in mind when confronted with comments like “it’s a sin,” “it’s a choice,” “it’s unnatural,” etc. We should also remember that there is more to it. This is just a start, Christianity is surprisingly complex, but these three things are a good baseline for understanding.
#1: They mean well
When an evangelical Christian says ” I don’t agree with homosexuality, it’s a sin,” we immediately think “what a jerk.” In many cases, though, they actually mean well. The Bible explicitly tells believers that they are to witness, to spread the gospel, and this means pointing out the sins of others so they can know God and be saved. It comes out as hate of course, and we’re right to take them to task for that, but we must do it with the understanding that they have no idea what impact their words have. For me, understanding this causes a reaction of calm rather than anger. There is a lot of dishonesty on the evangelical side to get angry at, but if I know the person I am speaking with genuinely doesn’t understand what they are talking about, I feel sorry for them. They have been taken in by a false doctrine. Empathy for their situation makes me proceed with more calm than aggression.
#2: They either don’t understand the Bible, what homosexuality IS, or both
There is an entire page on this site titled “Think,” dedicated to discussing apparent biblical condemnations of homosexuality. The reason I wrote it was that few Christians understand the culture in which the books of the Bible were written. More importantly, they don’t understand what homosexuality, or any identifying term other than their own, actually IS. It’s important to know this, because if we know they mean well, and that they don’t even understand the thing they are condemning, then we can take it upon ourselves to educate. Just be sure that when you attempt to confront someone with factual information about LGBTQ+ issues, you come across with empathy. Too many of us attack, and come across as … well … jerks.
#3: They will be quick to defend
Even after calmly and rationally explaining things, many people will still feel attacked, and that spurs a rush to defend themselves. This can be very frustrating, because it feels like you’ve wasted your time and breath. The important thing to remember as they fly into a diatribe is to keep your composure. Show them that you aren’t here to fight, you’re here to talk. I rarely get into heated arguments anymore, because nothing gets accomplished. If my opponent gets loud, I let them shout, and I speak again once they calm down.
We’re all quick to defend when we feel that a personal aspect of our identity is under fire, and that’s how deep it goes for many in the anti-gay camp. A lot of emphasis is put on homosexuality at the pulpit, especially in the last decade, to the point where bias around it has come to be viewed as a vital tenet of faith. The more personal something becomes, the more defensive people become of it. It’s not okay to defend exclusion, bigotry, or misinformation, but understanding where the defensive stance is coming from makes a big difference. Understanding informs us on how to proceed with pointing out the exclusion, bigotry, and misinformation, that church teaching has blinded them to.
Above all, be kind and be honest. There is no need to intentionally offend, no need to call people names, no need to be uncivil. We are victims of exclusion and hate, and they are victims of false teaching. I get very angry at times, as is natural when you deal with these issues daily, but I recognize the importance of introspection. I have to keep myself in check, constantly think about what I write, and about the arguments I present. Everything is carefully considered, and although I say things that are intended to stir emotion, there are some lines I just won’t cross. Understanding these three things helps me stay within those boundaries. Most evangelical Christians mean well, but they don’t understand the Bible, what homosexuality IS, or both, and they will be quick to defend what they see as an attack on their faith.
Now, this call for civility may bother some in my own camp. I get that. I certainly don’t mean to say that everything we’re doing is wrong. Culture and law are moving toward equality because of our efforts, and that’s no small feat. I chose to write this because Christian news anchors, interviewers, radio hosts, and other influencers are very adamantly talking about how we are militant, angry, vicious, and insulting. They make up lies and present them as truth, and their work leads ultimately to suicides, beatings, and murders. We have every right to be pissed off, but when we stoop to their level, it gives them more to talk about. The legal issues and overall cultural discussion are being dealt with effectively, but those of us on the ground, so to speak, have a voice also. It’s very important that we use that voice as effectively as possible.