The Holy Grail of gay activism in America is cultural acceptance of homosexuality. No one stigmatizes what everyone accepts as normal. We evangelicals are one of the last lines of resistance to the normalization of homosexuality.
Because of our resistance, many gay people believe evangelicals hate them. To me as an evangelical leader, this is more lamentable than the prospect of gay marriage itself. Still, we have significant disagreement with the gay community over the fundamental definition and application of marriage.
Could we agree for sake of discussion that disagreement is no cause to be labeled hateful, phobic or intolerant? Disagreement is a fact of life in a pluralistic society. This means no one should expect cultural consensus on every matter of cultural concern. We have to argue persuasively, not pejoratively. “Hate” is an incautious word spoken in frustration at best, but a vengeful word at worst that curdles in its resentment to become genuinely intolerant of those it considered intolerant in the first place.
I don’t deny that evangelicals have demeaned homosexuals. The gospel of Jesus Christ is supposed to pull our self-righteousness from us. When it doesn’t, we hurt people. So there is repentance work for us to do, not for our convictions but how we have carried them at times. We shouldn’t want gay people to see in an evangelical what a bull sees in a matador.
The tension for evangelicals is palpable. Our conviction is that homosexual behavior is not simply incompatible with God’s design for human sexuality but also a profanity of it. It’s not solely a biblical argument we make but one that incorporates the history of civilizations, sociological factors, and physiology, too. People protest these arguments with anecdotes, self-justifications and denials to the contrary, punctuating these with exasperated questions: How does it harm you to allow gays to marry? Who are you to tell others whom they can and can’t love?
Such questions miss the issue, however. The issue is what homosexuality is and whether it lends to human flourishing as it is. Some Christian pastors adjust biblical standards to accommodate homosexuality. President Barack Obama’s views aren’t just socially constructed or political shrewdness but an extension of the theology that has shaped him. The president invoked Jesus’ ethic in Matthew 7:12 as personally persuasive, that whatever one wishes to be done for himself he should do for others. It seems an impeccable logic: How could I deny a gay couple the same legal rights and privileges I enjoy as a married man?
But the marvel of Jesus is how he advanced grace and truth equally. He was both loved and scorned for it. Jesus’ axiomatic “Do unto others” fuses grace and truth in putting the best interests of others before our own.
Consider the children raised by gay parents, a consideration not of parental competency but of agency. If it is just as good for children to have same-sex parents as heterosexual parents, then gay marriage can also be in the best interests of children. But do we actually believe this is so? Is it true that moms and dads are interchangeable or optional? Don’t we recognize that something vital is missing when either is missing, something fundamental to the best interests of the child?
If I love my neighbor as myself, then I act for his best interests. This includes calling him away from what is not good for him, even if he thinks it is. If evangelicals ever stop doing this, you may then call us hateful.
Dr. Cole Huffman is senior pastor of First Evangelical Church in Memphis.