Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Ominous Parallels

As my regular readers -- both of you -- know, I think evangelical Christian homophobia is a mistake that time will correct.  Fifty years from now, Mark Driscoll's grandchildren will be sitting around a dining room table saying, "Wow, can you believe that at one time people used the Bible to condemn homosexuality?"  Just as today, evangelicals sometimes say, "Wow, can you believe that at one time people used the Bible to teach racial segregation?"

Obviously race and sexual orientation are different, and so it's not a perfect comparison.  But I think the process of how the church got from segregationist to racial egalitarianism is probably a pretty good roadmap for how it will get from homophobia to gay-accepting.  Even though I certainly hope I'm wrong.

At one time, white Southern churches were almost uniformly pro-segregation.  Southern Baptists, Southern Presbyterians, Southern Methodists and Southern Episcopalians all accepted as an article of faith that God didn't like it when the races mixed, or when Blacks were treated as the equals of Whites.

Today, one would have to look hard to find an evangelical church that still takes that position.  They're probably still out there, but they're the lunatic fringe instead of the mainstream.

Unfortunately, it was not an easy process.  Within the churches, the move to egalitarianism was bitter, acrimonious, bloody (sometimes literally) and ruthless.  There were churches that split over it.  There were pastors who were defrocked over it.  There were churches that were torched, and others in which people were killed.  It was a horrible, nasty period within evangelical church history.  But, when the smoke cleared, a new consensus emerged within the church, that segregation was evil and the wall of racism needed to come down, as come down it did.

So where does this leave us on the evangelical church and gay issues?  There are those on my side of the issue who think that all it takes is a bit of dinner table diplomacy and opponents of gay rights will see the error of their ways and welcome God's gay and lesbian children back, with a big group hug for all.  I think this is incredibly, incredibly naive.

Sure, the wall of Christian homophobia has some cracks in it.  A few bricks have come loose here and there.  I would like, in my best Ronald Reagan imitation, to turn to the evangelical pastors and say, "Mr. Gorbachev, take down this wall!" if I thought they would pay any attention.

Someday that wall will come crashing down, and evangelical leaders will have to decide for themselves on which side of it they wish to be when it does.  But I think the lesson of the Black civil rights movement is that it's not going to be easy.  It's going to be a long, nasty, drawn-out, vicious and acrimonious affair.  Churches will split.  Some pastors will be defrocked.  There may even be violence here and there, though I certainly hope not.

And, when the dust clears, people will sit around kitchen tables and say, "Wow, can you believe that people used to use the Bible to condemn homosexuality?"

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