Friendship Across the Divide
, June 2000
What Is Truth?
Moral Disagreement -- www.bridges-across.org/ba/dmd/
In one sense, dialogue seems like an incredibly
obvious, perhaps even trivial, answer; however, I would suggest that
those who are impressed by its obviousness consider how rarely it has
been successfully utilized, or how rarely there have actually been attempts
to implement it at all. We think of "talk" as a way of mediating or
resolving conflicts, but we don't take talk seriously. (Gutmann and Thompson
1996, p. 12) I intend to take talk seriously here. I
want to examine where dialogue and discussion might fit in a democracy,
as well as how it should work: what its structure should be, what
principles it should be governed by, and what its aims should be.
About this paper and the author
A Map that Few Will Follow
review of the Exodus youth video
The Children's Crusade
based on interviews with exgay youth ministry leaders
and with ex-exgays
Someone I know is gay or lesbian
An exgay website's advice to conservative Christians with gay or lesbian
Someone I know thinks homosexuality is a sin
A gay website's advise to those with conservative Christian friends
-- no link, but if anyone finds it, please let us know..
by Ron Belgau
DAY, 1998, I attended
the Washington State Governor’s Prayer Breakfast. The featured speaker was
Dr. Tony Campolo, and he spoke about commitment: commitment to the people
who were near to the heart of Jesus, the poor, the outcast, the oppressed.
And in his speech, Dr. Campolo did something unusual for a late twentieth
century American Christian: he included gays and lesbians among those to
whom Christians must be committed. He said,
I’m in a lot of trouble in the Evangelical community
these days because there’s a group of oppressed people that I tend to
love. And it’s a group of people that everybody’s upset with these days.
I’m a conservative on this issue: I’m against same-gender marriages. But
let me just say this. I was in high school. And there was a boy in high
school who everybody picked on because we found out he was gay. We mocked
him, we ridiculed him—you know what high school kids can do when they find
out that somebody’s gay. We humiliated him in every way we could think
of. On Fridays when the other boys went into the showers following gym,
he would never go in—he was afraid. And when we came out with our wet towels,
we whipped them at him and stung his little body.
Commitment to standing
up for gays who are battered down, beaten, lost, or downtrodden is not
popular these days among conservative Christians. Much ink has been spilt
in conservative circles opposing the National Endowment for the Arts for
supporting such works as Andre Serrano’s “Piss Christ.” They object (I think
quite rightly) to debasing the Christian religion by immersing an image of
Christ in a jar of urine. Yet I cannot help but think that they are ignoring
the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy and faithfulness. For while
I join them in objecting to the “Piss Christ,” for debasing the image of
God with urine, it is only a metal facsimile which is being debased. And
I question the reality of their objection, for when it is the flesh and blood
image of Christ who is tossed into a tile shower and urinated on, they often
ignore the problem, pretend that it does not exist, and pass by on the other
I wasn’t there the day they took Roger and pushed him into
the corner of that tile shower, and as he wrapped himself up like a fetus,
five guys urinated all over him. He went home, and that night, went to bed,
got up at two o’clock in the morning, went down to the garage, and he hung
himself. And I knew I wasn’t a Christian. Oh, I believed all the things
that Christians are supposed to believe. I went to Church. I believed the
whole thing. But if I was really a follower of Jesus, I would have been Roger’s
friend. And I would have stood up for him, and I would have put my arm
around him, and when they came to attack him, I would have been his defender,
and if they started to talk about me in negative ways, I would have been
able to say, “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you
and say all kinds of terrible things about you falsely, for my sake, rejoice,
and be exceeding glad, for great shall be your reward n heaven.”
That’s what it means to be a person of commitment, and I
wasn’t committed that day. I wasn’t committed to stand up for the battered
down, the beaten and the lost and the downtrodden.
I WOULD CONSIDER MYSELF GAY
, as a Christian, I have come to believe that sex with another man
would be wrong. My good friend Justin, on the other hand, believes that
two men can share the intimacy in marriage as a man and a woman, and believes
that God will bless such a relationship. We therefore disagree quite sharply
on a very important issue. Yet it is too easy to just say that Justin is
wrong and leave it at that.
One day, as Justin
and I were talking about our differing beliefs, he received an e-mail from
a sixteen-year-old gay kid. In his e-mail, this young man explained that
he had been about to commit suicide. He grew up in a Christian family,
but had heard so many condemnations of gays from his parents and pastors
that he did not feel he could tell anyone about his struggles. While he
was typing up his suicide note on his computer, he took a break and went
to the Internet, where, seemingly by accident, he came across Justin’s
testimony. And as he read Justin’s story, he saw another who had gone through
many of the same things he had, and gained a little hope that maybe he could
find Christians who would help him to deal with his struggles and with
his pain. And so he chose not to commit suicide.
God’s Spirit clearly
guided this young man to Justin. And I am forced to ask myself the question
that Jesus asked the expert in the Law: “Who was a neighbor to this man?”
Were his parents, his pastors, the Christians around him, who made him
feel that he had no place in a Church, no hope, and nowhere to turn? Or
was Justin his neighbor?
JESUS SAID SOME VERY
UNUSUAL THINGS during His ministry. When he talked
to the Samaritan woman at the well, He told her very clearly that the Jews
knew more about God than the Samaritans. In the Sermon on the Mount, He
said, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the
teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Yet when a teacher of the Law (the most knowledgeable sort of Jew) asked
Him “Who is my neighbor?” He told the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the
parable, a priest and a Levite (both the very most educated and knowledgeable
about God of the Jews) walked by the stricken man. A Samaritan stopped to
help. Jesus left no doubt about who behaved correctly. Sometimes, you can
have all the right knowledge and do all the wrong things. And sometimes,
you can be a Samaritan and do all the right things.
According to the
Meyers-Briggs personality test, I am an INTJ. “INTJs approach reality as
they would a giant chess board, always seeking strategies that have a high
payoff, and always devising contingency plans in case of error or adversity...
INTJs can be quite ruthless in implementing effective ideas, seldom counting
personal cost in terms of time and energy.” On the other hand, Justin is
an INFP. INFP’s “present a seemingly tranquil, and noticeably pleasant face
to the world, and though to all appearances they might seem reserved, and
even shy, on the inside they are anything but reserved, having a capacity
for caring not always found in other types. They care deeply—indeed, passionately—about
a few special persons or a favorite cause, and their fervent aim is to
bring peace and integrity to their loved ones and the world.”
In Straight &
Narrow, Thomas Schmidt does an excellent job of characterizing a fundamental
difference between the sides of the homosexuality debate. SideA, he says,
relies more on “stories” and “experience”, whereas SideB relies more on
“arguments” and “authority”. Says Schmidt, “To err in either direction produces
exactly the same proud claim: ‘I know better than you.’ The only difference
is that those who pit experience against authority stress
I , whereas those who pit authority against experience stress
know . Both claim to serve the cause of Christ. Both have lost
sight of the way of Christ.”
But God desires that
we love Him with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our
strength. Justin and I both strive to answer that call. I have focused
on developing a sound theological approach for gay Christians, rooted in
both Scripture and the tradition of the Church. But I approach this intellectually,
“seldom counting personal cost.” Justin approaches it more personally,
focusing on the emotions involved. Through our friendship, Justin and I
help to maintain a healthy balance between head and heart.
AMPOLO’S SPEECH was a very emotional experience
for me. I have never heard a Christian deny that “hate the sin but love
the sinner” applied to gays. But while I have heard many Christian pastors
preach impassioned sermons on the sin of homosexuality, until Tony’s speech,
I had never heard a pastor speak with passion about loving gays and lesbians.
Most Christians pay lip service to loving gays, but the do not love with
all their heart.
I think the words
of Jesus aptly describe the attitude of many Conservative Christians: “The
teachers of the Law and the Pharisees (and conservative Christians) sit
in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you.
But do not do what they do, for the do not practice what they preach. They
tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves
are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:2-4). And to the
conservatives who do these things (and not all conservatives do), the
Apostle Paul would say, “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because
of you” (Romans 2:24).
IT CAN BE TERRIBLY
FRUSTRATING for me to be a conservative Christian
and be gay, even though I am celibate. Conservative Christianity is the
heartland of “family values.” Their vision of the “good Christian life”
is almost inextricably tied up in their vision of marriage and the family.
Most cannot imagine that there can be any happiness or purpose to be found
in celibacy. Where Paul saw something better than marriage, they see only
a second-best solution to a difficult situation. Most will accept it as that;
but they cannot see that there could be any good in it, or that I could find
Worse, because their
vision of Christianity is so limited to the family, it can be very lonely
to be a Christian without a family, who does not intend to start a family.
“Singles’ ministry,” all too often, means opportunities to mix and meet
potential mates. Singleness is suspect. Thus, in addition to the loneliness
that comes from not having a relationship, there is a deep isolation that
comes from being out of step with the community.
And the deeply unfortunate
thing is that I am out of step with the community because the community
is out of step with Scripture. Neither Jesus nor Paul was married. If the
Christian life is the “Imitation of Christ,” then celibacy is surely a positive
good for the Christian.
When I tell conservative
Christians that I am gay and celibate, most are impressed that I have
made that difficult choice. But they keep wondering if I might not be
happier if only I could find some way to get married. Or they will say
how much they respect me because marriage is such an incredibly wonderful
thing which they could not possibly do without, especially because it’s
going to be so hard for me to control my sexual urges, but it’s such a great
example that I’m willing to bear such a difficult—if not impossible—burden.
Now, I think that this is supposed to be a compliment. And I
think that it’s supposed to be encouraging. But it isn’t, and the
reason it isn’t is because though they recognize the validity of the choice
I am making, they cannot recognize that there is anything good to be found
in that choice. I choose celibacy because I see real fruits at the end of
the journey and along the way. Nobody denies that I can choose celibacy;
virtually everyone denies the existence of the fruits, or at least has grave
doubts of their existence.
This is not only
frustrating; it is also deeply demoralizing. The body of Christ is supposed
to build each other up. Conservative Christians understand how destructive
it is for children to always hear from the secular culture that there is
no point in waiting to have sex until marriage, because the culture denies
a positive good which they recognize. They realize that if children lose
sight of the goods of marriage, they will not likely resist the temptations
of the secular culture. They recognize the profound spiritual danger of
a culture which doubts the value of marriage. And yet they do precisely this
to me by consistently doubting the value of celibacy.
I EVER FALL AWAY FROM
S IDEB, it is almost certain
that it will be because conservative Christians undermined my commitment
to celibacy by undermining my hope that there was some positive good to
be found in a celibate life. This may sound like a cop-out, an attempt to
evade responsibility for my own decisions. It is not. Ultimately, I will
stand or fall based on my own choice to accept or reject the Grace and Strength
of God. But it is frustrating for me to hear conservative Christians complain
about how “the liberals” are destroying society, when I find that I am nursing
far more wounds inflicted by conservatives than by liberals. I hope that
somehow I can wake conservative Christians up to the appalling number of
“friendly fire” casualties they are generating. At the same time, God can
heal any wounds conservative Christians inflict on me; those wounds do not
excuse me from the responsibility for my own decisions and my own walk with
God. But neither does my responsibility for my response to those wounds
eliminate conservative Christians’ moral fault in inflicting those wounds.
It’s a hard balance to strike -- whether the sinner you are confronting
is a self-righteous cC or a promiscuous homosexual. I’m afraid sometimes
I'm as self-righteous towards conservative Christians as they have been
One of the things
I really appreciate about Tony Campolo is that he recognizes the need for
conservatives who oppose homosexual activity to support gays in being
As a matter of fact, I would argue
that, from my evangelical, conservative position, I'm going to argue that
what we really need to do as a church is to provide a framework to help
brothers and sister who want to remain celibate, to do so. We need to pray
for them. We need to encourage them. We need to support them. We need to
stand by them.
The need for support
is very real, and its availability very limited. Indeed, there have been
times when I have come close to losing heart. Quite recently, I nosed closer
to despair than I have come for a long time; and in that “dark night of
the soul,” Justin helped to pull me through.
I spoke with him
many times during those days, venting my frustrations with the conservative
Church. He listened sympathetically, having experienced many of the same
frustrations himself. But he also encouraged me to act with integrity—not
to abandon my beliefs about celibacy because conservatives were frustrating
me. And eventually I pulled through and regained my hope. But I can never
forget that as I lay battered and bleeding on the side of the road, the
one who came to stand by me and nurse me back to health was a gay Christian
who believes in gay marriage. “Who was my neighbor?”
The Jews and the
Samaritans were enemies—and in a sense, so are Justin and I. Justin believes
and publicly teaches that gay marriage is blessed by God. I believe and
publicly teach that sex is only valid within marriage and with an openness
to conception. One or both of us are wrongly leading others astray. The
same was true of the Jews and the Samaritans. Jesus told the Samaritan woman
that the Samaritans did not know God. But He never cast woes on the Samaritans,
and He did cast woes on the Pharisees.
I COME FROM SIMILAR BACKGROUNDS
—conservative Southern Baptist families. And both of us know intimately
the struggle between a gay man and his God. We also understand the struggle
to grapple with Twentieth Century Christian sexual ethics. We both learned
about sex from James Dobson. Dobson claims to represent “traditional values.”
And yet we learned from him that masturbation and birth control were ok—positions
that would have been regarded as radically undermining traditional
Christian sexual ethics in any church a hundred years ago. We learned
how foolish the Church had been to link masturbation with mental illness
a hundred years ago. And we also learned that homosexuality was definitely
a mental illness. The Church used to argue that sex should only occur within
marriage, with an openness to the conception of children. In this century,
most Western Christians have abandoned that position.
that the Church of the past was too prohibitive with regard to sex. Most
American Christians, including James Dobson, would agree with him on that.
He believes that the purpose of marriage is a lifelong emotional, spiritual,
and physical bond between two people. And he believes that such a bond
can occur between two men. While I cannot accept it, I think his position
IGHT TALKS A LOT about moral absolutes. But
they endorse a sexual ethic unheard of in Christendom until this century.
When, in 1930, the Lambeth Conference became the first official Christian
body to condone birth control, the Catholic Church responded by arguing
that acceptance of birth control would lead to increased rates of STDs,
teen pregnancy, pre- and extra-marital sex, divorce, and spouse abuse. Whether
there is a causal link or not, in every one of those categories, things have
gone deeply downhill since 1930. While I agree that in many ways the Church
at times was too prohibitive and repressive about sex, I do not agree that
the modern experiment has succeeded. I cannot believe that Christians who
were guided by the Holy Spirit would, for nineteen centuries, consistently
err in the direction of radical repression.
But I do not want
to become a Pharisee. Intellectually, I am forced to regard James Dobson
as a sexual radical, and a much more dangerous one than Justin, because
very few people listen to Justin and millions listen to Dobson. But the
fact that Justin helped to bring me through my “dark night of the soul”
reminds me that intellectual conviction is not the whole story in a faith
whose central command is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart,
all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” It is not enough
to know the truth and walk by on the other side. It is necessary to love
“the battered down, the beaten and the lost and the downtrodden.”
This is one of
the central “secrets” to my hope that celibacy can be a positive way. Both
in financial terms, and in terms of time, a family is a major commitment.
A larger house, food, clothes, college educations—all of these things take
time and money. A man without a family is a man with more to invest in
“the battered down, the beaten and the lost and the downtrodden.” And when
celibate gays come together to pool their resources, they not only find
community to support each other, but they also have more to give away to
others in even greater need.
JESUS HAS CALLED
US TO BE WITNESSES. Witnesses do not pass judgment.
Witnesses do not execute sentence. Witnesses do not jump up in court and
yell at the wrong time. Witnesses tell the court what they have seen. It
should not surprise us when witnesses testimony does not always agree: the
most honest and reliable witnesses seldom tell exactly the same story about
a concrete event, like a traffic accident or a murder. On a terribly complex
issue like this, it is likely that it will take the wisdom of one greater
than Solomon to sort through all of the conflicting testimony.
But as much as
Justin and I disagree, I would like to draw attention to how much we agree.
We agree that God is real, that Christ came to die for us. We agree that
love is at the root of our service to God. The Apostle Paul writes, “For
Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all,
and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should
no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised
again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though
we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if
anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has
come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ
and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the
world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He
has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:14-19).
The Church is Christ’s
Bride. But here on Earth, it is composed of fallen, all hoo human people
like St. Augustine or Justin or James Dobson or me. The members of Christ’s
body here on Earth are not perfect, but we are being perfected. So long
as there remains any sin in us, that sin will interfere with our relationship
with God and will damage our relationships with other human beings. That
sin can take the form of self-righteous pride or anger, or it can take the
form of lust. And it is always easier for us to see others’ sin than to see
our own. In the meantime, we must strive to repent of our own sin, forgive
others’ sin, and trust Christ to reconcile us to each other and to God.
Tony Campolo and
his wife, Peggy, disagree about the issue of homosexuality. And yet they
stick together. They publicly debate the issue. But yet they stick together.
When they publicly debated the issue at North Park College Chapel, Tony
I have to announce that we are
two people who do not agree. We have very, very divergent views on this issue.
I for instance believe that the Bible does not allow for same gender sexual
marriage. I do not believe that same gender sexual intercourse is permissible
if you read the Bible as I do.
Like Tony and
Peggy, Justin and I disagree. But we hope that you will marvel at the
way that a God perspective can bring reconciliation between us as we reach
out across the divide. And as I contemplate the mystery of how we can disagree
and yet be very, very good friends, and how I can feel so unloved by many
I agree with, I can only cry out with Paul:
Peggy believes in monogamous relationships.
In short, she would hold to a belief that within the framework of evangelical
Christianity, gay marriages are permissible and she will try to make her
Alright, we do differ and the reason
why I like doing it this way is that we have something to say that is more
important than anything we say in words. Weâre saying something
by being here and this is what it is, that it is possible for two people
to differ intensely over a crucial issue and not get a divorce. It is possible
for two people to have lively discussions over dinner and have interesting
intellectual exchanges over an important issue, a decisive - this is not
a minor issue - this is a major issue, and still stay together in a loving
relationship. And it is our hope that of all the things that we communicate
to you today - this above all should be communicated, that it is necessary
for us to respect each other across our differences, love each other and
recognize we belong together even if we don't agree on an important issue
as crucial as this one has posed to be. Let not an issue destroy the fellowship.
Let not a difference of opinion alienate us. Let us be one in Christ Jesus
because we're going to have to work this thing through. A hundred years
from now this, I think, will be resolved. In the meantime let us stay together.
Let us love each other. Let us be together. So I like this format where
a husband and wife who care about each other have these differences of opinion.
“Oh, the depth
of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or
who has been His counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay
him? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be
the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)