Posted by: Alex | May 24, 2012

Obama, Worley, the Church, and Homosexuality: Call For A More Civil Discussion

Two of the big news stories of the past few weeks have  been President Obama’s announcement of support for same-sex marriage (on the heals of Vice-President Biden) and, a day before, the passing of a controversial amendment banning same-sex marriage or civil unions in North Carolina.  As I have watched, the reaction from various Christian communities has seemed mixed, whether it be from more conservative or more progressive ends of the spectrum.  From more progressive Christians I have seen a mixture of enthusiastic welcome for Obama’s announcement and disappointment (even anger, in some cases) at its timing in relation to the referendum in North Carolina.  From more conservative Christians I have seen reactions to Obama’s announcement ranging from anger or disgust to an utter lack of surprise and renewed calls to oust the president for someone more in line with “American values” (former governor of the People’s Republic of Massachusetts Mitt Romney??).  I’ve also seen conservative leaders tout North Carolina as the latest evidence that Americans on a whole still support “traditional marriage” (despite polls showing a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage being legally recognized).  It seems to me that on a whole the battle lines have continued to be drawn where they are with little movement on either end of the spectrum.

My experience has been that issues of sexuality (whether this be same-sex marriage, gender norms in the church, etc.) are among the most divisive issues facing Christianity today.  Denominations have split, and continue to split, over questions related to human sexuality.  Major scandals ensue whenever religious leaders say or do something related to sexuality which seems outside of the expectations of their particular community.  And no other set of issues seems to engage people on such a personal level (to a certain extent, that is obvious), often resulting in angry, or at least passionate, rhetoric from both sides of whichever of the numerous issues pertaining to sexuality is at stake in a particular conversation.

That seems to have hit an extreme with this clip from a sermon by Charles L. Worley, a North Carolina Pastor, which has gone viral.

I highly recommend reading this response to the video from a self-described evangelical.

My sense is that the divisiveness of this issue is damaging to Christianity, making it almost impossible to get conservative and progressive Christians to work together on any other issue.  But my sense also is that most of the more conservative Christians I know are just as horrified by the thought of rounding up members of the LGBTQ community and putting them into a Hitler-esque ghetto as I am.  Even assuming the conservative perspective on homosexuality, Worley seems to go too far (and I have noticed, in doing research for this post, that most of the major conservative/evangelical voices have effectively stopped talking about their opposition to same-sex marriage since this video surfaced).  Given that, I’m wondering if the common reaction to Worley from both sides of this debate can form a bit of common ground for a conversation that works towards healing division instead of generating it.

What I have in mind is something like this:

I first want to ask what it is about Worley’s proposal that is so upsetting or shocking?  For me, it is the idea of deliberately and blatantly subjecting other human beings to what is effectively torture with the intention of killing them.  This is the straight out slaughter of human beings because they are unwanted (at least in the eyes of some).  The complete lack of respect for the dignity of the life of these people (given in the same sentence as a demand for respect for the life of the unborn) is, I think, disgusting.

And there lies the next move, I think:  whatever we think about the moral status of homosexuality, in this discussion we are talking about people, and by virtue of that there is a certain level of dignity and respect for these people that must be maintained whether we support their lifestyle or not.

Finally, I think there is an important contribution to be made by recalling the doctrine of depravity in this discussion.  Though more progressive Christians often shy away from discussions of sin and depravity, I think this doctrine is an important equalizer that demands a certain amount of humility and openness from all of us.  Whatever we might say about the moral status of homosexuality, the doctrine of depravity says that all of us are sinful.  Even those of us who are “repentant,” Luther would remind us, are simultaneously sinners and saints, redeemed and yet still fallen.  This, in turn, leads I think to an extremely important question, at least for those on the conservative side of this debate:  even if we take homosexuality to be a sin, what right would we, as fellow sinners, have to exclude on this basis other people from the life and ministry of the Church (including such institutions as marriage)?  As the author of the response linked to above suggests, it seems that without an air-tight answer to that question the only option is to offer radical hospitality both in terms of our actions and our rhetoric.

I recognize that most of the people who will read and potentially respond to this post are on the more conservative side of this discussion, and so I have intentionally been more provocative toward that point of view.  My goal here, as always, is to garner a discussion, beginning with the first question posed above (Why is Worley upsetting?) and moving toward what relevant theological issues you see being at stake in this discussion.  Let me know what you think!

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