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The False Choice of Affirming or Condemning Our LGBT Neighbors

Last week, an older post dealing with LGBT persons and Christians saw new life here on the blog. Most readers, in my view, responded in-kind to the conciliatory and healing tone of the post. As you might suspect, not everyone did.

With sensitive and complex topics, readers can sometimes bypass the suggestion being made and fast-forward to playing back their own, favorite, and preconceived arguments. This is what researcher, Christena Cleveland, calls being a “cognitive miser,” which is to say, we’re all busy and life is complicated. Rather than handling dense arguments which we’re only loosely acquainted with, we simply latch on to whatever we’ve thought or heard before. Instead of rethinking our decisions or meaningfully investigate our biases, we press on to activities more vital to our everyday lives. From time to time, our tendency to be misers results in half-baked criticisms or ill-informed arguments.

Disagreement is fine. When you write something, you’re laying your head on the chopping block of response and whatever you get, fairly or unfairly, could have been avoided by not ever having written anything in the first place. Plus, discourse, when engaged in fairly by people with generous hearts, draws us into deeper empathy and connection.

Today, I’d like to respond to one of the more frequent, though perhaps the least important, issues regarding homosexuality and the church: condoning.

First A Quick Story:

A number of years ago I knew a man in his 80’s. He was a fair and generous man. His issue, however, was he never thought anyone should do anything. When someone mentioned social drinking, viewing Rated-R movies, or listening to “secular” music, they were fully and firmly rejected because, “I don’t want to condone it.”

I appreciate his heart. There was one problem: His looming condemnation never stopped anyone from doing anything. His son drank socially – at times too much. His daughter married outside his family’s faith tradition. His grandchildren were not the picture of God-fearing young adults he’d dreamt of. They all knew what he condoned. They didn’t care.

They weren’t trying to be disrespectful. They just had their own lives, and, once they left home, were free to make their own decisions.

It may come as a shock to some, as it did to him, that his moral affirmation had little impact. When people were around him, they respectfully deferred. Outside of his presence, they chose differently.

I don’t wish to criticize him, rather his story is a reminder to me that what I feel like I can condone is overrated. My friends and neighbors aren’t sitting on pins and needles waiting to hear what Sean Palmer condones. Your friends and neighbors likely aren’t either.

As any newspaper headline, featured story on the evening news, or list of box office revenues can testify, the mere idea of Christian condemnation is ineffectual.

And maybe it should be.

A False Choice:

Threats of condemnation or the suggestion of withheld acceptance is a false choice. To let certain people tell it, the only options for Christians – when faced with behaviors we may disagree with – is to either condone or condemn. But no one actually operates this way.

As parents, children, employees, and employers we live with and openly love people we don’t agree with. It’s a necessary skill to make life work. Another way of saying this is that we can accept but not affirm – if affirming runs counter to our convictions.

Love, hospitality, and welcome do not require a positive affirmation of every word, thought, or deed of someone in order to accept them (Tweet That).

I have two daughters. I don’t know how your family works, but if my daughters had to meet every standard I embrace in order to be loved and fully accepted in our family, they would not be loved and accepted in our family. What’s more, most of us know someone who has been profoundly damaged by the inaccessibility of a parent’s love. They live wanting, heart-broken, and empty lives because their days are filled with a parent’s stinging rejection. When we meet and get to know these people, we rarely blame them. We blame their parents. A father who withholds welcome from his child is universally considered a bad father.

The True Choice:

Instead of failing into the condemnation trap, a better option might be the one offered by James the brother of Jesus. When dealing with the simple truth that our world and our behavior – gay, straight or otherwise – is not what God desires, James says this:

Remember His call, and live by the royal law found in Scripture: love others as you love yourself. You’ll be doing very well if you can get this down. But if you show favoritism—paying attention to those who can help you in some way, while ignoring those who seem to need all the help—you’ll be sinning and condemned by the law. For if a person could keep all of the laws and yet break just one; it would be like breaking them all. The same God who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also says, “Do not murder.” If you break either of these commands, you’re a lawbreaker, no matter how you look at it. So live your life in such a way that acknowledges that one day you will be judged. But the law that judges also gives freedom, 13although you can’t expect to be shown mercy if you refuse to show mercy. But hear this: mercy always wins against judgment! Thank God! (James 2:8–13)

It seems pretty simple. James starts with love and ends with mercy rather than judgment. Seems like good advice.

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  • If our default is love, this dichotomy disappears. I’m no longer condemning or condoning, but I’m just loving. And I think that’s what God calls us to. I wonder why we feel so convicted to call out others’ sins and perceived sins, but disregard the obvious command to love and live in community. That’s the only choice we have as Christians.

  • Bev Murrill

    Well said, Sean. I also have come to similar conclusions.

    I feel the Church has lost its right to moralise at the world. We have/do fall short over and over, and yet we demand that the world adheres to standards we palpably can’t keep… well at least that’s what it looks like to onlookers. It smacks of the Pharisee, despite the fact that there are many godly leaders/people who do all they can to hold to the tenets they say they believe.

    We have to find ways to reach people with the gospel and then let Holy Spirit do His work, rather than us try to fix it all for Him so He doesn’t have to worry.

  • justjohn

    when this 3rd way becomes silence as your lgbt(etc) neighbors suffer indignities, attack, and deliberately treated as Lesser… it is the same as agreement with those who perpetrate that.

    silence becomes betrayal.

  • Jeff Y

    Just read this today. Great stuff, Sean!

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