Saturday, December 23, 2006

On Evangelical Compassion II- The gay Evangelical rank and file

On Dec. 12 the New York Times, prompted by the same events that prompted me to write my first post “On Evangelical Compassion,” ran a very informative article on rank and file gay Evangelicals, their difficulties with their belief system and with other Evangelicals, and their attempts at coping with their situation. Most of those gay Evangelicals who assert their homosexuality justify their position ideologically by reinterpreting the passages in the Bible that have been traditionally understood as injunctions against homosexuality. Gay Evangelicals have also established several web sites and on line magazines that promote these unorthodox interpretations and provide emotional support to fellow gay Evangelicals struggling either with their own feelings of religious transgression or with the ostracism of their more orthodox coreligionists.

While a few of these web sites seem designed, Elmer Gantry style, essentially to milk some poor gay Evangelical of a few dollars, the majority of them are run and staffed by what seem to be sincere gay men and women who have suffered a great deal, both spiritually and socially, because of the contradictions between their homosexuality and Evangelical teaching. Regardless of what one thinks or feels about their professed beliefs, one has to accept that the intent and function of these web sites is to alleviate suffering; if their claims are true, and I have little doubt that they are, they have actually prevented suicide. So, despite my own lack of sympathy with their religious position in general, I must applaud their efforts. When it comes to saving a life, or alleviating suffering, one’s passion for the truth sometimes has to be put on hold.

Unfortunately, however, these gay Evangelical web sites and the groups generated around them, despite the comfort they offer their gay coreligionists, cannot be viewed as elements of progress for the rest of us. They are almost entirely reactive, and, as the Times article points out, they do very little to try to change the aggressively homophobic stance of the Evangelical Churches and rein in their attempts to influence legislation and public policy. They seem radically parochial, little preoccupied with the concerns of the gay community in general, and interested primarily in creating a safe area within existing Evangelical belief and practice where gay Evangelicals can survive.

Their failure to assume a more active position against homophobic Evangelical policy and political activity is probably derived, at least in part, from the weakness of their arguments justifying homosexuality within an Evangelical context. Their unorthodox interpretations of scripture have been almost universally rejected not only by traditional Evangelicals but also by secular Biblical scholars.

Moreover, they are so fixated on the question of the Biblical injunction against homosexuality that they have not dealt at all with the ultimately more difficult issue of the general Christian discomfort with non- procreative sex. Even if we chose to disregard or reinterpret what is written in the Bible about homosexuality, homosexuality still involves non- procreative sex and thereby is a “sin of the flesh.” In short, intellectually, they are in no position to do battle with traditional Evangelical Churches on their own ground. It is, therefore, sadly understandable that gay Evangelical leaders have to take a duck and cover position.

Given this situation, it could well be argued that the best advice a friend could give a gay Evangelical would be to kick the Church in the balls, get the hell out of there, and start living a normal life. But I suspect that for a large number of Evangelicals, getting out simply isn’t an option.

It isn’t merely a matter of religious fervor. The world is full of lapsed Catholics who were brought up going to mass every Sunday; my mother, who came from a very religious but non- Hassidic Jewish home, would feel at most a vague twinge of discomfort as she served a pork roast to her family for dinner on Yom Kippur. But Evangelical Christianity, like monastic Catholicism, Hassidic Judaism and certain types of radical Islam, are mystical, charismatic forms of religion that rule out the possibility of a secular existence. They are not simply religions, but rather the keystones of an entire cultural complex. The individual cannot leave since his whole identity is wrapped up in the Church. Generally, if one does manage to leave, despite the pain the Church may have caused him, he still feels a longing for what he left behind.

It is, therefore, understandable that gay Evangelicals do whatever they humanly can to stay within the fold. It is, moreover, also understandable that they have no real interest in the rest of us, unless, of course, they can convert us. After having come down so hard on Evangelicals in my last post, I wrote to some gay Evangelical web sites inviting them to a dialogue. I sent out the following e mail:

Dear xxx

I have read a few pieces from your magazine and enjoyed them. You and your colleagues are sensitive, intelligent, and good writers.

I would invite you and your colleagues, if you have the time, to look at my blog . I am a rationalist and highly critical of religion, especially of monotheistic religions, and very especially of Evangelical Christianity. I suppose that Evangelical Christianity receives the brunt of my criticism not because it is worse than the other organized monotheistic religions, but rather because it has become so influential in forming the attitudes of the current American administration.

There are several posts there that may interest you, and I would welcome your comments. I am interested not only in comments of gay men who agree with me or who come from my own cultural milieu, but also of those who come from a very different standpoint.

I promise I will not try to dissuade you from your religious beliefs, and I trust that you will also respect my rationalist position and not try to convert me. I hope we can have an interesting and fruitful dialogue.

With very best wishes,


I have, as yet, not received any response. I’m not betting that I will.


Blogger Joshua said...

O boy, Bruce. You're going to have a bunch of evangelicals praying for you and sending you junk prayer mails. I've been receiving them for months - because I commented on one's site. I block/delete it, and then they send it under a new addy!!!! I agree with your opinions on this post, though.

5:03 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Just in time for Christmas! You go, Bruce. I hope you get some responses. I can't wait to read them! We have an ex-friend (well I guess he's an ex: he stopped corresponding when he realized we were not going to ever send him checks) in Paris who is ex-gay and has been there, in some northern Muslim-dominated suburb, as a missionary for many years now. How I wish you could invite Randy to join your dialog!

8:16 PM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Josh and Sam,

I will, of course, let any reasonable responses I get stand, so you can read them, too. But since I haven't gotten any so far, I tend to think that what I intimated in my post, that the gay evangelicals aren't really interested in dialogue with people outside their circle, might have unfortunately been on target.

But maybe they have just been too busy because of Christmas.

6:33 AM  

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