From time to time, I have a conversation with someone via email that gets at ideas that I think will be helpful for the broader High Point body. A High Point member recently came to me for advice about how to respond to a very difficult situation involving a family member’s homosexual wedding.
In other posts, I’ve discussed homosexuality and the specific dilemma of deciding whether or not to attend a friend’s or family member’s gay wedding. This post deals more with how to dialogue with love and candor with those who object to our objections.
I’m sharing this discussion with you, with the member’s permission, in the hope that it will help you as you think through a loving, Biblical response to issues like this which will inevitably become more and more a part of our normal experience. I’ve changed the names to respect the privacy of the family involved and chosen main highlights that represent the fuller conversation.
This woman contacted me because she and her husband had struggled to decide whether or not to attend (and allow their children to attend) the wedding of a male family member and his male partner. They and their children had a close relationship with this family member, but ultimately decided that they could not attend or allow their children to attend. As seen in this excerpt, the family member’s response was filled with hurt and surprise, and expressed concern that their values were not only backward, but also dangerous:
I was truly blindsided by the news that you had decided to not attend [our] wedding. Over the course of the last 8 years, you have been nothing but loving and kind to us, which makes this hurt even more.
I cannot believe that we would have to face such bigotry in my own family. I got a chance to speak with many members of our family yesterday, and what I was most struck by was the overwhelming sadness that you have now tarnished what should and — despite your poor decision — will still be one of the happiest days of my life….
My grandfather and grandmother raised our family to love one another without judgement, and this feels an awful lot like judgment to me. I would imagine you might say that you still love us and can separate that love from your issues with our “lifestyle.” But unfortunately, I cannot take this decision for anything other than it is: using the disguise of religion to cast judgement on others….
[You have done] a huge disservice to [your children]. They will be growing up in a world very different than you did. A world in which they will thankfully be surrounded by families that don’t look like a “traditional family.” …
You have changed our relationship forever with this decision. You have taken what was once a special, loving relationship … and soured it. You both have made me feel ashamed … that such prejudice has any place in our family.
This is a condensed form of my response to our member’s question of how to respond:
Please remember that pluralism is very difficult for everyone to deal with – including [this couple]. They mistakenly believe, like many people, that the New World we live in will have a consensus about things like morality and meaning in the same way that we had in the old American world – a consensus that was essentially based on a heritage of the enlightenment and Judeo-Christian, Anglo-Saxonism. Most people will naturally assume that when we leave that fairly single and coherent cultural heritage behind, we will enter into a new, single and coherent heritage that is more “modern and progressive.”
Cultural cohesion tends to be the product of a shared base philosophy about reality, something that doesn’t exist in the new America.
That may be the case someday, but it will certainly not be the case in your children’s lifetime, and probably not ever. Cultural cohesion tends to be the product of a shared base philosophy about reality, something that doesn’t exist in the new America. This is not just difficult for evangelical Christians who have biblical convictions like you, but it’s also very difficult for people like [this couple] believe that we are shifting directly to a new consensus.
The Disappointment of Pluralism
But that’s really not what pluralism produces. This is why we have people suing each other over photography rights and cakes. It’s why we have people arguing about the meaning of “social justice” and its relationship to “economic justice.” The fact is that we are all having a very difficult time with real diversity and pluralism. And every time the fact of it comes home to roost, when the ideological cloister we live in is shown not to be the whole world, we tend to respond with fear and anger. We would always like to believe that the other group is quickly dying away, but sociologically we know that isn’t true. People are becoming more traditionally religious and more irreligious at the same time in America; it’s the middle group that’s going away, which is fairly predictable.
Living in pluralism with actual love will require us to make the kind of distinctions that [this couple] does not seem ready to make. We will have to sit down at tables with people who we believe are objectively wrong about very specific and important things. If they are wrong in good conscience, though, all we can do is engage in persuasion and community.
People who find themselves profoundly attracted to the same sex must travel a long road from where they originally find themselves. They have to press through people’s disapproval into a new psychological space where they feel freedom from shame. In some ways, it is very much like what a Christian does in dealing with “the world.” Jesus tells us when we come to faith that most of the world is not going to approve of us, and we have to learn to be okay with that, being concerned to please God alone.
We don’t shame those who shame us, but we scorn their shame so it doesn’t change us.
People in the gay movement have to go through a similar process. They have to shame the shame that anyone “puts on them” for being gay. And for most of them, that includes anybody who has a philosophical, religious, or ethical objection to homosexual practice on the basis of their convictions. Generally they either come to believe or are actively taught that these objections can only be visceral human reactions of bigotry and prejudice hiding behind higher philosophical and ethical justifications, since they are taught there can be no real ethical justifications for denying sexual expression.
It is very difficult for any person who has come that far in their reasoning to turn on a dime. In the case of gay men and women, that requires them to abandon the framework of pluralism while embracing people who deeply believe in the thing that creates the shame from which they have worked so hard to free themselves. It requires enormous emotional energy to overcome the feeling of shame connected with a particular group, and then to turn around and entirely embrace the group which signifies all the shame they feel they’ve overcome.
This is why the passage in Hebrews 12 about shame is so important. When Jesus overcame those who crucified him, he “scorned their shame” and yet still said, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.” The latter quote could sound condescending, but it’s essentially what we believe about those we disagree with. We don’t break relationship with people, because we believe they are acting in good faith without really understanding the negative implications of their actions. Therefore, to the extent to which they put shame on us, we don’t shame them. We scorn their shame.
We don’t shame those who shame us, but we scorn their shame so it doesn’t change us. That distinction is in the highest heights of practiced Christian maturity, or human maturity of any kind. It is extraordinarily difficult for anyone to do. In fact, most people haven’t even thought that thought yet, much less attempted it. And even to consider that such an ethical imperative might exist is extraordinarily difficult for people who have been through so much pain in coming to the place “without shame” that they presently inhabit.
Talking with you, rather than being an opportunity to exhibit a kind of love fostering moral independence, just feels to him like tearing open an old wound, and the temptation to hate you for it is profound.
What he said about you is almost certainly entirely false. His words are unvirtuous, and his intention is simply to shame you into abandoning your deeply held convictions. That is an offense against conscience. But, if you want to love him, I would encourage you to consider what I’ve written above as a way to understand his behavior without diminishing who he is.