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Glad to be gray
When a progressive evangelical magazine in the US rejected an advert on Mother's Day calling on churches to welcome gay people, tough questions were asked about what progressives actually stand for. Becky Garrison surveys the shades of gray of evangelical opinion on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights, from God Hates Fags through to Welcoming & Affirming Baptists.
On Mother's Day 2011, Sojourners, the premiere Christian social justice magazine in the United States, rejected an ad from Believe Out Loud, an organisation which believes that "Jesus' message compels us to welcome all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity." In a written statement, Sojourners said, "I'm afraid we'll have to decline. Sojourners position is to avoid taking sides on this issue. In that care [sic], the decision to accept advertising may give the appearance of taking sides."

Seattle-based sex columnist Dan Savage summarized the outcry following this decision by raising the question: "If progressive Christians can't unite behind the concept of welcome then, gee, what the fuck good are they?" For those looking for further analysis of this faith fracas, see popular blogger John Shore's post, "Mr. Wallis and his Big Gay Waffle."

Jim Naughton's takedown of Jim Wallis in The Guardian should debunk any notion that the CEO and President of Sojourners (and self-proclaimed spiritual adviser to President Obama) should be the sole media spokesperson for all religious progressives.

But for those who still harbor the notion that all evangelical Christians speak with one voice on the topic of LGBT rights, here's a brief summary of the range of views on this subject. These are views expressed by US based fundamentalist and evangelical leaders, starting from fundamentalist extremists and then moving to the more progressive end of the spectrum.

1. Homosexuals are evil and of the Devil.

See God Hates Fags.

2. Homosexuals aren't satanic per se but their acts pay homage to Satan.

A "respectable" fundamentalist might think homosexuals are of the Devil, but they shy away from the God Hate Fags crew in the same way their Bible-believing ancestors distanced themselves from the Ku Klux Klan. These folks tend not to make the news, as they prefer to separate themselves from this "sinful" world. However, you can find them in droves at places like The Creation Museum, The Holy Land Experience and other "Christian" business establishments.

3. Homosexuality is a disease that can be cured, and I don't want anyone with that disease contaminating my family or my church until they repent of their sins and become Bible-believing heterosexuals.

Those anti-gay groups designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as "hate" groups fall into this line of thinking, as do ex-gay movements such as Exodus. As part of their ministry to "pray away the gay," they will minister to fallen sinners they meet on sites such as Rentboy.com.

4. Jesus commands me to love the homosexual sinner but hate homosexual acts. Therefore, I have no problem with homosexuals, but I am opposed to any sex outside of a traditional marriage which, according to biblical law, is between a man and a woman.

True Women like Nancy DeMoss and Purpose Driven Pastor Rick Warren espouse both positions 3 and 4, though they follow the lead of prosperity gospel Pentecostal Joel Osteen by toning down the hate rhetoric while repeating ad nauseum the "love the sinner not the sin" mantra.

5. I love and respect my gay friends and family members and support homosexuals in church leadership as long as they remain celibate. I cannot in good faith approve of the homosexual lifestyle.

This tends to be the dominant view held by those who market themselves as "evangelical progressives" on the Christian author/speaking circuit. They received well earned kudos for their pro-civil rights and anti-war efforts, but they took a right turn when it came to the feminist and LGBT movements.

Examples include Ron Sider, founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, New Monastic icon and Wallis protege Shane Claiborne, and evangelist Tony Campolo. Campolo even went so far as to compare his ministry to the work of The Family (aka Fellowship), despite that organization's role in the Ugandan kill-gays bill and other human rights atrocities.

6. It's a mystery. And a Paradox. Love Wins. In the end. Lacan. Is On. To Something.

This is the stance developed by bestselling author and megachurch pastor Rob Bell, preeminent Justin Bieber scholar Cathleen Falsani, and Zizek impersonator Pete Rollins, who as Bell and Falsani note, try to emulate the likes of Eddie Izzard. However, in Stripped, Izzard deconstructs the evangelical concept of God with the finesse and skill worthy of a learned historian or theologian.

Conversely, these folks serve up provocative platitudes and parables that would earn a failing grade at any respectable mainline seminary. When it comes to standing up for LGBT folks, they're caught in a bind because while they talk about the need to "love" LGBT folks, if they take an actual stance on hot button issues such as gay marriage, they will lose their conservative funding streams that supports their comfy Christian lifestyle.

Also, they could potentially alienate their core audience – those at the intersection where cool and Christ collide, who waffle between positions 6 and 8.

7. While I consider myself to be an ally to the LGBT community, I'm aware of how gay rights remain a wedge issue that diverts the focus away from other critical social justice causes such as poverty and the environment. I want to align myself with a range of voices, including conservative evangelicals and Catholics, so we can advocate together on those areas where we can find common ground.

This line of reasoning is held by those who either stood by silently or supported Sojourners' decision not to run the Believe Out Loud ad, such as emergent church guru Brian McLaren and those mainliners who sell their wares to the emergent evangelical crowd, such as Nadia Bolz-Weber, the pastor of a queer friendly, Denver based church plant.

8. Christians should affirm gay people and allow them to have the same rights as us straights, which includes the rites of marriage and ordination.

This view is held by those positioning themselves as cutting edge evangelical/emergent thinkers – such as Tony Jones, the theologian-in-residence at Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis, and Jay Bakker, pastor of Revolution Church NYC and son of PTL Club founders Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. But despite their claims of being inclusive, they continue to operate in a milieu that largely consists of white male postevangelicals who self-identify as straight.

9. In Genesis 1:26, God created ha-adam, a nonsexual term that means "human being." Then, after he created humanity, she declared that it all was "very good".

Hence, now is the time for evangelicals and emergents who claim to be progressive to join those in the US Episcopal, United Church of Christ, and Unitarian Universalist churches, as well as other communities of faith who are working for social justice among the bi and trans community, whose voices have been unheard even in many gay and lesbian circles.

With a few exceptions, such as the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists who actually put into practice the teaching of their founder Roger Williams by welcoming all, don't expect this to actually happen any time in the immediate or near future.

As senior contributing editor of now defunct The Wittenburg Door and author of such books as Jesus Died For This? I've had more than ample opportunity to observe the US evangelical 800-pound gorilla and its offshoot, the emergent chimpanzee, in its unnatural Christian habitat.

Yes, some shifting has transpired in the past 20 years. But the evangelical world continues to lag way behind not only their mainline brethren but the secular culture at large when it comes to welcoming LGBT people and advocating for their rights as part of our shared humanity as global citizens on this planet.
becky garrison
Becky Garrison was senior contributing editor for fabled satirical magazine The Wittenburg Door and is the author of Jesus Died for This? A Satirist's Search for the Risen Christ.
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