With surprising simplicity, the Christian position in favor of the natural family, binary gender roles, and traditional marriage can be reduced to scorn with the labels “hateful, intolerant, homophobic.” The Christian response to these charges has largely been to go on the defensive, endlessly apologizing for any supposed grievances or slip ups in tone or speech. Christians have become paralyzed by self-consciousness and (if we are honest) a silent shame for holding to doctrines which seem so offensive to a watching world.
It is not that Christians do not speak about these topics or defend the Bible, but the framing of the debate should be of concern. As Christians, we are quick to go on the defensive. We don’t like being misunderstood or misrepresented so we take great care to distance ourselves from known bigots. We don’t like having our right to speech or religion challenged so we insist all the more on our freedoms and cry, “Persecution!” when the culture turns against us. It does not immediately occur to us that these responses tend to discredit us in the eyes of a watching world.
To the world, the issue is not over religious belief per se, but only religious belief that disparages of alternative lifestyles. These beliefs are seen as discriminatory and hateful—a blight to society—which is why no amount of arguing about our freedom to say these things will appease them. The comparison between racism and anti-gay views is so fixed in the secular mind that no amount of arguing that our attitude is not hateful will ultimately convince outsiders that our intentions are truly good.
Indeed, when we defend ourselves in this way it only diminishes our credibility. The world begins to see us as rogue and defiant but worst of all irrational. For when a person refuses to accept the common knowledge of the day and defends their lack of conformity with the retort, “It is within my rights to believe and say so,” does this not discredit the whole position? It communicates that the dissenter is not interested in conversing or reasoning but only in their right to disagree.
But the Christians who make this point have unwittingly made another concession to the culture prior to this. The world does not consider religious truth to be a source of authority when it comes to everyday life. They do not consider it to be “real truth.” This stems from a confusion about the nature of truth itself. Thus religious truth is treated separately, in a class of its own. It is conceived of as fundamentally irrational1 and therefore beyond confirmation. Therefore, one can accurately say, “Christianity is true for you, and my beliefs are true for me. Both are true and good for you and me.” An unbeliever does not see the immediate contradiction in these words since it does not regard religious truth to be rational, verifiable, or universal and absolute. Religious belief can only be confirmed to the individual, therefore it is wrong to “force your religion on someone else,” or “legislate your morality.” Religion is fine as far as it goes, just as long as it does not “impose” itself on others or make universal claims regarding others who do not believe.
This is the crux of the argument: Is what we say real truth? If it is true, it matters very little what other people feel about it, whether they disagree or resent it as true. Christians know this, and yet we hinder ourselves when we fail to consider the language barrier. The claim, “The Bible is the Word of God,” enters the ears of an unbeliever and is distorted to say, “In my opinion the Bible is the Word of God.” Even claims like, “This is the truth,” become “This is true to me.” Therefore, we need to start the argument with the assertion, not that the Bible is true, but that religious truth is possible at all.
The unbeliever denies religion to be a source of “real truth” but they borrow its language in everyday situations when it is useful. When they speak of evil in the world or pass judgments on felons, terrorists, or bigots they are equally guilty of making universal/absolute religious claims. But they cannot have it both ways; they cannot deny that religious claims have any universal and binding authority while making judgments themselves about what is absolutely and universally immoral. Demonstrating this inconsistency, while it may be frustrating to the unbeliever involved, is, I believe, the first step before any progress can be made. As long as our neighbors believe that the Bible and all of its claims are non-authoritative due to their mistaken conception of truth, we will be arguing in circles.
It is not from superstition, discomfort, or a love for tradition that compels us to take a hard stand against homosexuality, but a certainty in the reality of God’s universal truth. This must be made abundantly clear to the unbeliever. Thus the only way to clear ourselves of the charge of prejudice is to attack the assumptions behind the charge and to lay bare our own assumptions.
What would happen if believers stopped defending themselves and went on the offensive to challenge unbelievers in their fundamental outlook of the debate? Instead of defending ourselves from slander and asserting our right to speak, what if we bore the abuse as a badge of honor, all the while proclaiming the universal application of our beliefs? If we constantly grumble over the way our nation is changing its treatment of Christians, how will that appeal to the people around us? Do we desire to clear ourselves of the charge, “Hater”? Then let us proclaim the truth, even to our own detriment. Let us joyfully accept the false accusations of sinful people, for in doing so we honor God and overcome them by His love (1 Pet. 2:15, 4:14; Rom. 12:20-21).
In Part Two we discuss some other assumptions we as Christians buy into when discussing this topic.
1By irrational, I do not mean contradictory. Rather the conception many unbelievers hold is that religious truth is futile to discuss using logical propositions. Religion cannot be confirmed using logic, it does not lend itself to logical discussion. The only way to know its “truth” is by irrational subjective experience.