I sent the following to Dr. Carl Trueman in response to a blog post he published on Gay Marriage. In addition to Dr. Trueman’s role as Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, where I attended from 2007 to 2010, he is also Vice President for Academic Affairs. He did not reply. I post the letter here in hope that these reflections may challenge your own thoughts and beliefs, leading to a more pastorally and biblically sound perspective.
Dear Dr. Trueman,
I don’t know if you remember me but I had the pleasure of interacting with you many times during the years I attended Westminster. I graduated in 2010.
I’m writing in response to your blog post on Gay Marriage, in which you took note of the generational divide that now exists on this issue. Specifically, you noted that for those under the age of 35, gay marriage is no longer an issue. Your reflections are thoughtful, articulate and I always looked forward to reading what you have to say. But I believe in this instance some presuppositions you hold are distorting your reasoning and conclusions. For example, on one hand you rightly note:
“For people like myself, now in middle age, dislike of homosexuality came with the territory; our reasons for opposing it were more to do with our own cultural backgrounds than with any biblical argumentation.”
This is quite true. Whether aware of it or not, our reading of Scripture is profoundly colored by our cultural context and worldview and we must be mindful of this. A couple hundred years ago, for example, you might have alleged with equal earnestness that you believed the Bible clearly approved slavery. Had you lived in Germany in the 1930s you might well have quoted the Bible in support of Antisemitism. One of the first things we learned at Westminster is that reading and interpreting Scripture is not quite as simple as some would like to believe. A text does not simply “say what it says” despite the rational good intentions of some readers. For reading and interpreting Scripture is not only a matter of what is written there but also what we expect to find there, what we bring to the text, and what we take away from it.
You also made assertions such as the following that made me wince:
“As the gay community prides itself on promiscuity and camp outrage, so any criticism of it on this score is anti-gay.”
While I’m certain you meant no harm by this assertion, I fear you have no idea how harmful such overstated implications can be. It would be one thing to say there are gay people who are promiscuous. However, it’s another thing entirely to say the gay community at large “prides itself on promiscuity.” This is getting into the realm of stereotyping. You get down to the specifics of individuals who seem to define their gay life in a certain sexualized or self-destructive way and imply this is what all gay people are like. Have you not considered that “the gay community” you speak of may be just as diverse as the heterosexual community? Mother Theresa and Lady Gaga are both heterosexual women but can we say that their lifestyles and values are the same? Perhaps some of the “outrage” you speak of that some express may even be a direct result of such erroneous presuppositions and grandiose assertions.
As an evangelical Christian man who also happens to be gay and in a long-term, monogamous relationship, I can tell you that such statements not only make me cringe, but are a significant contributing factor to young people’s negative perceptions about Christianity today. I have been involved in ministry to gay people for almost 30 years and have heard the cry of the gay people you speak so casually of, who have become seriously disillusioned and hurt by the Church — the one place on this earth where grace, love and fairness ought to be the theme of life for them.
In his book “Unchristian,” Barna group president David Kinnaman writes about what a new generation thinks about Christianity. He says the faith has an image problem and research indicates that to outsiders, Christians are now best known for what they are against rather than what they are for. He writes that the gay issue has become the “big one,” the negative image most likely to be intertwined with Christianity’s reputation. Sadly, this is not merely the perception of outsiders. Kinnaman notes that those inside the church see it too. Both inside and outside the church, they’re telling us to wake up to this issue.
One of the first books I was assigned while attending Westminster, Reading in Communion: Scripture and Ethics in Christian Life, noted the following with regard to homosexuality:
“People with a high regard for Scripture and who are prayerfully committed to ordering their lives in accordance with it are honestly divided over this issue. Therefore the need for people at this time to exercise all of their interpretive and other virtues in an open conversation with all the concerned parties could not be more acute.”
The authors go on to say:
“Typically Christian communities have responded to homosexuality and the role of homosexuals in the church by making these fellow believers into outsiders.” In connection with this, they aver: “We have pushed homosexuals in the church to the margins of our church life forcing them to shout their message to us from the few safe havens they have been able to find.”
If our Christian communities remain unable to engage in the kind of multi-sided and respectful conversation needed to bring about faithful interpretations of Scripture with regard to this issue, I fear it will only become increasingly more difficult for us to encourage young people to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Fact is many gay Christians are doctrinally orthodox believers who, apart from this one controversial aspect of their lives, display indisputable piety and holiness. I can personally attest that many of them pray, study their Bibles, love their neighbor and generally grow in godliness in an exemplary manner that any pastor would be proud to observe in his flock.
The words we use can be powerful weapons. If the result of our words and attitudes is that we are leading people away from the Church rather than drawing them toward it, perhaps it is us who need to change. New wine needs new wineskins, Jesus observed, and unless we can be flexible in response to what God is doing in these times we shall be of no use to him. Without ears to hear the voices of the outsiders we offend, we can easily forget that we only “know in part” and “see through a glass dimly.”
You noted in your post that “this generational change is not an entirely bad thing.” Indeed in many ways this now presents us with great opportunity. When opportunity knocks, it’s been said the wise will build bridges while the fearful will build dams. I pray that we’ll begin to see more of the former at Westminster Theological Seminary.