Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pulse: Homosexuality (A Guest Post by Andrew Oxenham)

Author’s bias: I am a 24-year-old, straight male who grew up with Christian (non-denominational) parents, attended Biola University, and majored in Humanities with an emphasis in Philosophy. I left college more curious & confused than anything else. I’m conservative in my politics, and in constant flux with my theology although I lean towards being conservative there as well. It’s hard to put myself in a category, and in some ways this piece is me working out what exactly I think about this particular topic.

1. What important topic do you think our Christian generation (20s) has to deal with the most? Why must we deal with this issue? 
Homosexuality. I can barely type the word without glancing around the coffee shop I’m writing in to make sure no one gives me a dirty look. It’s a crucial topic for Christians, and I hate to say it but Christianity has done a terrible job addressing it. Somewhere along the way, we failed to understand  (or stopped caring) that discussions concerning homosexuality (especially discussions had with people who consider themselves homosexual) concerned actual people, human beings made in the image and likeness of God. That’s the tricky part about discussing homosexuality is it’s not an abstract concept like the eschaton. It’s a prominent topic that directly pertains to who a person is (at their core). Part of the problem is that various people associated with the Christian faith have said mean-spirited, cruel comments, comments completely devoid of compassion or grace. Some resorted to violent actions. I’m not trying to be hysterical, I’m well aware that there are thousands of Christians engaging in thoughtful, careful debate about homosexuality. Headlines don’t report thoughtful conversations, they report histrionics. The difficulty is that in the court of public opinion, perception is reality and Christians are perceived very negatively when it comes to this topic.

2. In what (positive or negative) ways has our generation already engaged with this issue? 

This topic matters because there are an estimated 9 million Americans who identify themselves as LGBT; that’s roughly the size of New Jersey. But more important than the numbers, homosexuality is the twenty-something’s civil rights debate. It’s an issue that has infused itself into every aspect of the culture. TV shows, movies, music, all aspects of the media constantly have this topic on the tip of their tongues.

To ignore it would be to feign ignorance. On the religious front, the Bible is littered with calls to be informed. On the citizenship front, it is our duty to be informed of the issues which permeate society (Aristotle would back me up on that one).

3. What can we do to improve our relationship with addressing this issue? Or can things be improved? 

To recap: this issue is important and Christianity hasn’t done an adequate job addressing it. So how can we improve? (note: this list is in no way exhaustive)

Trust/Rapport: One cannot approach a conversation which gets at the deepest parts of a person’s being without rapport. This is the same reason why doing door-to-door evangelizing is one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever heard of. Let me illustrate my point. Here are things I want to talk to strangers about:
  • the weather.
  • weekend plans.
  • nothing.
What all three of those things have in common is that they are shallow conversation topics which have little-to-no emotion invested in them. I would, however, be willing to talk to my best friend about topics that are deep, important and have feelings/emotions invested in them. The difference between my best friend and a stranger? Trust, rapport, credibility. Christians need to understand this.

Definition of Terms:
What one person means by a term isn’t always the same as what another person means by that term. In a discussion as complex as homosexuality it’s imperative that both sides define their terms. As we define terms, we must not jump from one area of the debate to another for the same terms may not be applicable. You can’t jump from “Gay marriage isn’t biblically supported” to “it’s not the state’s job to grant marriage licenses anyways!” That move lacks a concrete definition of terms, and it’s sloppy debating. Don’t go for sloppy, keep it tight (your debating, that is).

Remember Your Bias/Limitations: Just because you consider yourself an open-minded and inquisitive soul doesn’t mean you don’t have biases. Being open and aware of these biases will allow you to pursue truth while being cognizant of your limitations. Be willing to say “You know, I don’t know enough about that particular line of thought.” 

Speak Cautiously: As with any debate, it’s important to speak cautiously. Better to say “this might be the case” versus “it is the case unequivocally” and be wrong. Speaking cautiously is even more important when the discussion centers around issues that are core to who a person is. Be careful, not brash.

Speak Confidently: On the flip side, speak with conviction, the conviction of someone who believes in what they’re saying. Don’t hedge your statements too much. Constantly saying “it’s possible...” or “it might be the case...” leaves you sounding flimsy. When the time comes to speak assertively, do so.

Take Offense/Be Prideful: This may be the most controversial thing I’ve said in some time. It’s important to remember that both sides can take offense. Taking offense in some instances is a way of standing up for yourself. You are a person, one with an intelligent mind. You’re entitled to your opinions and if someone downplays your right to have that opinion, stick up for yourself. Don’t be mamsy-pamsy, inform your conversation partner that you’re insulted. I’m not advocating thin skin, quite the opposite. I’m suggesting that amongst cautious yet confident discussion there is space to say “I’m not blindly asserting nonsense and I’m offended that you’d assume that I am.”

I’ll end with an example and a warning. I posted an article a while back centering around homosexuality. The article was written by a Christian. A non-Christian friend of mine called me up and, after some discussion, informed me that the piece was most likely false because it was biased towards its conclusion. Even further, my friend informed me that I was toeing the party line by agreeing with said piece. Her argument was that because I’m a Christian and the author was a Christian, I would necessarily agree with the article’s conclusion. My response to her was that I was offended she’d think that way. Her and I had been friends for years, she knew I was a person with a open mind. With emotions running high, she told me I was close-minded for believing what I believed and she ended the conversation and the friendship. I haven’t spoken to her since.

This conversation is one of the most central issue facing twenty-something Christians. It’s rife with extreme passions, and to enter into this discussion is no task for the ignorant— no matter how well-meaning they might be. If you’re going to just lob bombs, stay out of the debate. But if you can strive to adopt a Christ-like attitude, one of charity, compassion, grace and conviction, I welcome you to the discussion.

Andrew Oxenham may be found on Twitter if he isn't blogging on his wonderfully named blog. Hint. Click it to find out. 

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