A letter on truth and love for Rachel Held-Evans and Vicky Beeching

Dear Rachel and Vicky,

I’ve held off writing this for a long time, partly because it’s easy to be reactionary, bringing more heat than light, and partly because I don’t consider myself any sort of authority to address this subject.

Yet the recent renewed social media activity around LGBT issues and the Christian faith have taken me to the point of feeling the need to attempt dialogue. Additionally, I’ve been trying to help someone personally struggling with these issues within a conservative evangelical context (that is my own context) and I fear that your input isn’t helping.

I appreciate 140 characters only does so much, and I appreciate the desire for conversation, but sometimes the impression is given that those on my side of the conversation are hateful, oppressive, and unthinking. To be sure, there will inevitably be people on my own side of this discussion for whom the characterisation is sadly true. I’d also suggest that it might be true for some on the other side of the debate. So, a move beyond mud-slinging would be my first plea – and a fairly basic characteristic of Christian engagement.

And perhaps here is where I might gently encourage you to consider your own comments. Rachel, you suggest that it is possible to be ‘stubbornly orthodox, Bible-loving, Jesus-following and LGBT (or a supporter of full LGBT inclusion/dignity).’ The last phrase is the one that struck me – it implies that those who take a different position to that of your own are not supporters of ‘dignity,’ which obviously raises a large question about the meaning and nature of ‘dignity.’ As I understand it ‘dignity’ as defined in the Bible is found in terms of one’s relationship to God. Humans made in the image of God have an inherent dignity. Those who are living lives of faith, love, service, and obedience to God have a particular dignity.  My understanding of what obedience to God looks like in a particular situation (i.e.LGBT issues) differs from yours – are you saying that I don’t treat my friend with dignity because our approach to the issue is different from someone else’s? If disobedience to God robs people of some of their God-given dignity is it possible that, if it turns out your side of the debate is the wrong side, you would be guilty of dignity stealing?

 

This leads to your recent comments, Vicky, regarding the compassion that needs to be shown to LGBT people. I may have misunderstood your comments, and if so I apologise. It seems to me, like Rachel above, you are implying that those who hold a conservative evangelical position are not showing compassion to LGBT people in the act of holding and articulating a conservative evangelical position. This also is potentially unhelpful. Is my friend to think that I don’t show him compassion because of my view on the issue? Am I being unkind or cruel in telling him what I think God’s Word says? Is it unloving to tell him what I genuinely believe God says to his situation?

It seems to me much of this comes down to an understanding of the relationship between love and truth. The popular caricature, which I fear you sometimes fuel, is that those who support the full expression of LGBT lifestyles are loving, tolerant, kind, accepting, and properly Christian. Whereas those, like myself, who would view the practice (not orientation) of a LGBT lifestyle as opposed to God’s revealed will in Scripture are hateful, oppressive, mean, and un-Christian. Yet these caricatures fail to address the key question. What does God say? What our culture says isn’t the determining factor. God knows what’s good for us and so it is him to whom we listen. We instinctively know that disagreeing with someone does not equate to hatred of them. Rachel, you’re about to discover the full reality of this as a parent. You will disagree with your kids; you will advise them to do otherwise – and you won’t do it because you hate them or want to oppress them. You will do so because you love them so much, and you only want what is best for them. Is it possible that conservative evangelical Christians might love those with whom they disagree. Is it possible that God might love somebody and consider a course of action, belief, or behaviour to be not good for them?

The question in the debate is really about what is true. And love means I tell people what I believe to be true whether that is easy or painful, popular or unpopular. I know this short letter won’t change your view of what is true – it isn’t intended to – but I would plead with you, as those with much influence, to beware of the rhetoric which unfairly characterises opponents, whom I guess you would still consider brothers and sisters. The only way to make real progress in loving all people is to keep carefully and constructively addressing what God says to humans beings, in truth and love.

I pray you may be able to receive this in the Spirit with which it is intended,

May God bless you,

Martin Salter

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