Loving my (LGBT) Neighbor

Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor: Being Friends in Grace and Truth (Moody Publishers), by Glenn Stanton, staff member at Focus on the Family.

I got interested in this book by reading the book review in the Dec. 5th issue of Christianity Today by Karen Swallow Pride: Christianity Today Book Review

I won’t “review” her review, but I will offer comments of my own. The author makes a big point of his cordial relations with opponents on the issue of Christianity and homosexuality and how they have appeared numerous times to debate each other.   Through that they have developed friendships and come to know each other as individuals, not just as stereotypes. Which, of course, is how people come to change their opinions, attitudes, and beliefs on the issue.

The one point where he will not budge is that evangelicals stand on the authority of the Bible, while his opponents have no standing in how to interpret the Bible. This is the first of his many false choices. Evangelicals appear arrogant when they assume they are the only ones who know how to read the Bible. He stands on their interpretation of the Bible, and there are as many interpretations as they are Protestant denominations.   That is one of the primary reasons why the Protestant church is so fractured, although history, tradition, local social customs, etc. also played a significant role in how the church continued to divide over time.

He ignores Jeff Chu, Jason Lee, and Matthew Vines, who as fellow evangelicals have published very different interpretations of the Bible. In his history of homosexuality he ignores John Boswell, who wrote the most authoritative book on the subject. So he either chose to carefully select his sources or was not aware of these.

He starts off by saying that same-sex marriage cannot be a true marriage because it does not create life. If you follow that logic, the heterosexual couples who are infertile and have sex are living in sin. Where does adoption come into the equation? Paul doesn’t mention adoption in the Bible, except in a very different context. Glenn cites a couple of authors and quibbles with their interpretations of a few of the key texts in a very patronizing manner.   He says, “God is unmistakably clear in these texts,” but there are other theologians who disagree with him. One example is Jack Rogers, the former moderator of the Presbyterian Church, USA. Somehow he skips over the historic fact that polygamy was the traditional practice in Biblical times and nowhere is it condemned in the scriptures although in modern practice it is considered a sin.

He claims that it is not the sexual orientation that is a sin; it is only acting on it. That is the fallacy of many of the evangelicals who focus on condemning people’s actions rather than focusing on what’s in their hearts, which is what Jesus instructed us to do. He gives a quickie orientation on the doctrine of original sin and for the call to obedience to God in that we must confess our sin. But that makes the giant assumption that homosexuality IS a sin, which he has not established logically. It is only a matter of church traditions.

He claims that sexual orientation or gender identity are not comparable to race or ethnicity offering only limited evidence to support that broad claim. He cites a few studies claiming that sexual orientation is not genetically based, but you can’t prove a negative. The fact is that science is inconclusive at this point and new research may prove that it is genetically based. And there’s the rub. If it is comparable to race in that is how God has created us, it is only wishful thinking to believe that we can change who we are. Yes, we can suppress our desires and our actions, but that only creates more internal conflict and psychological trauma as evidenced by the “cure” techniques that have been widely discredited as fraud.

It certainly is encouraging that a representative of an organization that for a decade preached hate of homosexuals to assume a more measured tone of judgment, and he states that we should disagree in civil tones and be respectful of each other. Obviously, I agree that abuses have occurred on both sides, and threats have been made. But I don’t know of any evangelicals who actually have been killed by a homosexual for their beliefs, and I do know of homosexuals who have been murdered by those on the radical right.

His discussion about whether or not homosexuality is a choice missed the point that 40 years ago the American Psychological Association determined that it is not a disorder and is merely a variation from the majority and that homosexuals can live a perfectly normal life. Of course, that doesn’t address whether or not it is a sin, which depends upon your theological point-of-view.

The false choice of being celibate condemns people to a lonely, unhealthy life in which they never are truly complete. The Catholic Church didn’t claim that prerogative for its clergy for a thousand years, and it’s still a false choice for the laity.

Chapter 4 relates the accounts of several people who have formed friendships in spite of strong opposing view on the issue of homosexuality, and these are encouraging examples. I fear that they are merely the exception to the rule, and I hope that I am wrong. Chapter 5 is about possibilities and limits of evangelicals forming friendships with homosexuals with reasonable suggestions. Chapter 6 is OK. In chapter 7 he states that the LGBT people claims special rights rather than the ordinary civil rights that everyone else has, which is another one of his false choices. I won’t debate the same-sex marriage issue simply because it is too complex to go into here. Federal discrimination laws cover race, gender, ethnicity, and age and now include sexual orientation. If you discriminate against an African-American (or any of the other protected classes) because of your religious beliefs, you cannot legally do business. Why separate out sexual orientation as a special privilege to discriminate based on religious beliefs? I agree that making a big fuss over gender-neutral bathrooms is more of an issue of sexual politics than mere practicality.

I don’t usually give such a lengthy, chapter-by-chapter book review, but I found myself debating the points the author made as I read the book. I couldn’t help myself, therefore this lengthy post.

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