Yesterday I had the opportunity to engage two very different audio accounts of a Christian person holding a traditional view of marriage speak about homosexuality. The first was the President of Fuller Seminary, Dr. Richard Mouw, speaking in an address to the Fuller community about these matters. The second, was Kirk Cameron, perhaps best known as a child actor from the show Growing Pains, in an interview with Piers Morgan.
Mouw was very clear in his articulation that after much study, reflection and conversation with scholars and colleagues who hold an affirming view, he continues to hold a heteronormative view of covenanted and consummated relationships. However, in the midst of this articulation, he shared his story and journey that acknowledged his relationships with gay Christians in long-term committed partnerships, his encounters with their faith and vocational callings into ministry, and his first-hand experience in navigating deep friendship in the midst of differences. While clearly affirming his own traditional convictions, his generosity of spirit acknowledged both the humanity and the faith of those who hold different convictions on the basis of their prayerful and thorough wrestling with Scripture. Mouw encouraged us to find common ground in elevating and promoting fidelity. He spoke of the principles from which Christians ought to engage this topic – and it almost sounded like he took a page from the generous spaciousness playbook: he spoke of humility and generosity and grace. And he spoke of Fuller needing to be a place of hospitality where different views were engaged robustly without fear.
I put the link to Mouw’s talk on my facebook wall because I wanted to see how some of my LGBT friends might respond to it. One friend in a committed partnership said, “I can respect his strategic and missional approach to the topic, I personally take a more inclusive stance… obviously. I get that he is navigating his way through the topic with some authenticity. If I had his ear, I would support his stance against promiscuity…in both the heterosexual and homosexual situation.”
Contrast this with the backlash from the LGBT community in response to Kirk Cameron’s comments. Cameron publicly identifies as an evangelical Christian. When asked about his views on homosexuality, he said, “I think it’s unnatural. I think it’s detrimental and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.”
GLAAD was quick to respond saying,
“Cameron is out of step with a growing majority of Americans, particularly people of faith who believe that their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters should be loved and accepted based on their character and not condemned because of their sexual orientation.” The public discussion continued when Kirk responded by saying, “I should be able to express moral views on social issues, especially those that have been the underpinning of Western civilization for 2,000 years — without being slandered, accused of hate speech, and told from those who preach ‘tolerance’ that I need to either bend my beliefs to their moral standards or be silent when I’m in the public square.”
So what can we learn from these two different experiences? Is there a way to hold traditional views and not contribute to the walls that divide and polarize us?
Cameron’s remarks may reflect his personal convictions about morality but they demonstrate no particular connection to the lives of real people. As Christians, we must always be concerned about the impact of our words on the people to whom they are directed. Cameron’s remarks are consistent with a typical disconnection that situates ideas and values in the world of the theoretical. This becomes a problem, however, because homosexuality is not a theoretical idea. Homosexuality is meaningless when it is disconnected from the lives of men, women and young people who experience the reality of being same-sex oriented.
Mouw, on the other hand, demonstrates relational connection. He acknowledges in a respectful and engaged manner the humanity, morality and faith of the partnered gay Christians he has invested time in getting to know.
Where Cameron is defensive, entitled and playing the victim, Mouw emphasizes humility, hospitality and grace.
Cameron seems to be using this opportunity to assert his rights to communicate his beliefs regardless of how it might affect real people. He claims that his mission is to love all people, but one might ask whether a gay person feels loved by being referred to as unnatural, detrimental and destructive. He claims he should be able to state his views without being slandered, accused of hate speech or pressured to either change his views or remain silent.
Well Kirk, if you expressed your views with the kind of relational connection, humility, generosity, hospitality and grace of Dr. Mouw, you might just find that those who disagree you, including your LGBT neighbours, might extend you the kind of respect and space that you seem to feel you are entitled to.