Suggestions on Communicating Effectively

In a blog post entitled, “The Church and Homosexuality:  Ten Commitments”, Kevin DeYoung offers advice to Christians about speaking on the topic.  As he considers different audiences, he recommends:

-> If we are speaking to cultural elites who despise us and our beliefs, we want to be bold and courageous.

-> If we are speaking to strugglers who fight against same sex attraction, we want to be patient and sympathetic.

-> If we are speaking to sufferers who have been mistreated by the church, we want to be apologetic and humble.

-> If we are speaking to shaky Christians who seem ready to compromise the faith for society’s approval, we want to be persuasive and persistent.

-> If we are speaking to liberal Christians who have deviated from the truth once delivered for the saints, we want to be serious and hortatory.

-> If we are speaking to gays and lesbians who live as the Scriptures would not have them live, we want to be winsome and straightforward.

-> If we are speaking to belligerent Christians who hate or fear homosexuals, we want to be upset and disappointed.

So how ought we to speak about homosexuality? Should we be defiant and defensive or gentle and entreating? Yes and yes. It depends on who is listening. All seven scenarios above are real and not uncommon. And while some Christians may be called to speak to one group in particular, we must keep in mind that in this technological day and age anyone from any group may be listening in. This means that we will often be misunderstood.

While I can appreciate that DeYoung is attempting to help Christians be discerning about their approach in seeking to communicate on this topic, I found that his list contained a lot of assumptions which may not be helpful as we encounter real people facing dilemmas about this matter.

  1. If we are speaking to cultural elites who despise us and our beliefs, we want to be bold and courageous.

Who exactly are the “cultural elite”?  Individuals with high levels of education?  Atheists and agnostics?  Artists and activists?  People who disagree with us who go to the opera?  This label makes unclear assumptions about a particular group of people.  Not only that, the assumption is that they “despise us and our beliefs” …. But how do we know they do?  If they have some level of public voice perhaps we can perceive that, if they write a blog, if they are a newspaper columnist…. With these assumptions DeYoung sets up an “us vs. them” mentality that perpetuates polarity rather than dialogue.  If courageous boldness is to be our response, one might ask, “To what end?”  To what end are we to be courageously bold – in confronting them based on our presumed perception that they despise us and our beliefs?  I can’t imagine such confrontation softening hearts or catalyzing conversation.  Are we to be courageously bold in confronting their beliefs – which we presume to know?  That probably wouldn’t cause us to delve into dialogue.   How are we to know who exactly these cultural elite are, how are we to know what their beliefs are, how are we to ascertain they despise us and our beliefs, how are we to have opportunity to communicate with them, and to what end do we seek to be courageously bold in response to them?  I’m not sure how this is helpful advice for the follower of Christ who is feeling the tension of how to respond to the matter of homosexuality in their every-day ordinary life.

  1. If we are speaking to strugglers who fight against same sex attraction, we want to be patient and sympathetic.

This may sound somewhat petty, but I find it unfortunate that DeYoung would so reduce people to his perception of their struggle with sexuality that he would label them “strugglers”.  Really?  Is that all they are?  In what way are they “fighting against same-sex attraction”?  What does that really mean?  Does it mean they are trying to change their attractions?  Does it mean they are trying to resist temptation or lust?  Does it mean they are trying to not engage in same-sex sexual activity?  If we do not understand what is actually going on with an individual who experiences the reality of same-sex attraction, we have no business responding to them until we take the time to better understand their experience and story.  We all need people to be patient with us – and we certainly give thanks for the incredible gift of God’s patience towards us.  But when you put “patient and sympathetic” together, I can’t help but feel it is rather patronizing.  There is no sense of mutuality expressed in this response.  The truth is, followers of Christ are mutual pilgrims on the journey of faith regardless of our unique and particular areas of weakness or challenge.  If anyone is treated as a second class citizen in the Kingdom of God, we make a mockery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who took all of humanity into himself making the way for reconciliation with God.  What is our response to Christians who are seeking to steward their experience of same-sex attraction in a manner that is in alignment with their Scriptural convictions and beliefs?  How about respect?  How about listening?  How about prayer?  How about friendship?  How about shared transparency and authenticity?  How about invitations to serve together?  How about opportunities to share their story? 

  1. If we are speaking to sufferers who have been mistreated by the church, we want to be apologetic and humble.

OK, here again, are we to reduce people to the hurt they have experienced?  Are they “sufferers”?  While it only takes a few seconds more to type “people who suffer and have been mistreated by the church”, it speaks volumes about how we see people.  Our language matters.  I’m all for the call to humility – and in fact really wish DeYoung had included it for every single category.  I’m a bit puzzled by the word “apologetic”.  Is that the best we as the people of God have?  An apology to offer?  What about confession of sin?  What about repentance – a changing of our mind so that we see people and things differently?  What about lament?  What about reconciliation?  What about restitution?

  1. If we are speaking to shaky Christians who seem ready to compromise the faith for society’s approval, we want to be persuasive and persistent.

OK I’ll just be blunt, this one smacks of judgment to me.  First the judgment is that the reason a Christian might be wrestling with or even reconsidering their perspective on the question of God’s intention for a gay person is because they are “shaky”.  It couldn’t be because of honest conviction, cognitive dissonance, spiritual discernment, experience with gay Christians, a different hermeneutical starting point, a renewed consideration of textual, exegetical, historical or cultural factors, a different emphasis in ethical reflection or engagement with Biblical scholarship.  Rather it is assumed that the individual is “shaky”.  It is also assumed that the individual who may be wrestling with the matter of whether a same-sex oriented follower of Christ might be enfolded in the accommodation of God’s grace if they entertain the possibility of finding love, companionship and family through a same-sex relationship is “ready to compromise the faith” and for the reason of “society’s approval”.  What is the faith?  Is it moral decision making?  Is it understanding of the contours of sanctification?  Certainly these matters are part of the faith of followers of Jesus.  But we see all through the course of the history of the church, beginning with the earliest years and in particular the experience of the Roman church that Paul considers in the 14th chapter of his letter to them – that such questions are not uniformly agreed upon by adherents of the faith.  So then, what is the faith – that core of faith that binds us together as the Body of Christ?  Is it not that God has made a way for his broken creation to be reconciled to him through the atonement won by his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ?  Is this not the faith – unshakable by the moral and ethical disagreements among Christians because it is caught up and assumed in Christ – not in anything his children wrestle with, think about, or make decisions on?  And is it really fair to assume that the reason someone might be deeply wrestling with such matters is because they are looking for “society’s approval”?  Might it not be a much more deeply intrinsic part of their journey to know God and to love him with all their heart, mind, soul and strength and their neighbor as themselves?  And if our response is persuasive and persistent, how can we ensure that we have space to hear what the Spirit might be whispering to us through the witness of our brother or sister in Christ (who despite our presumptions of being shaky – may actually be in a place where they are straining to hear God’s direction)?  If we are persuasive and persistent, how can we possibly allow any room to consider how we might be wrong?  How do we find the space to recognize our own limitations, and the implications of our own privilege, bias and blind spots?

  1. If we are speaking to liberal Christians who have deviated from the truth once delivered for the saints, we want to be serious and hortatory.

What I find challenging about this particular recommendation is the assumption that all liberal Christians have deviated from the truth.  What truth exactly have they deviated from?  The truth about homosexuality?  Or is it a more general sense of the truth of the gospel?  The truth of the atonement?  All of the above?  In this “us vs. them” framing, are we simply expected to assume they have deviated from the truth?  Now I’ve been accused of being too serious more than once in my life – but what exactly does DeYoung want us to understand by the use of the word “serious”? Does being serious mean we ought not to find a sense of camaraderie with sisters and brothers in Christ who we may have labeled liberal?  Does serious mean no shared joy in our salvation?  And then maybe some of you need some help with a word like “hortatory” so here is the dictionary definition of this adjective: urging to some course of conduct or action; exhorting; encouraging.  Hortatory speech may be appropriate but not if we are basing it on our assumptions.

  1. If we are speaking to gays and lesbians who live as the Scriptures would not have them live, we want to be winsome and straightforward.

If we are encouraged by people like DeYoung to not reduce people to their sexuality, if we are encouraged to call all people to find our true identity in the reality that we are forgiven sinners, made right by the free gift of God’s grace given to us through Christ, then why are sexual minority persons reduced to “gays and lesbians”?  With this language is DeYoung making a concession to the immutability of sexual orientation for those on the extreme ends of what is an otherwise somewhat f