LGBTQ people and Christians have a “wicked problem”. The Public Service Commissioner has helpfully applied the term ‘wicked’ in the context of complex policy issues “not in the sense of evil, but rather as an issue highly resistant to resolution.”
Let’s try to state the problem neutrally. The problem is that Christians see Scripture as advising against sex between same-gender people and wish to teach that doctrine. On the other hand, LGBTQ people point to high levels of suicide among young members of sexual minorities as evidence that this Christian teaching causes harm.
Yet Justin Koonin, president of ACON, Australia’s largest LGBTQ health organisation, was able to write in the Sydney Morning Herald, “There is a misconception of a grand feud between lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer people on the one hand, and people of faith on the other.”
The suicide rates for young LGBTQ persons are comparatively very high, and the LGBTQ community is asking (or in some cases demanding) Christians to show care.
The seeming contradiction might be because I have over-simplified the issue. For example, some groups of Christians will dispute what the Bible says or say that we can move beyond it. (Most Bible scholars, including many who have liberal views on sexuality, see the Bible as negative about LGBTQ relationships.) Similarly, some LGBTQ people are celibate out of religious conviction. Those groups resolve our wicked problem in different ways. If Christians were all to adopt a “progressive” stance, or if all LGBTQ persons were to become celibate, there would be no wicked problem left. But neither is about to happen.
This means there will be LGBTQ people and (theologically conservative) Christians living alongside each other in the Australian community into the future.
I’d like to see Koonin’s statement that there does not have to be a grand feud between LGBTQ persons and Christians as a statement of hope and goodwill. But not naivete. Speaking of the mental health of LGBTQ youth on hearing about hell, Koonin strikingly wrote, “So when we challenge the public expression of views that have the potential to cause harm, it is not because we are trying to limit freedom of religion. We do it because we are trying to keep people alive.”
Conservative Christians might be tempted to ask why this particular group is more susceptible to suicidal ideation, and whether religion or a general societal animus towards LGBTQ people or some other factor may be responsible. But that is a theoretical response – it will take years or decades for the effects of societal change led by revisions to marriage laws (which may muffle the effects of Christian preaching), to show up in research. Our current reality is that the suicide rates for young LGBTQ persons are comparatively very high, and the LGBTQ community is asking (or in some cases demanding) Christians to show care.
“It is not because we are trying to limit freedom of religion. We do it because we are trying to keep people alive.” – Justin Koonin
Responding to the news that Rugby Australia’s Raelene Castle said some pages of the Bible should be banned, Tim Costello told Eternity: “I have been consistently saying we must have the right to quote [the] Bible even if it offends. But in winning the battle – a real issue [to be able] to quote Scripture – we are losing the war.”
“Religious freedom is now baked into the cultural mind as just our right to condemn gays.”
And that is the issue. Is this required to be the headline act for Christianity?
The view of conservative Christianity on sex between LGBTQ people is well known. It hardly needs a publicity campaign. Yet, it is not the main focus of Scripture. Diligently preaching through the Bible would not cause a preacher to mention it more than once in a year or two. Six verses out of 20,000 are involved. Heterosexual sin is mentioned far more often in the Bible and, for that matter, is far more common in Australia (and possibly preached on less).
So perhaps there is room to respond with gentleness to this gay leader calling for us to consider about “the public expression of views that have the potential to cause harm”, and for us to not respond with an attitude of “you can’t tell us to what we can say!”
“Religious freedom is now baked into the cultural mind as just our right to condemn gays.” – Tim Costello
There is a difference between having – or seeking – a right to say something and it being useful to say it. In the very next verse after the passage that Israel Folau poorly paraphrased, St Paul says in response to the Corinthians “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say – but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Cor 6:12) Could that apply to at least some of what Christians say about or to gays?
So, what might that look like? Eternity asked Koonin to expand on his comments in the Herald:
“I hope it is possible to show this respect, to recognise the right of every person to practise their faith, and at the same time to have an honest conversation about the harm that certain beliefs and practices have on LGBTQ people.
“I am asking that Christians consider the impact negative messages about LGBTQ people will have on people’s lives and mental health, before they speak or act.” – Justin Koonin
“The idea that gay or transgender people can ‘choose’ to be intrinsically different does not align with overwhelming scientific evidence on human sexuality and gender.
“It is likely that there are LGBTQ people in the vast majority of churches across the country, whether they feel they can be open about it or not, to themselves or others.
“I do not believe that Christians want to cause harm to these people, nor to those LGBTQ people who do not practise the Christian faith.
“So I am asking that Christians consider the impact negative messages about LGBTQ people will have on people’s lives and mental health, before they speak or act.
“At the same time, I hear and respect how important faith is to many Australians. We are all living together in this wonderful country, and we need to find ways to do that respectfully and constructively, even in our differences.
“It is a lot easier to think negatively of people you don’t know than of people you do, which is why it is so important to continue these conversations, in goodwill and with good faith.”