But here’s the thing.
People’s opinion almost never changes because they had an argument with someone. Most times they just get angry, think the person arguing with them (i.e. me) is a jerk and go about their business.
Yet that’s exactly what Christians are doing with this whole gay marriage topic. We’re arguing with the other side, reinforcing their perception that we’re all jerks. (Meanwhile many Christians feel the same about those arguing the other side too.)
The recent Chick-fil-a flap has just made that whole thing glaringly obvious.
Christians are losing the debate because we haven’t really been listening to the other side. Because we haven’t heard where the other side is coming from we’ve let them frame the whole issue in a way that backs us into a corner. And that’s where we find ourselves today.
We may very well have already lost the debate and we don’t even realize it.
Of course that’s the whole problem. Because this is framed as an issue to be debated we Christians lose no matter what the outcome.
Even if traditional marriage is ultimately upheld in our society we still lose our ability to reach those on the other side of the debate. In the end it isn’t about morality. To the Christian it is about introducing people to Jesus, not making them live moral lives. Or at least it should be.
But rolling over and yielding the discussion entirely doesn’t work either. Fortunately there’s a better way.
It starts with listening to the other side.
Because we haven’t been listening we’ve missed the first reason we lost the debate.
A Question of Identity
When you actually take the time to listen you realize that the homosexual community sees that same-sex behavior is the dominating characteristic that sets them apart from everyone else.
They don’t see their same-sex behavior as something they do but rather to them, in their minds it defines who they are.
Think about that for a moment.
We all know the Christian cliché: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Usually the Biblical example of the woman caught in adultery is held up as the example.
But because they see their same-sex behavior as their identity the homosexual community doesn’t differentiate between their behavior and their person. So when Christians say stuff like that or talk homosexuality being a behavioral choice, it’s interpreted as dishonest or nuts because it’s perceived as an attack at their very identity as people.
And here’s the thing. When someone perceives their identity is under attack the response is often visceral. It closes off any room for reasonable discussion.
So when point out the Bible says homosexuality is a sin they hear it as an assault on their identity. It shuts down the discussion completely because it puts them on the defensive.
It’s the first reason we lost the debate.
And the grand irony is that the Bible teaches a very different view of our identity. According to the Bible all people are God’s precious children whom he paid the highest cost imaginable to bring back to himself. Everyone of us is made in the very image and likeness of God himself.
Here’s how Martin Luther King, Jr. explained what bearing the image of God means.
Deeply rooted in our religious heritage is the conviction that every man is an heir to a legacy of dignity and worth. Our Judeo-Christian tradition refers to this inherent dignity of man in the Biblical term “the image of God.”
“The image of God” is universally shared in equal portions by all men. There is no graded scale of essential worth. Every human being has etched in his personality the indelible stamp of the Creator. Every man must be respected because God loves him. The worth of an individual does not lie in the measure of his intellect, his racial origin or his social position [edit: or even sexual orientation]. Human worth lies in relatedness to God. An individual has value because he has value to God.– Martin Luther King, Jr.
To the Christian world view everyone a person’s identity is determined what God has to say. Behavior is separate from, and does not determine identity. And because we look to God to determine identity we see that every person has incredible value.
As a side note, In KJV the Hebrew word used here, ‘Elohim’, is translated over 2500 times as “God” but only once as “angels”. Interesting.
So in reality the Biblical world view has a much different view of identity than most realize. In fact it has a much higher value on people than secularists who see people as only a result of random chance.
C.S. Lewis expressed this very eloquently.
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.– C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
Rather than talking about same-sex behavior that gets interpreted as identity, we would do much better to talk about people’s identity and value in view of God’s perspective.
The Moral High Ground
The second area where Christians lost the marriage debate deals with the question of morality.
You can’t observe the ongoing discussion around marriage today without hearing the terms like bigot, intolerant, discrimination, wrong, and unfair. These are pretty much all applied to anyone who expresses support for traditional marriage. As Chick-fil-a discovered it even applies when the obvious reference to traditional marriage is framed as it relates to heterosexual marriages.
These are all morality judgements. And they are being leveled wholesale against Christians across the board where marriage is concerned.
Christians seem to have been blindsided and don’t know how to cope with charges of immorality being leveled against them. We’re used to being the “moral” ones. After all we support Judeo-Christian values, right?
Not knowing how to respond to this attack on their own identities, most Christians resort to, “but homosexuality is immoral.”
The result is a circular finger-pointing that accomplishes nothing.
“No! You’re immoral!”
“No! You’re immoral!”
This is the exact argument we are in the process of losing today.
A Better Approach
There’s a better way to approach this. (I saw this, along with the identity issue over on Cross the Identity Bridge. Well worth heading over there and checking it out.)
Instead of getting sucked into this argument, how about starting a dialog?
Where does their sense of morality come from?
I mean, if they’re going to call you nasty names like that, what is the authority they are looking to that distinguishes whether something is bigotry or discrimination?
It turns out the possible answers this question are pretty finite.
Obviously Christians point to God as the source and arbitrar on morality. Going down that road leads to the Bible and the discussion can explore what the Bible has to say on the subject.
However, most secular humanists discount God as the source of morality so they have come up with another option.
Mostly likely, if they’re honest, it’ll end up boiling down to being about their personal preference. And at that point, what’s to say their personal preference is any more valid than one who prefers the traditional definition of marriage?
Plus, if it is only just a personal preference issue, why are they getting so heated about it anyway? Why all the rage against Chick-fil-a and those who agree with them, saying they’re “anti-gay” when they simply expressed their preference for Biblical view marriage and didn’t mention gay marriage at all?
I mean they don’t get all hot and bothered because I prefer chocolate ice cream to their vanilla, do they? They don’t call me “bigoted” because I like one flavor over another.
Personal preference is not a moral thing. Personal preference doesn’t inspire the kind of passion we see in the marriage debate.
But morality does inspire that kind of passion. Morality without a source is meaningless and can be changed on any whim.
People who see that have a tendency to look back to God as that source. Because like I said, there are only a finite number of options here.
Not About Winning
Now I’m not saying that a discussion along these lines will convince anyone to change their mind on the issue. You’re not going to win the argument.
But then it’s not really about “winning” anyway, is it?
It’s about seeing them the way God sees them, with the value that he places on them. And it’s about loving them with the Father’s love while pointing them to Jesus.
Plus they are much more likely to leave the conversation thinking about what you said, rather than thinking about how completely wrong you are or how much of a jerk you are.