THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 60
Two years ago
Jeremy and I talked in early 2002 about the possibility of my writing some articles for the Courage Website. I did not see the articles as being weighty or permanent in any sense and suggested I might write them, in order to demonstrate their transience, under the heading of ‘a column’.
The idea was that they would be the thoughts and reflections of a gay man about anything that struck him as possibly interesting. What lay behind the suggestion I made was that I felt keenly that the picture gained at that time by a young gay person about Christianity was very dark. Many Christians were assumed in those days to think of homosexuality as evil or, at best, disordered. Gay people were seen as either sinful or sick or both. There was little public comment and even less in the religious press.
Quite apart from this general consensus there was the fact that churches generally were anti-gay. They seemed to contain not only those who objected on some theological or moral ground, but who were homophobic – and such people often ran the affairs and decisions of individual churches. So, to a young person who had newly discovered that he was gay, there was a very negative image given by the Church. They would feel rebuffed and rejected. This is a tragedy - to be turned away from God even before one learned about him properly.
It was those young people – the teens and twenties that particularly concerned me. Where were they to go for spiritual advice and help? Who could reach them and help them to see beyond the prejudice and homophobia of the churches and realize that many Christians did not rebuff or reject them?
Could gay people who felt totally alienated from the church be reached? Short of some form of outreach into gay clubland, how was one to tell them that God loved them just as they are? How could they learn of the love of Christ and begin to open their lives to Him if they only had this negative impression of his followers?
The idea of reaching them via the Internet struck me as being a good way forward. Most young people were into computers and the worldwide web.
Many Christians turned away from gay people on the basis that what they did – and even what they were – was evil. In my opinion this is such a travesty of Christian truth that it could not go unanswered. Somehow we had to disseminate the gospel in all its fullness and openness, and we had to reach those who had never heard the true gospel of Christ,
The work of Courage is exactly along those lines. It reaches out to all those who are struggling with their sexual orientation and it seeks to surround each person who comes for help or information with Christian love and caring. But how to connect the two? There seemed to be an unbridgeable gap between those with the true Gospel message and those who felt rebuffed and excluded by the Church.
At that time – early 2002 – there was far less publicity than there is now about gay Christians and the whole gay issue. It is hard to realize what a deluge of information, discussion, argument and preaching there has been in the past two years. The vivid way this came home to me was that, when I started in 2002, I used to cut out from the two of the religious weeklies any reference to gay issues, and, from the general daily press, any relevant articles or news. The file grew, but only very slowly.
Nowadays such a file would be very bulky indeed and, in fact, I gave up cutting the references out about a year ago. It was no longer feasible or necessary. The issues are now very much in the public and religious domain.
The general public now knows of the difficulties many Christians have with the idea of homosexuality – and I think they understand the reasons. Only recently has scientific knowledge overtaken traditional ideas about sexuality, and this has been followed by massive social changes and calls for a massive rethink on the part of religious people.
Many conservative evangelical Christians are set on a course of unfailing opposition to homosexuality in any shape or form. Speaking generally, I think their minds have been made up from the beginning and they have been resistant to change on the matter. Most of them will never change their views. They are too embedded in what they have been taught; it is too deep a part of their very makeup.
So the debate has become a battle between the conservative evangelicals, along with anyone they can influence and recruit to their views, against the rest. Lets examine for a moment these two groups.
The conservative evangelicals have been greatly helped by the support of conservative Christians in developing countries. Generally the tradition and theological inheritance of these countries sprang from the missionaries who came out to them over a hundred years ago – and it will come as no surprise that those missionaries were generally conservative evangelicals! So the present attitude of these churches is to be expected.
The other side of the divide has a diverse group of people, They are labelled ‘liberals’ (in a pejorative sense) by the conservative evangelicals, but this is clearly wrong, because the group also contains many ‘orthodox’ Christians who happen to believe that the moral line taken by the Church Authorities over the centuries is now outdated and no longer applicable. Such people are not ‘liberals’ in the sense that they no longer believe certain orthodox beliefs – they are ordinary run-of-the-pew Christians who have realised that, on this topic, the Church needs to change.
I don’t think there are many Christians anywhere who want to accept gay people into the church simply because it will ingratiate the church with the general population. I think it is a travesty for conservative evangelicals to argue that it is simply expediency that is influencing these Christians.
Where is the debate going? Well – I doubt whether anything is going to convince one side or the other to change their minds. But there are a lot of people in the middle. They are watching both sides – and in addition to the arguments they are watching how each side comports itself. It notices that those in favour of accepting gay people have a more open view of the bible. With the memory of 9/11 in all our minds we instinctively turn away from fundamentalist attitudes and this inevitably leads us to approach the Bible in a more open way.
It is interesting that the Leader in the Church of England Newspaper on 22nd April 2004 said ‘...To gay people the message is that they are welcome in the household of God’. This is nonsense – any gay person knows that they are not welcome in most conservative evangelical churches. They are regarded as sinful, sick or evil.
The same newspaper goes on ‘..The views of some [people in churches] may indeed by homophobic, but for most sensible thinking traditionalists it is a question of fidelity to the historic teaching of the faith, which is shared by all Abrahamic religions.’ Well, forgive me, but I am quite sure that there is a preponderance of conservative evangelicals who are so embedded in the teaching they have imbibed over decades that it adds up to a homophobic reaction to gay people – even gay Christians. I know! I have talked to them!
This is not a difference of point of view. It is a prejudice based on an abhorrence of homosexuality.
On the other hand, people notice that the conservative evangelicals do seem to be very dogmatic and very severe in their attitudes. Indeed, they seem to veer too far out of normality and reasonableness at times. Certainly when they condemn gay people to hell it does seem that they are being a bit extreme. And when they threaten to withhold their financial contribution to their Diocese, it does seem a rather childish and vindictive attempt to bully their way to where they want the church to be. Overall my impression is that the picture emerging of conservative evangelicals is contrary to the image that reasonable and balanced Christians would want to see.
Coming back to my central topic – one reason I started this column was as an occasional contribution to encourage gay Christians to know that God loves them just as they are. As time has gone by the debate has increased greatly, so that now perhaps there is less need for the arguments in favour of gay Christians, and perhaps more need than ever for the good news of the gospel to be published.
So, now that I have completed the original sixty articles envisaged, where should I go from here in these articles? Should I stop altogether? Should I clear the website?
In the two years I have been writing these articles, one of the big surprises for me has been the lack of correspondence arising from the column. I thought that a number of people would email – to agree or to disagree. But their emails could be counted on two hands, and that is over two years. What does this tell us? Perhaps it signifies that most people do not want to show their hand. They are in the position where they would prefer to remain anonymous. They don’t want to start anything. Perhaps it means that some of my readers share their computer with others and don’t want the record on the hard disk!
The effect of this has been to make me feel at times that perhaps it was all rather futile, and that I should stop and wipe the site off the web. Jeremy has been a constant source of encouragement, but there have been other signs too that I should carry on. Firstly there is the fact that I felt called to write this column and I have not yet felt the call to stop writing it! Certainly I have felt doubtful, and very critical of the material I have written. But I cannot say that I have felt it right to stop. Secondly, there have been a few emails that have encouraged me – one Christian brother in Seattle, USA has emailed me several times to encourage. For such I am very grateful. Thirdly I now have a counter on the site and on several months recently the hits to the site have exceeded two thousand a month. This has made me realize that there must be something of value to some people, or these numbers would not keep up.
So where does this column go from here? Well, while I still feel it is right to continue, and while Jeremy continues to encourage, and while there are over two thousand hits a month, and while I have health and strength, it seems right to continue. If you have any ideas for or against continuing, please let me know by emailing to :- firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeremy has suggested having an index prepared and I hope to get this on site shortly. This will help if anyone wants to look up any subject. The general format will remain the same for the time being. Any ideas for subjects are welcomed and if I cannot always answer directly, I will certainly try to air the matters raised by email.
I pray that those who read these articles will continue to be helped and encouraged – that they might know with certainty that in Jesus we have a Saviour and a friend who stays with us throughout all the days of our lives. And that he loves gay people just as they are.