Thursday, April 08, 2010


I've long appreciated Timothy Kincaid's ability to get to the heart of the matter when it comes to the often turbulent (and always messy) intersection between faith and sexuality. Few conservative Christians give the time of day to any gay writers, but they dismiss Kincaid at their own peril; his insight into their perspective adds a sting to his message that can't be dismissed as neatly as most "liberal" commentaries routinely are.

That's not to say that those who most need to take Kincaid's latest essay to heart are listening, but it's precisely a lack of empathy on the part of conservative Christians (and of fundamentalists of every stripe) that has largely prevented bridges from being built between the evangelical and gay communities, as Kincaid aptly illustrates. If we begin with the assumption that everybody actually agrees with us and that any apparent disagreement is just a smokescreen for sinful rebellion, there's no possibility of real dialogue ever taking place.

Thus we fall into a vicious cycle in which conservative Christians proclaim what they have concluded in their own echo chambers is a compassionate message, only to have their message thorougly and vehemently rejected when that "compassion" is interpreted as precisely the opposite by its intended recipients. Rather than seriously reflect on why they didn't get the positive response they expected (much less the accolades they felt they deserved), the Christians in question (and in their own minds nobody who disagrees with them can legitimately call themselves Christians) immediately conclude that their own efforts were blameless and that everyone else is simply blinded by Satan.

Yet the simple reality remains that if all of your neighbors think you're a jerk, it's most likely time to at least consider the possibility that you really are, in fact, a jerk. To so quickly and completely dismiss the perceptions and opinions of those one claims to care about, as the Christian group in Kincaid's article did, can only be described as narcissistic.

This impasse doesn't have to be insurmountable; there are theologically conservative Christians who have successfully built bridges to those the church has traditionally cast out. Doing so, however, requires outgrowing the self-absorption that pervades every brand of fundamentalism and actually getting to know one's "enemies" on their terms.

In other words, it requires setting aside one's ego and personal agenda - which fundamentalists tragically think they're already doing when they close themselves off from anything that might contradict what they have been told is true. It requires empathy, and a willingness to acknowledge that we might not actually know everything there is to know after all. It doesn't necessarily require discarding what one believes, though our conclusions are likely to undergo some degree of modification as the reality of what life is actually like for the people outside our church walls begins to sink in.

It's a huge step to take; it might even seem like suicide to those who remain convinced that there's nothing more important than being right. But until more Christians are willing to truly die to themselves, the church can only look forward to becoming an ever-shrinking and increasingly irrelevant sideshow looking in on society from the outside.

1 comment:

wendy said...

Thanks for this post Eugene - I think you've articulated the impasses very clearly. I really like Timothy's article too and linked to it in a recent BTG post.