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15.10.03

The church's moral leadership on gay rights

There's a bit of irony in the arguments against the Episcopal Church's acceptance of gays. On the one hand, the pro-gay stance is condemned as a capitulation to popular mores, sacrificing what's right for what's culturally convenient in an effort to reach out to religiously apathetic Americans. On the other hand, we're told that accepting homosexuality will hurt recruitment of Christians in conservative African countries, where people will reject the "gay religion" in favor of homophobic Islam. Apparently making doctrine by popular vote is only acceptable if the voters are from the Third World.

The critics are right that, while the church's style and language should be sensitive to cultural change in order to speak more effectively to people, its teachings should not be based on what worshippers want to hear. The church has a long tradition of providing moral leadership and telling people the tough truths they need, but don't want, to hear (as well as a shameful and perhaps longer tradition of doing the opposite). What they're wrong about is the idea that gay rights is a capitulation to popular culture. While I have high hopes that the mood of the country is changing, at present America is split evenly on the question of accepting gay relationships. Telling people that homosexuality should be treated no differently than heterosexuality is going to be a hard battle, especially among more religious people. Right or wrong (and since I'm not an Episcopalian, I won't venture a view about whether the Biblical justification for homosexuality is consistent with that church's exegetical principles), the liberal theologians who were recently victorious are attempting to lead their flock in a new direction and challenge the depth of their faith versus the depth of their commitment to a homophobic culture.

Opponents of Christian gay rights like to point out that the church thrives when it gives people clear philosophical principles and takes tough stands about right and wrong. The apparent capitulationism and wishy-washiness of some current Christian gay rights advocacy is an issue of style, not content (and it may even point out the difficulty of taking a pro-gay stance, since a weak style is often used to placate powerful enemies). As far as I'm concerned, a commitment to sexual equality is a clear principle that takes a tough stand about what's right. The conservatives just don't want their cultural comfort zone challenged.

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