Millennials: Choosing Between God and Equality for Gay People

May 30, 2013 — 19 Comments

gay pride on campus

This is a fascinating read to understand the minds/hearts of many college students:

An Open Letter to the Church from My Generation – a blog post by Dannika Nash, a college student in South Dakota.

The post contains many insights on Millennials, including:

  • How deeply they are influenced and shaped by media (music, TV, Twitter) – especially in the new flat world

“So many of us were brought up in churches and Christian homes, and even if we weren’t, we’ve experienced the traditional Christian culture that just resonates from South Dakota’s prairie land. We know conservatism; we know tradition. But we also have Twitter, we watch SNL, we listen to Macklemore, and we read Tina Fey. We’re more in touch with the rest of the country than the Midwest has ever been.”

  • Their aversion to the culture wars (and hollow rhetoric)

“We want to hear about equality and love in a gentle way. We’re sick of the harsh words of both sides. Say what you want about my generation, but we can smell fake from a mile away.”

 

The bulk of the post deals with Dannika’s plea to the church to not make Millennials choose between God and equality for gay people.

“I was forced to choose between the love I had for my gay friends and so-called biblical authority. I chose gay people, and I’m willing to wager I’m not the only one.

So, my advice to you, the Church: You CAN have a conservative view on gay marriage, or gay ordination. You can. But I want you to have some serious conversations with God, your friends that disagree with you, and maybe even some gay people, Christians or not, before you decide that this one view is worth marginalizing my generation.

We want to stay in your churches, we want to hear about your Jesus, but it’s hard to hear about love from a God who doesn’t love our gay friends (and we all have gay friends).

Love,

A College Kid Who Misses You”

 

I know Dannika doesn’t speak for every college student. But I would venture to guess that she speaks for a majority of them.

Over the last year (really since the uproar over Chick-fil-A last summer) I’ve been intrigued by the rapid shift in public opinion on gay marriage, especially among college students. The latest polls show that, among young people, support for same-sex marriage is at an all-time high of 70 percent.

 

I agree with Matt Morton: “Most of us aren’t eager to go to war over moral, political, or cultural issues, when our primary purpose is to make disciples of Jesus.” But for those of us in college ministry, we NEED to be thinking through how we respond to this colossal shift in the audience that we serve.

For many college students this is a defeater belief – a “consensus belief that automatically makes Christianity seem implausible” – Tim Keller.

 

I haven’t formulated many answers yet. I think Matt’s response is a good start: asking students “would you be willing to first consider Jesus Himself before asking me about homosexuality?”

 

What are your thoughts?

How do we affirm an orthodox Biblical view of marriage and homosexuality while still loving gay students (and the majority of students that have gay friends)?

How do we address this issue without making it THE issue?

 

photo courtesy of UMaineStudentAffairs

timcasteel

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  • Andrew Wise

    Spot on in identifying this as a defeater belief for millennials in my opinion. We’ve taken the wrong approach ( a political one) in this area, thinking that political solutions change people’s minds. On a broad level, we need to take a cultural approach – telling stories, singing songs, and painting pictures that celebrate marriage as God intended it.

    Keller would call this defeater belief a “B” belief that prevents them from considering Jesus and the gospel. In his view, the most effective path is to use an “A” belief – something they already implicitly agree with with regard to God’s truth – to combat the B belief and show how their holding it is inconsistent. I’m not sure what this A belief would be though. Probably tapping into people’s instincts for the benefits of having a mom and dad and the positive distinctions between genders.

    Of course it’s more than just an intellectual argument. We need to be patient, befriend homosexuals, and also understand homosexuality better. Much more work needs to be done here. In my opinion we need both biblical counselors and Christian psychologists to find a better way to broadly disseminate a better understanding of homosexuality. Particularly, understanding it as a mix of complex factors and realizing that someone may have same-sex attraction concurrently with opposite sex attraction for any number of complex reasons.

    In short, we need to understand more, extend grace, give a vision of what life as God intended it looks like, yet be sure we don’t concede more than we should or come across as affirming a decision to participate in homosexual activity or cause it to lose its foreign-ness or strangeness.

    • Anonymous

      Great thoughts Andrew. I agree – there is MUCH more work that needs to be done here. I feel like we (I at least) have been blindsided by this snowball that has been gathering speed and is now an avalanche of public opinion. We are reacting (mostly poorly) rather than creating good content (books/blog posts/music) that deals sensitively/Biblically/compassionately/honestly with homosexuality.

      I would venture to guess that a HUGE part of the problem is fear. As Steve McCoy tweeted after the Giglio inaugural prayer debacle:
      “Dear culture, make us respond on homosexuality & we will tap out. We’re scared to death. You’re welcome. – Christians”

      Take this post for example: Hundreds of people have clicked on it but no one has retweeted it or commented.

      To give the benefit of the doubt, the desire is probably good: we want Jesus to be the only stumbling block that we present (and so we don’t want someone digging up something we said publicly on the internet – perhaps out of context). But I fear that our fear of a backlash is crippling our loving/thoughtful response to a quickly escalating issue.

  • Ron Cram

    My focus is to try to get people into the kingdom. To say “You should become a Christian because Christians don’t think gays should have equality” is not a winning message.

    On the other hand, supporting gay marriage or even staying quiet on the issue when asked is quite likely morally wrong. The answer should be respectful but ask why it is necessary to redefine marriage now after 5,000 years of human history defined it as between a man and a woman? Why can’t gays have the same rights and equality under a civil union?

    In my opinion, the issue of gay marriage has gained momentum because our culture views Christianity as defeated by science and therefore untrue. If Christianity is untrue, then it has no moral authority. Our foundation is gone. The only way to get it back is to show that Christianity is compatible with science and it is intellectually viable. In fact, science rightly understood is strongly supportive of the existence of God.

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  • Kathryn Taylor

    Tim – I’m so glad that there are people like you really wrestling through these questions with this generation of college students. I like the theory of Matt’s question – ‘would you first consider asking me about Jesus’ but in reality, I’ve recently watched a situation with a church where they would say those same words but deeply hurt a lesbian couple by not having the conversation about how we will deal with the issue of homosexuality within the church from the beginning. It’s a church that has a good heart, they really want to engage people on Jesus and they really want to engage the culture around them but when push came to shove the homosexuality question was bigger than the Jesus question. I now understand why anyone would ask the question of how you will deal with homosexuality before they will ask the Jesus question. One informs the other. A year ago I would have said that this was a church that I would invite gay or lesbian friends to attend. I would never do that now. It’s not safe – there are too many people who have been hurt too deeply. You can’t walk into a conversation and separate Jesus from his followers. And the hateful barrage that is spewed by Christians on facebook or twitter anytime they disagree with a political view has further isolated people from God. For people who don’t know Jesus what they see in Christians is the only representation they have. The way Christians have (and do) represented Jesus has taken away the option for us to just say, “would you just consider Jesus”. We need to be willing to engage in the hard conversations over time – to be humble, to be learners, to have real friends who are gay or lesbian – not the friends we make in order to evangelize but people we dearly love and beg that God would bring our friends to himself. This generation of students have those friends and they want to know that the leaders of the churches and ministries will love them.

    I don’t know if you saw this Dan Cathy article. I was impressed by his humility throughout this situation. I think many of us could learn a lot from him.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shane-l-windmeyer/dan-cathy-chick-fil-a_b_2564379.html

    • Anonymous

      Very interesting to hear that example Kathryn – makes a lot of sense. I agree it has to be one on conversations/relationships. I think gay friends will consider Jesus as they are loved by Christians in one on one friendships.
      I’ve read the Dan Cathy article and love his example. I agree – I think he is a model for what we need to do.

    • Matt McComas

      Not completely sure I understand Kathryn..you’re smarter than me. 🙂 But, I will say that Christians have to be careful of generalizing how our gay friends want to be approached in relationship and how much they want to talk about their sexual identity. Every person is different. It gets especially tricky in how a gay or lesbian (throw in transgender) person experiences an establishment or an organization versus one-one relationship.

      I do think it’s important to acknowledge who they are and their sexual identity to varying degree’s. To not acknowledge that part of their lives, is to discount their very identity. Of course I then quickly point to the life of Jesus in his word as testament to the value of their lives and begin an ongoing conversation.

      The big problem I think we run into is that eventually I’m going to talk about our core beliefs (man is sinful) and typically a gay or lesbian doesn’t agree with me or at least discounts my thoughts. Typically the response/arguement is that I’m intolerant and judgmental because I can’t accept the way people are made. Honestly I’m not sure where to go from there in the conversation apart from referring to the gospel and continuing to more toward that person in relationship if they’d like. I’m going to continue the best I know how to live out my core values and honor ALL people while at the same time telling people about Jesus.

      I would argue that both “sides” have a skewed view of what tolerance is too. I like what my friend Paul Metzger has to say in this article. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-louis-metzger-phd/beyond-tolerance-to-tenacious-love_b_2025400.html

      I have a long way to go. We have a long way to go.

  • Will Simpson

    I read a fascinating book called Torn by Justin Lee, the founder of the Gay Christian Network. While I don’t agree with all his conclusions, it was critically important to see how this southern baptist deacon’s boy who had planned on seminary was alienated by his pastors and campus ministry leaders. Not for disagreeing with orthodox teachings, at least initially, but for admitting his same-sex attraction. This is just sloppy ministry. And beyond sloppy, it drives a wedge of personality between people and the gospel.

    There’s no easy answer. It will indeed turn people away from Christianity if the church doesn’t embrace homosexual lifestyles. I think the best we can do is illustrate family life well, not making homosexuality a more egregious sin than divorce or infidelity, and perhaps say that there’s room for dissent.

    • Anonymous

      Very interesting, Will – I’ll have to check that book out. I agree it’s important to not make homosexuality THE sin but on par with other sexual sins (which the Bible does say are more damaging than non-sexual sins). But I think we are woefully unprepared in how to help folks deal with same-sex attraction. For college ministry I think we need to do better at helping students think through how to love and lead their gay friends toward Christ.

  • Matt McComas

    Great thoughts, this is a major theme for our staff team in Portland. We have a lot of work to do.

    • Anonymous

      Any insights from your team? I would guess y’all have put a lot more thought into this than most staff.

      • Matt McComas

        Talk about Jesus. Let the Bible do most of the talking if they are spiritually interested. That’s about all I got. ….oh, and don’t let political debates be your lead foot in trying to engage culture. 🙂

        I do have a funny story about our staff team not knowing what to do with a transgender student who checked both male and female on a survey. 🙂

        • Anonymous

          What do you think about Kathryn’s story about how “when push came to shove the homosexuality question was bigger than the Jesus question”? Have you found that to be true?

          • Matt McComas

            I don’t think you can generalize. I just posted a long winded response above.

  • Anonymous

    A couple of things that stuck out to me:

    (a) Despite the seemingly endless number of media outlets, I am
    increasingly convinced that there is a sort of lowest common denominator
    that amounts to mandatory cultural knowledge. I think this is a big
    influence on Millennials. You kind of touched on this in your post. I think it is worth considering further. I am not sure if it is social networking, etc. but there is a level of uniformity.

    Reading her letter, I feel like the things the author says are the things she is supposed to say. Many of the people I have met in college, grad school, etc. are adept at advancing the talking points they are supposed to say but are not as good at espousing their personal conviction on the matter. I think this is a good example of that issue. I was surprised to find that someone from this supposed “conservative” town had a substantial number of gay friends. To me the real choice she had to make was between culture and the church. When you look at it this way, the gay marriage debate seems much less original and a continuation of the post-modern push for relativism, etc. That is the biggest takeaway for me.

    (b) Generally, I have a hard time with the “you might lose this generation”
    narrative. I think the Church and Ministry should be very circumspect
    in their attitudes and actions. However, I think that we have to
    consider the source. This “letter” is a perfect example. The author
    clearly is aware of more liberal mainline protestant denominations but
    gives every indication of moving on. Since their minds are made up, I
    think arguments like this letter are really meant as a parting shot not
    an invitation for dialogue and healing. The author repeatedly says she “loves” the church but indicates she is ready to walk away from it, I am assuming based on the moniker of “College Kid Who Misses You.” Things like this are intended to
    make Christians shrink from public arena when in reality is a call to
    stand firm.

    The key for ministry is overcoming the false premise she starts with –
    it is not a matter of “God or my gay friends.” On a rhetorical level, alot of what the author said breaks down. In particular, she makes the jump from “how you treat gay people” which is a matter of civility to the issue of gay marriage, gay ordination, etc. which are much deeper issues. Likewise she asks conservative Christians to “have a conversation with God” but then states flatly the only acceptable answer is liberal theology. As you deconstruct her argument, you see she is making a “take it or leave it” emotional appeal. She is missing the irony that she is being as closed minded as she accuses conservatives of being.

    (c) All day I have been thinking about how important it is for believers to
    be realistic about where we stand. Things are going to get tough and
    uncomfortable. If it is not uncomfortable, given where our culture is,
    we are probably not doing it right. It is a matter of my relationship to God and my response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, that cuts both ways as churches and ministries must get better and loving the people who need to hear this story – and that includes all sinners including homosexuals.

    • Anonymous

      Great thoughts Cosborne.

      I agree what we cannot do is shrink back (as articles like this might want you to). And definitely agree that we need to get better at “loving the people who need to hear this story”. And help them see that Jesus and their gay friends are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the greatest need of their gay friends IS Jesus.

      I happened to be reading the book “You Lost Me” yesterday and he has some great insights on the tension we feel as Christians in a culture where we are no longer a ‘moral majority’. He quotes Michael Frost: “The experience that faced the Jewish exiles mirrors the church’s experience today. In fact, the biblical metaphor that best suits our current times and faith situation is that of exile. Just like the Jewish exiles, the church today is grieving its loss and is struggling with humiliation.”

      As you said,- I think it’s easier to act wisely if we are “realistic about where we stand.” So we definitely don’t need to shrink from public boldness. But we need to realize that we no longer do so as a respected, comfortable majority.

      • Anonymous

        To
        the idea of common cultural knowledge, I am not even sure how I would
        define it, but I think it is there. While we no longer all sit down as
        Americans and watch one of the Big 3 networks, there are parts of life
        that a significant number take part in
        – Facebook, Twitter, etc. I think this cuts against the conventional
        wisdom of how things have changed since the good old days of media
        monoliths. On the college campus, I think this experience is even more
        homogenous. Think about the big markers. There are TV shows like Mad
        Men and Game of Thrones, celebrity gossip, and social media, that every
        18-25 year old needs to have a working knowledge of. Then, there are
        ideas like gay marriage, etc. that become part of this conversation.
        Whether it is Croakies, tank tops, Chacos or frisbee, there are markets
        of collegiate culture that are there even if ill defined.

        I
        like that quote about being exiles. I think that grieving is the right
        word for it. Christianity has had a good run in the US. It should not
        be all doom and gloom, but any semblance of cultural homogeneity around
        a Judeo-Christian worldview has significantly waned. It struck me
        yesterday that God has decided he will be more glorified this way.
        Russell Moore had a great column that he wrote yesterday in which he
        pointed out that the church has been surrounded by much for difficult
        and hostile cultures before.

  • Andrew Wise

    So I was going through my journal and in Fall 2004 (my freshman year) Arkansas Cru did a series on tough questions or something like that, Dating, Drinking, etc…. one of the weeks was actually on Homosexuality believe it or not. I can’t remember if it was you or Baird that did the talk but I think it was you. My notes:

    Homosexuality – How should we respond?
    1) Realize that all people are sinners
    2) Speak the truth in love in the context of a relationship. Separate the sin from the individual.
    3) Acts of kindness
    4) Eliminate offensive language.
    5) Don’t be afraid of friendships.
    6) Communicate the truth of God’s love and acceptance. The main issue is their relationship with God.

    Sounds like pretty good contemporary wisdom to me!

    • timcasteel

      I’m impressed (though not surprised) that Freshman Andrew was taking such good notes! I gave that talk for a couple years. Not sure why I stopped for the last decade.