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Saturday, August 27, 2016
LGBT Activists Have Left No Middle Ground in the Culture War
The Stream - Saturday August 27, 2016
by Esther OReilly
Progressive evangelical David Gushee recently issued an ominous warning to Christians who hold to orthodox beliefs on marriage and sexuality:
It turns out that you are either for full and unequivocal social and legal equality for LGBT people, or you are against it, and your answer will at some point be revealed. This is true both for individuals and for institutions.
Neutrality is not an option. Neither is polite half-acceptance. Nor is avoiding the subject. Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you.
Gushee's confrontational piece underscores the big differences that make it hard to believe that LGBT activists could ever be persuaded to play nice with Christian institutions committed to orthodox standards on marriage and sexuality. But there are those who keep dreaming the dream. One such person is Oklahoma Baptist University professor Alan Noble.
In an article for The Atlantic, the OBU professor and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture eschews the "absolute and uncompromising terms" in which both sides frame the problem. He believes there is a third way "that would allow for both religious freedom and protections for LGBT students while minimizing further litigation."
Noble admits that clouds are on the horizon for traditional Christian institutions, but he also worries that homosexual students who change their minds mid-degree about the morality of their behavior might feel uncomfortable or "embattled." According to another Atlantic article he links to, some students have been shocked and confused to find that a ban on homosexual romance and dating comes with the territory of banning homosexual sex. The question for Noble is how to resolve this situation while staying within the lines of Christian orthodoxy and causing as few hurt feelings as possible.
First, Noble urges maximal transparency regarding codes of conduct and values. So far, so good. But what to do with students who change their views mid-degree? Noble anticipates this question and suggests that the school should offer "administrative, emotional and practical support" in the transfer process for students who "cannot abide by the codes of conduct." Meanwhile, it should enforce a zero-tolerance policy on "bullying" or "abuse."
Unfortunately, as soon as Noble has sketched these suggestions in broad outline, he abruptly ends his article without filling in the gaps in a satisfying way. If, for example, he meant allowing a student to finish out the semester in which that student's behavior was discovered, how could a school in good conscience allow that student to continue flouting the code for the remaining months of his tenure? If the school allowed that student to finish the term but meanwhile continued enforcing their ban on same-sex romance, in what sense would such a student view this as "emotional support?"
Also, what about the "T" in "LGBT"? Does Noble believe Christian schools should tolerate a male student who suddenly decides to show up to class in drag?
The problem is that Noble's article considers only one hypothetical: the students who, as he puts it, "decide they can no longer attend in good conscience." But one gay Bible college de-convert asks the obvious follow-up questions in response: "What if the student, like me, is in their junior year of studies when they begin changing their perspectives? Why should a student be forced to leave the community that they have cultivated because the institution's doctrinal statement says they are flawed or less than?"
And there's the rub: Not every student is going to be so cooperative in his own gentle expulsion. What then? Noble leaves us with no answers, only vague wishes.
Further, as Noble must know, the tide is shifting on what constitutes "bullying" or "abuse." Here again, our de-convert presses the point: Noble's proposed "safe space" is a myth, he argues, because by definition no orthodox Christian university is "safe" for "LGBT+ people" to "flourish." (Read: Openly act out on their sexual inclinations.) This nullifies all promises to crack down on bullying, since "bullying comes as part of the theological belief system being taught."
So, to the full de-convert, there is little difference between the trauma of physical harassment and the psychological trauma of being forced to hear a sermon quoting Scripture against homosexuality. Once again, the "T" comes into play here as questions about pronouns inevitably arise. Should "creating a safe space" free of bullying entail that students be charged not to use the "wrong" pronouns?
This is the prevailing cultural wind, and David Gushee can feel it at his back. Noble himself tweeted out Gushee's article with the minimalist comment, "If you think my Atlantic piece was alarmist, let David Gushee assure you that trad[itional] Christian sexual ethics are doomed."
One follower defiantly replied that he didn't see the punishment of traditional institutions as a bad thing if it meant less LGBT discrimination. Noble pushed back with rhetorical questions: "You don't think it's bad that people and institutions who adhere to their traditional religious thinking will be punished?" "You don't think we can respect LGBT rights and preserve religious liberties?"
As often happens on Twitter, the conversation fizzled with no specifics offered. One is left to speculate about what exactly constitutes an "LGBT right" in Noble's mind. The right to serve in the military or the civil service? Perhaps the right to be housed with roommates on a Christian campus? Aside from the problem of dealing with active homosexuals, privacy concerns make such "rights" questionable even for the celibate.
Meanwhile, in another recent Twitter conversation (click "view other replies"), Noble blames "evangelical leaders [who] still have a culture warrior mindset. And support trump." Aside from the ludicrousness of lumping all culture warriors in with Trump supporters, his general impatience towards the "culture warrior mindset" is revealing.
In the end, Noble and many like him seem genuinely to desire a workable system where both sides of the culture war can split the social pie. But the effort to negotiate a cease-fire is doomed to fail when the LGBT side has declared war. For Christians with orthodox beliefs on sex and marriage, Gushee's warning shot reminds us that LGBT activists don't want to play nice. They want to conquer.