Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cru/LGBT Panel Discussion - Final Comments

These are comments that didn’t fit easily above, but were at the forefront of my mind. They follow in no particular order:

1) We yet have a distance to travel. I mentioned authenticity on the part of Cru, and I thank them for that. But in that authenticity I saw things I’d left behind after being asked to leave evangelicalism and which I had not experienced in the interim. For instance, nobody I know now (not even my still evangelical friends) would use the phrase “homosexual lifestyle” around me. Nor would they use the “parts don’t fit” argument about male and female genitalia. So you can imagine that the authenticity on display was a little disheartening. This was a group that is kind enough to discuss LGBT issues, but that has not made them immune from the language and arguments that mill about the Christian talk circuit when it comes to gay issues. But in it I can see hope, because of the fact that my evangelical friends no longer think I have a lifestyle that is different than theirs, nor do they see the logic in the parts-don’t-fit argument. My hope is that the discussion began to push us to a better understanding of each other and of the truth.

2) There are times when evangelizing just won’t work. One time was during this discussion. There were questions being asked and in general Cru did not focus on answering those questions. This is not to say that the explanation of their worldview is completely irrelevant. But when a question is asked and the Cru panelist then spends 7 minutes on a pre-written explanation of God and the Israelites, and then has to say “now to get back to the question”, and then spend maybe 2 minutes answering the question, that is a problem. It shows a disrespect of question as not having been worthy of an in-depth answer, and it shows a disrespect of the questioner, who truly desired to hear a well-thought out answer.

3) Escaping that Christian bubble. As quoted in the Daily Illini, Steve Elworth said “We want people to talk and not be in our own bubbles.” The same was said by a Cru panelist, mentioning the phrase “Christian bubble”. I could not agree more, we all (Christian or not!) need to break out of our bubbles. I felt, however, that the Cru panel could have done more to break out of their “Christian bubble” to reach their intended audience. Much of the language stated is taken for granted in evangelical circles but it unintelligible to a secular person with no religious background. Phrases like “we live in a fallen world”, “give our whole selves to God”, etc. These are obvious to Christians, but what does “fallen world” mean? That everything is sinful? That some things are imperfect and others aren’t? What does it mean to “give our whole selves to God”? Do we only read the Bible and evangelize (as some denominations do)? Do we give up all material possessions? These are the obvious ones … there were others that were even less obvious and should’ve been dropped in order to more clearly communicate.

4) The Daily Illini article had two comments. The first was “so cru wants to be heard, but really they won’t be listening to others”. This was followed by another commenter agreeing wholeheartedly. We cannot move on if we maintain an attitude like that of the commenters. When we see sincerity, even if just a glimmer, we need to pursue and expand it, hoping that it will bear fruit. Those commenters probably didn’t attend this discussion and so they will never have seen the good things that I mentioned above. Nor will they have seen what work yet remains. We cannot move toward resolution if both sides do not work out of good faith at the effort.

5) All undergraduate student panelists have advantages and disadvantages. In some respects, I really liked the people on the panel for being of an age group where they are organizing these events, discussing the issues, and taking control of the world around them. But in other respects, there are levels of maturity and thought that increase with age. I do not want us to have 50 year old pastors, but it would have been nice to perhaps have a little older voices on campus (e.g. graduate students) or undergraduates who have put a lot of time into studying these issues (a lot of time meaning more than just the previous week preparing for the panel).

6) Christian gays and gay Christians. One audience member made the best suggestion for future panels that I heard. He stated that it seems the discussion would have been more fruitful if some of the Cru panel were not only Christians, but were gay and so understood their situation, and if some of the LGBT panel were not only gay, but were also Christian and so understood their worldview. I couldn’t agree more. Cru is a large organization and, considering that evangelical churches have a higher proportion of gays than the general population, they certainly have some members who are preeminently qualified to sit on the panel. The LGBT community is likewise large and has multiple Christians (I could have filled the panel two times over with qualified gay Christians I personally know). Yes, LGBT people are diversity-oriented, and having religious diversity is valued as well. But this discussion was less about our desire to value religious diversity and more about the need to address concerns of the evangelical religious community. This would have been best addressed by seating LGBT members who are evangelicals, who have recently been evangelicals, or who are intimately familiar with evangelical doctrines and culture. As the apostle Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, he became all things to all men for the sake of the gospel. The Cru panel needs to step up their game if they hope to be seen as becoming a “gay” to share the truth of God to the gay community; in lieu of that, they can at least put a gay Christian on the panel. The LGBT community, even if you don’t put much faith in the Bible, Paul’s words hold truth to them, and there was little evidence that the panelists could speak to the concerns that evangelicals have regarding homosexuality.

My final comment is that I found the panel beneficial and I can only hope to participate in the event, either as a panelist or as an audience member, at the next one that occurs!


Breten said...

Hey Topher you made the statement that the evangelical church has a higher percentage of gay people than the general population. Where do you get that data from? It doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Topher said...

Great question! I've actually meant to look this up for a while. You see, I did what I always say is a bad thing to do: quote a statistic before knowing where it came from. Tsk tsk.

So where I originally heard it was from a talk between evangelical Tony Campolo and his wife, Peggy Campolo. This talk can be found here:

The section of the talk I'm referencing reads:
"But I am worried about these people over here who suffer quietly in the church. The latest study on sexuality was done by the University of Chicago, says 1 percent of males in America practice homosexuality, 1 percent. But 5 percent have homosexual orientations. What does that mean? It means that 4 out of 5 homosexuals don't practice anything sexual at all in terms of physical relationships. You know what that means? That means they sit in class next to you quietly. That means that they come to your churches. They're in every congregation in America. They are there. Five percent of the population, in the general population; 7 percent in the church."

Of course, the talk doesn't have a direct link to the statistic's source.

Looking further, I see he quoted the statistic again at

when he said:
"First, we can never forget that we're dealing with more than a theory or issue: We're dealing with people with breakable hearts—sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors, and colleagues and pastors, too. According to my research—and my experience as a pastor confirms this—it appears that about 7 percent of the population are gay across cultures and denominations and generations. If that's more or less true, when you add parents and siblings and friends of gay people, you're very quickly up over 30 percent of the population who are affected directly and indirectly. So the gay person is my neighbor, whatever I think about homosexuality, and so are his or her parents and friends and siblings and children."

But I still haven't found the source. I'll continue to look, so check back from time to time over the next week, but until then consider this a "maybe" statistic ...

Topher said...

As a follow-up to my earlier comment. I have spent a few days, looking around for any 1996 reference published by the University of Chicago regarding the church and homosexuality. End result is that there is a LOT of stuff out there and I have yet to find what Tony Campolo may have been referencing.

I had hedged my bets, however, and went straight for the source. Visiting Tony Campolo's website, I emailed in order to see if they could directly tell me. Today I got a response back and the gist of it is: "Honestly, at this point, Tony and Peggy's number is probably out of date and they aren't going to remember the exact source of it."

So the trail has gone cold for now. But I will keep my eyes out for relevant numbers in case I run across them.

Breten said...

Thanks for trying to track it down! I remain healthily skeptical until I see something on it.

I should be mailing out our new DVD this week sometimes. Blessings on you guys and let me know what you think when you get it!