Should We Forgive Evangelical Christians?

Can we forgive evangelicals? That’s the question posed on the blog The Bilerico Project by Warren J. Blumenfeld, a professor at the University of Massachusetts. He sees previously anti-gay Christians and denominations rushing to “adjust” their anti-gay policies to something that might be socially acceptable (and ethical), and Blumenfeld is not impressed. He hasn’t forgotten that the Christians were so influential in passing pro-gay legislation only because Christians were the most aggressive holdouts in oppressing gays and lesbians (and still are). Once they stopped holding out, there was no opposition left.

A reporter once asked African-American essayist James Baldwin, “What do Negros want from white people?” Without hesitation, Baldwin responded, “You ask the wrong question, which should not be what we want from you, but rather, the question should be, ‘Can we forgive you?’”

Christians stand firmly on the concept of forgiveness. They should hope that forgiveness is a concept embraced by the gay and lesbian community. Ironically, Christian forgiveness historically meant that gay people were forgiven for what Christians considered to be a lifestyle choice and a sinful one, so long as they recanted. Some Christians have realized that LGBTQ persons have done nothing wrong and need no forgiveness. Many have not. Now gays and lesbians, who are increasingly exonerated of these wrongful accusations, may someday get an apology from their fiercest critics.

If such an apology is forthcoming, will it be accepted–and to what extent? Blumenfeld laid out a long list of Christian actions that will be hard to forgive. This long list of offenses against the LGBTQ community, which now includes exploiting the newly popularized gay rights movement for political expedience and congregational strength, should not be forgotten. But when an apology is given and accompanied by a change in behavior, that apology should be accepted. We all have to live on this planet together.

Many non-Christians will read the Christian Bible and determine how Christians should act, humanists among them. We are all sadly aware of the “clobber verses” of the Bible that call for the most violent anti-gay practices of the Church. But when Christians set those aside in favor of the verses preaching acceptance, hospitality, and love, then we should let them choose to love their fellow humans no matter what an old scripture says.

The apologies that LGBTQ and Christian allies should absolutely reject from Christians are ones that come without equality. Some denominations are purportedly welcoming of gay people yet don’t allow gay marriage or gay clergy. They shouldn’t be forced to do so, but if they don’t, then they are not affirming gay rights. The Boy Scouts chose to “accept” gay boys by inviting them as members of their troops but denied them leadership roles. The Mormon Church acted similarly and with great interest, but their policy allows Mormons to condemn LGBTQ people in person. Many Christian denominations have maintained a “hate the sin, love the sinner” policy, which Blumenthal calls out as possibly Christianity’s most outrageous sin against gay people. Equality means equality—it doesn’t mean second-class citizenship.

Humanists have been uncompromising allies in LGBTQ equality. Any muting of our support has been specifically because some LGBTQ advocates felt that the stigma of atheism would be hurtful when trying to win Christian allies. The trans* community was also left behind as too controversial to be paired with the gay and lesbian march for equality. Now the trans* community is collecting new allies who also want for forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a noble concept. Christians are taught the value of forgiveness, and they should hope that gays and lesbians are willing to embrace forgiveness as well. But it will be a lot to forgive.