Of all the descriptions -- positive and negative -- respondents to a Barna survey could choose from to describe present-day Christianity in America, anti-homosexual garnered the highest agreement. After probing what respondents had in mind when listing this trait, the authors of UnChristian write:
"Outsiders say our hostility toward gays -- not just opposition to homosexual politics and behaviors but disdain for gay individuals -- has become virtually synonymous with the Christian faith."
What's more, they note from Barna's other survey research that a considerably higher percentage of Christians believe homosexuality to be a sin than believe divorce for reasons other than adultery is a sin. When reading this I was curious how gossip and slander would fare, neither of which seems to receive the attention from pulpits that pornography and homosexuality receive. It's no secret that many of us have created our own hierarchies of sin, with the ones we are prone to at the bottom, and the ones that hold no attraction for us at the top. The authors suggest that homosexuality's top billing translates into hatred not just for the sin, but for the sinner.
Shayne Wheeler is one of the pastors and other prominent figures whose thoughts are featured in UnChristian. He notes, in the chapter on Christian anti-homosexuality, that:
"During the Alexandrian plague (third century), Christians risked their lives in caring for the sick, taking a posture of grace that said, 'I am here for you. I may die, but you will not be alone.' The church embodied the gospel and the message was not forgotten."
When the AIDS epidemic struck the U.S. in the 1980's, Wheeler notes, Christians became known for the opposite stance. Prominent Christians announced that it was God's judgment on gays. While some kind-hearted Christians tried to serve this stricken community, many of us sat on our hands. "It has not been forgotten," says Wheeler.
UnChristian's authors make clear that they are not calling for an embrace of homosexuality. They are instead asking that Christians treat this like any other sin, and respond with the love that we would show someone caught up in a sin we find more acceptable.
I often err in the other direction, feeling harshness toward those whose sins mirror my own. What I hate in myself, I hate in others. It is hard, isn't it, to separate the sin from the sinner, especially when we sinners clasp our sins so tightly to ourselves, like the lizard in C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce? Yet this is what Christ has done, cleaving us into New Man and Dead Man, and though we drag that dead man's corpse about with us, it is the New Man our Lord sees. It is what we are supposed to see in each other as well, the brother or sister who is not yet free from sin, but who is shaking it off like a snake's skin.
In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis wrote that every person we meet is either an "immortal horror or an everlasting splendor." It seems we should pity the former, and embrace the latter. Mercy, in either event, should rule the day. That doesn't mean we forsake speaking the truth, but it seems our speaking ought to have more the essence of a cancer doctor delivering bad (and perhaps good) news, than of a hangman pronouncing judgment. Too many people -- homosexuals and straight alike -- have been hearing the latter from Christian mouths, including my own.