Is Homosexuality a Proxy Issue For How We Understand God?

Ray Waddle, freelance religion writer, suggests
homosexuality may be a proxy issue rooted in how different people understand

The conflict about homosexuality is about more than sex, according to Ray Waddle, a freelance writer on religion. In a column Saturday in Nashville’s daily newspaper, The Tennessean, Waddle lays out the differences between religious conservatives who oppose homosexuality and other religious perspectives that don’t.

Waddle’s thesis, citing a proposition first raised by linguist George Lakoff, is that the root of the conflict is opposing views of God. Some believe God is strict while others say nurturing. These different views divide us and shape how we see many other issues, the most volatile today being homosexuality.

Understanding this, however, does nothing to ameliorate the harm done by name-calling and negative stereotyping that is too common in this debate. If I were on the receiving end of the epithets and hate-filled rhetoric, I would find it very nearly impossible to agree that anything is more important. Calling it a “hot button” issue trivializes deep human concerns and so, too, does calling it a proxy. It means there is something more important and basic at stake. So, if I begrudginlgly concede the point for a moment, what is it?

Lakoff contends it’s different moral systems. If you believe that moral authority comes from a God whose commandments define right and wrong–and in this moral system homosexuality is defined as wrong–then accepting homosexuality violates the hierarchy of moral authority.

In this frame, Lakoff says homosexuality threatens the moral order because it goes against the strict father model of family, with God being the original strict father. It disregards the moral instruction the father commands us to obey. A lesbian father figure doesn’t compute.

A contrasting view of God as beneficent is held by millions of Christians and rests upon a belief in God’s grace. Through grace, God seeks to nurture us and God’s grace is unconditional; you can’t earn it, it’s given freely and it’s available to everyone.

Jesus is central in this perspective as well, personifying God’s grace. In this frame, we can be filled, healed, and transformed by grace. Grace leads us to connect with and serve others and our communities. Therefore, homosexual persons are accepted in the community. The nurture of God is redemptive for everyone.

In the strict father system we are called to be accountable for our behavior but God recognizes we can’t achieve redemption ourselves. Jesus takes the burden of our sinful behavior on himself and sets us right with God through the sacrifice of his own life. This is the ultimate expression of God’s love for us.

But neither of these systems teaches us to behave badly toward others. When a public person such as Ann Coulter stands before an audience and gets applause and laughter for using an epithet so harmful it should be banished from the vocabulary, it should offend no matter our particular beliefs about homosexuality or God. It should be called what it is, hateful speech. It’s a frontal assault on human dignity. The first step toward oppression is to demonize and de-humanize the “other.” Let’s at least agree that this language and the attitudes behind it are not traditional Christian values.

When asked to help a group of persons seeking redemption in 1739, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, suggested they meet regularly and offer support to each other–to connect and form community. And he wrote a directive called The General Rules, by which those who were seeking salvation were to guide their lives:

  • First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind . . . ;
  • Secondly: By . . . doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all . . . ;
  • Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God . . . ;

Waddle writes of the conflict that is tearing at the Anglican communion, but his suggestion is useful for any group seeking to come to terms with differences about this issue. He suggests they step back from pressing their claims, talk to each other–and listen. Not a bad suggestion for any people of faith struggling with the issue because there’s something else at stake (I think)–an understanding of human dignity and a bit of our own humanity.

If we can agree that Wesley’s principles should guide our conversation, and that brothers and sisters who are known as Gay and Lesbian are no less deserving of respect as children of God, perhaps we will not betray the God in whom we so doggedly profess belief, and in doing so shall retain a measure of our own dignity and humanity, first by doing no harm. How we deal with homosexuality may reveal as much about ourselves as about God.

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