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I had one of those dinner conversations the other night with three dear friends that nonetheless left me asking once again why the Church so often protects the oppressor while asking the oppressed to wait patiently for their liberation. The popular answer is a kind of side step around the question: we must live within our diversity. Given that this particular discussion took place at the end of 2011 in a western democracy among protestant Christians, the issue being discussed was gay rights in the Church. This is what I hear being said when someone tells me in this particular context that we must live within our diversity: the Church accepts that faith-based prejudice against gays has or may have merit and that it is acceptable to give people who hold faith-based prejudice a safe place where they can preach the dehumanization of gay people and practice discrimination against them. The Church proclaims that many among us find gay people sinful and pathological and that those who do so should not be offended. It proclaims too that gay people should remain in their closets, at least until further notice. Further, the Church, despite dehumanizing gay people and discriminating against them in the name of God, disavow any responsibility when gay people experience spiritual, psychological and/or physical harm. The Church seems to think it can wrap hatred in sacredness and avoid the consequences.

There are, of course, exceptions. The United Church of Canada, The United Church of Christ, USA and the Quakers in Britain stand out. My own denomination, the United Reformed Church, resolutely refuses to make a decision on gay rights (we are instead living within our diversity). Amazingly, in the UK it is left to the Conservative led coalition government to move the cause of gay people forward while the churches either declare their opposition to full rights and acceptance of gay people (while at the same time proclaiming their love for the “sinner”), or, as in the case of the URC, say nothing at all to British society. (The URC must remain silent because it has neither a policy of acceptance or rejection of gay people. It cannot speak with a unified voice and thus cannot contribute to the societal discussion.)

If I believe the Church provides a sanctuary for hatred, and if I believe that Christianity is not lone individuals sitting on mountain tops praying, but is at its very heart a community of believers, a community not of individuals possessing their personal savours, but a corporate reality that shares and worships the communal relational triune God, how do I continue to call myself a Christian? Perhaps the best I can do is pitch my tent outside the gate, though if truth be told it isn’t very comfortable out there. Having said that, I may be in good company outside the camp.

The Church can be and often is a sanctuary for hatred. A bit too strong you say. Perhaps. My problem is that I have seen evangelical passions directed at gay people and those who support them. I personally have been confronted at church assemblies and received letters, emails and telephone calls that were, quite frankly, simply violent. I have in the past, rather foolishly, suggested that such vitriol be made public so that the Church could become aware of the nature of the attacks on gay people by its members. No one has ever thought that a good idea and perhaps they are right. But as it stands, we protect hatred and hideaway its victims.

I’m aware that to accuse some people in the Church of being hateful is controversial, and it is certainly not true of all people nor is hatred the defining characteristic of the Church. But what is the emotional motivation for dehumanizing people because they belong to a particular category? Perhaps it is necessary for the Church to identify and exclude those it calls “unclean” so it can know itself as “clean.” As my friend said at dinner, in a voice of exhaustion, “We are crucifying those on the margin once again.”I do wonder, after the Church moves on from either finally accepting or rejecting gay people, who it will hate next.  

If you will not offend people, then you cannot fight for justice. And if you cannot fight for justice, you will never achieve it.

Copyright © 2012 Dale Rominger

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