What Motivates “Anti-Gay” Activists?

[Beliefnet, April 3, 2000]

A while back I was invited to a strategy meeting to combat “the gay agenda.” I went in hopes of getting a better understanding of what my friends see the threat to be. As a committed Orthodox Christian I affirm my Church’s teaching that sex outside heterosexual marriage delays progress in union with Christ. Of course, I don’t expect people outside my faith to agree with that, but I’d welcome a chance to display this beautiful faith in its entirety, not distracted by that one guideline. Even for us Orthodox this is a private matter, between a person and his or her spiritual director. Why did my friends think it necessary to organize a public response? I wondered what they saw that I didn’t.

As I looked around the room, I saw a thorough mix of gender, age, race, ethnicity, and faith—Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, even a representative of Nation of Islam. The one thing we had in common was strong commitment to a faith.

As I listened to the speakers I wasn’t making much progress. I tried to picture how a nice male couple living down the street, mowing their lawn and paying their taxes, could damage my marriage. Why weren’t we talking about the most obvious threat to marriage: divorce? And what about promiscuity? If anything undermines the standard of lifelong monogamy, it’s cheapened, merchandised sex. Straight promiscuity destroys families more often than the gay sort; on a list of priorities we should straighten out straights first. If we were gathered, as speakers kept saying, to support “one man, one woman” marriage, why weren’t we talking about cheesy strip clubs or divorce-prevention programs?

When it emerged that some Nation of Islam friends could conceivably stretch marriage to “one man, four women” I threw up my hands. I stood up and said that I’d come with an open mind, but I hadn’t heard evidence that made sense to me. Further, if we go out there saying we oppose homosexuality because traditional marriage is composed of one man and up-to-and-including four women, we’ll be the laughing-stocks we deserve to be.

The problem, I think, was that my friends assumed homosexuality is a political issue. We got used to thinking in political terms during the abortion debates, and with abortion that was justified; the minimum purpose of law is to prevent violence, particularly against children.

But homosexuality, it seems to me, is vastly different. Widespread promiscuity, straight or gay, is dangerous, but I don’t see a reason to rank private homosexuality high on the scale of public threats. I’m willing to be convinced, but I haven’t been yet.

Look again at that room full of devout people. If you want to understand us, you must understand the central thing that motivates us: we are people of faith. Most ancient faiths reject homosexual contact.

For some people reading that statement, the conclusion is obvious: “Then the faiths must change!” For them the task of each generation is to update ancient beliefs, making them relevant to current needs. Prevalent contemporary analysis is assumed authoritative and competent to critique the past. They question historic faith, not themselves.

But to those of us gathered in that room, such an idea is baffling. We see the faith rather as ancient wisdom, truths attested by people throughout time and around the world. This multicultural affirmation indicates a wisdom higher than we could devise on our own, distracted as we are by our culture’s loud and transitory fashions. So we handle this treasury with gratitude and hope to pass on intact. We seek illumination and healing. We don’t want to change the historic faith; we want the faith to change us.

This is the great submerged reef that will continue to shipwreck understanding until we learn to recognize it. It is futile to begin the sexuality conversation with sexuality itself; that skips over the question of where we get the tools by which we evaluate sexuality. Beneath it all, we have two vastly different ways of viewing ancient faith, and our press releases are faxed from different floors of the Tower of Babel.

As a person who moved from a pro-choice to a pro-life position I always wanted to increase understanding between the two sides, and was a founder of the “Common Ground” dialogue movement. Over the years I saw wonderful things: abortion providers and clinic protesters, PAC leaders and pastors, talked and listened to each other, gave and received forgiveness, formed lasting friendships. I wish that gay activists and conservatives could begin the same healing path. Minds may not be changed, but hearts can be, once prejudice and stereotypes on both sides blow away.

At present we are hampered and thrilled by wild suspicion of each other’s motives and beliefs. I hope that someday we can get serious about dialogue. Then we can move beyond misunderstanding and arrive, at least, at genuine, sincere disagreement.

About Frederica Matthewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service, Beliefnet.com, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.

Christian ApologeticsMarriage and Family

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