As theological debates on sexuality and marriage become more and more central, many Christian denominations are being asked to clarify their views.
If attacks were to recur, would it not be appropriate to ask the LGBT community not to hide, and to speak up in defence of freedom of expression and conscience for every citizen?
Many readers will have seen the video clip of two evangelicals (identified as pastors) being assaulted in Seattle, USA. It happened in 2013, but some websites have republished it these days. Brandishing placards which expressed their opposition to same-sex marriage, the two street preachers approached the place where Gay Pride celebrations were being held.
Is it wise to go to an LGBT event with placards bearing pictures of flames and messages like: “repent or else”?
We can easily understand the pessimism of many evangelical leaders in the USA right now (Piper, Graham, Wood, Mohler…), who call on president Obama to change direction, or otherwise risk facing the “judgement of God”.
Perhaps, however, we here can identify more readily with the European voices who point out that in a democracy the laws are passed by the consent of the majority, and that as Christians we must continue to live as “good news people”, while we energetically defend the fundamental right to freedom of expression for all citizens, including ourselves.
In this case in particular, almost all of us will agree that the ‘evangelistic activity’ of these pastors was not as wise as it could have been.
We can understand why the people taking part in the LGBT celebrations saw it as a provocation.
If the aim of these pastors was to inform the people present of the Biblical view of homosexuality, are there not any better ways of doing this? As the Christian author Alex Tylee said in her book “Walking with gay friends”, speaking from the perspective of someone who has herself lived with same-sex attraction, a real and profound dialogue with someone who sees his/her homosexuality as central to his personal identity is only possible in the context of mutual trust, without a hint of strident or gratuitous attacks.
Having said all that, was there any justification for the aggression we see in the video? Of course not. What we see are two men being verbally abused, surrounded and finally physically attacked by several people. At the end of the report on the local television, a police officer explains that the footage speaks for itself, and will serve to incriminate the aggressors.
But it is interesting to see how the LGBT community has posted and disseminated their own videos of street preachers who had to be taught “lessons of love”. See for example this clip of a girl responding to one of these pastors. It has already received 7 million visits.
By contrast, the images captured in Seattle are not so helpful in spreading the #LoveWins message, i.e: that gay love overcomes hatred. So would not expect this video, with its less than aesthetic ending, to go viral.
In our Evangelical Focus weekly editorial meeting, we raised the question: How would the media have reacted if the context of the events in Seattle had been different? A pro-life demonstration, for example: whole families are present, children with balloons, and a festive atmosphere. Imagine that a group of “Femen” activists shows up with their placards. The pro-life campaigners see it as a provocation, and a minority wrongly decide to insult them, abuse them and physically attack them. Given that every appearance of these bare-breasted activists triggers front-page headlines in all the Spanish papers, which media outlet would not feature this hypothetical aggression?
In a recent interview, Spanish Evangelical Alliance Secretary General Jaume Llenas expressed his concern about the recurrence of certain authoritarian knee-jerk reactions throughout Europe. “In Europe, confronting the unitary thinking raises suspicions”, he said. He argued that in Europe we feel enormously proud of our plurality, except when “someone expresses pluralism in a way we don't like.”
“There is a huge risk of freedom of opinion being curtailed through laws which set out to silence anyone who takes issue with the LGBT community”, he added.
We have seen recent examples of this happening in Spain, for instance. It is not easy to express an opinion which does not coincide precisely with that of the LGBT lobby, when you find that the social network in which you were going to update your profile has changed its corporate logo to the rainbow, as has happened in the case of Facebook, Vimeo and Youtube. And it is discomfiting to express your support for traditional marriage at public venues (administrative buildings, City Council buildings...) over which the LGBT flag is flying.
In recent years, gay-friendly messages have often been aggressive: groups using Internet platforms to take aim at and insult Spain's Protestante Digital editorial team for espousing a Biblical position. Or the “attack and demolish” Twitter campaigns against politicians who used Twitter to defend their views on marriage.
And yet, in any Journalism School you will learn that the messages that really seek to turn the tide of public opinion must be expressed with much greater subtlety. An emotionally-charged narrative tells very personal stories in an attempt to link a given ideology to the “common sense” of all the citizens, and push into the “old-fashioned”, “homophobic” backwater those who refuse to be swept up in this wave of opinion.
Will this dangerous trend lead to the social marginalisation or even the banning of certain worldviews in the years to come? Some experts maintain that, paranoiac though this might sound, the risk is real.
“We don’t want to be known as Christians fighting with the government whenever laws are not in accordance with the Bible. We have to accept the laws because we accepted to be in a democracy”, says Clément Diedrichs, a French evangelical leader, in a recent interview we did for this website. But he conludes by stressing that at the same time, “we have to fight for freedom of conscience and speech”.
“It is worrying if having a different opinion on sexuality is being criminalised (hate speech, accusations of homophobia etc.)”, added Thomas Bucher from Switzerland, general secretary of the European Evangelical Alliance. If a citizen abides by the law, respects and tolerates other people whose opinions differ from their own, and warmly welcomes anyone (whatever their religion, ideology or sexuality) into the community to which they belong ... and is nevertheless labelled and marginalised, then something is wrong.
During the last 12 months, Christians have lost court cases for applying Biblical principles on sexuality to the running of their businesses (Northern Ireland), while the regional Catalan parliament (in Spain), passes laws which make the promotion of the LGBT ideology obligatory in schools, health centres, sports competitions; and sets up surveillance committees, with the power to impose penalties, to supervise companies and media outlets that they suspect of not projecting a positive image of being gay.
Is this not conducive to an inquisitorial climate which could lead to aggressions (even if not necessarily with fists flying as in Seattle)?
Let's hope not. But if situations like this one were to recur, would it not be appropriate to ask the LGBT community not to hide, and to speak up in defence of freedom of expression and conscience for every citizen?
All the more so when one bears in mind that they too, homosexual people, were hounded, marginalised and abused in the past, here in Spain. They had to fight to earn respect and to have the right to express their views freely in public. In the same way, interestingly, as evangelicals (another minority) had to fight for their rights then. So how can it be right when the same gay community exults in the marginalisation of people who respectfully refuse to fall in line with their views?