An Encounter with the Evangelicals
Ping! My iPhone sounded, telling me I had a new text message. I glanced at the glowing screen. “Would you come to Salt on Thursday? They are having a talk on homosexuality.” I winced. I had planned on doing other things with my Thursday night. I texted back, “Sure. What time?” The response, “8pm.” “OK.” With those few texts I had agreed to go to Cornerstone Church’s weekly worship for their ISU student group, called the Salt Company. Cornerstone is a classic evangelical church, loosely affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, and the student who texted me is gay and regularly attends their services. “This is going to be interesting,” I thought to myself.
I knew I was at the right place when there was a traffic jam to get into the parking lot. Jogging through the freezing temperatures, I was greeted by enthusiastic college students who must have wondered why a 33-year-old guy in a button-down Oxford and a sport coat was there. Close to a thousand students packed the sanctuary, although sanctuary is an odd term for a theater with a rock band on stage. There were no permanent objects like a cross to distinguish this holy space from the Civic Center. Fancy lighting. Big flat-screen monitors up front. I was definitely in evangelical land.
After a couple of Christian rock songs, the preacher, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, strode on stage. The sermon title appeared on the screen behind him, “Singleness.” He read 1 Corinthians 7, the passage where the Apostle Paul urges the Corinthians to be celibate, if at all possible. In a dubious interpretation of the text, the preacher claimed that “obviously” heterosexual marriage is the preferred estate. But, he insisted, some of the lucky few are called to celibacy, and celibacy is also blessed by God. Since God gave his only son for you, God loves you whether you have found that special someone of the opposite sex, or not. It had to be one of the most disingenuous sermons that I have ever heard from a Southern Baptist, a denomination that worships straight marriage. What he meant to say is that if you are gay, you should be celibate, and if you’re straight, you should be married by age 22 lest you fall into the sin of premarital sex.
A fifteen-minute break separated the worship service from the lecture on homosexuality. The presenter opened with a clip from “For the Bible Tells Me So,” which described in cartoon form how homosexuality was natural and how our sexual orientation, whether gay or straight, was not a choice. “This,” the presenter said, “is just what our secular society wants you to believe: that homosexuality is natural and therefore from God. But we know better.” He proceeded to read from Romans 1:18-26. “You can see from this passage that homosexuality is a result of our Fallen World. Same sex relations are sinful. There is no doubt about it. Now, of course, it would appear that some people are more pre-disposed to same sex attraction than others. But this is not an excuse for sinful conduct. Troy [the lead pastor at Cornerstone] is more predisposed to lose his temper and become angry, but that does not make it right. That is his sin he must resist, just as gays must resist theirs.”
The presentation ended and the speaker asked if there were any questions. No one stirred. Finally, I stood up and walked to the microphone. “My name is Jonathan Page. I am a Christian minister here in town and I would like to add that there are faithful Christians who disagree with what has just been presented. If you want to talk about it, you can find me afterward.” As I walked back to my seat, the tension in the room spiked. After a couple of harmless questions from the students, the program ended. A few minutes later, a crowd began to gather around me. There was not much space in the aisle of the auditorium, and soon I was surrounded by more than fifty people. Apparently, it was my turn to respond.
“If you read Romans 1,” I started, “you will find that Paul says same-sex intercourse is a penalty for idolatry. It is an example of the wrath of God. Do you actually believe that? Do you believe that someone is gay because they are idolaters? The fact is that Paul’s conceptions of sexuality, considered in its broadest terms, is radically different from our own, and the notion that anyone would be naturally attracted to someone of the same sex would have been completely alien to Paul. We have no problem updating the biblical view on the natural world in light of modern science. Why not do the same thing with human sexuality?” Needless to say, my words sparked a modicum of controversy. The heated discussion followed well-worn lines, and we each offered salvos in our defense. After a half-hour of contentious debate, we agreed that it was time to depart.
The whole incident left me pretty shaken. It is not easy arguing about something so personal, especially in a hostile setting outnumbered fifty-to-one. My only hope is that some student, struggling with his sexuality, heard that maybe God thinks it is okay to be gay. God might actually love him for who he is.