Monday, April 21, 2014

Graham, Putin, Gays, and Fruit


When I started this blog over four years ago, I didn't intend to spend a lot of time on any particular topic.  I certainly didn't intend to write very much about homosexuality.

I believed then, as I do now, that it is a sin, much like my struggles with gluttony and fear, and that it didn't really merit any greater discussion, in the context of my worldview, than anything else.

As you're well aware, however, gay marriage has exploded across our national consciousness during these last few years, and cannot be ignored.  It has become for the liberal left a defining cause célèbre, and for the religious right, an increasingly embarrassing public relations disaster.

Not that evangelical Christianity is supposed to concern itself with poll numbers, popularity, or acceptance.  But it seems that lately, the only things being said in support of Christ's teaching on sexuality are being said by the same collection of aging white men who all exhibit the compassion and tact of an umbrella.

Consider, for example, the firestorm brewing in liberal media circles over evangelist Franklin Graham's assertion that Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, has better "standards" for handling homosexual propaganda than America does.

"In my opinion," Graham has said, "Putin is right on these issues [regarding taking a strong legislative tone against gays]. Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda."

For a man who is supposedly so savvy on international affairs, doesn't it strike you as bizarre that Graham would in any way endorse the autocrat who's in the process of invading Ukraine?

And even if Putin was a sterling example of a model politician, Graham's reference to Russia's gay propaganda laws appears to be ill-informed at best.  For one thing, it's widely suspected that these laws prohibiting the public display of homosexual attraction or "recruitment" represent the first step in a broader effort to crack down on political dissent in Russia, and reinforce Putin's power.

Secondly, although homosexuality technically is legal in Russia, it has never been broadly tolerated in their society.  Violent homophobia against gays is quietly condoned by authorities, reminiscent of the Fascist pogroms against Jews, gay men (but rarely lesbians), "Gypsies," and other "undesirable" people groups leading up to the Second World War.  Meanwhile, regardless of what we believe about sexual sins, assault and malevolence are also sins.

Thirdly, information on homosexuality is already widely available on the Internet, making the public demonstrations Putin's legislation outlaws almost quaint as far as their recruitment potential is concerned.  There has always been homosexuality in Russia, there will always be homosexuality in Russia, and whether you believe it's biological or a learned pattern of behavior, denying free speech hardly represents an effective way to limit one's exposure to it.

And guess what - with the Russian Orthodox Church pushing Putin to enact such laws supporting homophobia, who's to say that evangelical Christianity isn't also on their wish list for suppression?  Doesn't denying free speech to one group of people make it easier to go ahead and expand such a denial of rights to other groups?  And evangelical ministries have been saying for years that some Russian Orthodox leaders are increasingly jealous of the inroads evangelicals have been making in their country since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Yet there goes Graham, rambling off-message yet again, while also saying out of the corner of his mouth on a Sunday morning news show yesterday that gays can go to Heaven.  Okay, so if it's not homosexuals that offend God, but their sexual sins, what makes Putin such an exemplary role model for Graham?

Fortunately, on the same news show yesterday morning, the Southern Baptist Convention's Russell Moore blunted some of Graham's praise of Putin by pointing out that protecting Russia's children wasn't as altruistic a goal as Putin claims.  Russia's abysmal history with its orphans and orphanage system, for example, stands as stark proof that if Putin really wants to be a moral champion of his country's children, homosexual propaganda isn't his most pressing worry.

Nevertheless, the damage was done by the son of the man secularists used to begrudgingly admit was America's favorite preacher, Billy Graham.

If, as it appears, gay rights and gay marriage are going to be the new battle for America's heart and soul, shouldn't we evangelicals be far better in voicing a Biblical mandate for heterosexual marriage and sexual morality than the sound bites Franklin Graham keeps chewing out for the media?

Do not misconstrue my frustrations with Graham as a support of gay marriage, an endorsement of homosexuality, or a denial of homosexuality as a sin.  However, as followers of Christ, adherents of His Gospel, and beneficiaries of His holy sacrifice for sin, we need to speak the truth in love.  We need to model the Fruit of the Spirit when we conduct ourselves in the public square.  Yes, we need to be bold as well, but can't we advocate for righteousness without being unnecessarily contentious?

I suspect that the mainstream media secretly enjoys having people like Franklin Graham on their programs because he's become a reliable purveyor of lightening-rod quotes that elicit a lot of feedback and draw a lot of attention.  In our Internet age, ratings and favorability don't matter as much as pageviews, links, and search results.  It's even possible that Graham intentionally stirs the pot of public opinion knowing that when he does so, his legions of fans will contribute more money to his ministries.

Yet, if this battle is the Lord's, don't we need to let Him wage it His way?  The Gospel of Christ will be offensive enough to society without us evangelicals being offensive in the way we present it.  Besides, it's not like Graham is going to change anybody's mind regardless of what he says - or doesn't say.  It's the Holy Spirit that brings anybody to Christ.  Which means that we need to honor God - not excite our fan base - with how we share His message of truth.

I heard from a gay friend this past weekend whose "fundamentalist" brother hasn't returned a phone call or e-mail in four years.  To me, that says a lot about the egregious lack of love many evangelicals display for sinners whose sexuality we disavow.  If we viewed heterosexual adultery within our churches as vehemently as we viewed homosexuality, then perhaps our belief system would be better substantiated.  As it stands, however, how effective has homophobia been as a tool for participating with the Holy Spirit in the salvation of souls and the demonstration of His Fruit?

Remember?  Love.  Joy.  Peace.  Patience.  Kindness.  Goodness.  Faithfulness.  Gentleness.  Self-control.

Let's not compare any sort of morality to what Vladimir Putin does or doesn't do.  Let's compare it to Christ.  And let's advocate for it - both in our personal lives, and in our society - in the ways He teaches are best.

Otherwise, it's hard to tell whether we're more concerned about sin, or the people committing it.

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