Friday, January 9, 2015

Who Cares if Your Husband Isn't Gay?

Who cares if your husband isn't gay?

A mix of conservatives, evangelicals, Mormons, and gay-rights advocates are getting all hot and bothered over an otherwise flimsy show scheduled for Sunday, January 11 on the cable channel TLC.  Provocatively entitled, "My Husband's Not Gay," the show has succeeded in drumming up a lot of free publicity by coyly pitting religious conservatives against social liberals and letting them duke it out in the court of public opinion.

And like reliable, predictably reflexive machines, prominent conservatives and liberals have taken the bait.  What was otherwise probably going to be barely a blip on the cable TV radar screen has turned into its own media circus before it even airs.

The show's premise involves same-sex feelings a select few Mormon husbands profess to have despite also professing to be happily married to women.  One woman each, at least.  So liberals say the show depicts intolerance towards gays by portraying homosexuality in a negative, deviant, and undesirable light.  And conservatives say people of faith should have the right to act on that faith without being accused of being intolerant.

It's part of the antagonistic dialog that has flooded much of our post-Modern, post-Christian world recently.  Ours has become a jaded civilization of misguided universalism, haughty narcissism, and individualized moralisms, in which religious dogma is considered quaint at best, or destructive at worst.  Witness the panic being visited upon France this week, as bloodthirsty jihadis slaughter cartoonists few of us had ever heard of before, hold hostages in multiple venues, and kill an injured cop at point-blank range.  See what religious devotion can inflict upon society?

Yet, is promoting "My Husband's Not Gay" an expression of religious devotion, or reckless haranguing?  Baptist professor Denny Burk calls the liberal backlash against "My Husband's Not Gay" a form of anti-religious propaganda.  Another popular Baptist, Jim Denison, is more cautious, but he drops another "P" word - persecution - when writing in support of TLC's show.

As a member of the Baptist church's more fundamentalist flank, Burk describes socially liberal critics of TLC's show as intolerance against people of faith.  Denison, being more partial to moderate Baptists, says that Christians need to "earn the right" to share our faith, while both men casually give Mormonism the green light to claim that Joseph Smith's version of God's Word speaks for orthodox Christianity when it comes to homosexuality.

Meanwhile, God's Word has a lot more to say about marriage, sex, sexuality, and sin than merely the wrongness of homosexuality.  Should we be spending so much effort only criticizing the two percent of our population that is gay?  Consider the firestorm currently in Atlanta, where religious conservatives are up in arms over their mayor's firing of the city's fire chief, a Baptist deacon who self-published a book on sin.  Apparently, he briefly described homosexuality as a sexual sin, but he was pointedly sensationalistic when he did so.  In a sentence that is technically accurate yet intentionally incomplete,  Kelvin Cochran, the former fire chief, listed sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, and bestiality as being "opposite of purity."  But he failed to also include forms of sexual perversion in which heterosexuals far more frequently engage, such as lust, fornication, and adultery.

Do you see the problem?  By focusing on sexual activity that many religious conservatives personally find offensive, such as homosexuality, the topic of Biblical sexuality becomes an "us-versus-them" scorecard.  Sin becomes a sliding scale of sexual deviance, instead of an all-or-nothing metric by which God's holiness is valued, and our holiness should be pursued.  It also becomes easier to sell conventional religious audiences on the truth that homosexuality is a sin, rather than the many forms of heterosexual adultery which are far more commonplace in virtually any church or Bible study group.

Alienating people you apparently don't care much about can seem to carry a lot less risk than preaching the same truth about sin to people who are supposed to be just like you.

Who cares if your husband isn't gay?  Whether your husband is gay isn't the issue here, is it?  Is your spouse lusting after anybody?  Is his sexuality piqued by anybody else of any gender?  What difference does it make if your spouse is attracted to or titillated by anybody or anything other than the person to whom he's married?

Focusing on homosexuality is deceptive in this case, because by default, you're diluting the perils posed by any marital sin.  Marital sin isn't just homosexuality, it's any form of adultery.  Right?

Besides, if your husband happens to have some sort of latent attraction for other men, is that something you should be promoting from the rooftops, or national television?  How does that promote marital harmony?  Do we have shows about fat men called "My Husband's Not a Glutton"?  Or shows about talkative men called "My Husband's Not a Gossip"?

And let's not forget another big problem in this flash-in-the-pan debate:  Since Mormonism is a cult, don't Christians need to be exceptionally wary?  Mormons talk about sin, salvation, purity, and marriage in ways and with doctrines that are unsupported by Scripture.  America's increasingly potent dialog over gay marriage and sexual morality may scare some evangelicals into trying to forge political alliances with anybody who sounds halfway sympathetic to Biblical virtue, but Mormons are not our theological friends.

And to carry the marriage metaphor, "My Husband's Not Gay" isn't worth getting unequally yolked over.

Sure, defend religious speech if you want, but let's not drag a myopic, one-sided sexual purity debate into this one.  If, as Denison claims, we orthodox evangelicals need to "earn the right" to advocate for Biblical truth in the public square, is getting all sanctimonious over "My Husband's Not Gay" a good way to do it?

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