If you have paid any attention at all to the current and ever-livelier dialogue between the LGBT movement and the Christian community, you have no doubt heard the question being asked of Christians everywhere: Do you realize how bigoted your views are? This is of course a trick question, and Christians are not doing themselves any favors by trying so hard to answer it.
A number of different suggestions have been made as to the most civil and sensible way for Christians to respond to accusations of bigotry, but the best is to simply point out what is being ignored in the accusation itself: the fundamental realities of modernity.
America is an increasingly modern, and therefore increasingly tense, society. As Boston University sociologist Peter Berger explains:
Modernity progressively undermines social environments which support taken-for-grantedness. [Due to] some of its most basic processes (such as mass migration, mass communication, and urbanization), the individual is increasingly confronted with different beliefs, values, and lifestyles, and is therefore forced to choose between them. Modernity problematizes beliefs because of the high degree of pluralism it creates.
To the extent that a society becomes “modern,” then, it will be packed with people who hold to widely divergent beliefs and values, any of which may be questioned. And the glue of this system is not that we all agree with one another but that we make a commitment to not always equate disagreement, or even disapproval, with bigotry .
At present, this model of society is being rejected by the LGBT movement. And it is being rejected not to the extent that the movement simply disagrees with, and disapproves of, its detractors, but to the extent that it equates all disagreement and disapproval of itself with bigotry, and seeks to classify any question about the tenets of its own orthodoxy as hate speech.
A truly modern movement will, by definition, expect to be questioned. Being questioned about one’s beliefs, as Berger explains, is a necessary consequence of living in a diverse, pluralistic society. Christians are required to answer every conceivable kind of question about their beliefs, and they can expect their convictions to be tested both formally, in university settings, and at the popular level, in TV specials about Jesus’ “real” identity. No one expects this kind of thing to stop, and in fact many find Christians find that the pressure to defend their views in the face of such dissent actually makes them more articulate regarding those views.
In light of that understanding of modernity, consider the “if you disagree with us, we’ll convince everyone you’re backwards” tactic the LGBT movement has been pursuing in its rise to prominence. Does it embrace and adapt to a world in which it must cordially and sympathetically re-articulate itself as one belief among many? Does it expect to be questioned? That is, is it a truly modern movement? I do not see how.
Former LGBT activist Michael Glatze knows well the limits of the movement’s love affair with modernity. He founded Young Gay America , co-wrote the XY Survival Guide , and lived as an extremely outspoken homosexual himself for years. But when Glatze began to question the roots of his homosexuality, he learned that that is the unpardonable sin of our age:
In the gay community, there was always a sense that “you don’t question your same-sex desires.” As soon as you join the club, that’s the rule. In fact it’s rule number one. You can examine any other thing’s cause. Ironically, it’s even OK for straights to question their heterosexuality. [But] I finally came to the realization that I could question my homosexuality too.
Glatze eventually declared himself heterosexual, and for this decision, the most reviled form of modern heresy, he was described with condescension in a piece in the New York Times . Because they fear a similar kind of public shunning, many Christians seem extremely reticent to discuss their convictions about homosexuality, but Glatze’s insight into the LGBT’s refusal to be examined like every other group should dispel our fears of engaging this issue, especially insofar it fundamentally changes the perspective from which we do so. Examining assumptions, even popular ones, is a core discipline of true pluralistic modernity, and it’s hard to see why that discipline should not be applicable to the LGBT movement as it is to all others.
When Christians are accused of bigotry, the refrain is consistently that we hold views which are not welcome in the modern world. We simply must point out”in a civil way”that the very understanding of modernity according to which we are being accused is deficient, and that, in seeing all dissent as a moral outrage, the LGBT movement is working to construct the same kind of society in which it was for so long unwelcome.