On my flight back from Hong Kong, I sat next to this young lady. I found out that she swims for both Team Hong Kong and UC Berkeley Bears, my wife’s alma mater. She happens to be a neuro science major as well. Somehow she’s able to juggle her athletic endeavors and her studies without losing momentum with each. In fact, I found out that she would be swimming for the Hong Kong Team in the Asia Games in September. Naturally, our conversation drifted towards why I was traveling to Asia. She shared with me that she’s Buddhist and how her faith impacted her life. She further asked about my faith. She told me that she had had exposure to Christianity because she went to the Diocesan Girl School (a famous Anglican prep school in Hong Kong). She even owns a Bible! At the very beginning of her inquiry, she asked, “How do Christians feel about LGBT? What do you think about premarital sex?” I found that quite odd. Instead of asking about the Jesus I believe in, she asked about my views on sex. I stated all her qualifications to say that even a highly intelligent person is asking such a distorted question about our faith.
On May 18, Hong Kong Christians had a demonstration FOR the family. It’s also known as the 518 event. Instead of being FOR family, most people perceive the move to be anti-gay because many of the anti-homosexual parties had spearheaded the campaign. They insisted that the event was not against homosexuals, but the damage was already done. ALL people could think of when we talk about the faith is the gay issue. So, when people ask me why I’m vehemently against such activities, my conversation with this young lady pretty much sums it up. As I said often in my preaching class, the problem is not about intent or information but impact. I don’t want people to identify my faith with what people do in their bedrooms. If you think differently, so be it, but I’m sufficiently embarrassed for every conversation where I try to share my faith with people and we end up talking about sex. After having such conversations repeatedly, I’m convinced that the witness of the church is totally lost in the white noise about sexuality. You see? This young lady is not stupid, but she’s been drowned out by our white noise. There’s no excuse for such white noise because when this white noise drowns out the gospel, we can no longer share the gospel.
For a Chinese translated version of this blog post, please see here. Thank you, Jeremy, for taking the time.
I swore I was not going to get involved in the discussion after the Jan. 13, 2013, a gathering of Hong Kong Christians, all 50,000 plus of them, but I’m going to give in now. I’ve come out of hiding because according to a few of my students, some hyper-conservatives have now labeled me pro-gay simply because I was in opposition of the protest on Jan 13. I have enlisted the help of some good friends from both sides to discuss the issue. So, let’s get this sorted, shall we?
First, if we read the passages often cited by Christians (Lev. 18, 20; Rom. 1 etc.), it isn’t easy to see that the Bible teaches that homosexual acts are a sin, as much as other “sins.” For anyone to have to write more popular articles about whether homosexual acts are a sin in the Bible is almost a complete waste of time. I’ve seen such articles because they’re dime a dozen. Then we come to our problem. All passages, even seemingly straightforward ones, require a hermeneutical exercise of bridging the gap between the biblical world and our world, if we read the passages as believers. To illustrate my point, even some of the hardliners no longer make careless statements about homosexuals but focus more on the biblical data of the homosexual act. This is a far cry from when I did my Mdiv more than two decades ago. Back then, Christians freely disparaged gays in all sorts of careless ways without even considering a careful reading of the text. In the heat of the present moment, why do we exercise so much less hermeneutical care when dealing with issues of sexuality when we exercise such vigor on other issues? This is a question many need to (but avoid) answer. While it is possible to get the reading that the Bible teaches against homosexuality, it is not impossible to get varieties of readings. I’ll leave that topic for someone else on another day. Practically speaking, I don’t think we need to tell the homosexuals that Christians believe homosexual acts are sinful because just about every gay person I know understands what Christians believe. Do they know that we believe anything else other than homosexuality is a sin? That is the real question.
Second, the presentation of the declaration on Jan. 13 includes proclamation that we Christians love homosexuals and will not force orientation change. There is something quite humorous about the declaration. Why do we need to DECLARE that we love someone? I don’t need to declare to my friends that I love them. I try to show them by action. I try to do the same with my wife. Action, not words, is what the world is looking for. How many of those who declare such a statement have had close friends who are gay? How many of them really sat down to listen to the struggle of gays? I’m not saying that they haven’t. I just want to ask that question because IF we need to tell someone that we love them so publicly, is love something the recipients do not sense? Does a show of force of more than 50,000 Christians a gesture of love? I mean, this is about numbers because we’ve been pressured over and over again with leaflets and adverts to participate. Do we see the irony? If the other side senses that we love them, we wouldn’t have to use a mic or a bullhorn to shout, “We really really (wink wink) love you.” At least, I don’t have to do that with my wife. The declaration about Christians not trying to change their orientation is equally ludicrous. So what if we tell people we aren’t trying to change their orientation? Do we really think we CAN change their orientation? Have we even listen to those with homosexual orientation (I know some have, but have those who started this movement done so with seriousness and has the majority of those 50,000 demonstrators done so?)? The fact we need to declare that we will not force anyone shows to others that some of us actually think that we can force them to change orientation.
Third, when dealing with such a heated topic, preparation is everything. Once again, the church has fallen behind the eight-ball. Before all this hits the street, I wonder if the church has had dialogues with the pro-gay people. I don’t mean having ONE dialogue. I mean having a continuous conversation. How about having a forum dialoguing with homosexuals, both Christians and non-Christians? Forget about love. Do we even have enough tolerance to have this dialogue?
Fourth, the posture of the people involved usually comes in the form of pro-family agenda. The argument usually comes in this form. If gay marriage is allowed, then the family is endangered etc. I have some news for such pro-family activists. The biggest threat to the Christian family witness is not the gay agenda. After all, people who are gay will continue to do what they’re going to do. Instead, the biggest threat to the family is the heterosexual Christian families themselves. If we look at the US, the rate of broken and dysfunctional families in the church is no different than the outside. How then can we even say that Christians are pro-family? We threaten our own family value. The gays can’t threaten what we have already destroyed.
Fifth, the rhetoric of paranoia fills the declaration that the church’s right would be taken away to marry only heterosexuals. What makes people think that gays want to be married in our churches? This rhetoric is important because it betrays a serious angst of the church. The rhetoric, if it is intended to monger fear, is meant to preserve the church’s place in society. In other words, at least part of this declaration has less to do with the church’s concern about homosexual “sinners” (let’s face it, I dare bet that at least some of these people who lead this movement do not have close gay friends. How can they?) than about power. The concern over “reversed discrimination” shows a more serious problem about power and control, a problem that deserves deep reflection by the church. The church wants to maintain its power to control its place in society. I sound very negative here, but if the church is all about power retention and its own rights, then the church is so much less than its original calling to be a witness. Let’s not kid ourselves. Calling out gays is not the only (not even the best) way to be a witness. How many gays were converted from us calling them out? Not very many, if any at all. How many gays refuse to listen to what we have to say because of this posture? Most! The church’s witness right now shows that it is obsessed by what people do in their bedrooms. The rhetoric indeed becomes the message so much that the witness of the church is all about anti-gay agenda and not about the freedom of the gospel along with the grace of Jesus.
How do we move forward from here? I’m not sure we can, at least not in Hong Kong. Currently, the church’s image in Hong Kong is taking a huge hit. Many of the Christian leaders of this Jan. 13 demonstration are pro-government leaders who refuse to address social justice issues with the same vigor. The tabloid Apple Daily had labeled these church leaders pro-government, bringing further damage to the name of Christianity among unbelievers. Many Christians may dismiss Apple Daily’s label as yet one more effort of the world to blacken Christ’s name. I have news for you. The church blackens its own name. Try to prove to anyone with any historical sense of Hong Kong that the accusation of Apple Daily is not true. The leading signatories had made up the who’s who of pro-government Christian leaders. I rest my case! I suspect that the church’s posture is for the sake of the “gospel” and its own survival. If the church wants to be relevant, it should be less concerned about its own rights and more about its role to serve society. I bet if the church actively serves society and becomes its benefactor, even the gays may protest in the church’s favor rather than against its existence. How can anyone not love someone who loves others?
The issue then, isn’t really about whether anyone is pro-gay or anti-gay at this point, but about how the dialogue is conducted. If sometimes, the medium becomes the message, the church has failed at both. I think that’s the tragedy of the present discourse and situation. If the argument is not framed correctly, the presentation of the gospel will suffer grave damage. In short, the social justice and mission agenda have been hijacked by the homosexual agenda in Hong Kong, especially by many pro-government church leaders. If this keeps up, there’ll be no more mission to do. On a positive note, I hope we stay on course on doing more good work and everything else will fall into place, including the church’s right to its own belief.