Jay Lucas, author of RBP’s Ask Them Why, suggests that Christians can “proclaim and defend” the truth by asking questions and listening carefully to the answers. “Christians who learn to effectively duplicate the Biblical model will find that evangelism and apologetics need not be a cause for fear and timidity but an act of courage, boldness, and confidence,” Lucas says.
In this conversation, Sally, a student at a large state university, advocates a radical ideology that opposes the Biblical worldview. It is Gay Pride Week on campus, so Trinity, a fellow student, will use this opportunity to ask Sally several questions about her worldview.
Sally: I think the university needs to do even more to promote Gay Pride Week. There are still too many people living in the Dark Ages.
Trinity: Do you mean that people who do not condone homosexuality need to be encouraged to change their minds?
Sally: Definitely! There’s no room for that kind of intolerance.
Trinity: Sally, some people oppose homosexuality because they think it is morally wrong. Does that bother you?
Sally: Yes, it bothers me. I hate that kind of thinking!
Sally: What do you mean, why? These right-wing religious homophobes have no right to cram their religion down other people’s throats. They’re always judging people who disagree with them. I wish they would crawl back under their rocks and keep their fascism to themselves.
Trinity: Now quit being so evasive and tell me what you really think.
Sally: Very funny.
Trinity: Seriously, Sally, you’ve said some things I’m not sure you actually believe.
Sally: Of course I believe what I said.
Trinity: So you think we should not tolerate those who are intolerant of homosexuality?
Sally: Clever, Trinity. You’re trying to say that I’m guilty of the intolerance for which I criticize the homophobes.
Trinity: Aren’t you?
Sally: This is different. The Religious Right is dangerous. They are a threat to individual freedom. We have the right to suppress their agenda to protect freedom of choice for everyone.
Trinity: I’m somewhat confused, Sally. You say you oppose intolerance, and for that reason you won’t tolerate those you describe as the Religious Right. You say you are a champion of freedom and therefore you want to hinder the Religious Right from using their freedom to express their beliefs. How can this be?
Sally: I know what you’re saying, Trinity, but the problem is you are missing an important distinction. My intolerance, if you want to call it that, is based on the fact that religion ought to be a private matter. As wrong as they are, I grant Christians the right to believe their homophobic ideas. The problem is that rather than exercising their religious beliefs privately, they try to impose them in the public domain.
Trinity: Do you think the Religious Right, as you call them, ought to adhere to your view that religion is a private matter?
Sally: Yes, we would all be better off for it.
Trinity: Does it bother you that you are a hypocrite?
Sally: What’s that supposed to mean?
Trinity: Sally, you have a view regarding religion. You say religion is a private matter and religious views don’t belong in the public arena. But the moment you express this belief, aren’t you bringing your religious views into the public domain? You’re not keeping them private. Not only are you not keeping them private, aren’t you anxious to see others adopt your view? If you want to avoid hypocrisy or a double standard, then you must never say a word about religion. The moment you do, you’re violating your own standard. In other words, you want Christians to remain silent about their religious views, but this is the very thing you yourself aren’t doing.
Sally: But I’m limiting my comments to just one idea. The Christians pontificate on all sorts of matters.
Trinity: So religion is properly discussed publicly if it is limited to just the one item you champion?
Sally: Yes, we speak publicly just enough to ensure that all else remains private.
Trinity: So you want others to conform to your views on religion?
Sally: C’mon, Trinity, I know what you’re doing. If I answer your question with a yes, you will portray me as imposing my views of religion on others. If I answer the question with a no, you will portray me as being unfair for criticizing the Christians to begin with.
Trinity: It’s not how I portray you that matters, Sally. How do your own words portray you?
Sally: Okay, Trinity, I see you actually paid attention when you studied logic in high school, but your clever use of words can’t change the fact that I’m right.
Trinity: Sally, I don’t use logic to flippantly win an argument but to clarify the argument and identify the truth. If logic reveals a flaw in my argument, I correct it. I’m not trying to hide behind clever words. I’m seeking to identify what your words mean. If your position is logical, you ought to welcome logical questions about it. If your position is illogical, why should anyone embrace it?
[Several moments of silence]
Sally: Trinity, you have done a good job defending the Bible-thumpers. Are you a born-again Christian?
Trinity: Yes, Sally, I am.
Sally: Hey listen, please don’t take my comments personally. You really seem to be pretty cool. If all Christians were like you, things would be a lot better.
Trinity: All Christians are like me, Sally. We are all sinners saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. I know the stereotype of Christians you have in mind. With all due respect, Sally, stereotypical thinking is ugly no matter who is doing it.
Sally: Okay, I’m sorry, Trinity. I know you’re different, and I respect you. But I’ve seen too many Christians who are close-minded bigots. You can’t reason with them, and they would rather condemn than love. And I can’t stand that.
Trinity: Sally, it is sad that some people who call themselves Christians do in fact closely conform to your stereotype. Jesus Christ once said that not everyone who claims to be a Christian is the real item, and maybe you’ve encountered some of those people. All genuine Christians still wrestle with character flaws and sin, and if you get to know me any better, you’ll see I’m not perfect either.
Sally: Trinity, you have far fewer flaws than most of the people I’ve known. I think you are making a mistake by accepting the shackles of a patriarchal culture.
Trinity: Sally, you are mistaken. Jesus Christ said that we can find true freedom only when we acknowledge His authority. The issue is not men against women but truth against error. Would you be willing to have me show you what the Bible says about freedom and truth?
Sally: Well, if I’m going to claim to support tolerance, then I guess I should give you a hearing. Go ahead.
Learning from Trinity and Sally
Sally is typical of people who resent the value system of the Bible. In this brief conversation she seems to fit the label of being politically correct. She rejects what the Bible says about homosexuality, marriage, and other moral issues. She also becomes angry when Christians take a public stand on these moral issues. Trinity responded to this view by showing Sally the inconsistency (hypocrisy) in attacking Christians for making their positions public. Some politically correct people know they are using a double standard and don’t care, but others might be open to reevaluating their position if its inherent contradiction is pointed out to them.
Sally also promotes a feminist ideology borne out of a response to male chauvinism and oppression, as well as rebelliousness on the part of feminists. Sally incorrectly attributes male chauvinism to the Bible. The Bible does ordain distinct roles for the sexes, and women are to be submissive in areas established by God. But the Bible gives women a special place of honor that was radical in Bible times (and ours). Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. Men are to submit to the needs of their wives (Ephesians 5:21). Think about that! How many men truly place the needs and interests of their wives ahead of their own? Far too many men ignore the Biblical injunctions to recognize the precious value of women and instead seek only their own gratification. Sin affects women too. (How’s that for equality?) Militant feminism is as much an act of rebellion against God as is male selfishness. As long as Sally is committed to intellectual autonomy, she will continue to be in darkness. Trinity has tried to show Sally that her position is indefensible.
This encounter is an important one. Many people today have the opinion that it is improper for Christians to take a public stand on moral issues. Rather than be intimidated by this opinion, Christians need to follow Trinity’s example and point out the contradiction that exists when people publicly denounce Christians for speaking to the public. This contradiction reinforces our conviction that those who are unwilling to acknowledge the authority of God can never adequately answer the questions created by their commitment to autonomy.
The more Sally spoke, the more evident it became that she is an absolutist and a dogmatist. This is not a criticism. The problem is that she wouldn’t acknowledge that the very dogmatism she denounces in Christianity is present in her own worldview. The belief in absolutes for which Christians are criticized is embedded in her own worldview. They are thinly disguised, and Trinity did a good job pointing them out to Sally.
Don’t read too much into Sally’s use of the term “Religious Right.” It is a simple way for the opponents of Christianity to describe politically active conservative evangelicals. Like all labels, it is prone to be inaccurate. Christians also need to be careful about looking for political solutions to spiritual problems. One of the drawbacks of political activism within the evangelical movement is that we inadvertently become known more for the cultural and political things we oppose than for the glorious gospel we believe. Being engaged in the political process can be appropriate, but when Christians are known primarily for their political activism, we have unwittingly subverted the mission Jesus gave to His church.
Finally, take note of how Trinity was able to steer the conversation toward the Bible and the gospel. Sally’s deepest need is to know Jesus Christ. Trinity saw the need and had compassion for Sally, even though Trinity could not accept Sally’s lifestyle. When Christians debate or argue (“argue” is not a dirty word) with non-Christians, it must be the overflow of hearts filled with compassion and a love for the truth. Many homosexuals have been made the object of hurtful humor, angry denouncements, and personal animosity. Christians must speak truthfully, but there is also a spirit of grace that must season our speech.
Thinking It Through
- Should Christians use political means to oppose the changes being advocated by the gay rights movement? Why or why not? What Scriptures are germane to this difficult question? How does your position fit into the task of evangelism and apologetics?
- Is homosexuality a sin from which people need to repent? What Scripture portions teach this truth?
- Trinity was able to bring the conversation around to Jesus Christ and His teachings on freedom and truth. How could Trinity use this theme to present the gospel to Sally?
- In John 8:31–41 Jesus used the concepts of freedom and slavery in the realm of sin. How could Trinity correctly apply this passage (especially verse 32) to her presentation of the gospel to Sally?
- Can you find some examples from Scripture of Jesus showing love and compassion for people whose sin the Bible clearly condemns?
Jay Lucas (MA, Scranton University) is pastor of Grace Community Baptist Church, Washington Court House, Ohio, and director of The Isaac Backus Project. Jay has served as adjunct instructor at several Christian colleges. He and his wife, Becky, have six children. Read more about Jay Lucas in a Baptist Bulletin interview (April 2007). This article is an excerpt from Ask Them Why, published by Regular Baptist Press.
- Download a PDF of “Talking to a Gay Rights Advocate.” Readers are welcome to reproduce this article for use in their own church ministries.