One of the #1 questions I am asked by progressive evangelicals I know — whether LGBT or simply supportive of LGBT folks — is “what to do with a traditionalist” in their lives?
First, what is a “traditionalist”? I use the term to describe people who hold to a traditionalist anti-gay view. Some simply refer to these folks as fundamentalists, but I don’t think that is fair. Fundamentalism is a very specific flavor, and most of the “traditionalists” I know are not fundamentalists. Some from the “traditionalist” stream like to just say that they are “literalists” or “recognize the authority of scripture” or affirm “inerrancy”, “infallibility” etc. But this is not fair either. Many progressive evangelicals, including myself, affirm the centrality and authority of scripture, believe that scripture should be taken at its word, and affirm the doctrine of infallibility. The difference is not that one group takes scripture seriously and the other doesn’t. The difference is that we interpret the texts differently.
In general, I find, “traditionalists” hold their anti-gay position based on tradition and deep-seeded cultural conviction — not simply Biblical exegesis. In fact, they tend to read the Biblical texts through the lense of cultural tradition as opposed to understanding cultural tradition through the lense of the Bible.
Using a different topic, here is an example of how this works. During a period of our history as a nation, many Christians believed strongly that inter-racial marriage was sinful and wrong. For a “traditionalist”, they take their deeply held cultural convictions (based in a long cultural tradition) and twist the Bible to support that view using proof-texting and eisegetic (not exegetic) approaches. Progressive Christians, on the other hand, start with the Bible and can see the brokenness of the cultural tradition through the lense of the Bible and a Biblical worldview. The traditionalist will pick verses to support their already-held cultural view; the progressive will allow the prophetic word of scripture to shape their view of culturally-assumed presumptions.
But here is the question: if you are a LGBT Christian or simply a progressive Christian is is supportive of LGBT folks, how do you handle traditionalists in your life?
These folks are often hurtful in their words and actions towards gay people. They help support and sustain institutions that are anti-gay. It is not simply a case of having bad theology, it is actually a bad theology that hurts people.
So what do you do?
Do you cut them out of your life?
Do you argue with them?
How do you deal with these people in your life?
In the extreme, sometimes you may need to cut them out of your life. The emotional damage they inflict on people can be overwhelming. But, in the ideal, my counsel is to EXTEND GRACE AND LOVE — the same kind of GRACE AND LOVE that we would like to receive.
Cultural-based bigotry is something that is evil, sinful and hurts the cause of God. But it is no greater sin than any other — and we shouldn’t treat it as if it is a worse sin than others.
So we extend both LOVE and GRACE. And we PRAY for these folks in our lives. And we trust that GOD can transform and change them through the power of the Holy Spirit. We recognize that they don’t CHOOSE to be the way they are… it is a complex set of experiences that create this kind of culturally-based bigotry: outside influences, personal hang ups, bad experiences, etc etc.
So we extend LOVE and GRACE. And we PRAY.
And finally, I think we SHARE AND LISTEN.
We share our own stories. We listen to theirs.
There is something deeply powerful about personal narrative and story. Sometimes personal story can penetrate a hardened heart in ways nothing else can. I believe the Holy Spirit uses our stories and experiences to be transformative catalysts in people’s lives. And we listen to their stories — because stories give context and context allows us to love people as people as opposed to simply dismiss them as problems.
LOVE. GRACE. PRAY. SHARE. LISTEN.
That is my advise.
What has worked for you? What suggestions do you have to share?