First published in Between the Lines on April 18, 2007
In a recent column I wrote about a Christian couple who invited me to dinner during one of my lecture tours. I first met the husband when he stood up during a Q&A session after one of my talks. He described himself as theologically conservative but politically liberal, opposed to same-sex religious unions but supportive of civil marriage and adoption for gays, skeptical of reconciling biblical faith with homosexuality but open to arguments for doing so. We met for coffee later, and then he and his wife—who had previously been complete strangers to me—invited me to their home for dinner.
There we had a delightful evening discussing many subjects, including the impending wedding of my partner Mark’s sister, an event which would bring me together with my in-laws, who despise me for “corrupting” their son. That story prompted the wife, during grace before the meal, to call God’s blessing on me, my relationship, and the impending family gathering. Though I am not a religious believer, I was deeply touched by this act of kindness, and so I wrote about it. I had hoped that my account of the evening might show what people of good will can accomplish when they focus more on their shared values than on their differences; more on listening and learning than on winning.
It should have come as no surprise to me that Peter LaBarbera completely missed that point, instead using the column as an occasion for his usual anti-gay drivel. LaBarbera, who operates the website “Americans For Truth (About Homosexuality),” posted a response at the Independent Gay Forum which read in part:
“[The wife] erred in asking a holy God to bless a relationship based on sexual misbehavior clearly condemned by the same “God-breathed” Scripture that [she] surely regards as inerrant. [She] may and probably did have some secret prayer regarding your relationship—say, that it become non-sexual—but by asking God, before you, to “bless” it wrongly implied God’s acceptance, and thereby misled you about the Christian faith.”
For the record, I did not take the wife’s blessing to imply approval of the sexual aspect of my relationship. As I wrote in the original column, the husband had voiced his theological misgivings about homosexuality, and I had no reason to think his wife’s views differed on this point. Rather, I assumed that she was simply calling God’s love upon us—no more, no less. As another respondent, “Casey”, wrote eloquently:
“By praying that your partnership be blessed—that God’s hand would be upon it, and His Spirit would open the eyes of Mark’s family that their cruelty was wrong—this couple was behaving in a most Christian manner…. For somebody who is deeply skeptical of homosexuality, yet sees the humanity and suffering of the way Mark’s parents treat you, the ultimate sacrifice possible, the act of radical love, was to give up their certainty of what is right and wrong and just love you by offering that prayer and accepting you into their home…and letting God sort it out.”
Unlike Casey, I wouldn’t say that this couple “gave up their certainty of what is right and wrong” that evening, any more than I gave up mine. Rather, we distinguished: there are times to moralize, and then there are times to listen to people, to welcome people, to love people.
I would even agree with LaBarbera that loving people sometimes means telling them that they’re wrong. Sometimes, but not every moment. Sometimes it means telling them that they’re right about certain things (as I did with LaBarbera in the first sentence of this paragraph). Sometimes it means enjoying a meal with them while exploring shared interests. And sometimes it means just shutting up and listening.
The reason Peter LaBarbera’s “Americans for Truth” website contains so little truth is that LaBarbera is incapable of listening when it comes to the topic of homosexuality. He believes himself to have the Truth—capital T—and so he arrogantly proclaims what a “holy God” can and cannot do. He reads a tale of Christian charity in an uncharitable light, causing him to make false assumptions about both the couple’s intentions and my reactions. He reduces a complex human relationship to “sexual misbehavior,” then wonders at how his fellow Christians might imagine God there. Like the Pharisees who merit Jesus’ wrath in the Gospels, he forgets that belief in an infallible God does not render one infallible.
Peter LaBarbera claims to be “for truth” about gays and lesbians. He should try listening to some.