A visitor from another planet who looked at America's war for independence from Great Britain and merely tallied up the victories to see who won the war would conclude that the 13 original colonies were still under British rule. The fledging United States lost many more battles than they won but through persistence and the timing of their victories they prevailed in their struggle for liberty.
Evangelicals may be facing the same scenario in our struggle to roll back the tide of acceptance for the homosexual lifestyle. We are fresh off of victories in 20 states that have reworded their state constitutions to define marriage as a relationship that exists exclusively between a man and a woman. But before we break out the party hats and declare victory in this important area of the culture war we had better read the results of a recent Harris poll.
According to the poll which consisted of "straight Americans," fifty-six percent now say they believe people should be more supportive of "gay equality." Sixty percent now say they support "equal treatment for the homosexual community."
It was the decade of the 70's that saw homosexuals begin the process they described as "coming out of the closet." What began as a few high profile celebrities admitting their same sex attraction quickly escalated into a flood of people rushing to celebrate their gayness. Gay pride parades began popping up around the country allowing mainstream America to see just how far the radical wing of the homosexual movement was willing to go in pushing pure decadence on the rest of the culture. Initially, mainstream America recoiled in horror as men dressed up like nuns performed simulated sex acts in public. The over the top nature of the radical homosexual community almost led to the destruction of the movement in its infancy. They pushed the envelope so far so fast that our culture as a whole began to push back.
But by that time it was too late. The homosexual genie was out of the bottle and Hollywood, the media, and most of academia was determined to beat down anyone who questioned the morality of the gay lifestyle. "Homophobia" became the phrase du jour of those who painted people of faith as bigots because they believed what the Bible says about homosexuality. Being labeled a homophobe was akin to being painted with the scarlet letter. All of a sudden the whole world appeared to be gay as gay and lesbian characters began to show up on just about every TV sitcom and eventually every TV drama. Christians tried to counter the charge of bigot and hate monger by reminding their accusers that they were not condemning the person behind the sin of homosexuality but rather pointing out that homosexuality is contrary to God's Word and is personally destructive. But the intolerant label stuck because the definition of tolerance itself had changed.
For most of the 20th century to be considered tolerant one could exercise what was agreed upon as "negative tolerance." Negative tolerance meant it was acceptable to be against the behavior of an individual as long as you defend the right of the individual to choose that behavior. In others words, you could condemn the sin, while supporting and loving the sinner. The only way you could be considered intolerant or bigoted is if you refused to separate the sin of a person from the person.
But beginning in the mid 1980's the meaning of the word tolerance began to change. We went quickly from the idea of "negative tolerance" to the idea of "positive tolerance." Positive tolerance means in order to be considered tolerant of another person's behavior you have to affirm their behavior. No longer can you say to a homosexual, "I love you but I am appalled at the fact you have chosen a sinful lifestyle like homosexuality," and be considered tolerant. You must say, "I love you and I affirm your homosexuality as being equal with heterosexuality" if you want to escape the charge of being intolerant.
In addition to the Harris poll, Christian pollster George Barna just released a poll that further reveals the changing attitudes toward homosexuality among Evangelicals. The poll found that many young Christians are critical of churches for showing excessive contempt toward the gay and lesbian community and making homosexuality "a bigger sin" than anything else. What these young believers seem to miss is the fact that most sinners are not in the face of the Evangelical community demanding we accept their sin as normal. So far, I haven't heard of any "Adultery Pride" parades nor have I seen alcoholics rallying for the acceptance of drunkenness. Most churches are forced to deal directly and forthrightly with homosexuality because its acceptance is being forced on the church. All sin is heartbreaking in the sight of God but homosexual sin is magnified because of its demands for legitimacy.
Christians must not ignore the flow of public opinion but they must not be tempted to jump into the flow. We must steadfastly cling to the truth. Homosexuality is condemned in Scripture and those who practice it will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9). God has called us to respond with love and the offer of redemption through Christ to those who reject the truth. As for me, in the words of the song "Future Generations" by 4Him, "I won't bend and I won't break. I won't water down my faith. I won't compromise in a world of desperation. What has been I cannot change but for tomorrow and today I must be a light for future generations."
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.