The Imago Dei campaign is the latest among a handful of emerging faith-friendly initiatives attempting to defuse heated conversations among Christians on certain polarizing issues, specifically homosexuality. Although this latest evangelical-led movement holds the view that homosexuality is a sin, its supporters affirm that both "straight and gay" people bear the "image of God" — not exactly a newsflash for some Christians, but definitely a necessary acknowledgment as far as those who lead similar organizations are concerned.
Imago Dei, a Latin term translated "image of God," is the name of a new campaign launched last week by the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference that represents 40,000 churches. Joining Rodriguez in affirming the Imago Dei in all people, including "victim and perpetrator; citizen and undocumented; believer and unbeliever," are listed leaders Jim Daly, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, James Robison, and Mat Staver.
"We want to do away with the polarizing, negative rhetoric that seems to captivate and hold hostage conversations within groups. Even in the public sphere, there's so much venom and polarizing rhetoric, and we want, as Christ-followers, to shine the light of Christ with love. It begins with the Imago Dei," explained Rodriguez.
In the campaign website's statement of purpose is the prominent pull quote: "For the image of God exists in all human beings: black and white; rich and poor; straight and gay; conservative and liberal; victim and perpetrator; citizen and undocumented; believer and unbeliever."
The campaign's inclusion of "gay" in its statement has caught the eye of observers, with a Huffington Post headline stating: "Evangelical Campaign Says Everyone —Including Gays — Reflect God's Image." Another headline, at Time.com, announces: "The Imago Dei Campaign: Evangelical Groups Say Gays Made in God's Image."
As for the inclusive nature of Imago Dei, particularly in regard to gays, Rodriguez told The Christian Post that the movement has nothing to do with a cultural war and does not espouse any political agendas. He, and his co-signers, want only to end the "rhetorical bullying" and facilitate "redemptive and reconciliatory" interactions — not to "condone any behavior" or "endorse anything that runs counter to a biblical worldview."
That's where Rodriguez's Imago Dei differs from two other fairly new campaigns also launched from a faith-based perspective: The NALT Christians Project that declares that "not all Christians are like that" and The Reformation Project that aims to "reform church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity."
While NALT encourages Christians to publicly declare a belief "that there is nothing anti-biblical or sinful about being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender," The Reformation Project aims to convince those that hold a conservative Christian view on sexuality that "the Bible is not anti-gay" and "careful, persistent arguments about those passages [that are used in anti-homosexuality arguments] have the power to change every Christian church worldwide, no matter how conservative its theology."
NALT and The Reformation Project obviously differ in their messages from the Imago Dei campaign, but the fact that the latter affirms the humanity of all people is enough for celebration, according to Alan Chambers, founder of the now-defunct Exodus International.
The ex-gay organization was known for trumpeting reparative therapy as a "cure" for Christians with unwanted same-sex attractions. Last year, Chambers disavowed his organization's methods, apologized to the gay community for causing any members "trauma" and dismantled the nonprofit he had been leading for 12 years — to the delight of critics, and to the dismay of some longtime supporters. He now leads an organization called Speak. Love., whose mission is to "serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about faith, gender, and sexuality; and partnering with others to establish trust, reduce fear, and inspire hope."
Chambers, still getting familiar with the evangelical-led Imago Dei campaign, said on Friday that he finds its inclusive statement "great" and thinks it is "hitting the nail on the head."
"That's a wonderful thing to point out, and it's something I've been trying to highlight in the last few months as well, that everyone does reflect the image of God," Chambers told CP. "You can find the image of God everywhere you look if you just look hard enough." Even in "monogamous, long-term faithful marriages" among people of the same sex, he added, commenting on some of his gay and lesbian friends.
"What I find in many of those relationships is that they're bearing the image of God in the area of faithfulness, commitment and love, trust and fidelity and all of those things," Chambers explained. "Nowhere in that do I even have to make a judgment on the morality of homosexuality or anything like that."
Although Chambers believes the Bible shows that God's creative intent and expression for human sexuality is "one man and one woman for one lifetime" (as he told Relevant magazine last year), he says he refuses to live forever entrenched in a debate about the issue.
"I think that's a pit that we Christians have dug ourselves into, thinking that we constantly have to live in a split-screen debate mentality, like we're on Fox News or CNN, constantly debating the cultural issues when we can simply say, 'These people bear the image of God. They're reflecting God's image in this way,'" said Chambers.
"Let that stand alone. Whether someone is a Christian or not, they're bearing the image of God, in my opinion, in some way, and I think to reflect on that positive is a wonderful thing and something that is desperately needed in the church today."
Sally Gary, author of Loves God Likes Girls, works through CenterPeace to help church leaders, educators and families "learn a more Christ-like response to individuals experiencing same-sex attraction."
She, like Chambers, is pleased with the Imago Dei campaign's message, telling CP she found it "beautiful."
"The message is Christ's message, which is we're all one in him. We're all children of God. We're all made in the image of God, and that alone gives us cause for respect from each other," said Gary. "We love each other as God loves us which is unconditionally and that's a powerful message that certainly needs to be heard today."
The Imago Dei campaign comes after Pope Francis insisted last September in a lengthy interview that Christians need not talk about "hot-button" issues, like homosexuality and abortion, "all the time." Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, also stated last year at the start of his tenure that Christians need to "communicate the way Jesus did" when discussing such issues, "convictionally, but with the sort of kindness that recognizes our ultimate goal is the Gospel."
"Did the pope motivate us? No. We've been developing this campaign for about a year and a half now," Rodriguez clarified when asked if his Imago Dei campaign was inspired by calls among prominent religious leaders like Francis and Moore for a more temperate approach to discussing issues like homosexuality.
Rodriguez, also immersed in campaigning for immigration reform, explained that the inspiration for Imago Dei came from a heart broken over witnessing young victims of sex trafficking on street corners in Sacramento, Calif.