Evangelicals differ over the best approach to explain the traditional marriage position to homosexuals, as Republican candidates were asked to do over the weekend. However, they agree that officials must not shy away from the truth.
Craig Vincent Mitchell, an associate professor of Christian ethics for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he believes the best way to discuss Christian conservative opposition to legalized same-sex marriage with a homosexual couple is to be open and honest.
“I think you have to be straight with them and tell them ‘Hey, this is not [in] accordance with God’s design and God’s purpose,” Mitchell told The Christian Post.
Michael L. Brown, author of Amazon best-seller A Queer Thing Happened to America, said he would give a similar answer but also let the couple know that he respects them as individuals.
"I believe it's important to preface things with that because, number one, many people who identify as LGBT have suffered a lot of rejection in their lives. Some of them have been threatened and when they hear me opposing the redefinition of marriage, they see that as a fundamental rejection of their personhood and their right to love," Brown explained.
Brown believes it is important for Christians to exhibit compassion, but said Christians and conservative candidates must draw "a clear line in the sand."
Mitchell agreed that candidates must not "lower" themselves to win votes.
"The people who are going to vote for you are going to vote for you regardless and the people who aren't going to vote for you aren't going to vote for you regardless too. So you may as well tell the truth," he summed.
These two perspectives recently played out Saturday as GOP presidential candidates discussed their position with New Hampshire voters.
During the ABC News debate, moderators Diane Sawyer, George Stephanopoulos and Josh McElveen asked candidates a gay marriage question sent via Yahoo! Candidates were asked how they would explain their disapproval of same-sex marriage to a gay couple sitting in their living room.
Rick Santorum answered the question emphasizing that marriage between a man and woman is a foundational institution in society and should therefore be defined as such in the U.S. Constitution.
“I believe the issue of marriage itself is a federal issue, that we can’t have different laws with respect to marriage. We have to have one law,” he explained.
However, other candidates gave answers that addressed the human need for companionship.
Gingrich, a Catholic, explained that marriage is a sacrament that predates American law. He also expressed an understanding of the intimacy that exists between humans and said that all should have the right to visit others in the hospitals and write a loved one into their wills.
“It’s (marriage) something worth protecting and upholding. And I think protecting and upholding that doesn’t mean you have to go out and make life miserable for others, but it does mean you make a distinction between a historic sacrament of enormous importance in our civilization and simply deciding it applies everywhere and it’s just a civil right.”
Romney, too, expressed some leniency in his defense of marriage.
“There can be domestic partnership benefits or a contractual relationship between two people, which would include, as Speaker Gingrich indicated, hospital visitation rights and the like. We can decide what kinds of benefits we might associate with people who form those kinds of relationships, state by state,” he said.
Romney continued, “But to say that marriage is something other than the relationship between a man and a woman, I think, is a mistake.”
The nation’s largest gay rights group, Human Rights Campaign, called out Romney and Santorum, the front-runners of the Iowa caucuses, saying that their answers do not hide their "anti-gay" records.
"Both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have signed the National Organization for Marriage’s extremist anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) pledge. According to the pledge, Romney and Santorum, if elected, would set up a McCarthy-like commission to investigate alleged incidents of 'harassment' against NOM’s supporters, defend the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), push for a federal marriage amendment, and appoint anti-gay judges," HRC stated.
Signers of the NOM pledge commit to supporting a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and woman, and establishing a presidential commission on religious liberty to investigate and document reports of Americans who have been harassed or threatened for exercising key civil rights to organize, to speak, to donate or to vote for marriage. Signers also pledge to appoint federal judges who are "committed to restraint and to applying the original meaning of the Constitution."
Brown, who founded ICN Ministries, acknowledged that gay rights advocates will be upset no matter how candidates explain the traditional marriage stance.
"If a sales person comes to your door, all they want to do is make a sale. If you slam the door in their face or if you politely tell them no thank you, they still go away without a sale. That's the main thing they’re thinking about," Brown explained.
Still, he believes a gentle rebuke shows Christian compassion without compromising the core message.
Both Brown and ethics Professor Mitchell believe it’s best for candidates to stand for traditional marriage.
"It is essential that the candidates stand up for what is right whether it's politically correct or not," said Brown.
Mitchell added, "Politically correct isn't always the truth."