From Can One Be a “Gay Evangelical”?, by Dr. Robert Gagnon, published Dec 16, 2006:
On 11/29/06, Neela Banerjee, religion reporter for The New York Times, emailed me to ask my views on “gay evangelicals” and about whether I thought “such a term can be honestly used.” On the same day I emailed my response. She took two quotes from my response for her article in the Times on Tuesday, Dec. 12, entitled “Gay and Evangelical, Seeking Paths of Acceptance” (front page, continued on p. 18; temporarily available on the web here). She was pleasant in her email. However, her handling of my response merits some comment and qualification. Here is the excerpt from the article that quotes me, along with the immediate context of her article and with boldface added to the quotations of my words:
Here is the email that I sent Ms. Banerjee, from which she extracted the quotes (I have placed the quotations in boldface):
I appreciate that Ms. Banerjee quoted parts of three of my sentences, which is more than most scholars espousing a position against homosexual practice could expect to get in a major newspaper heavily invested in promoting homosexual relationships, like The New York Times. Yet there are several corrections and comments worth noting here:
* Ms. Banerjee misconstrued my remark “Christian proponents of homosexual practice have not made their case from Scripture” to mean that such proponents in my view had not even tried to make a case from Scripture. To this Ms. Banerjee responds in the article: “In fact, both sides look to Scripture”—as if I were unaware of this obvious fact. She then goes on to explain—again, as if I were unaware—that “those who advocate acceptance of gay people assert that the passages have to do with acts in the context of idolatry, prostitution or violence” and not with acts in the context of “an enduring orientation, or about committed long-term, same-sex relationships.”
Now it should have been obvious to Ms. Banerjee that I knew about the frequent attempts on the part of many to neutralize the Bible’s clear opposition to homosexual practice. My publications on the subject of the Bible and homosexual practice over the last 6 years have dealt with all of these arguments in detail. Had Ms. Banerjee checked out the links that I provided her, or read any of my print publications on the subject, she would have known this. She would then have realized that my point was that Christian proponents of homosexual relationships have failed to make a good and convincing case from Scripture. (See the links above and, added to these, my recent extensive critiques of Jack Rogers’s recent book on the subject of the Bible and homosexuality, on my website; start here and then proceed here, here, here, here, and here.) The idea that Scripture says nothing against loving homosexual behavior entered into by homosexually oriented persons is akin to arguing that the Bible poses no obstacle to committed incestuous unions engaged in by consenting adults or that the New Testament is open to committed polyamorous (multiple-partner) unions entered into by confirmed “polysexuals.”
To her credit, when I pointed out this error, Ms. Banerjee acknowledged in an email that she had misunderstood me and apologized. I appreciate that. I doubt, though, that the Times will issue any public correction.
* In answer to Ms. Banerjee’s question about whether the term “gay evangelicals” can be “honestly used,” I said “yes and no” and explained both responses. Ms. Banerjee noted only the “no” part of my answer. My response is considerably more nuanced than the Times article would suggest. Of course, on an empirical level there are people who claim to be both “gay” (involving a self-affirmed identity around the acceptability of homosexual relationships) and “evangelical” (involving a belief in Scripture’s supreme authority for matters of faith and practice). But, since Scripture cannot be made serviceable to the acceptance of homosexual practice, it is a contradiction in terms to claim that one is an “evangelical” while affirmingly constructing an identity based on behavior that would have appalled all the authors of Scripture, to say nothing of Jesus.
* Ms. Banerjee was not quite accurate in characterizing my position as claiming that “gay men and lesbians cannot truly be considered Christian, let alone evangelical.” This way of wording things can convey a meaning different from my stated position to her, namely, that the term “gay Christian” is “a contradiction in terms”—“just as,” so I noted in my email to her, “‘self-affirming polysexual Christian’ or ‘self-affirming adulterous Christian’ is a contradiction of terms.” First, I made clear in my email that I understood “gay” as a label for someone who not merely experiences homosexual impulses but who, more, “engages in a self-affirming manner in homosexual unions.” Clearly, someone can be a Christian and experience homoerotic desires, just as Christians experience an array of sinful desires on a daily basis that ought not to rule their lives. Second, a person can even be a Christian while engaging in a self-affirming manner in homosexual practice, just as (again noted in my email) Paul dealt with the case of an incestuous Christian in 1 Corinthians 5-6. However, such a person would be a Christian at risk of exclusion from God’s kingdom (1 Cor 6:9-11 and often). So a “gay man” or “lesbian woman” who calls him- or herself a Christian while engaging in serial, unrepentant, and self-affirmed homosexual activity could be “considered” a Christian who is at risk of not inheriting eternal life.
* Ms. Banerjee left out my concluding word on the importance of love and the distinction between succumbing to homosexual temptation out of weakness and actively affirming the homosexual behavior that one engages in. Such a note might have provided some balance to an article that otherwise appeared to be working hard to paint a sympathetic portrait of self-affirming “gay evangelicals.” It is also puzzling that Ms. Banerjee didn’t solicit any quotes from Christians who “take up their cross and deny themselves” as regards homosexual impulses.
On Ms. Banerjee’s behalf I can say that I’ve seen far worse reporting on this issue. At least Ms. Banerjee solicited my comments, was polite, and actually used most of three of my sentences. Moreover, she ended her article on the helpful note that relatives of one “gay Christian” in a homosexual relationship tell him, “We love you, but we’re concerned.” These features of her article and reporting should be applauded even as we continue to seek improved reporting on the subject of Christianity and homosexuality from the Times and other major media publications.
Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D., is a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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