If you think you understand “the” evangelical Christian perspective on gay marriage, you might want to read a letter Julia Stronks wrote and hundreds of people signed.
Stronks, a political science professor at Whitworth University, was disappointed last month when World Vision, the Christian international charity based in Seattle, retreated from a new, welcoming attitude toward hiring married, gay Christians. World Vision first announced it would hire such couples – and then reversed course immediately, after an outpouring of complaints. Some 10,000 child sponsorships were withdrawn. Helping impoverished children loses its charitable luster, apparently, if some of a charity’s gay employees are married.
Stronks, an evangelical Christian who was elated by the initial announcement, went from exhilaration to dismay.
“I was crushed,” she said.
She decided to write something – an expression of her feelings about the decision and a brief in support of a loving attitude toward gay Christians. She shared it with friends; some of those friends shared it with others. Eventually, she and Kathy Lee, a fellow Whitworth professor, decided to post the statement online – where it has so far gathered around 900 signatures, including several prominent theologians, academics and pastors. Many of those signing are associated with Whitworth, though it’s not an official action of the university.
The statement is posted online at www.one-jesus.org/. In the weeks since the World Vision uproar, it has become part of a larger conversation that the Religion News Service summed up this way: “Can you be an evangelical and support same-sex marriage?”
Stronks is among those answering yes.
“We support the initial decision of World Vision,” her statement reads. “And, we call on Christian institutions to employ LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ who help further the mission of their institutions.”
World Vision announced in March that it would recognize the same-sex marriages of employees as part of its employee code of conduct. Less than 48 hours later, it reversed course.
Conservatives celebrated. Richard Land, the executive editor of The Christian Post, called the issue of same-sex marriage a “truth serum for Evangelical Christianity” – if you tolerate it, you have “rebelled against biblical authority.”
Many Christians do not accept this line in the sand, and a similar backlash accompanied the reversal. An online Christian community, Faithful America, gathered around 16,000 petitions urging the resignation of two World Vision board members who are Google executives.
Stronks’ letter urges a tolerance for disagreement among Christians on the issue.
“There are committed Christians who believe, honestly, that a few passages in the Bible referencing sexual activity between people of the same gender have been historically misconstrued,” her statement reads. “Many of these Christians believe that the present struggle for gay civil rights is very similar to the courageous civil rights struggles of other persecuted minority groups throughout American history.
“There are also committed Christians who believe, honestly, that homosexuality is sinful and flies in the face of what God desires.
“Clearly, there are disagreements, but disagreement does not have to compromise our work as Christians. Christians have worked together across their differences on a wide variety of issues, and they should continue to do so when a mission transcending narrow doctrinal matters is at stake.”
Like any group, evangelicals include a wide range of opinions and congregations. But the term has come to be associated so closely with conservative social politics that other evangelicals wonder whether the description fits them anymore.
“A couple of years ago, I decided it probably was not helpful for me to designate myself as an evangelical Christian,” Lee said. “As soon as I would say that, I would be put in a box that is not correct.”
Stronks said she still considers herself an evangelical. In the last several years, she said, she’s been thinking about issues of equality and fairness for the LGBT community.
“Over the course of the last five years, I’ve gotten to know Christian gay people better, and I’ve seen a lot of pain,” she said.
Unfortunately, much of that pain comes from other Christians and Christian institutions, she said. She and Lee – and their 900 co-signers – want to send a different message.
“The most important thing for Christians is that we demonstrate Christ’s love, and this, for me, is one step toward demonstrating the love that Jesus Christ and God have for all of creation,” she said.