Does Evangelical Conscience Lead to Oppressing LGBTQ?
The harms of tribalism & scapegoating; the victory of love
Evangelicals generally disdain LGBTQ. What role does conscience play in creating this antagonistic culture war? More importantly, what hope do we have for bringing reconciliation? Read on.
Conscience Versus Acquired Knowledge
“Conscience” [Greek: suneidesis] is an innate state of being in which we already fully know something to be morally true. For example, any human should realize that treating a fellow human with dignity and fairness is innately good (while oppressing a fellow human is intrinsically wrong). Thus, true conscience is always virtuous, leading to healthy fruit.
“Weak conscience,” however, is believing something to be true, based upon the knowledge with have acquired [Greek: gnosis]. This knowledge can be based upon the wrong assumptions that we have been taught. For example, relying upon certain bible verses as justification to enslave a category of humans may be an accurate application of a literal verse. Still, our actual conscience should inform us that such knowledge is innately wrong. We know the command is wrong whenever the fruit is bad.
An evangelical’s conscience should never justify oppressing a certain category of humans.
As a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we Jesus Followers have tremendous liberty — except for our requirement to live out the Golden Rule. However, often a Christian’s freedom is viewed as too progressive for the more traditionalist Christians. The traditionalist evangelical may have a weak conscience based upon acquired knowledge devoid of context or superseded by the overarching Law of Love.
For example, the LGBTQ Christian whose conscience is confident and at peace regarding gay marriage (i.e., the freedom to do so, because it is obviously fair) comes under the traditionalist evangelical’s judgment (whose weaker conscience has learned that “homosexuality” is an abomination).
“Why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience?” (1 Corinthians 10:29b)
Sadly, there is a special, exaggerated animosity toward people who claim to be “LGBTQ.” Such identity, today, is loathsome to straight evangelicals — even worse than calling oneself “gay.” Thus, the weaker conscience of evangelical Christians is prone to discounting an LGBTQ Christian’s conscience — even claiming the LGBTQ Christian to be deceived, demonic, or not fully repentant in becoming a Christian.
Harms of Tribalism
There are three major demographic categories within white Christian Americans: mainline Protestant (16% of all Americans), evangelical Protestant (14%), and Catholic (12%). Twenty-three percent of Americans are “unaffiliated.”
Furthermore, according to the National Association of Evangelicals, there are 40 distinct evangelical denominations in America. Think of each of these denominations as its own “tribe” — evangelical, yes, but different from the other 39 evangelical denominations.
Tribes generally want resources (e.g., people, and accordingly, money) and view the total resources as limited. Thus, tribes fight each other for the resources — a form of selfishness. Such inter-tribal warfare between evangelicals can be ugly. Each tribe maligns the other denomination and tries to win over church members (who can then bring their tithing resources). One could easily conclude that evangelical tribes (and all tribes) demonstrate the “fruit of the flesh:”
“The acts of the flesh are obvious … hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions” (Galatians 5:19a, 20).
Inevitability of Scapegoating
Emily Swan and Ken Wilson’s excellent book “Solus Jesus” asserts that whenever warring tribes need to keep from destroying themselves, they agree upon a “scapegoat” to blame for their problems. Accordingly, the scapegoat is falsely charged, condemned, and killed. Upon the death of the scapegoat, tribes can (in the short term) coexist.
Jesus, of course, was the ultimate scapegoat: falsely charged by the factious Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians; unlawfully condemned by the Sanhedrin; and executed by Pilate’s brutish police force.
LGBTQ became the scapegoat for the inter-warring evangelical denominations. Over the past 50 years, evangelicals in America have alleged LGBTQ individuals to be mentally ill and disordered, a threat to American family values, a culture war enemy, demonic, hedonistically sinful, and more.
Charged. Tried. Executed.
A common denominator among the 40 evangelical tribes was their exaggerated contempt for LGBTQ. Evangelicals rally together to charge this scapegoat as dangerous, condemn this criminal to ostracization outside of local churches, and remove any Christian who either aligns or even sympathizes with LGBTQ.
Enter the LGBTQ Christian.
Such people exist. I should know — I am one. I have counseled, mentored, and spoken to thousands of such individuals. LGBTQ Christians are extremely diverse but have two aspects in common: 1) we deeply love Jesus, and 2) we are either a sexual or gender identity minority in America.
LGBTQ Christians are not disordered, sociopaths or terrorists bent on bringing down the Church or America. We have a sexual attraction and a gender identity that does not conform to the majority of Christians in America. But make no mistake about it: we LGBTQ Christians are fully aligned with Jesus, revere the bible as a relevant impartation of God’s truth, and most importantly, are fully loved by Jesus — exactly as we are.
And we LGBTQ Christians are tired of being evangelicals’ scapegoat.
Fruit of the Flesh: Oppression
Evangelicals who scapegoat LGBTQ inevitably treat us as a “lesser than” form of human. And for those of us who are LGBTQ Christians, being lesser-than results in very unfair treatment compared to the rights provided to straight Christians.
Such inequality includes not being permitted to speak about our sexual or gender identity, plus not participating in the same events within the church as straight Christians (e.g., baptism of self or one’s adopted child; pre-marriage training; parental workshops, etc.). Furthermore, LGBTQ Christians cannot hold the same church positions as straight Christians (i.e., positions of church leadership — even to include performing a solo in the choir!). And of course, gay Christians cannot marry inside an evangelical church, nor have their marriage given the same status and privileges as straight marriages.
Does all of this “lesser than” treatment sound like oppression to you? It should.
Christians are recognized by the fruit in which they produce.
Oppression of humans is a stinky, rotten fruit. An evangelical’s conscience should never justify oppressing a certain category of humans. However, an evangelical’s weaker conscience often uses literal interpretations from the bible to declare “homosexuality is a sin.” Thus, oppressing the LGBTQ individual may be viewed as (amazingly) “defending God” — or at least, defending family values and the soul of America.
But stinky fruit has a habit of being, well, stinky. Hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions.
Fruit of the Spirit: Love
However, tribalism is not a fruit of the Spirit. Likewise, scapegoating a certain category of humans is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the evidence of the Spirit’s presence in a Christian is not inter-tribal fighting for higher church attendance figures or increased monetary tithes. Nor is the evidence of the Spirit a hypocritical showing-off: strutting one’s self-righteousness while refusing to lift a finger to alleviate the load placed upon the backs of the marginalized.
Jesus publicly rebuked religious leaders who used the bible as a weapon for handcuffing the marginalized — leaders who pretentiously swagger their “holiness” for all to see. Nope, Jesus wasn’t “having it.” Jesus called such religious leaders to be hypocrites, sons-of-snakes, and full of dead men’s bones. Ouch.
Instead, the evidence of someone guided by the Holy Spirit is a fruit of love.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5: 22, 23a).
So how does an evangelical Christian move out of the corrupt system of competing for limited resources (i.e., tribalism) and prevent the false declaration of one category of humans (e.g., LGBTQ) as the scapegoat? And how do we avoid oppressing these LGBTQ individuals?
The Good News is that it is entirely possible for straight evangelicals to avoid tribalism, scapegoating, and oppressing the marginalized. The cure is to show that you love Jesus — by following His priority command:
“Love your neighbor in the way in which you would want to be loved.”
So lets you and I throw off the shackles of uncontested allegiance to a particular tribe. Let’s resist the need to name a scapegoat. Instead, let’s focus on gratefully appreciating Jesus’ love for us and return the favor by treating the marginalized with compassion and merciful love.
Jesus’ primordial command aligns with our conscience. The Law of Love is indeed innately understandable and self-evident.
So, how do we enact the Law of Love? Well, do you see that LGBTQ person over there? How would you want to be treated if you were him? Okay, now that you feel compassion for him, go provide the LGBTQ person the mercy you would like to receive.
And when we follow the Law of Love, we become like Jesus. And when we become more like Him, we become a more credible example of Jesus’ love to humanity.
In summary, the evangelicals’ claim-to-fame is that they follow Jesus. And yet, to follow Jesus is to obey the Law of Love. And Jesus declared that “love your neighbor in the way you want to be loved” fulfills every command. And the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love — and would never engage in oppression of any person or tribe.
So, let’s return to this article’s title. “Does evangelical conscience lead to oppressing LGBTQ?” The answer is obvious: never.
Dr. Mike Rosebush has a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. He is a retired Licensed Professional Counselor who has mentored thousands of gay Christian men.
You may want to read a short synopsis of his story here.
Today, he provides friendship support to gay men across the U.S. and can be contacted via Facebook.
You may read his many other Medium articles here.