(Clear Thoughts on a Fading Memory)
Shocked hardly describes how I felt when I saw two men kiss each other on the lips as I waited for the seminar to begin. It was an unholy kiss, indeed. Occasionally, I've sat in on something that was radically different for me. Such was true with a little-known lecture I went to at the American Academy of Religion & Society of Biblical Literature, on Nov. 18, 1995, following the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Since many years have passed, the following details in quotes must be taken as recollections rather than verbatim statements.
I only attended one session of AAR/SBL that day and it was named something like, "The Religious Right and the Gay Movement," or maybe, "How to Stop the Religious Right." Whatever the name, the theme dealt specifically with gay rights. I was writing my thesis on the apostle Paul's view of male homosexuality and figured I might run into some of the radical thinkers I had been reading. They weren't in any sense my heroes, but I wanted to talk with a few. I must have been the only evangelical in the crowd of fifty that day.
Once the session began, several lecturers spoke, all from an extreme leftist view. In particular, a lesbian (or bisexual) lecturer warned of the dangers posed by Promise Keepers. She compared it with Hitler's Germany. I had not attended a Promise Keepers' event yet but knew quite a bit about it. So, I raised my hand, and when called upon, stood to say something like, "I haven't been to a Promise Keepers' meeting, but from what I've heard, they encourage men to love their wives. Isn't that a good thing?" I sat down.
She responded, "Well, yes love is a good thing, but that's not what Promise Keepers is about. They're about oppressing women and teaching them that they're less than their husbands."
Other people lectured too. At one point, a person in the audience said, "If we're ever going to make in-roads into the world of the religious right, we've got to speak their language, using words like 'inerrancy' even if we don't believe it." Someone spoke up saying, "I'll never use language like that. Inerrancy isn't true."
After more discussion about many issues, I raised my hand and stood once more, commenting along the lines of, "You're making conservative evangelicals out to be monsters. The people I know who believe in this form of male leadership and submission, love their wives and treat them with respect. I think we could use more families like this. I believe in this form of submission too, and I'm here interacting with you as a civil human being." A grumble rolled over the crowd like waves on a choppy sea, as people murmured about my comments. Despite how radical my views must have seemed to them, the person up front was cordial to me.
Also a bisexual pastor, with connections to Union Theological Seminary in New York, gave a presentation. After the session, I talked with him in private to ask how he, especially as a pastor, could biblically justify his sexual behavior. He seemed upset, spoke loudly, and said, "I don't try to justify anything." Some things I've forgotten about that day, but I clearly remember that he stood too close for my comfort, spat when he talked, and needed a Tic Tac.
I have often thought about this AAR/SBL seminar. Although it was conducted in an academic setting, this session had little to do with scholarship, and more to do with outsider opinions and emotionalism about the religious right. It shows what some liberals think of evangelicals. Certainly not all liberals hold this mental caricature of evangelicals but too many of them do. This caricature is just one of the reasons believers need to get among lostness and spread the aroma of Christ to those who are perishing. Believers do this by living and speaking truth.
I'm confident my two comments went unappreciated by the attendees that day. Nor did anyone seem convinced of the error of his ways. In fact, I didn't even share the gospel in all of its fullness with anyone. But I think my presence there that day was a good thing. And here are a few points worth pondering regarding such occasions and the declaration of truth:
- Speak the truth for the glory of the triune God.
- Speak the truth even when it's unpopular.
- Speak the truth even when you can't persuade the audience.
- Speak the truth even if you might be misunderstood.
- Speak the truth with the good of the hearers in mind.
As evangelicals, we should love the truth, live the truth, and speak the truth. After all, truth is a powerful thing because truth is, in the end, a God thing.