Doctrine, politics and same-sex attraction

Gay issues are some of the most difficult to write about. People have such strongly held feelings about sexual orientation and behavior. Emotions tend to run roughshod over reasonable discussion. So I was actually impressed with how Associated Press writer Jay Lindsay treated the story of an evangelical minister who focuses on the matter. Here's how his provocative story begins:

Bill Henson is used to skepticism in his mission to bring together gays and evangelical Christians.

He spent years in a gay relationship, until he came to believe that homosexuality is a sin and married the only woman he says he's ever been attracted to.

The minister founded Fish On The Other Side (FOTOS) because he believes the church drives away gays with a narrow focus on sexual orientation, compared to its own sins.

It seems so simple when you read the passage above or the rest of the article, but Lindsay simply lets his sources describe their views in their own particular way. I think so much of the frustration that opposing sides have with media reports are the clumsy attempts to rephrase views into a predetermined template. Henson's views, as the story lays out, aren't so easily shoehorned and require a bit more space and time to explain.

The story explains more of Henson's doctrinal views and how those put him at odds with folks who are arguing simply for or against the doctrinal view that homosexual behavior is sinful. So, for instance, we get this view:

Bill Carpenter, of the gay rights group Soulforce, sees Henson's conciliatory approach as a cloak for imposing a faulty Biblical interpretation that homosexual acts are sinful and gays are "broken" and need to change.

The article treats Henson's attractions respectfully. We learn that he was in a five-year relationship with a man that he described as "beautiful." We learn about becoming convinced, through Scripture, that homosexual acts were sinful. We learn that he is married with four children:

In 2006, Henson gave up a marketing career to go into ministry full-time. Henson says he's "not 100 percent free of same-sex attractions," and doesn't expect other gays who turn to faith to end up in a straight marriage.

"I'm not out to sell it, I'm not out to promote it or to promise it, but it is something I've experienced," he said.

What I like about this story is that it manages to be dramatic and engaging without inciting unnecessary politicking. It addresses the political without making it the focus of the piece. It shows that you can show conflict over "simple" doctrinal disagreements without making it all about politics.

And while I recognize that this is probably due to the particular subject of the story, I also appreciate that this piece isn't so "us vs. them" or "black and white" as many stories dealing with sexuality read. Henson obviously approaches the issue from a traditional perspective. But he has plenty to say about where he thinks the church has gone wrong in its treatment of gays. Again, his quotes are doctrinal. As any good reporter knows, religious folks tend to speak using religious language. So why do so many of the sources chosen and the quotes given tend to be secularized or political?

Again, an example:

Henson said evangelicals have too often offered only alienation and judgment to gays, shutting out many from the grace and joy found in faith and depriving itself of the talents of the gay community.

"What we've really created is a nice, comfortable gospel for us, but then we use that to inflict heavily on others who sin in the ways we don't," Henson said.

Henson thinks the church is responsible for repairing its relationship with gays -- though it's not solely at fault -- because God has given it the job of effectively delivering the message of salvation to all groups.

The story is long and well worth a read, including a vignette of a discussion held at Wheaton College. Folks on various sides are identified in part based on their own same-sex attraction but also on their views about whether homosexuality is sinful. This is nuanced and helpful and I appreciate this report. The journalist allowed the minister to explain his views, got responses from a wide variety of perspectives, and showed how his approach plays out in discussion. It's not perfect but I think it provides a nice template of how to discuss contentious issues without allowing a story to become compromised.

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