I feel kind of sad that that perception of Christianity is still so powerful with young people, but I guess it isn’t surprising. There’s a homophobic minority of the church who still regularly get media attention, not because of the prevalence of their views, but because of the volume with which they express them.
There’s some hope here though! Recently, marking the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses, an anonymous group of Anglicans wrote The Southwark Declaration, and have since been pinning it to cathedral doors all over the country, operating under the illusion that they are following in Luther’s footsteps. It’s worth noting that Luther pinning his theses to church doors in Wittenberg didn’t make him a 16th-Century Banksy: this was the academic custom of his day. Luther was just going through the proper channels. The Southwark Declaration, which is decidedly not going through the proper channels, takes five paragraphs to say that being gay is a bit yucky and we should all be a bit straighter. The good news is that the Southwark Declaration has been roundly ignored by the cathedrals it has been pinned to. While the anonymous people posting the declaration are congratulating each other on Twitter, bleary-eyed vergers are pulling the signs off doors in the mornings and putting them in the bin without reading them. Anglicanism at its best.
There are two kinds of religion which call themselves Christian, and they use the same language to mean quite different things. The first kind, the kind that fuels things like the Southwark Declaration, believes in a kind of Dungeons and Dragons god. The D&D god gives his followers a complex rulebook full of arbitrary prohibitions and rituals that they need to study and memorise in order to win at his game. The rules give the player instructions about how to worship, what to avoid, and who to fancy. Following these rules ensures that the player gains eternal life.
Liberals are just as likely to worship the D&D god as conservatives, by the way. Their prohibitions are different, and they rally against different bad guys, but the underpinning philosophy is the same: follow the rulebook to make sure you win the game.
The trouble with the D&D god is that it isn’t truly monotheistic, meaning that it isn’t truly Christian. The D&D player is in rivalry with other players, who have different gods, who play by different rules. These rival players dress differently, obey different prohibitions, and even hope for different prizes when they win the game. So the D&D god is at best henotheistic, meaning although it only follows one god, it acknowledges the existence of others. Followers of the D&D god feel threatened by their rival gods: Islam, Secular Liberalism, The Daily Mail, whatever.
Then there’s true monotheism, which by definition is not in rivalry. If there is only one God, then there are no other gods to feel threatened by. None of the D&D gods exist, not even one. The startling discovery of monotheistic Christianity is that the God it believes in doesn’t give a set of rules to follow in order to win the game. In fact, the God it believes in looks so unlike the D&D gods that when Jesus suggested it, he was killed as a heretic.
In Christianity (the non-D&D kind), God’s grace is universal. In other words, you are already loved, welcomed and forgiven. There are no rules to follow to earn that stuff, it’s already there, and there’s no risk of losing it. So the Christian task is about discovering it, not earning it.
If the question is, “So does that mean you don’t like gay people?” the answer, of course, is “No!” Being a Christian means that I believe God is on your side as much as he is on my mine, whether you’re gay, straight, transgender, atheist, Muslim, liberal, conservative, a recovering addict, a non-recovering addict, paranoid, a murderer, an academic, a journalist, a politician, homeless, a child, an adult, a Brony, one of those people who sends Facebook messages to all your friends telling them not to add anyone called Jaden K. Smith, a pro-lifer, a pro-choicer, a Furry, or even if you’re Piers Morgan. Actually, the point is, there are no sides. There is only God’s grace, and the levels to which we are aware of it.
That doesn’t mean I don’t disapprove of anything. I disapprove of people who park badly, people who avoid taxes, people who have personalised registration plates, racists, and Piers Morgan. But the point is that my approval is not a condition of God’s grace. God’s grace is troublesome because it applies to the people we really hate as much as to us.
And this is the message for the homophobes: feel free to disapprove of gay people! But don’t conflate your rulebook with God’s will.