Twin Dangers: The Temptation to Anger and the Intimidation to Silence
At Mars Hill Forum #80, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts; “Is Same-Sex Marriage Good for the Nation?”
John C. Rankin (July 7, 2007)
On February 5, 2004, I faced an audience of up to 500 people, some 300 of whom were avowed lesbians, on the topic, “Is Same-Sex Marriage Good for the Nation?” My guest was Amy Hunt, a leader with the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.
One student, a member of the Smith Christian Fellowship, sat among some twenty fellow students prior to the forum’s start, all avowed lesbians. They were saying how I was going to be chewed up and made ready for shark bait, and they were ready for it. After all, I was a white heterosexual male, an evangelical pro-life minister – six strikes against me before I stood up. But as the forum progressed, they started to complain, “He’s being too gracious…”
During the forum itself, I presented the text of the Ministers Affirmation on Marriage, published in the Hartford Courant: “Yes to Man and Woman in Marriage: No to Same-Sex Marriage.” It shows how same-sex marriage, defined as a new “civil right,” threatens the historic definition of unalienable rights given by God; and as well, the Bible says no to homosexuality while ministering to those who struggle with such a temptation.
I also made three observations. First, I told the audience that I wanted them all to succeed in attaining the fruit of being image-bearers of God – peace, order, stability and hope, to live, to love, to laugh and to learn. The question is how we best achieve these goals, whether on God’s terms, or on our own broken terms.
Second, I stated that I did not want one inch of greater liberty to speak what I believe, than the liberty I first commend to those who disagree with me. The Golden Rule in political context. And third, if any homosexual person there happened to be facing danger, and if I were in position to intervene to protect his or her life, I would do so instinctively.
During the question and answer period, a lesbian, then a male homosexual activist, both said remarkably similar words – that my opposition to same-sex marriage was “doing violence” to them. I then asked, “Do you mean that I am doing violence to you because I disagree with you?” They had no reply, and the audience was aware of the reality at play – the celebration of a level playing field for all sides to be heard equally, an intrinsic reality of the Gospel.
Many homosexual persons are full of anger they do not know how to overcome, so often against the chosen absence of their biological fathers, and the harm that absence visited upon their lives. They have adopted an ersatz homosexual identity, my very presence affronts them regardless of how gracious I may be, and thus I become a surrogate against whom to express their anger. They needed to make me angry so as to justify their anger. When I did not become angry, they lost some wind in their sails.
After the forum, a lawyer approached and introduced himself to me. He had worked for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in its Goodridge decision that legalized same-sex marriage. He asked if I had read the decision and I said yes. He then called me a liar several times. So I then started quoting it extensively on the spot, and he changed the subject. In fact, Goodridge exalts same-sex marriage to the threshold of an unalienable right, and a huge conflict portends to threaten religious liberty as a result.
He wanted to intimidate me into silence. After all, who was I as a minister to address legal matters? He needed to prove me out of my league and unqualified. This attempt grew comical yet tragic. He emailed me several times afterward, having looked at my website. He was concerned with a “disturbing pattern” of me going from campus to campus “stirring up ideological antagonism toward the indigenous gay students …” and what I am doing is “very, very hateful and arrogant” and “meddlesome.” He recommended that I change my occupation, diagnosed my emotional insecurity of “clinging desperately” to the Bible, and finally my need to go on a 30-day (pagan) “Insight Meditation” retreat, where I would learn to “SHUT UP AND LISTEN for a change …”
Imagine that. A biblical opinion on same-sex marriage is so rarely heard on pagan and secular campuses, and there I was at Smith College, the most pro-lesbian college in the nation, in Northampton, Massachusetts with its reputation for the heaviest concentration of serious witchcraft. No matter my articulation of the image of God, freedom of speech and willingness to risk my life for a homosexual person – I was being told to shut up.
These twin dangers of temptation to anger or intimidation to silence face believers continually. If we are self-righteous, have axes to grind, and are able to be drawn into anger, we misrepresent the Gospel. If we do not speak the truth, and are intimidated into silence, we fail to represent the Gospel. To speak the truth in love is the goal. Here I grasped anew the language of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount concerning the “narrow road” of discipleship – or perhaps more like a balance beam, which if we do not walk carefully, by the grace of God and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we can fall to either side.
When we are free of anger and intimidation, when we can create a level playing field for all sides to be heard equally, when we accept the hardest questions of our skeptics with grace, when our goal is to see reconciled relationships more than merely winning a debate, the Gospel is advanced. Anger silences itself, pensiveness can happen, and the goodness of the Good News can be perceived as we serve the work of the Holy Spirit.
Epilogue: When the lawyer was speaking with me, a young woman interrupted him, graciously and with great poise. She said to me, “Thank you for coming. I am struggling. Can we talk sometime?” She had been an atheist, came to Christ within two weeks time, began to deal with some deep pain in her life, and then to grow wonderfully in the Lord. At the end of the year, I received a note from the leader of the Smith Christian Fellowship, which read in part, “We have been experiencing continued blessings from the forum, and I know that it was the first step in a major transformation Christ is working on this campus.”