More than a decade ago, in a University of Illinois graduate school class, I was asked by classmates why “Southern Baptists hate gay people.” The semester had just begun and our professor had asked each of us to introduce ourselves and tell the class where we worked. When I explained I worked for the Illinois Baptist State Associations, the questions came quickly. I explained we didn’t hate gay people, just as we didn’t hate people for overeating or committing other sins. It’s their behavior we can’t condone, not them.
I remembered that conversation while covering the “Defend Marriage Rally” organized by the Illinois Family Institute last month. One of the first things I noticed when I arrived at the rally was a man carrying a large cross with the words, “God Abhors Civil Unions,” written across it. I immediately knew what image would appear in all the media coverage of the event. It definitely made for an attention-grabbing photo.
I watched the man, who I later learned is a pastor in another denomination, waiting for him to turn the cross around so I could read what was written on the other side. I soon saw the words, “He Loves Repentance,” a less jarring message for the secular culture that is most media’s audience.
It reminded me of blog post I had recently read by LifeWay Research’s Ed Stetzer. In the post, titled “Politics, Social Media, and More Important Things,” Stetzer writes, “You can't blurt at a people and reach a people at the same time.”
His post, and the scene at the rally, made me think about how we as Christians who are Southern Baptists are perceived by the world. We have given the world the impression that we hate homosexuals, and the way we present our message is the biggest culprit.
There is wisdom in the old saying, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” but the Bible gives even better advice: “But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head – Christ.” Paul is talking to the church at Ephesus about how to treat one another, but we’d be wise to also apply his counsel to how we speak to people who come down on the opposite side of certain issues, like same-sex marriage. We’re called to stand firm in God’s Word, while showing people Christ’s love and redemption as well.
I did watch the coverage of the rally on several different television channels and read the online news coverage. The cross did make an appearance in most, but the words “He Loves Repentance” were nowhere to be seen.