#ERLC2014 and the pursuit of truth

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Last week’s Southern Baptist conference on homosexuality did not include any pro-gay speakers.

There were some who identified as “ex-gay” or “celibate”—though it should be noted not all of them prefer this terminology. As for “Side A” Christians, Justin Lee was there. Matthew Vines was there. But neither were given stage time.

In some respects, this is not a big deal. The lack of gay-friendly at a Baptist conference on sexuality is about as surprising as a Baptist conference on sexuality. It’s their right to invite the speakers they want. But it reveals something interesting about conversations like these—on both sides:

They’re not always about finding the truth as much as they are an exercise in confirmation bias.

When it’s truth we’re after, we’re called to seek out voices that don’t necessarily align with ours. We shouldn’t just listen to those who regurgitate what we already believe. Conservatives shouldn’t just watch Fox News, and liberals shouldn’t just watch MSNBC. We should gather information from a variety of sources and perspectives. We should listen to all sides. We should guard against an attitude that says, “We already have the truth.” We should remember that all of us get it wrong at least some of the time.

And if we want to understand an issue that affects one group in particular? We should listen to that group.

If you want to know what it’s like to be black in America, listen to black voices.

If you want to know about gender disparity in the workplace, listen to your female colleagues.

If you want to know what it’s like to be a gay person of faith (celibate or otherwise)—if you want to understand what gay Christians experience when they set foot in a church—listen to their voices. Listening does not necessitate agreement, but it does require a posture of humility, a desire to understand.

Of course, this runs both ways. Earlier this year, Patheos hosted an online chat discussing Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian. They didn’t include anyone representing the traditional perspective. Why not invite someone like Preston Sprinkle, who has shown a willingness to engage in debate without delegitimizing the faith of those he disagrees with? (To be fair, it’s possible some were invited but declined.)

Patheos and the ERLC have every right to invite who they want to their conversations on sexuality. Not every event has to give equal time to contrarian viewpoints.

But we all know this is part of a larger trend in how we consume information that ends up shaping our worldviews.

Most of us listen predominantly (or exclusively) to voices that tell us what we already want to hear—voices that soothe our nagging doubts, voices that whisper away any notion that we might be wrong or might not have all the facts, voices that reassure us we don’t have to go in search of the truth because we already have the truth. We’re so afraid that if we listen to other voices, someone will ask a question we can’t answer. 

Much of the current debate boils down to who we think is on the “right side of history.” My question is, how will  we even know if we’re on the side of history—or the right side of truth—if we never even listen to someone with a different view of it?

Photo credit: Eric Teetsel on Twitter

11 thoughts on “#ERLC2014 and the pursuit of truth

  1. Sometimes:

    it really is about shoring up ones world view, and that can be a good thing. That other people believe differently from me can be threatening. I know we get to cope with it eventually, but we have the word “erasure” for a reason.

    I am just happy that Mohler’s lot is so scared.

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  2. The ex-gay world is shocked – SHOCKED, I tell you! – that they weren’t invited to this year’s ERLC to preach shame and exclusion toward all LGBT Christians who aren’t beating themselves up and trying to change their orientation*. Even if plenty of the things I heard in the Twitterverse from ERLC made me want to #headdesk, seeing this news gave me a glimmer of hope.

    * http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/46000-transformation-of-a-homosexual-what-change-looks-like

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  3. Hey Ben, I appreciate you bringing this to our attention. I too find myself disillusioned at both the spirit and manner many conservative Christian denominations approach the LGBT community. However I am also wondering what undercurrents of thought you have towards this issue that are not being fully expressed. For example, how would you defined someone as “gay friendly?” What would be an example of non-“confirmation bias?” We certainly don’t want to confirm our un-Christlike animosity and hostility, but at the same time are you suggesting the Church should celebrate and affirm practicing gay relationships as being within the scope of godly living? Are you suggesting the SBC should consider re-thinking Scripture on the matter, or should be pushing reset on the spirit and manner in which they seek to reach out in love to a community of people that needs Christ and correction just as much as any one of us? Just wondering…

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    • Fair questions. In this context, I meant “gay-friendly” as a synonym for someone who holds an affirming view, supporting the full participation of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church. In hindsight, I can see one drawback of using the term this way…it implies that anyone who stops short of the affirming view is automatically “gay-unfriendly,” which I don’t think is necessarily the case. There are plenty of people who are not in the affirming camp (because their conscience and their reading of Scripture won’t allow them to go there) who are nonetheless sincere in their desire for better, more loving engagement with the LGBTQ community.

      For me, an example of non-“confirmation bias” would be someone who has genuinely taken time to engage with both sides—and not just for the sake of proving one of them wrong. It would be interesting to survey ERLC2014 attendees and ask how many had read God & the Gay Christian, or Torn, or Bible Gender Sexuality, or A Time to Embrace, or any of the other popular or scholarly works on the affirming side. I suspect (I could be wrong) that the number would be quite small. And for those who did, how many read solely for the sake of proving them wrong? For me, avoiding confirmation bias means reading other perspectives with humility, always willing to ask, “Is it possible I’ve missed something here?”

      To your last set of questions, I do think denominations like the SBC should try to push the reset button on their relationship with the LGBTQ community, whatever their theological conclusions may be. And I think they took a few modest but encouraging steps in this direction at ERLC2014…though should be done. At the same time, I don’t see why we should be afraid of reexamining Scripture—or, to put it more precisely, reexamining our understanding of Scripture. As David Gushee pointed out in his presentation to the Reformation Project, it would hardly be the first time we’ve had to do so. While I don’t think we should be cavalier about discarding things the church has held for a long time, we shouldn’t assume a particular interpretation or view is true just because the church has held it for a long time.

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    • If you read my post, you’d see that I already noted that this runs both ways. That being said, Matthew’s conferences are specifically billed as training events for those who want to be equipped to defend the affirming view. There’s no misrepresentation of the purpose or aim going on there. I could also point to Justin Lee and the Gay Christian Network, who DO provide a platform to both sides at their events.

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  4. Thanks for the follow-up comments. Given the very nature of your post and comments I think it is fair to ask you what your “re-examination” of Scripture has led you to believe as it concerns whether not the Scriptures condemn same-sex behavior (in all forms) as being outside the orbit of a God-directed life in Christ? To put it quite simply, do you believe the Church “has missed something” in its long established reading of Scripture and ought to embrace same-sex couples/marriages as being within the scope of Scripture’s approval of sex and marriage?

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    • Strider, I wonder if anything would ever persuade you that gay marriage is not wicked?

      If there is nothing, what is the point of discoursing with you?

      If you imagine there is a theoretical possibility, ask yourself how likely it is.

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  5. Clare, the Scriptures are not silent on this issue. Therefore it is the Scriptures that ought to persuade professing followers of the Lord on matters addressed within its purview. Ben unashamedly considers himself to be a follower of the Lord…so asking Ben if thinks the Scriptures affirm or deny same-sex marriage is a fair question. If you find bringing the Bible (aghast!) into the discussion is pointless then feel free to pass by my remarks.

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