Mars and Venus Revisited
The 1992 best-seller by John Gray, Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus sold over fifty million copies. This book shared the premise that men and women have completely different ways of thinking and relating to the other gender. Using the metaphor of different planetary residences, men and women have difficulty interacting with each other because they communicate differently, and thus must attempt to understand the others’ language and references in order to build relationships. (Of course, this begs the question as to whether this is a problem in the gay community, as both partners are from either Mars or Venus!)
At the outset of this new year, this comparison certainly comes into play when the focus of our attention is the battle being waged between many conservative churches and the LGBTQ community. If you allow for simplicity’s sake the characterization of these two groups as opposing forces, the metaphor rings true.
Outreachmagazine.com, annually compiles a list of the Top 100 Churches in America. The churches on the list are almost exclusively conservative, evangelical churches. Their annual Top 100 Churches report has average attendance as one method for ranking numbers one through one hundred. The number one church for 2017 is Church of the Highlands, in Birmingham, Alabama, with a weekly gathering of 40,571 persons. This can be somewhat misleading, as this church has nineteen “campuses” spread across Alabama, and this figure is the aggregate attendance for all. One of these campuses is online!
A recent article in Pink News, a British news source for all things LGBTQ, reported on Church Clarity, a group that “scores” churches based on their affirming or non-affirming stances. They analyzed the top one hundred churches from the Outreachmagazine.com list, and discovered that none—zero—of these churches affirm members of the LGBTQ community.
This puts forward the position that conservative, evangelical churches are from Mars, and the LGBTQ community is from Venus. These two groups speak different languages, they hold different world views, and they certainly proclaim vastly different interpretations of the Bible. In many cases, they might as well be from different galaxies!
All things being equal, there is very little equality to be found in these Top 100 churches, according to Church Clarity. Their method of scoring includes a close review of the churches’ websites, where they look for affirming statements and positions on the homepage and other links throughout. The absence of such, or the stated position of condemnation of the LGBTQ community, earn that church a negative score. One example comes from Church of the Highlands. Their website has a link to their Statement of Faith. Scrolling down, their statement on Marriage reads, “We believe marriage is defined in the Bible as a covenant, a sacred bond between one man and one woman, instituted by and publicly entered into before God.”
Would you agree, then, that conservative, evangelical churches are from Mars, and the LGBTQ community is from Venus? This problem is easily found across the map and across denominational lines. There is little, if any, common ground to be found with those who speak different languages of sexual orientation and gender identity. The root of it all is how one interprets the Bible. This is fundamental to, and will determine the course of, any further discussions.
The Statement of Faith of the Church of the Highlands, as it pertains to the Bible, reads, “The Holy Bible, and the only Bible, is the authoritative Word of God. It alone is the final authority in determining all doctrinal truths. In its original writing, it is inspired, infallible, and inerrant.” The one crack in the door from this statement is that it references “its original writing.” This could mean, for argument’s sake, that we must examine the original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old and New Testaments, respectively. It is unlikely, however, for this to be done with any regularity or understanding on the part of the churches cited.
Returning to the original article in Pink News, penned by Nick Duffy, he shares that “of the one hundred churches, thirty-five have policies that clearly reject LGBT people. A further fifty-four have unclear policies on LGBT issues, while eleven omit all mention of the issue from publicly-accessible records. [None] of the churches [was] found to be affirming.” Look around the Rehoboth Beach region, and the greater Washington, D.C. area, and one will find affirming churches and synagogues that provide satisfying and accepting congregations in which to worship.
The question remains, how can we find common ground, discuss differences and reach consensus or agreeable positions with those who believe so differently than do we? The first step, as John Gray would share, is to recognize that we are speaking different languages. Then move on to finding—or creating—a framework for basic conversation, as long as both parties are open-minded. Education is the key to any hope of resolution and mutual understanding. Much of that education can be found by being at the table, with those with whom we disagree. This is the starting point for people from both Mars and Venus!