As a Southern Baptist child I was taught that homosexuality was wrong. That lesson did not come from fiery anti-gay sermons from the pulpit. No one ever quoted any scriptures to prove it, and it was never, ever mentioned in Sunday School lessons. Instead, it just seemed to be common knowledge. Oh, for the good old days when the gays weren’t so uppity and open.
Today, teenagers in many Southern Baptist churches are hearing about homosexuality through a curriculum called “Known.” The scope of the curriculum—produced by the SBC’s publishing arm LifeWay—includes the usual subjects: Bible study, prayer, Jesus, peer pressure, and self-image. One module, however, stands out for its sheer nastiness. The module on homosexuality (contained in the Insights, Options, Bonus section of Known 13) reads like something that could have been produced by the Family Research Council or Americans for Truth About Homosexuality. That is to say, it’s completely hateful.
I am horrified by this development. But also oddly heartened…
I am horrified because teenagers coming to terms with their sexuality will be told that homosexuality is “vile and shameful” and “against God’s design for godly, holy living.” They will also be told that gay and lesbian people “consistently choose what is morally wrong.” These teens are also treated to such passages as this:
The term “one flesh,” speaks against the current culture’s lie that a person can enjoy casual sex. There is no casual sex in God’s view. One-flesh unions are created in sex, either as a beautiful thing in marriage or as a grotesque thing like a Frankenstein monster apart from marriage. Such is the ugliness of homosexuality.
Besides the offensiveness of comparing loving, committed same-sex relationships to a “grotesque” Frankenstein monster, the unit also cites data (as blogger Alvin McEwen has pointed out) from a study of a tiny group of white gay men—from 1978:
Statistics tell us that on average 43 percent of homosexuals have more than 500 sexual partners in their lifetime, and only one percent of homosexuals have had four or less sexual partners in their lifetime.
Researchers Alan P. Bell and Martin S. Weinberg even warn in their study that
“given the variety of circumstances which discourage homosexuals from participating in research studies, it is unlikely that any investigator will ever be in a position to say that this or that is true of a given percentage of all homosexuals.”
But, the creators of Known are not interested in letting the facts get in the way of scaring the hell out of young people who may be struggling with their sexuality. They simply want to drive home the message that homosexuality is “vile” and all gay people are morally suspect not just in their sexuality but apparently in every aspect of their lives.
But this is exactly why this curriculum causes me to take heart. This particular unit stands out like a sore thumb from the rest of the material that I have seen. Units on racism and being Christ’s salt and light in the world are gentle in tone, assuring teenagers that all people, no matter their race, status, or religion, are all equal before God.
The racism unit, especially, is gentle from start to finish, admonishing the students to love everyone, no matter what. In stark contrast, the homosexuality unit degrades and debases gays and lesbians—and loving them is only mentioned in the last paragraph.
We must also choose to love people in spite of their sin. If we love people, we will seek ways to share the gospel with them. What steps will you take to share the gospel with people you know who are enslaved to sexual sin?
Got that? Love them—by sharing the condemnation that you have just learned.
But, what this unit ultimately reveals is that the Southern Baptists know their arguments against homosexuality are weak. Whenever you resort to name calling and demonization, you have already conceded the fight. They cannot make a reasoned, fact-based argument against homosexuality, so they resort to distortions and scare tactics. That’s always a dead giveaway for a losing argument.
I wonder how teenagers—already steeped in positive gay portrayals on television (think Glee) and in movies, and already friends with plenty of kids who have gay or lesbian parents, or who are gay or lesbian themselves—will reconcile this unit with their experience. Some will certainly take the SBC bait, hook, line, and sinker, becoming the anti-gay zealots of the next generation. But for others, this may be the unit that pushes them away from the church—especially those closeted teens—and that is sad. Still others—those struggling teens, perhaps—could even be driven to suicide by this hateful and bullying lesson.
The angry tone of this unit undercuts the wisdom of another unit that concludes with a quote from renowned religion scholar Robert Bellah:
“We should not underestimate the significance of the small group of people who have a new vision of a just and gentle world. The quality of a culture may be changed when two percent of its people have a new vision.”
Hopefully, some of these SBC teens will come to understand that demonization and condemnation will never result in “a just and gentle world.”