LeFouGate, Part Two: A Christian Response

Have you ever had this strange, twingy, glance-over-the-shoulder feeling that something is wrong even when there are no obvious signs of it? That’s how I felt about my last blog post on Christians’ reaction to the announcement that LeFou would be portrayed as gay in Beauty and the Beast.

At first, I couldn’t pin down what was bothering me. Most everyone loved it. It was pretty mildly worded and cautious. I didn’t get sucked into the sarcasm trap or say anything that someone could take personally.

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And, although I felt like I didn’t cover nearly the ground I wanted to, the main message was helpful: if you’re going to be offended by something, be careful to explain why in a gracious way to start better discussions.

But there’s something important that I completely left out.

All of the sample explanations I gave were reasonably worded. Even if you totally disagree with their take on sexual ethics—whether homosexual relations are okay or not—I hope they came across simply as people taking a stand on something they believed.

But—and this is hard—I think some, even most, Christians were not just upset about a gay character in a Disney movie because of their interpretations of the Bible or because of their desire to maintain the innocence of their children.

They were upset because sometimes they do consider LGBT people offensive. They find the idea of loving others who deeply disagree with them in this area incredibly hard. Some are trying to work out what that looks like. Some, sadly, don’t want to.

Christians, we have to admit it: sometimes we don’t love people like we should, and our record with LGBT people is pretty grim.

There are Christians all over a spectrum on what “love” means and looks like. I am pretty far into the camp that says “love” doesn’t have to—and shouldn’t—mean acceptance or endorsement of everything a person chooses to do. Even from my own life, I know that wouldn’t be loving at all, because I need the people who tell me when I’m wrong.

But yesterday I remembered the Day of Silence, and I knew why my first response was incomplete.

At my high school, the Gay-Straight Alliance club participated in a Day of Silence every year to draw awareness to hate crimes directed toward those who came out as anything other than heterosexual during their teen years.

My choir teacher always took the opportunity to give us a serious talk on how gay teens had a much higher suicide rate. From there, he broadened the application to encourage us not only to stop bullying others, but to stand up for those who were marginalized.

It always gave me this feeling of uneasy tension. I agreed wholeheartedly with him. My compassionate crusader heart leapt to the defense of anyone being hurt, even to the point of self-righteous anger against anyone I saw as even vaguely mean. I still remembered the day I accidentally made a kid cry, and ever since then I’d taken on a Captain-America-like vigilance with the words I spoke to others.

I wanted to love everyone around me. Really.

But when it came down to it, I made no effort to get to know the kids in my choir or theater classes who identified as gay. I kept uncomfortably quiet when classmates made crude jokes about others. I never prayed for my gay peers, never participated in a Day of Silence in any way, not even finding the ones with duct tape over their mouths and telling them that even though we disagreed, I cared about them and would defend them with every chance I had.

I didn’t say that because I wasn’t sure I would.

If you had asked me on a day I was feeling particularly honest, I would tell you that the students I knew were gay frightened me, just a bit, because I didn’t know how to respond to them.

I think I saw some of that same fear in the Facebook outrage over Beauty and the Beast. And I don’t want to be silent about it.

What was bothering me about yesterday’s post was that sometimes my words and my heart don’t line up. It was the Holy Spirit convicting me and saying, “Hey, what you said might be true, and people might appreciate it, but God doesn’t judge by outward appearances.”

This post will not be as popular as the last one, more than likely. But I hope you’re willing to assume for a minute that this might be you too, not just someone else.

Hear me: it’s totally fine to speak out about what you think is or is not appropriate for a kids’ movie. But as you do so, please, take a moment to listen, to understand, to feel the tension.

Know that for some people, even a comedic sidekick represents a character who they can identify with for the first time, and much more than that, a sign that they can be accepted and live normal, happy lives. That’s what LeFou looks like to them.

Think about that. And think about what the Christian response must look like to them as well, especially when it isn’t defined or explained in any way except “I protest this.”

Whether or not you think homosexuality should be normalized, these are real people you are afraid of. These are real people who you might have offended with your general anti-gay post about the movie because, no matter what your actual beliefs are, they are hearing that you wish people like them did not exist, or at least that you wish they’d exist silent and unseen.

If you are feeling a little uncomfortable right now, good. Rest in that for a moment. As a Christian, even one who interprets the Bible to say that homosexual practice is a sin, you shouldn’t just refer to love in general without living it in reality. I shouldn’t either. And sometimes I do.

Again, your goal is not to look tolerant to everyone around you, to hide your beliefs so you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. But if you haven’t asked, “Does what I say and post speak the truth in love?” now would be a good time to challenge yourself in that area.

And, maybe more, if like me, your response that of course Christians are supposed to love their gay neighbor is true in theory but not in your life…now would be a good time to pray about that and let God show you what you should do in response.

I’m not asking you to change your stance. I’m asking you to take a look at your motives.

We love to be outraged, but we often direct that outrage at anything but our own sin, where the outrage would do the most good. We love to examine Hollywood, but not our own hearts.

My challenge is this: use LeFouGate to do both.

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15 comments

  1. Hey Amy, well sorry about this, ‘I didn’t have time to write a short comment, so I wrote a long one instead.’

    I really appreciate the way that you regularly turn the question back to the reader – “We love to examine Hollywood, but not our own hearts.” Maybe my problem is that I’m not really sure how I am reacting to lefougate. I think every trailer that has come out has made me less interested in seeing it – I didn’t really enjoy Emma Watson’s ‘Little Town’ and I even less for ‘Gaston’ (especially after having seen the broadway version – a difficult number to follow). So my anticipation has been waning for some time now. I actually think that homosexual content has become too normalised for me though and that whatever they put into Beauty and the Beast is not going to be *that* bad – but that also gives me sympathy for the argument against normalising aberrant behaviour.

    If we want to complain about normalisation, we have to ask what the Christian response is to Will and Grace, Ellen DeGeneres and Queer Eye because all those are playing/have played a role in normalisation (interestingly, I discovered this wikipedia article while I was thinking about your post: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_portrayal_of_LGBT_people). As far as normalisation of ‘aberrant behaviour’ goes though, we could pick basically any chick flick and find aberrant behaviour that is hetrosexual. So I think if we want to watch movies/tv series we are subjecting ourselves to that kind of normalisation anyway. But maybe this normalisation is helping us love people for whom we would otherwise struggle to have compassion because it makes them less alien, making us better able to sympathise.

    My problem with what you wrote is that you claim “these are real people you are afraid of”. I think my natural reaction to being accused of being afraid is denial. But then I think of the elections and accusations that people are afraid of immigrants, for example, and I think I’m coming to believe that fear is not a helpful way of framing whatever is going on because it has become so pejorative. I also still don’t think that fear is the problem that I’m facing but maybe I’m in denial 😉

    The bigger question in my mind is how the church can uphold holiness without being holier than thou. That seems like the problem behind the problem because normalisation of whatever is irrelevant if we actually care about being Christlike. We aren’t supposed to be getting our morals from the culture anyway. It feels like I hear that we need to be compassionate from one set of people (the crazy liberals who go and watch Beauty and the Beast in spite of lefougate) and that we need to be holy from another set (the crazy fundamentalists who never watch TV) but far from being mutually exclusive holiness and compassion are inseparable and somehow we have divided them.

    1. Hi James!

      Long comments are great! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think “normalization” is more a problem for people because this is a kids’ movie, unlike the other examples you listed. Agree or disagree, homosexuality isn’t an issue many Christian parents feel comfortable with in kids’ media. (And I totally agree that Christians often pick and choose what to get upset about in areas of sexuality, which can be harmful.)

      It might be good for me to clarify that I don’t think everyone who responded negatively to Beauty and the Beast is acting from fear. I just think that it’s probably a factor for some people since it has been in the past for me. Even if this whole thing is a publicity stunt, if it gives us a chance to question whether we’re really loving others or only claiming to do so, it’ll be worth it.

      I love your point that “holiness and compassion are inseparable.” Very true, and the challenge is: what does that look like? I don’t think it’s possible to give a general answer to that, not for the church or even an individual, but Jesus clearly calls us to both. They way he practiced speaking the truth and love varied like crazy in every situation, so I’m trying to shift my thoughts to constantly seeking to know God more so that my responses and words are more like his. I realize that’s super vague, and maybe after asking that long enough I’ll have some conclusions about what that means for the church’s witness in the world, but for now, I just want the grace to ask the question, the courage to apply it, and the humility to admit where I’ve gotten it wrong.

  2. I really appreciate this post.

    I’m not sure if you know who I am, but your posts go by on my Facebook feed quite a bit due to our mutual friends. I think you’re a fellow Gerigian? I was on Foso from ’05-’09.

    A lot of the lessons you put in this post are lessons I’ve had to learn myself over the years, despite the fact that I’m bi. Some of that for me was a coping mechanism. If gay people were bad, I could just be self-righteous about how much better I was because I wasn’t pursuing a gay relationship. The effect was the same insensitivity to the pain of others, which I’ve had to repent of and work to address. And it’s not as though I’ve perfectly “arrived.”

    This process hasn’t changed my views on sexual ethics. I still take the stance that sex is sinful outside the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman, because the more I read the arguments on various sides the more convinced I become that this is what Scripture really does teach. I’m often frustrated by how often the people who start caring about LGBTQ/SSA/etc. pain tend to be the same people who buy bad arguments about biblical interpretation. I mean, it’s not rocket science to see why people think that a traditional understanding of the Bible is incompatible with true compassion, but I’m not so sure the biblical interpretation is really the problem. I’m always thinking about all the ways those on the “traditional” side often aren’t really living in line with biblical morality, as you describe here. And it makes sense that this is a major cause of the pain people are going through.

    So it’s always refreshing to see when folks “get it” the way you do here. Well done! (I’m not shocked. The other times I’ve clicked through to previous posts of yours they’ve been quite thoughtful and faithful.)

    If you happen to be interested in some of the stuff I’ve written on the topic, I blog on occasion over at Spiritual Friendship – http://spiritiualfriendship.org/author/jericksonsf. There is also a lot of other great stuff from the other contributors there. But don’t feel like I came here to give you a reading assignment. I mostly just want to express my appreciation for bringing this up the way you have!

    1. Hi Jeremy! I never actually lived in Gerig, but I was made an honorary member of FOSO my senior year. (Long story…but the short version is I love those guys.)

      Thanks for sharing your perspective on this topic—I especially appreciated your take on the heart of the problem (and why it could even be a struggle in your case). The more I look out outrage culture, the more I feel like we’re missing the real problems, and that you can be theological liberal or conservative and completely fail at loving God and others.

      Several of my Christian friends walk the same challenging path that you do: holding a traditional view of sexual ethics based on their interpretation of Scripture while still struggling with SSA. So, basically, they get to be misunderstood by both sides. I’ve never found it difficult to love these brothers and sisters (in fact, their courage and faith has challenged me). What’s much harder for me is knowing how to talk to people who assume that my beliefs mean I hate not only what they do, but who they are. Often, these are FB-friend-acquaintances or blog readers who don’t have much of a personal relationship with me, so I’m not sure how to respond when they mostly just interact with my words, not my deeds.

      I actually do stop by Spiritual Friendship from time to time and think it’s a great resource for Christians thinking through these issues—thanks for your contributions there, and for leaving this comment so other people can take a look at it too!

      1. Amy,

        We probably know several of the same Christians in my boat, judging from our mutual friends list on Facebook. 🙂 I think I can fairly speak for a bunch of us when I say we really appreciate it when straight Christians are willing to listen and learn from us. So thanks for listening!

        I definitely agree that it can be tough interacting with folks online. And I think I have a fairly good understanding of why people object to traditional Christian teaching, but it doesn’t make everything easy. I have the natural advantage of being able to discuss my own experience, which I think has the effect of people thinking I’m probably hurting myself in the process, but not just hating them. I guess how I’ve thought about it is that the important thing for me is to make sure that my heart is in the right place, and make sure I’m not just focusing on what others think of me. (But of course, how others perceive Christianity based on me isn’t something I should ignore.) So I don’t have perfect advice, but I do think that showing a willingness to listen and admit the difficulties people have faced is a good place to start. Hope that’s at least a bit helpful, even if just validating what you’re already doing.

    2. Hey Jeremy,
      I always appreciate the efforts of those in the LGBTQ/SSA community to reach out to the rest of us and help us along a road we are often disinclined to walk with you so keep it up 🙂
      And yes, I’m also familiar with spiritualfriendship, have you come across Christopher Yuan?

      1. Thanks for the encouragement!

        I’m familiar with Christopher Yuan. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him or interacting with him much, but I’ve read his book and several of my friends know him pretty well. I tend to think pretty highly of him. He obviously has a very different story than most of us, but it’s a powerful testimony. And he seems to have good biblical thinking about things.

  3. “Whether or not you think homosexuality should be normalized, these are real people you are afraid of. These are real people who you might have offended with your general anti-gay post about the movie because, no matter what your actual beliefs are, they are hearing that you wish people like them did not exist, or at least that you wish they’d exist silent and unseen.”

    The question I might have to raise here – when looking at it from this perspective – is how do we separate the sin from the individual and make clear a separation of the sin from the individual? The common saying that keeps coming to my mind at this is “Love the sinner, hate the sin”.

    When looking at it from the perspective here, I find myself replying with ‘No, I don’t wish that the PEOPLE didn’t exist, but I DO wish that their homosexuality didn’t exist, because while the person is not a sin, their homosexuality is.’ There is ultimately a different between the two that I think needs to be accounted for and kept in mind.

    And by that line of thought, it seems only reasonable – if not right – that if we do believe that homosexuality is indeed a sin, that we would want the sin – NOT the person – to indeed be “unseen” by way of having been driven from that persons life. Even as we love our homosexual neighbor, there is no reason we should also love their homosexuality, but instead seek Gods help in leading them away from it.

    My understanding, from what I’ve read, does make this entire thing sound like a publicity stunt – first it was announced that LeFou is an openly homosexual character in the movie. But then, after the fact, that same announcement was downplayed, making it sound like it was no big deal within the context of the movie. And in the end, what I’ve heard about the situation within the movie is that this entire controversy may well come out of a single edit that could be INTERPRETED as an indicator of LeFou being a homosexual, but without openly stating it – in effect, had the movie gone by and it never been announced the way it has been, no one would really know for sure, and there would merely be debate on IF Lefou is gay (and even that debate wouldn’t be guaranteed), rather than the debate of if the movie should have made him gay.

    I think what may also be a major problem in this situation (though I’m not sure if it’s another symptom or another cause) is what feels like an increasing difficulty within society to separate the different forms of love – it seems that for some people, romantic or sexual love is the ONLY kind of love that exists, and to reject the idea that two people who love each other must be romantically close is to reject love itself. I think the minor controversy that’s grown surrounding Steve Rodgers and his BROTHERLY love toward Bucky – where there’s grown an insistence that the only reason Captain America would care about Bucky so much is because he feels ROMANTIC or SEXUAL love towards his friend and the two should OBVIOUSLY be boyfriends – may be the best example of THAT particular problem right now.

    My own decision to avoid the movie ultimately comes from not wanting to reward the filmmakers decision, especially their decision to make a big deal out of it. Which is something I find myself reacting too more and more as it feels like the push for the normalcy of homosexuality continues to grow, even or especially in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision on a related matter. If there’s a true fear I have in all this, it’s in fear of the way it seems “polite society” no longer allows anyone to even question if homosexuality is an OK thing. Where to merely say “No, that’s not a behavior we should be encouraging” or “No, that’s not a behavior we should be ok with” is to then automatically be grouped in with the same people who say “Homosexuals should be rounded up and shot.”

    So perhaps, on some level or more, my increased intolerance of its portrayal and the portrayal of similar activities in any media – especially when it’s touted as a big deal the way it originally was for LeFou – and my increased refusal to contribute money or time to such media is largely a way for me to more easily express my displeasure with the situation in a way that I regrettably would have more difficulty doing more openly and more publicly.

    1. The way you respond here indicates to me that you haven’t spent much time listening to the experiences of various LGBTQ/same-sex attracted people. I agree with your theological stance that homosexual sexual practice is sinful, but the way you frame things here has effects you may not realize.

      It starts with the vague statement that “homosexuality” is a sin and that we should want people to walk away from it. The term “homosexuality” is relatively ambiguous. Take my experience as an example. Is it “homosexuality” every time I notice that a guy is really hot, before I go anywhere with it mentally? Is the line when I take a second glance? If I find myself wishing I could have sex with him? If I find myself dwelling on the idea? Only if we actually do something sexual (which hasn’t actually happened in my case)? And what if I find a guy attractive in a way that includes sexual temptation, but I also desire friendship with him? Can we still be friends, or is that sinful? What if I find myself spending a lot of time with him and can’t rule out my various forms of attraction as motivating this? How am I supposed to separate out what’s good and what’s bad?

      It ends up being really exhausting to think that every homosexual feeling is a sin that indicates I’m not walking in repentance. And for a lot of people, it makes it hard to avoid the more substantial sins, if they already feel like a failure from the get go. For this reason, I get frustrated with vague statements that don’t make any effort to separate out temptation, sin, and things that are actually good. The clumping of everything together is also part of why people think of romantic and sexual love as essential. In my case as someone who is attracted to both sexes, if every relationship with someone you might be romantically attracted to is romantic, that doesn’t leave me with much of an alternative. Although it’s not like I’m attracted to everyone, there’s always the possibility at the back of my mind that more of an attraction could come up.

      I think there are good answers to all these questions from within an orthodox Christian perspective, though it can be messy. To be clear, my critique has more to do with the way you’re framing things than what you’re actually saying.

      The key point I see people miss is that there’s a basic experience of attraction that is typically involuntary and doesn’t usually go away. Both myself and quite a number of my friends have spent years trying to change our orientation, with a gamut of different techniques but always involving a lot of prayer and trying to repent when we believe we have sinned. I’m still not sure if I’ve met anyone who stopped experiencing homosexual feelings, other than a few friends who experienced them during puberty and found they went away on their own as they entered adulthood. And this experience of attraction has a significant impact on our experience of daily life and interacting with others.

      Part of living in a fallen world is learning to live with situations that are not as we might like them to be, and that differ from God’s original (pre-Fall) design. So in this case, that means expecting believers to pursue holiness, but not setting up unrealistic expectations that people will stop being tempted in this life. And we also must recognize the ways that people have been hurt, and work to address those areas.

      And we should recognize that seeing a gay Disney character is powerful to a lot of people precisely because it provides a sense of being recognized and listened to, rather than swept under the rug. As Christians, we should be asking how we can provide an alternative that shows people we care, without compromising our beliefs. Without such an alternative, the message we send is that our concern for them starts and ends with our concern that they’re sinning. And it’s important to look at our own hearts and ask whether their perception has truth to it. One of my favorite pieces on this theme: http://www.matthewfranklinjones.com/2013/07/07/what-is-love/

    2. In addition to Jeremy’s theological and personal musings, since kids will be exposed to discussions of sexuality (probably earlier than any parent would want), I think it’s good for parents to think about when and how to discuss that with them instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.

      But I think it’s fine to not go to this movie for the reasons you describe. What was bothering me was people posting articles on FB about LeFou being gay without any explanation. When the world doesn’t know why you’re making a choice, of course they assume you’re doing it because you hate gay people, because that’s the message they (unfortunately) hear more than something more complex. Will they agree with the complex explanation? Of course not! But in my opinion, it’s still better for people to say that, or probably better, to say nothing at all on social media if they don’t think they can have a helpful dialogue about it.

      Also, I hope that some people read this post and were challenged by the fact that they *say* they should love everyone, even (especially) individuals with SSA or in the gay community, but their actions don’t match up. (This, I think was what Jeremy was speaking to in his last paragraph.) Not their actions on whether to attend the movie or not—just the way they listen to stories, tell jokes, treat acquaintances, live life with others—their willingness to become uncomfortable in order to love their neighbor.

  4. One thing that I think complicates this issue is the view that many Christians have of spiritual warfare. We tend to think only of large scale conflict with clearly demarcated battle lines. We see an allegedly gay character in a kid’s movie as an act of war, and so all dutiful Christian “soldiers” must heed the call and form ranks. Us versus Them. In this case it would be in the form of a Church-wide boycott.

    However, this isn’t the example Jesus sets for us. He never mobilizes groups into direct, unified action against a tangible foe. Instead, he performs his spiritual warfare one demoniac, one adulteress, and one tax collector at a time. He doesn’t free Zacheus from the hell of Roman economics by organizing a political action committee or appointing a special prosecutor. He simply shows up.

    I have no problem with parents deciding to not let their kids watch Beauty and the Beast. But I do have a problem with Christians linking arms and marching on Disney as the people we claim to be saving are trampled underfoot. I don’t believe we have to choose between hiding our faith in the closet and jumping onto bandwagons. Isn’t real Christian love somewhere in between?

    1. It absolutely should be! I think for many Christians, it’s hard to know what the path of gracious conviction looks like. Naturally, most of us lean more toward one error or the other. Starting with the idea that our lives shouldn’t ever slip into “us vs. them,” though, is a good place for everyone to start, I think. Thanks for your thoughts on the whys behind all of this!

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