In late March, House Democrats temporarily replaced the POW-MIA flags hanging outside their offices with pink flags celebrating transgender identity. Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins called the flags an “unpleasant reminder.” In early March, a high school girl responded to LGBT pride flags by posting Bible verses. Last year, a Chicago priest burned an LGBT pride flag that also had a cross on it, calling the flag a “sacrilege.”
Why do conservative Christians have a visceral reaction to LGBT pride flags? Can’t they just get along with LGBT people? What’s the big hangup? Why are they “triggered”?
The problem is, LGBT pride flags represent the antithesis of many things conservative Christians believe, and every so often this symbol is thrust in their faces. Some schools, cities, and governments have flown these flags in order to show support and compassion for LGBT people, but in doing so they also proclaim a message that Christian beliefs are stigmatized and will not be tolerated.
People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender have been mistreated in the past, and still are mistreated in some parts of society. They were excluded from bars and businesses, their lifestyles were penalized by law, some of them were put through crackpot treatments like shock therapy (not to be confused with psychologically sound treatments like reparative therapy), and too often other Americans looked down on them.
Christians need to love everyone, including their enemies. They need to preach the gospel, encouraging non-believers to repent, but they need to do so “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good name in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-17). After all, every Christian is a repentant sinner.
That does not mean that Christians should celebrate LGBT lifestyles, however. It is possible to treat people with respect while disapproving of their sexual activity or their cross-sex identity.
The Bible is clear that God made humans male and female (Genesis 1:27, Mark 10:6, Matthew 19:4) and that marriage is between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24). The male-female definition of marriage is not just a lifestyle in the Bible — it is a mystery that prefigures the marriage between God and His church (Ephesians 5:31-32).
Homosexual activity is consistently denounced as sinful (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:8-10). That does not mean that same-sex sexual relationships do not involve love and self-sacrifice, but they also involve sin.
This does not mean that people who are attracted to members of the same sex are inherently condemned. The Bible does not uphold the Westborough Baptist Church’s “God hates f*gs” rhetoric. Same-sex attracted Christians who choose celibacy to follow Jesus have extremely powerful testimonies.
I heartily recommend David Bennett’s excellent book, A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus. In a sex-obsessed culture, celibate gay Christians can live out the truth that God fulfills human needs better than sexual desire, whether heterosexual or homosexual.
Similarly, the Christian teaching that God created human beings male and female does not mean Christians must turn a blind eye to people who struggle with gender dysphoria (the persistent condition of identifying with the gender opposite one’s biological sex). Their struggles are real, but Christians — and many non-Christians — believe that the solution is not to encourage a transgender identity at odds with their biological sex.
Men and women who once identified as transgender have later rejected this identity, even after taking cross-sex hormones and having transgender surgery. Indeed, they have lamented permanently scarring their bodies in search of a false identity.
Former transgender Christians like Montreea Bailey also have compelling testimonies. Jesus saved Bailey from her transgender identity as a man, and she found the answer to her struggles in the Christian faith.
People like David Bennett and Montreea Bailey know that Christian faith and LGBT pride are fundamentally incompatible. The promises of ultimate fulfillment in homosexual sex and transgender identity are false, just as the promises of ultimate fulfillment in heterosexual sex and other identities are also false.
According to Christian teaching, only God can satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart, and LGBT lifestyles are an idol, a competing god.
LGBT pride also presents an alternate worldview incompatible with Christian teaching. According to the LGBT narrative, the fundamental problem is social stigma and the fundamental solution is an acceptance of gay and transgender identity. It is not enough for society to accept them; people must celebrate their identities.
In Christianity, the key problem is the separation between human beings and God, and Jesus Christ is the solution. Following Jesus enables Christians to overcome sin, and repentance is key to the Christian life. Humility is arguably the centerpiece of Christian ethics, following Jesus’s example of God humbling Himself to become a human being (Philippians 2).
The pride in and celebration of sin is anathema to Christianity. LGBT pride represents a rejection of Christian sexual morality and the ideas behind it. The celebration of pride is the opposite of humility.
Yet the LGBT pride flag also represents a social movement that opposes the religious freedom of conservative Christians. Bakers like Jack Phillips gladly serve LGBT people, but they refuse to craft a wedding cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding. Florists and photographers have made the same decision.
State governments in the form of civil rights commissions have prosecuted these convictional Christians, claiming that their free speech refusal to craft art to celebrate an event they disagree with constitutes discrimination. Jack Phillips won his Supreme Court religious freedom case last year, but the commission went after him again, anyway. The issue continues to be divisive, and LGBT activists firmly declare that bakers like Phillips are guilty of discrimination.
Animus against conservative Christians has emerged at Google and at Yale Law School just in the past few weeks. Cities have banned Chick-Fil-A from their airports — most recently San Antonio, Texas and Buffalo, N.Y. — because the owner has donated to Christian organizations that uphold traditional sexual ethics.
Yet that’s not the worst of it. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has branded conservative Christian nonprofits like Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and FRC “hate groups” due to their beliefs on marriage and sexuality, listing them along with the Ku Klux Klan. ADF has won nine Supreme Court cases in seven years. A terrorist attempted to kill everyone in FRC, thanks to the SPLC’s “hate map.”
The SPLC also marked the small Catholic charity the Ruth Institute a “hate group,” citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a “hate” document.
The SPLC is quite mainstream, but the vitriol against Christians is not limited to this powerful organization. When news broke that Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, had gone back to teaching at a Christian school — that, SHOCKER, holds to the Bible on sexuality issues — outrage ensued, with people declaring, “f**k these homophobes!”
In the book So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States? sociology professors George Yancey and David Williamson painstakingly document the presence of bias against conservative Christians, proving that it is as real as animus against Muslims and Jews.
Indeed, Yancey’s most recent research shows that animus against Christians leads some people to support LGBT activism, even when they have a low opinion of LGBT people.
So, when conservative Christians see LGBT pride flags, they see the symbol of people who hate them, who want to weaken their constitutional rights, and who fundamentally disagree with their view of the world, celebrating the sin that they think separates people from God. If they weren’t just a little “triggered,” there would be something wrong with them.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.