If you hear homophobic remarks from a relative, especially a conservative Christian one, during a holiday gathering, there’s a new book you can recommend to that person: This We Believe: The Christian Case for Gay Civil Rights by C.S. Pearce.
In the book Pearce discusses and deconstructs the Bible-based arguments that conservative Christians use against LGBT people, arguments that Pearce calls “myths.” She goes on to use the Bible to show that Christianity does not require followers to be antigay, and she examines the harm done to LGBT people in the name of religion.
Several aspects of Pearce’s background put her in a good position to address the topic. She is director of media relations for the Claremont School of Theology, an ecumenical Christian seminary, and Claremont Lincoln University, an umbrella institution for the seminary and its Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain equivalents. She describes her workplace, in Claremont, Calif., as “a very intellectually and spiritually stimulating environment.” She is a straight, married woman, something that she acknowledges makes her more acceptable to readers “who may still believe gay people are ‘perverts.’” Most important, though, is that she’s made the same journey she’s asking readers to make.
Pearce, now a progressive Episcopalian, grew up in Southern California in a conservative evangelical Christian family, which was one of the factors that motivated her to write the book. “Because I come from a conservative evangelical background, I am very familiar with their beliefs about LGBT issues — many years ago I used to share those beliefs,” she says in an interview with The Advocate. “Also, I have witnessed some of the very damaging and hurtful things some of my relatives and evangelical friends have done to gay people because of these beliefs.”
“The time seemed ripe for making a thoughtful case to conservative Christians to encourage them to at least reexamine and hopefully change their beliefs, and my background enabled me to do it in a way that was more likely to appeal to them,” Pearce continues. “For many years now, I’ve felt like I needed to do something to make up for some of the damage that’s been done.”
She notes in the book that for many years she considered LGBT people “creepy perverts,” believed homosexuality was a choice, and thought she didn’t know any gay people. Eventually she realizes she was wrong about all those things. Years after leaving high school, she discovered that two of her friends from that era were gay, and in the late 1980s, on National Coming Out Day, one of her favorite coworkers came out to her as a gay man. Also, in the early 1990s her husband, Daniel Pearce, a physician who came from a similar conservative evangelical background, decided to dedicate at least part of his practice to treating people with HIV. As a result of all these factors, she and her husband “came to know many wonderful LGBT people,” she writes, and to rethink their beliefs.
In the interview, she relates that her family attended a nondenominational evangelical Christian church, having left the Presbyterian Church “because Presbyterians were too liberal.” She goes on, “My dad read the Bible to us every night, and attendance was mandatory. At a certain point I found the beliefs I grew up with to be so problematic and unethical that I jettisoned Christianity altogether. I never stopped praying or admiring Jesus, however — I was just ashamed to be called a Christian. Fortunately, I found out that there were other options in Christianity. I made my way back to the church and am now a Christian in the progressive Episcopalian tradition.”
She says many Christians don’t realize the harm their homophobia causes. “In the 1990s one of my relatives ‘consoled’ a mother who had lost her closeted, sweet son to AIDS with words to the effect that it was so tragic that her son had chosen to turn his back on God and was thus reaping the consequences of his actions,” Pearce says. “Another friend and many members of her close-knit extended family completely repudiated her brother when he came out, which sent him into a spiral of depression that affected him for years.”
Therefore, she spends much of the book detailing the damage done by people who think they’re doing God’s work, and she also sets out to give conservative Christians “a strong Biblical case for gay civil rights, since the Bible is very important to them and they usually don’t realize what a strong case can be made,” she says.
What makes her book different from others? “It’s basically a summary of the issues, all in one place, that takes an hour to read and makes what I hope is a very eloquent case from an extremely evangelical-friendly perspective,” Pearce says. “There are a lot of excellent books out there that already make good cases from a variety of viewpoints, but most of them are much longer. I wanted something short and inexpensive so the intended audience would be more likely to pick it up and give it a shot. It’s counterintuitive or perhaps crazy to write a book specifically for people who are skeptical and may not want to actually read it. So I tried to make this as accessible as possible — hopefully they will read it if a friend or relative hands it to them.”
As for her being a straight woman, she thinks it’s unfortunate that that gives her extra credibility with some readers, but that’s the case. “Otherwise I wouldn’t presume to speak up for the [LGBT] community, since they have many spokespeople who are way more eloquent than I am,” she says.
Besides recommending Pearce’s book, what are some other ways to deal with holiday homophobia? She says she has encountered such situations on numerous occasions. “I ask if they would mind refraining from saying such things in front of me, because these are my friends they are talking about and I find the statements hurtful and wrong,” she says. “Since these are people who mean well, they have usually honored my request, even when they think I’m deluded. As for the few obnoxious exceptions who won’t, I just avoid them, since rational conversations don’t seem to work with them.” And she adds that it’s important for LGBT people to be out, even though she realizes it’s difficult in certain situations. Knowing that someone you know and love is gay “is the biggest thing ever” in terms of overcoming antigay feelings.
Her family, she says, have overcome some of these feelings and have been largely supportive of her book project. While there are still “sparks of anger and subjects to avoid,” she says, “there’s a basic love underneath that we all value.” She adds, “In years past, my family would have been upset with me for even trying [to write such a book], so I didn’t attempt it, although I thought about it a lot,” she says. “So much has changed now that several of my relatives actually asked me for copies of the book, and I know people at some conservative Christian seminaries who are passing it around! So I’m hoping it will make a difference.”
This We Believe: The Christian Case for Gay Civil Rights is available in paperback and also for Kindle, Nook, and iBook. For more information, click here.