My debate Monday night in Charlotte, North Carolina at the Southern Theological Seminary was insightful as to why Evangelicals are increasingly politically marginalized. For the record, I am a fan of Evangelicals because they raise strong, faith-based families, serve disproportionately in the military, love Israel, and try and enrich an increasingly materialistic culture with values. But, for goodness sake, what is this obsession with homosexuality?
I debated my long-time nemesis Dr. Michael Brown, one of America's leading Christian scholars, with whom I have a warm and mutually respectful relationship. It was the best of the twenty-odd debates we did: scholarly, contemporary, fiery, and on both sides ferociously-argued (you can see the debate at Shmuley.com). The subject: Is Homosexuality America's Greatest Moral Crisis? Our audience was nearly all Evangelical Christian, and here is where they lost me.
I argued passionately that Evangelicals had become obsessed with homosexuality. They took a single prohibition in the Bible and elevated it to single moral standard besides which all else pales. I pointed out how in 2004, amid President George W. Bush being the most hated man on earth he still won the election because of Evangelical support. The reason: as the polls showed, 22% of all voters had voted for values. But now, on the day of the midterm elections, the Tea Party had completely usurped the place of the Evangelicals. The only thing being discussed in this election was jobs, money, the size of government, and the national debt. In other words, the economy and money. Not one major values-based issue was even on the table. Why? Because the people who talk about values and are a large voting block -- primarily Evangelical Christians -- had utterly marginalized themselves with their obsession over homosexuality. Forget about the fifty percent divorce rate, the growing sexualization of young teens (Miley Cyrus is now pole-dancing), the collapse of the American economy because of addiction to shopping; no, all the problems in America can be laid at the feet of gays. And if we stop the gay agenda, then America will suddenly be transformed into a family-friendly, spiritually rich, Eden-like Shangri-La.
I could not move them. Try as I might, my audience would not budge. Even when I told them that I came down to Charlotte not primarily for a debate but to plead with my Christian brothers and sisters to recapture their relevance, they stood their ground. They were proud of it. No compromise with sinners. We'll go down with the ship if that's what Jesus wants from us. By hook or by crook, America will be moral. Homosexuality will be stopped.
But didn't Jesus say 'Judge not that ye not be judged'? Did he not say that all are sinners? And was I not saying that they have a right to regard homosexuality as a sin but not to tell gays and lesbians that they have crossed some imaginary line and now can have no relationship with G-d? Did not the same Bible that labeled homosexuality as being in contravention to the divine will not also say that 'It is not good for man to be alone,' and should we not be telling gays and lesbians who have no attraction to the opposite sex that there are hundreds of commandments in the Bible left for them to keep? No, homosexuality represented the fall of American morality and the breakdown of common decency.
The point of no return was when Dr. Brown said that in terms of sinfulness homosexuality was the same as bestiality, incest, and pedophilia. I should have been thrilled at the comparison. Dr. Brown spends most of his time trying to convert Jews to Christianity and I should have welcomed this act of self-immolation. Instead, because he is a friend and, amid our profound disagreements, a refined gentleman, I pleaded with him to come back from the brink. I repeated over and over again that this debate was being recorded for posterity and he would irreversibly damage his credibility with thinking people everywhere if he made the insane comparison. But rather than relent, he instead asked the audience members to raise their hands if they agreed he had come across as an extremist. Amid hundreds of people, only three hands went up. My heart sank. This is a community I admire. I lecture to Christian groups all over the world. We need their voice in the American values debate. Religious Christians are people of inspiring faith. But by supporting the comment that homosexuality was akin to pedophilia and bestiality they too had crossed a line. And it would be difficult to come back.
What is needed are Evangelical Christian leaders who finally change the subject and focus us on what really can be done to save the American family, namely, strengthening marriage, reducing the divorce rate, increasing male respect for women, and pushing for a congressional bill to make marital counseling tax-deductible so that couples who need help can afford it and keep their families intact.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is widely regarded as one of the world's leading relationship experts and heads This World: The Values Network, an organization dedicated to promoting universal Jewish values to heal America. He has just published a book on Jewish spirituality for non-Jews called Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
Follow Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RabbiShmuley